Home Exchanges

If you can pull it off, there is nothing better than a home exchange. Home exchange is where you live in someone else's home while they live in yours. An exchange can be made anywhere in the world.

We've traded residences twice in our own travels, arranging the swap between folks working for the same organization as we did. They enjoyed our flat in London for three weeks while we hung out at their place in Paris.

Many academics and church pastors have done this kind of thing quite a bit as well. You get a chance to really live, at least for a short while, in a new place. You also get the conveniences of a complete house—a way to do washing, a way to buy way-cool groceries and eat a quiet dinner at home, a way to put one's feet up and flip through the Paris phonebook.

By the way, since it is a swap, it is also free. That means, time allowing, you can stay longer. Perhaps this is a way around my former landlady's conundrum of time versus money?

If this does not work out, you can join me in paranoid pleasure imaging the darling couple from the host country running up an US$8000 phone bill at a 900 number chat line before loading your Pikachu collection, big screen TV and complete set of National Graphics into Le U-Haul and disappearing. And hey, you felt bad at their place when you snuck a few sips from their 12 years-in-the-wood bottle of single malt.

While not for everybody, house sitting is an excellent way to feel at home in a far away place. In return for looking after the plants and perhaps pets, you get to live in someone else's home for free. If you have plants or pets (or are a plant or pet with the ability to read and use a mouse), this web site seeks to match up houses that need sitting and sitters. They caution that they do not act as a matching service, simply a central advertising point, and advise you to please check references carefully. You can sign up to sit, or your house to be sat.

HomeLink is a UK-based home exchange site that offers to match up folks looking to trade a place to stay with others who need a place to stay.

Another good home-swap site is Home Base Holidays. Though based in London, they list homes in fifty countries. They have a free newsletter with tips and stories by experienced home exchangers. The site also has a page devoted specifically to home exchanges for families traveling with their kids.

I also stumbled across an intersting blog about home exchanges that looks to have lots of good information.

I think that if you are at all interested in a house swap, it might be worth reading through the materials on the above sites, though you'll need to use your own judgement about working with them directly (let me know if you do however, and I'll share your experience on this site). As the Digsville owner wrote to me, “Home exchange offers you the opportunity to experience local lifestyles in a way tourists never do and with accommodations not typically available. As one very experienced exchanger, and also a university professor says, ‘There is no better way to teach your children the history of the world than living like the locals.'”

You might want to start the home exchange thinking by looking at some possible international connections you might already have. The two swaps we did worked I think because they were with people who worked for the same organization that I did. I did not know either family personally, and in fact never met them, but knowing that I knew where they worked and that a friend of a friend of the colleague in Personnel knew them, made me a little more comfortable with the whole idea.

Your company might have a branch in Bonn, or you might have met at an academic conference a fellow professor from Perth, or your church might have an affiliation in, shoot, what's a good place to attach to the “A” alliteration here, um, ATHENS! I'd stay away from cutting deals with people you meet in Internet chat rooms or via the personal ads in “Guns and Ammo” magazine.

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