Traveling With Kids | House Swapping
When you mention house-swapping to people you usually get one of two reactions. You either have people who recoil in horror at the thought of strangers staying in their house and touching their things or you have people who nod in agreement and say “why not?”. I fall in between these two groups. I recoil in horror at the thought of doing a house-swap but I actually do them as well.
House-swapping is when you and another party mutually agree to exchange houses for a period of time, usually for a minimum of one week. You can do simultaneous or non-simultaneous house swaps and we have tried both as well as actually going to stay with a family while they were also in the house. There are many house-swap sites that list homes from all over the world and they usually provide swapping contracts as well as let people write reviews and experiences about the people they’ve swapped with. We have personally used geenee.com which is a site you can join for free and only pay if you decide to swap.
To date we have done three house-swaps. Our first near Barcelona, our second in the south of France and our third (and favourite) in Tokyo. All three experiences were very positive and made our time in these destinations really fantastic.
From our experiences with house-swapping I’ve written up a list of our pros and cons. Here they are:
-First and foremost we all think about the money saved by doing a house-swap. Saving on the rental of a vacation house or hotel room for a week or two is huge. It’s great to be able to use that extra money to do enjoyable activities that might usually be out of budget while on vacation. In Japan we used the money we saved on not staying in a hotel in Tokyo to help buy the five of us two week train passes (which cost more than our flights!).
-Another important advantage is the convenience of staying in a real house which offers all the daily necessities such as kitchen appliances, dishes, towels, bed sheets, kid’s toys, bikes and sometimes even pets. We’ve noticed that our kids really appreciated these swaps because it made them feel so much more at home and comfortable. While in France we had a great villa with private swimming pool and children’s bikes and the kids slept in a room full of books and toys. What more could you want while on a family vacation?
-Usually a swap family leaves a file of house information as well as information about the area and what to do, where to go, out-of-the-way and unknown tourist attractions, the best bakery in town or their favourite local restaurants. These “insider tips” help make your vacation so much more relaxed and stress-free. We have always left a huge pile of brochures, maps, ferry schedules and local attractions for our guests. “Living like a local” makes any vacation that much richer and more authentic.
-Another advantage which was important for us was knowing that our house wasn’t left empty for weeks at a time. We had someone to water our garden, feed our chickens and make our house less appealing to thieves (big problem over here in Italy).
-And one of the pros that I wasn’t expecting was the fact that we ended up making some really great friends by doing a house-swap. In Japan we were generously invited to stay at a family’s house while they were there (and they came and stayed with us this past summer). It could have ended in a disastrous and awkward situation but the family was absolutely wonderful, warm and welcoming. I’m pretty sure we’ll be in touch with them for many years to come.
-The first disadvantage I have to mention is definitely the “ick” factor. The thought of strangers in your home using your personal things is something that’s not easy to get your head around. When we did the swap in the south of France we arrived in the house and found some very questionable art work on the bedroom walls (fine line between art and erotica sometimes) and a photo of an overweight moustachioed man wearing an undershirt. I spent the night wondering who in the world was sleeping in my bed and what in the world they could be doing (ICK!).
-Another con would have to be the risk factor. In the end you have to put a lot of trust in human kind and hope that the people you’re swapping with are actually who they have portrayed themselves as on the swap site. In order to get a better feel of the people we were swapping with we would always have a few phone or Skype conversations beforehand. Oh and of course we Googled the life out of them as well. Another risk could be the potential damage to something in your home but if it’s agreed beforehand that each party is responsible for what is broken all should go smoothly (strangely enough I hid my beloved Kitchen Aid when we had guests in our house!). For our stay in the house with the pool it was clearly stated by the house owner that he had no legal responsibility for our small children around the pool. Fair enough.
-One last tiny disadvantage would be the time investment in organising the swap. Swapping isn’t something you can book in a day but more something you have to plan and organise for weeks or months. You first have to take the time to search out and communicate with possible swaps and then you have to agree on dates etc. In the end it’s all worth it but it’s better to start 6 months to a year in advance. For Japan we contacted and agreed to a swap a good 6 months prior to arriving.
Over all we really did enjoy our swaps. We enjoyed staying in the little beachside apartment on the Costa Brava in Spain where we spent the evenings strolling down the boardwalk and stopping for tapas at the recommended restaurants. We loved our time in the South of France where we spent two weeks enjoying having a house with pool (it was 40 degrees) and the kids loved cycling around the residential and safe neighbourhood. And in Tokyo we adored staying with the family and hearing about their experiences in the city and their favourite spots to visit.
Have you ever done a house swap? If not, would you ever think about doing one? I’d love to hear about your experiences and thoughts.