An adventurous traveler has visited 15 countries in the past two years and saved £20,000 by swapping her Parisian flat.
Inspired by the hit rom-com The Holiday, in which Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz switch houses, Habiba Ben Othman, 34, decided to trade her flat for adventure.
At first she just traded with people from the South of France, but then she traded globally – traveling to Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Sweden and Brazil.
Having lived in 20 properties in the past two years, Habiba says house swapping has changed her life and she will continue to swap her flat until she has seen the world.
Habiba in Rio de Janeiro in April 2021. The 34-year-old says house swapping has changed her life and she will never stop
Habiba visits the Pantheon in Rome during one of her house swaps, many of which have been in Europe
Habiba on the Isle of Skye in Scotland in April 2022 – one of her first trips abroad using the home exchange scheme
Habiba’s one-bed apartment in Paris, with which she exchanges residences. The fact that she is in such a lively city that people want to visit helps her to be able to switch homes
Habiba, a consulting manager, said: ‘My bucket list is to travel everywhere, which is exactly what I’m doing now.
‘Home exchange has changed my life because travel is now a big part of it.
‘I can work remotely all over the world in beautiful countries and see the world in a different way.’
Habiba’s first introduction to house swapping was as a teenager watching The Holiday one Christmas.
But it was only after re-watching the film during a Covid lockdown in 2020 that Habiba felt inspired to switch homes and travel alone.
When she found the website Love Home Swap, Habiba decided to take the plunge in July 2020 when she traveled to the South of France for her first home swaps.
She said: ‘My first few homes were chalets and luxury properties in the south of France which were absolutely fantastic.
‘The website was full of like-minded people who were really relaxed and welcoming, so I did the same and started accepting people as mine too.’
Then, in August 2020, Habiba traveled to the UK to live in homes across England, Scotland and Ireland.
She said: ‘I started with London and then Edinburgh and then traveled more around Scotland.
Habiba stayed in a beautiful home in Edinburgh at Christmas 2021 – saving her thousands on hotel nights
Room with a view: Habiba had time to look at this beautiful stag on her trip to a Scottish cottage
The Highlands (pictured) has been one of Habiba’s favorite places to visit through her home exchange scheme
Bath was another city Habiba visited in March 2020. She credits the home exchange scheme with helping her feel more a part of the city she visits
The 34-year-old marketing manager from Paris has had many new experiences, including seeing this owl in York
‘One of my favorite adventures was last April when I went on a road trip around the north coast of Scotland in a rental car.
‘I also lived in a wooden cabin in the highlands, which was like something out of a fairy tale.
“There were deer past the window, and at night I could hear the owls while sitting by the fireplace. I felt like I was actually in The Holiday.’
She added that she has enjoyed traveling alone, just like the characters in The Holiday.
She said: ‘I remember watching it and thinking it was so romantic and adventurous and the two main characters were women traveling alone, like me.
‘I like traveling with friends, but I prefer to travel alone because it’s easier to plan and budget, and I’m really lucky that my job is very flexible so I can work where I want.’
Traveling alone – and staying in someone’s home and not a hotel – also opens up different experiences, she says.
The French capital and Habiba’s hometown Paris – not a bad place to visit, especially via a home exchange scheme
The beautiful city of Strasbourg in eastern France has been one of Habiba’s favorite places to visit
Habiba has lived in over 20 different homes in 15 different countries over the past two years and says it has changed her life
Last summer she visited Stockholm, Sweden, known for its iconic city hall, the world’s first open-air museum and the Abba museum
Habiba has also used the scheme to enjoy Rome (pictured here in 2021), a city known for it’s Colosseum, Roman Forum and its sprawling metropolis of classical architecture
A home is Rome: The scheme means locals swap their homes to live elsewhere – enabling people to stay in homely accommodation like this one instead of hotels
Great view: She has reached both cities and landscapes, pictured here in the Swiss Alps in 2019
She said: ‘When I travel I like to live like a local and really immerse myself in local life and get the real experience.
‘Plus, house swapping is more comfortable and you get a real home with character and decoration and a kitchen and TV you just wouldn’t get with a hotel.’
Another advantage of swapping homes is that it is easier to make friends, Habiba has found out.
She said: ‘I love meeting new people wherever I go.
‘Once I swapped houses with a girl in Rome and she took me out for dinner to meet all her friends and it was amazing – they were so warm and welcoming.
“She’s coming to me for Christmas this year, which is lovely.”
Habiba has now traveled around the world, including Hungary, Italy, Sweden and Brazil.
Traveling further afield: Taking used the scheme to travel to South America, (pictured here enjoying the beautiful Iguazo Falls in Argentina in April 2021)
She also traveled to Mexico, pictured here enjoying Mexico’s wings in the bright sunshine
Make the most of life: The 34-year-old encourages other people to travel more too (pictured in the Amazon jungle in April 2021)
Cameron Diaz and Jude Law star in the popular Christmas film The Holiday, where two women swap homes and lives
And she says one of her favorite stops was Stockholm, Sweden.
“It was magical there – the city was so alive and welcoming,” she said.
‘Throughout the summer they had different festivals, so every night there would be music in the streets and new people to meet and history to learn.’
As well as having adventures, Habiba – who is single and currently swapping houses in Malta – estimates she has saved around £20,000 on hotel fees.
She said: ‘I used to use hotels or Airbnb or bed and breakfasts, whatever I could afford.
‘If you want a nice hotel or Airbnb near the city, then you can end up spending a lot.’
Habiba said: ‘If you swap your home with the owners of the one you’re visiting, it’s absolutely free.
“But even if you go somewhere you don’t trade at the same time, you’ll only pay a flat fee of £80 – which would be for a full 10-day stay, for example.
‘I’ve basically saved between five and 10,000 every year by swapping houses instead of using hotels or Airbnb.’
Habiba is already planning her next house swap for Christmas.
“I’ve got lots of friends in the UK now so I’m going to London for Christmas and New Year – and then for Hogmanay I’ll be in Edinburgh, which will be really exciting,” she said.
And hopes to encourage other women to take the plunge too.
“I would really advise other women to step out of their comfort zone and give it a try,” she said.
‘Start with a short trip and you’ll soon discover it’s so, so worth it.’