“It’s like dating someone… but with your house, not your heart,” is how one home exchange vacation fan summed it up for me.
Since houses (sadly not hearts) come with insurance, I decided to try this travel trend just as rising energy prices and food inflation were hitting hard.
Family breakup at cut-price prices has been elusive in recent years.
Accommodation costs in the EU soared to 22 percent above inflation in 2022 and, although they have fallen since then (to 6.8 percent in December 2023), the idea of using our home as currency to traveling was intriguing.
How far would a 1930s terrace with three and a half beds take us, just a stone’s throw from the Thames in Surrey?
Joanna Tweedy shares her experience of a family home exchange holiday in the Loire Valley (pictured)
Almost everywhere, was the response. Our proximity to London inundated us with requests: a British couple living in New Zealand, a family in Orlando, retirees from Brazil… plus dozens of offers in Europe, including villa owners in Portugal, elegant French country houses and apartments in the city of Berlin.
We decided on a test trip to Valencia and stayed three nights in a stylish three-bedroom duplex owned by a couple in their 30s who work in the Spanish film industry.
They showed us how to use various devices, including their huge television, and then cheerfully dismissed us. We thought it was a bargain: we explored one of the most beautiful cities in Europe for the price of four Ryanair flights, around £200, plus car hire for £120.
Summer brought a similar treasure.
We exchanged houses with a French family: two teachers with three grown children who lived on the outskirts of the Loire Valley.
Their beautiful four-bedroom house had a kitchen with all the necessary appliances, as well as a gourmet spice rack. The garage was filled with games and sports equipment, including four mountain bikes that we were free to use. To the children’s delight, there also lived a cat named Yumi.
Be my guest: The Lamoureux family from France enjoys a stay at Joanna’s house
Meanwhile, at our house, the French family seemed just as happy. Friendly messages were passed back and forth: they shared snaps of our two cats and their afternoon tea in Brighton, and we told them all about getting around the capital. There was some work: we fed Yumi and her fish and watered the plants.
Trade and save: Joanna and her family on a trip
Any other catches? We did a lot of cleaning before leaving our own house and a lot before leaving theirs too. It’s kind of a deal.
How much did this six-night stay cost in the middle of the summer season in France?
Approximately £27.50 – the combined price of the gifts we left – a nice bottle of Chateau de Sancerre and a bar of artisanal chocolate. That’s an incredible £6.87 each in accommodation.
Of course, we paid for the ferry, the tolls and also the gasoline. A return crossing from Dover to Calais P&O was £187 and we spent £200 for miles and door-to-door fees. Signing up to the home exchange website costs £150 per year, and unlimited exchanges are allowed. All things considered, we were still winning, and somehow.
Jessica Poillucci of home exchange website HomeExchange says: “Home exchange is a cost-effective way to see the world and you can live like a local, not like a tourist.”
Here, we reveal the finer details of how swaps work.
Joanna reveals that her first home exchange experience was in Valencia (pictured), where she stayed three nights in a “stylish” three-bedroom duplex.
DO I NEED TO REGISTER ON A WEBSITE?
Home swapping has been around informally for decades, but signing up for a home swap website, such as homexchange.com, homelink.org, and vacationswap.com, ensures that you won’t be alone if things go wrong. You’ll usually pay an annual fee (between £115 and £180) and once you’ve uploaded details and photos of your home, you can start contacting owners to book stays.
DO I HAVE TO MAKE A DIRECT EXCHANGE?
In short, no. If it works for both parties to stay at each other’s house at the same time, great, but many websites now use a system that allows you to earn “points” when you host. For example, the couple who owned the duplex in Valencia retreated to their second home in the mountains during our stay and can save their points to use on another home anywhere in the world in the future.
What about valuables?
Trust is essential for a successful home exchange. If you can’t stand a stranger opening your cupboards or looking into the shed, it’s not for you. It’s wise to make sure prized possessions aren’t left lying around, but exchanges depend on guests treating your home the same way they would like theirs to be treated. If there is a breakage, the site’s annual fees usually include insurance, and although disagreements are rare, the websites say they will intervene to help resolve problems.
DO I NEED ADDITIONAL INSURANCE?
Most insurance companies, including Axa and Aviva, say guests are covered for stays of up to 30 days, as long as no money is exchanged. They add that it’s wise to contact your insurance provider before staying to let them know that you’ll still need a standard travel insurance policy if you’re staying in someone else’s home. Additionally, some landlords will ask for a small fee to cover cleaning, usually no more than £30.