With no guarantee of being able to holiday abroad this summer, and with stretched household budgets, Ruth Taylor discusses an inexpensive and enjoyable alternative for taking a break in the UK when we’re able to.
“If your parent’s house isn’t wrecked, I’ll consider it!” My husband wasn’t keen on the idea of house swapping for holidays, but my parents came back, had a good time and their house was in perfect condition. That was nearly 30 years ago, and we have been exchanging homes with families ever since. Our first exchange was a long weekend in Bathampton, just outside Bath. When we arrived, our son ran into the garden and climbed into the tree house and said he wasn’t coming down! He was three years old and our daughter a baby. We had a great time.
When we came home a woman from Shrewsbury phoned asking if we’d be interested in a two week exchange that summer – her holiday dates matched ours and all was arranged. The Shrewsbury family were experienced exchangers and they helped initiate us into the world of home exchanging, with tips and ideas. Today, we are one of a huge, worldwide community of experienced exchangers and have completed over 50 swaps.
We have been all over the UK, from Scotland to Cornwall. We have also swapped homes with owners in France, Netherlands, Eire, and New Zealand. I can honestly say we’ve never had a bad exchange – we’ve enjoyed them all. We have looked after an assortment of people’s pets – cats, rabbits, hamsters, stick insects and fish. Fortunately, we didn’t have to tend the beehives for a family who lived on the edge of Exmoor, but they did leave us a jar of honey for our toast. In return our various pets have been cared for by our visiting families. By matching ourselves with families with children of a similar age we were also able to swap equipment and toys, and the homes would each be ‘child-proofed’.
The key ingredients for home exchanging is communication, flexibility and to be honest about everything. We are members of the Guardian Home Exchange – which is connected to the newspaper, but there are other sites that you can join. The Guardian membership is £59 per year, you get your own online listing which you can edit/manage yourself and contact other members. On the site you tick the tick boxes, to show your preferences, for example we can no longer have small children come to stay as our children have grown up and the house is no longer child-proofed. You can indicate where you’d ideally like to stay, your best dates, and post pictures of your home and surrounding area. I like to leave tourist leaflets, restaurant menus, and copies of Southsea Lifestyle for people to read when they arrive.
People always tell me that they’ve enjoyed staying in Southsea, and some families have swapped with us more than once. Give it a try, and if your home isn’t wrecked you may become a home swapper for life.