"Four years ago, as a parent who loved taking her kids on adventures but, as a freelance writer and University lecturer money was tight, I came across the Home Base Holidays website. Here was the key to the problem of how to take one's family abroad on an affordable budget and the most brilliant idea for everyone who loves adventure, travel and new experiences! I was delighted and quickly signed up and, to be honest, haven't looked back since. Our first exchange was a delightful five day mini-break outside Chichester, just across the water from us - we are on the Isle of Wight. A 40 minute 'hop', we packed the car, our swimming kit and sun cream and swapped one beach for another! Sitting around our hosts' fire pit as the stars twinkled above us and we toasted our first home swap, we were glowing with excitement realising then that this was just the first of many adventures to come.
After that, we swapped our three bedroomed house on the island for a five bedroomed airy house in a leafy road in Islington and, as my family all live in London, managed to catch up over heart-warming drinks and dinners with just about everyone we knew. It was a central location and my two teenagers were happy too, darting off to Camden Market and the cafes and boutique shops of Islington High Street. Everyone was happy!
We then thought we would venture further afield so swapped our house with two different families from France, one after another, so we could easily drive from one French location to another. What bliss followed! I awoke in the South of France, just outside Montpelier in vineyard territory, to the sounds of cicadas rubbing their feet and the gentle wafts of lavender streaming in through the bedroom shutters. I marvelled once again at the joys of being a Home Base Holidays member and considered our good fortune.
Jumping into the turquoise pool and walking through ancient streets to get to a friendly local 'Bar/Tabac' where we were welcome as locals, I could feel my sunburn tingling as I sipped at my Cassis aperitif. I looked over at my husband, Tony, and shaking my head and smiling, I simply said 'This home swap thing is simply amazing. I can't believe we are here!' But we were and journeying up to a house in the Charente and sitting at the side of their pool with my teenagers and two friends running around the grounds, again I felt happy and a little smug knowing that we had saved so much money on rental accommodation.
And it was all about trust. That is essentially what being a Home Base member means: trust and respect. If you respect your home swapper's house, they, of course, will respect yours and what's also lovely is that one only has to take down valuables, but can leave up all family mementos, photos, paintings and so on. It's essential, of course, to leave's one's house spotlessly clean for the incoming home-swappers and likewise, leave a swapped house spotlessly clean before you leave. Not a big demand by any means!
Amsterdam followed and a house on the Dutch coast where we were left old bikes to ride through the dunes and this year, we are swapping with a family in Southern Spain and can't wait to stay in their delightful apartment a stone's throw from the beach; simple tapas bars and fine Spanish Rioja - red for my husband, white for me! And this time, guess what? We aren't taking our teenagers! Freedom! My teens are holidaying with their friends, but we also have a lovely warm feeling that at any point in the future, next year, or the year after, we can holiday again as a family and keep home-swapping!
Home Base Holidays has really helped me give my family memorable holidays and adventures and imbued in my young teenagers the sheer delight in exploring new houses, new towns and villages and, if you like, living the house-swap dream!."
By Barbara Jane Mackie, Novelist. 'Eat The View' available on Amazon
Click here to view Barbara's home exchange offer in Ryde on the beautiful Isle of Wight, England