Thanks to Duncan and Claudia for this sunny, rich and inspiring testimony!
Three decades of home exchanges
Home exchanges have been a source of fun and adventure for nearly three decades. My husband and I have enjoyed it for twenty years, since 1994, when we used paper catalogs and postal mail, before using the internet. We arranged our first exchange to the UK over the phone and subsequently exchanged five times with the same family in Yorkshire – every two years over a ten year period. We adapted perfectly to this couple and their young son.
Having previously been abroad in England, we chose their country house in a small Yorkshire village, complete with pub, pond and, coincidentally, the site of a former Air Force base Canadian Royal during the Second World War.
They enjoyed our family-friendly Toronto neighborhood, with a wading pool in the local park, proximity to Lake Ontario and the beach, local stores and our excellent library.
We then essentially exchanged with the couple and their son, who was 5 years old during the first exchange and was a young teenager during the last. He particularly enjoyed Canadian experiences such as canoeing, camping, white water rafting and pony trekking – we didn’t even know the latter was possible! We were amused when he proudly displayed his memento: a stick gnawed by a Canadian beaver, which he brought to elementary school for the Show and Tell exhibit.
The couple’s friends in the village transported us to the station and invited us to have a drink at their house and eat at the local pub. On a final visit, our exchange partners shared an invitation to a reception for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in the city of York in 2000 – the year of the millennium. The last time we saw this couple we met for lunch and agreed that we were like family.
We also really appreciated:
– An oceanfront apartment in Victoria, Canada where we were able to watch the boats and seaplanes from the balcony
– An apartment in the former Olympic Village in Barcelona, where we shared a meal with the son and his girlfriend (they made the paella and we the gazpacho)
– Three trips to Ireland: Dublin, Cork and a holiday home in County Leitrim with excursions to Mayo, Sligo and Galway.
– Blankenberge, Belgium, with a friend of the couple who guided us to Bruges
– Co-op life in Amsterdam
– A historical apartment in the center of Vienna with excursions to Budapest and Prague
– A modern waterfront apartment in Vancouver, Canada
– An apartment in Edinburgh during the festival
– An apartment in a leafy suburb outside Berlin with a free train pass and two bicycles to ride along the Berlin Wall
– A luxurious country house in Provence
– A modern house in Brisbane, Australia during the July winter
– A townhouse in Dijon in France, where we went twice.
And next year we are planning trips to Quebec and to a Swedish village near the Copenhagen Bridge.
Home exchanges rely on the goodwill and trust of both parties
We’ve taken on challenges using YouTube to figure out how quirky devices work, like a cat food dispenser that gets stuck, or tips for caring for certain plants. We brainstormed ideas to ensure enjoyable visits, including restaurant and shopping recommendations, local attractions, festivals and markets.
The Belgians shared two bikes, one for the farmer’s market and the other for long rides. They sent us to their daughter’s café in Antwerp where she insisted on offering us coffee and pastries. Although allergic to cats, I happily twice fed outside cats that came and went independently. With the advent of the internet, we have often enjoyed sending and receiving messages from our partners to answer their questions and learn about their experiences in Toronto. When possible, we swapped cars and took trips to nearby places of interest. When we were based in Cork we flew on a low cost airline to spend a few days in Donegal and Northern Ireland.
The couple’s home in Toronto
Besides lifestyle swapping, home swapping is economical and has allowed us to travel more over the years. We paid for airfare, but saved on accommodation and car costs, shopped at local farmers’ markets, and cooked our own meals with local produce and regional specialties.
We have always shopped at our favorite local stores.
The key to our success has been having a list of desired destinations, but being flexible and open to all offers. Sometimes it’s more fun to wait for deals and visit destinations we hadn’t planned, like Vancouver at Christmas with a backcountry skiing trip near Whistler. The retreat allowed us to travel during all four seasons.
When people marvel at our experiences and wonder how we can swap our home with “strangers”, we reply that after a few exchanges of messages with potential partners, we get to know them and begin to adapt our advice to their interests and personal tastes. Most people go out of their way to make the vacation memorable. An Irish partner left a pile of his favorite books and asked me to do the same.
Our Belgian partners cooked us dinner in our kitchen, served us in our garden and drove us to the airport with our car.
This is true hospitality!