House swapping is growing in popularity as a means to enjoying a unique holiday on a modest budget. Age Scotland volunteer Pat Craig shares her experiences.
As the taxi turned off Central Park West the driver muttered, “Nice, very nice.” My sentiments exactly! This street of elegant brownstone houses, home to some eminent residents including the conductor Itzhak Perlman, was to be my home for the next two weeks. All for free! My New York hosts were on their way to my semi detached in Fife.
We were house swapping.
If your idea of travel is to live like a native, try it. Get out of the tourist areas, shop in neighbourhood stores, eat where the locals eat, join the library, ride the subway with the commuters and get an inside view of the area from your fellow swappers who are doing the same in your house.
You don’t of course have to swap abroad. John and Carol have been swapping their home in Kendal for 5 years for a variety of homes in Edinburgh during the Festival. “It’s much cheaper than renting and we’ve also discovered more about the city than we’d ever have done if we’d stayed in hotels or B&B.”
You may think it’s easier to attract fellow swappers if you live in a scenic location or a desirable city, but not so. Where you see dreich weather; they will marvel at the greenness of the grass or the accessibility of our transport services, the castles and tartan.
So how do you get started? Type ‘home swap’ into any internet search engine and you’ll find agencies listing details and photographs of homes to swap, locations the swappers would like to visit and the preferred duration which can be from a weekend to several months. For around £30 a year the agency will add your details to their website. This is generally as far as their service goes.
The first thing to do, after of course you have decided where and when you want to go, is to contact the swappers directly by email to determine whether they have a mutual interest. Decide from the outset the number of visitors you are happy with, and whether you are prepared to include children.
Make sure you inform your insurance company of your arrangements. They’re unlikely to add anything to your premiums. If you’re swapping cars, get a cover note, paid by your swappers, and ask them to do the same for you. Have your car serviced and arrange with your usual garage to do any essential repairs on account while you are away – up to an agreed limit just in case.
Differing housekeeping standards cause the biggest dissatisfaction: all you can do is make sure you have left your home in the best possible state, and hope your swappers have done the same.
Leave full instructions for all your appliances, not forgetting the answer phone. If possible, enlist a friend to welcome your swappers and show them the ropes. Leave useful and emergency numbers, a first aid kit, and a welcome pack for the first evening. It doesn’t cost much and it’s a nice gesture.
Has it been worth it? Absolutely! I’ve visited places beyond my budget that you don’t find in holiday brochures, felt like a native and made lasting friends. Best of all there’s a little girl living in NYC who was ‘made’ in Kirkcaldy.