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  • Writer's pictureJo Watkins

Someone sleeping in my bed?

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

House Swapping.

What is it all about?

How? Why? Surely a hotel is better?

Imagine yourself in a pre Covid world. This is the world that we were in when I wrote most of this blog. One day we will travel again but now, more than ever, we cherish human connection so maybe it is time for you to consider it.

House swapping is all about connection so if you are interested in knowing more you have come to the right place.

Are you a home owner who is

  • Adventurous

  • Organised

  • Open minded

  • Good communicator

  • Proactive

  • Wouldn't mind someone else sleeping in your bed *this is the key yes or no question*

Ways to get started with house swapping

Browse websites like Love Home Swap and find properties that you like the look of in a few areas (free 2 wk trial to sign up and look around when you have time to commit to it - you can browse properties before signing up but can’t contact them).

There are many other house swapping websites that we have used as well. We used Home Exchange along with Love Home Swap for our bigger trip. There are many smaller ones. Just have a look around and see.

Communities are popping up all the time including People Like Us run by a lovely guy called Drew in Australia. This is a thriving and growing free community on Facebook and they have a website as well. It is a simple joining process.

There are more specialised groups popping up all the time on Facebook. World Schooler Exchange was one we used when travelling with the kids as well but there are sites for those swapping with dogs, older people, couples, singles, sofa surfing and house sitting. I have started a very informal Facebook group Bendylegs Boltholes for anyone who wants to join. You can post photos and information on here without joining up to an official website.

Google is your friend.

Trust is important here. As much as the news tells you otherwise, there are some amazing people out there in the world who will enrich your lives and offer you amazing opportunities.

Being proactive and giving it a go is a MUST with house swapping. Just send the email. You have NOTHING to lose. Send emails to a short list of properties. As many as you can with the same message and change the name. Always more successful.

The biggest mistake people make is join and wait to be contacted by other people - hoping to be offered a 6 bedroom villa in France out of nowhere. Unlikely to be as successful but you might get lucky.

Also, be open minded. You are not going to be able to stick a pin in a map and decide where you want to go. We have done that once having said that. We knew exactly which beach we wanted to go to on Vancouver Island, trolled all the sites, found a house on one, joined the group, emailed them and they were keen to come to Wales. It is NOT as easy as that normally!

Decide on a country or an area but be open to change, and research a new idea when an offer is put to you. Enjoy the communication process. People are so helpful and sometimes if they can’t swap they may ask friends and family if you are really keen on that area.

House swapping is a mindset. A way of life.

Things you should ensure you do in the planning process

Give plenty of details in your description and make it a personal approach. ‘Hi, I am Jo and we are a family from South Wales who would love to come and explore your area and your house looks amazing…” will work better than “Can we house swap please?”.

Ensure you include (nice) photos of your house/area, ideally when it's tidy on a sunny day.

Add personal touches, number of kids, whether they are able to borrow equipment, surf boards etc.

Be honest - there is no point exaggerating or pretending to be nearer the beach than you are for example. They will find out when they arrive! Everyone wants something different.

Always reply to any swap requests you get. These come in thick and fast when you first join and it is always nice to get an acknowledgement, even if it is a negative response so that you don't keep people hanging on and they can move on and find alternatives.

Be proactive. People can always say no. You lose nothing by asking. You never know. Remember it is not like for like. You may not see the potential in your house or area but others will. People want different things. As well as lots of families there are many retired couples on Home Exchange who have large properties but are happy to swap for much smaller properties in the right location eg. city locations or suburbs on the outskirts of cities. We have had people looking for accommodation for weddings as well, which can happen anywhere.

Retired people who house swap love nothing more then facilitating and being a part of an adventure for a young family.

You can arrange to exchange cars or pets if this works for you. They can feed your chickens or you can explain you have arranged for a neighbour to come in to do this for you. Every arrangement is different and depends on the wants and needs of each party, this is where communication comes in.

Exchange emails, get to know the other family. We have made many lifelong friends through house swapping with whom we will always keep in touch.

Consider non-simultaneous swaps or the points system. Love Home Swap is the market leader on this. This gives you more flexibility with dates. People use this system if they have a holiday home or if they are already away on another booked holiday. Some people move in with family or friends for the 2 weeks to enable swappers to use your house so you can then use their fabulous 2nd home at another time.. it is all flexible. Love Home Swap uses a points system that works well for non simultaneous exchanges and second homes. We used this as a mainstay for our travels. We knew which periods of time we were going to be away and had a booking system. So many of our trips were non simultaneous although we have done a trip where we met the other family in a pub on the way down the motorway to exchange and meet up!

Don't forget long weekends or short breaks in this country. There are many families in the London area who are desperate for a seaside destination for half terms so you can take the kids to London without the ridiculous expense of accommodation. Half terms are by far the most popular option for UK breaks.

To prepare

De clutter: I see it as my yearly spring clean. A good excuse to tidy up and get rid of a load of toys or junk that has accumulated.

