Guest blog post: Janis Fisher Chan is a writer, editor and passionate traveller who loves home exchanging. If you love travel and love getting a real feel for your destination, Janis encourages you to try home swapping!
The apartment in a landmarked building overlooking Amsterdam’s Vondelpark was filled with light, and the music library was to die for. We’d been to Amsterdam before, but a week in a cramped hotel room in a tourist area hadn’t given us much sense of the city. Now we were “living like locals”!
We chatted with neighbors, shopped at the market down the block, became pals with the owner of the café at the corner, hopped on and off street cars as if it were no big thing. All this cost little more than airfare: We were doing a home swap. While we were enjoying the benefits of a home swap in a new city, our exchange partners were living happily in our suburban Bay Area home.
Amsterdam wasn’t our first home swap. Over the years, we’ve experienced the benefits of home swapping in a sprawling apartment in Barcelona, a tiny flat in Paris’s fashionable 7th arrondissement, a gorgeous hilltop home in San Miguel de Allende, a small apartment right in the center of Chicago, and a comfy vacation home smack on the beach in Santa Barbara.
Home swapping is a great way to travel! Here’s why…
1. Home swapping helps to expand your horizons
On one transatlantic flight my seat partner continually reviewed and re-reviewed hundreds of photos from his whirlwind tour: In five days, he’d photographed the Coliseum, the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg Gate, London Bridge… all the major tourist sites on his route.
That kind of traveling is not for me. I want to taste life in the place I’m visiting. I want to experience a new culture and gain a new perspective. With a home swap, I get to live in a neighborhood, learn about a place from a local’s perspective, explore out of the way places, and connect with people I’d never meet on the top deck of a tour bus. The memories linger long after I’ve returned home.
2. Home swapping helps you save money
When Jeff and I first started traveling, we were severely limited by how long we could be away and how much we could spend. Time is no longer much of an issue, now that Jeff is retired and I can work from anywhere, but our travel budget is still pretty limited. Home swapping helps us get the most out of what we can afford to spend.
We still have to pay for airfare and other transportation, and our incidental expenses are usually a little higher because we get out and do more. But swapping homes frees up money we’d otherwise spend on hotels and restaurants. With free lodging and a kitchen of our own, we can stay longer, travel farther, and do things we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to do.
3. Home swapping is much more comfortable
Even a small apartment or cottage has more space than a hotel room (unless you can afford the Presidential suite). You can spread out and put some space between you and your family members. An exchange home is a home, with places to sit and read, a sofa for stretching out, a table for your meals, and space for your clothes and personal items so you don’t have to live out of a suitcase.
You might have a deck, patio, balcony or back yard, even a pool.
Chances are there will be books, games, DVDs, and, if you exchange with a family, toys for the kids. Best of all, you feel less pressure to be on the go every minute. After all, you have a home in which to relax whenever you need to recharge your batteries.
4. Home swap vacations are ideal for families
Traveling is tiring enough without being squashed into a hotel room with cranky children. Kids need regular meals, naps, and places to run off some of their amazing energy.
In your exchange home, you can put the kids to bed, close the door, and relax for the rest of the evening. You may have a washer and dryer so you can keep up with the laundry. When you swap with another family, you’re likely to have toys, cribs, safety gadgets like electric socket covers and stair gates, child-sized furniture, plastic dishware, and more.
Best of all, living like a local can expose your kids to new cultures and different ways of doing things.
5. When home swapping, you get “insider” tips
Most travelers rely on guidebooks and hotel concierges for suggestions about where to eat and what to do. Home swappers typically share “insider” tips: the best places to shop, favorite restaurants and cafes, where to have your hair cut, out-of-the way museums and sights, hidden walks and bike trails, and more.
In other words, your home swap partner can be an on-the-ground guide, offering suggestions for places you’d never know to visit and things you’d never know to do.
6. Home swapping helps you challenge yourself
My mother’s idea of travel was a week or two on cruise ship or in a resort on Maui, where everything was provided, predictable, and safe. If that kind of traveling appeals to you, fine. But what I like most about traveling are the challenges and surprises that keep me alert and present, leading to more intense, rewarding experiences and a deeper understanding of myself.
Home swaps not only take you to new, unknown places and present you with different ways of living, they are seldom predictable. They force you to be flexible and expect the unexpected so you can deal with whatever comes your way, from a quirky hot water heater to a last-minute cancellation.
7. Home swaps provide the security of knowing your home is being cared for
I am reluctant to leave our home empty for more than a few days. Not only might our houseplants die, I worry that our vacant home will attract the attention of the thieves who are always cruising neighborhoods like ours. Knowing that our home exchange partners will be there to spot a burst water pipe before it causes serious damage (this happened to us!) helps me relax and enjoy my trip.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that our home swap partners will care for our home the way we do, but we’ve found that they nearly always do. After all, we’re living in their home, too.
Have you swapped homes? What are your favorite benefits of a home swap holiday?
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