“What is life without adventure? Now that our kids are grown and happily living on their own, it is time to focus on what we want!” (Quote from From Craig and Suzanne Staverts, Adventures of Empty Nesters)
My husband Jeff and I have been empty nesters for so long that I can hardly remember building a travel schedule around school holidays and softball tournaments, compete with hordes of tourists, and pay high-season airfares. Our new life began when we took our youngest child and all his possessions to college. I’ll always remember the awkward moment after we’d lugged his stuff up to his room. “How about we take you and your roommate out to dinner?”
“Uh…That’s okay,” he stammered.
“OK.” We hugged him goodbye. “Learn a lot, have fun and don’t party too hard!”
It was a long, silent drive back home to an eerily empty house. Exhausted and a little sad, we flopped on the sofa with a glass of wine. “Now what?” we said. Then: “We’re finally empty nesters. Maybe it’s time to travel!”
There were so many places we wanted to go….Rome, Paris, China, Montreal, New York. But we still had a household to run, a mortgage, insurance and taxes to pay, and cars to maintain, not to mention college. There wasn’t a lot of money left over. The solution: bolster our meager travel budget by swapping and renting out our home.
We had lots of questions: Was it safe? Would guests damage our things or upset our neighbors? Would it take too much work? Finally, would anyone really want to stay in our ordinary suburban home? But the risk and extra work seemed worth it if we could afford to travel. So we listed our home on VRBO and HomeExchange.com, and crossed our fingers.
Our first exchange inquiry arrived from a woman in Paris who’d grown up near us. She was bringing her daughters to visit their grandmother, who turned out to be someone we knew. She was delighted with our house, and we loved her spacious, light, and perfectly located apartment the elegant 7th Arrondissement. What a good start! We were hooked.
Over the years, we’ve swapped with people in Barcelona (a huge half-furnished apartment in the center), Santa Barbara (a 1950s house in a gated community on on the beach), San Miguel de Allende (a sprawling home filled with art and antiques), Chicago (a small cluttered apartment near DePaul University), Amsterdam (an artist’s studio in a landmarked building overlooking Vondelpark), and more. One year we even swapped a week in the apartment we had rented in Rome for a week in an elegant, tchotchke-filled Parisian apartment a few streets from Sacré-Coeur.
But it was tricky to find an exchange that meets our must-have’s in terms of destination, length of stay, and time of year. We got lots of inquiries from people who wanted to swap for a week or so in the summer, but we like to travel in the spring and fall and stay for a month or more. So we’ve been offering our home for short-term rent when we plan a trip but can’t find the right exchange.
Our concern about whether people would want to stay in our home turned out to be unfounded. Our guests have included tourists, people relocating to our area, writers seeking a quiet place to work, professionals on short-term business assignments, and neighbors doing home renovations. One of our first rentals was to a couple who were returning to California after a year abroad. We became friends and still see them from time to time.
We’ve also never had to worry about guests’ behavior or the way they treat our home. Neighbors report that our guests have all been friendly and respectful. Except for a few minor problems – a drop of wine on a carpet, an occasional missing spoon – there’s been no serious damage. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but we don’t mind at all, considering what we get in return. And decluttering the house and getting everything ready for guests has an added benefit: it motivates us to take care of things we’d otherwise let go.
Since we left our son at college, we’ve traveled from every year, usually for 1 – 2 months at a time. It’s a great life, and we’re so grateful to be able to live it. We’ve met wonderful people, and learned so much from the different perspectives and the challenges that traveling offers. We might slow down a little in coming years (those suitcases are heavy!), but we have no intention of stopping!
Are you an empty nester who swaps or rents out your home? We’d love to hear about your experiences!