Doesn't need to be pristine at all. It is a functioning home. That is the beauty of house swapping. That is one of the many reasons why we do it. The fancy dress box in someone else’s house is like a treasure trove when you are 5!

Get together an information pack (roll it out every time). Things you can include are not all essential but once done it is done.

  • Emergency phone numbers.

  • Neighbours names, who to contact with a problem

  • Numbers for doctors, hospital, dentist, vet, electrician, odd job person, whoever they should contact

  • Information about the area.

  • Local shops.

  • Your favourite or top 10... Restaurants, cafes, walks, views etc. You can go into as much or as little detail as you want. We were told about a favourite market we would never have found otherwise, with face painting for the kids which gave us a really special and memorable day in a small village in New Zealand.

  • Collect leaflets from tourist information.

  • Take away menus.

  • Any local books you may have, local walks, maps.

  • Recent copies of What's On guide and local magazines.

  • Info on playgrounds, groups, libraries and rainy day kids activities.

  • Day trips further afield.

  • Some history of the area or a book.

  • Put all instructions to appliances in a folder so they are easy to find

  • Information re putting the bins out, post etc

  • Any internet passwords or alarm numbers

Before you leave your house

Leave house tidy and clean. It doesn't need to be spotless just clean and as you would want to find it. We usually come back to a tidier house than we left. We now always arrange a cleaner and get the bedding washed but that is out of choice and we don’t mind spending £60 to come home knowing that has been done. When we did lots of swaps we found some swappers wanted to pay that bill. Sometimes we arranged to both pay our own cleaning arrangements. It was flexible.

Bedding: you can either leave bedding and towels or strip and ask swappers to bring it, depending on what you prefer. You can agree that with your swapping family. Again, it is all in the communication.

Valuables: Lock anything you are worried about away or in a room or if you are really worried then take it to a family or friend. Remember this is a like for like agreement. There is more information about this on the websites. People are not going to trash your house. Remember, you are staying in their house. We do tend to lock our computer away. We have one lockable cupboard.

If I don't think I will have time to clear everything properly I will advertise with one less bedroom so that I can use the one we have put a lock on as a dumping ground just before we leave for those unsorted piles of washing and bits and bobs.

Sign a reciprocal document via the website about who is coming to stay and your expectations. You can personalise this as you want. We have done most of our swaps without anything written down. Going through a website rather than arranging yourself gives you some reassurance but we have done so many swaps on trust we have built up communications.

Discuss with the swappers about what you want them to do at the end. Strip beds or not etc. In the past we have arranged to have our house cleaned after, as have they, so that no one has to leave the properties cleaning the floors behind them.

Tell your neighbours or family about your swappers. It is so lovely to have a helpful face pop in when you arrive to check all is ok.

You can arrange to leave numbers for childcare or numbers of friends with kids the same age. It is a wonderful opportunity for kids to meet children from other countries and even to practice their language skills.

Tell your insurance company. They like to know and most companies have experience in house swapping. Your car insurers will need to know as well if you are going to swap cars. A lot of companies do not insure people from USA: we had to change insurers on one occasion to be able to get cover for them.

Leave a pint of milk and maybe a bottle of wine. We often leave local produce and have always come home to a gift and a lovely card.

Arrange where to leave the keys then lock your house and head off on your adventure feeling happy that someone will be enjoying your lovely home and the beautiful area that you live in while you are away, and will probably leave it cleaner than you left it!

It sounds like a lot to do and the first time it is a bit daunting but then you bring out all the information every year and each time you do it things become easier.

We have swapped over 25 times in the last 12 years and if we hadn't house swapped we would never have done our trip around the world. We saved tens of thousands... otherwise the trip would not have been possible. We have travelled to a French Villa with 2 other families, a house in Oxford for a long weekend, several London exchanges and a swap in North Wales.

For our trip around the world we contacted a house swap in Sri Lanka who couldn’t swap but offered really reasonable B&B rates which we took. She hooked us up with a driver and the rest of our travel plan and we had the most incredible, personalised trip.

We swapped in Perth and Exmouth in Western Australia then did 6 back to back swaps with points in New Zealand. We have been left wine, food, cakes, children’s games, paintings, gifts, free passes to the aquarium and letters. Canada and North America travelling from Vancouver down to Monterey Bay and back up the middle. We have done so much and we can't wait for the world to open up again to do more.

Islands, ski resorts, lakeside lodges, holiday parks and views to die for. Little corners of places that we would otherwise have never known existed.

One of my favourite random house swapping experiences has to be a huge Austrian banquet with a three generation family who didn't speak much English at all. They invited us from their rental apartment downstairs that we were using up to their main apartment for an evening of traditional Austrian food and music, communicating mainly using international sign language, strange Austrian spirits and a lot of laughter.

Happy memories made.

If you have any questions feel free to shoot them over to me. Jo Watkins is co founder of The HOW People who host a digital membership for teen girls aged 11-16 yrs old.

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