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Travel the Home Exchange Way

Updated on June 27, 2018

What is a Home Exchange

A home exchange usually occurs when two vacationers choose a private home rather than a commercially run lodging like a hotel. The vacationers offer each other the use of their home. They offer each other the benefit of a place "like home" to intimately experience and imbibe local culture and practices like buying produce from local markets and praying in local churches, etc. Along with the home can come friendly neighbors who are a good source of “local tips and advice” especially on how to enjoy the city or country.

A home exchange makes a vacation less expensive. Savings come from free lodging. Although the stay is not really free because the vacationer gives up use of his own home for the use of the exchangee, there will be no cash outlay for both exchangers. The vacationers, if they cook at home also saves on restaurant meals and, if a car is provided, on car rentals.

My family and I had a successful home exchange during a month long vacation. My family whose home is in Southern California exchanged homes with a family whose home is in Central France. The family from France stayed three weeks in our home while they enjoyed California’s beaches, deserts, and Disneyland. We went to France to follow the different stages of the Tour de France. Because this vacation was indeed a great experience, and because there are many who have reservations about embarking on a home exchange, I wrote a few things that might help someone overcome these reservations.

Planning for a Successful Home Exchange

Arranging a home exchange is not simple. One still has to plan an itinerary, schedule and book flights; and, more often than not, book hotels. One must do an in-depth research of places to be visited assuming that travel agencies will not be consulted. In addition, home exchange preparation involves activities not unlike what a landlord performs in preparing a rental and qualifying a tenant. A home exchanger will also be involved in helping with the care and travel plans of the party coming to stay in his home. It seems like a lot of work but the benefits can be amazing.

I made a list of things that our family from "The Home in California" and the family from "The Home in France" did which made our home exchange a big success. They are listed below:

1. Begin Planning At Least 6 Months Before Trip.

The initial planning stages of crystallizing a dream vacation are filled with excitement. Choosing places to see is exhilirating and is the easy part of the planning process. Because the Tour de France touches points all over the country and sometimes leaves France to bicycle in or to Italy, Belgium, Spain and even England, it would seem that the requisite planning for our trip was difficult. It was not. We chose an area in France that would allow us to reach the different stages of the Tour easily.

The most difficult hurdle is the scheduling of two families' vacations that must be compatible. Selecting the family and home where you would like to stay can be rigorous and careful planning is necessary.

The first thing to do is to join a home exchange organization. Intervac has served home exchangers for over 50 years. You will also find and on the internet.

2. Find a Family Similar To Yours.

Families exchanging would surely appreciate a shared interest in sports, literature, art, food, movies, etc. A cyclist would be happy to find a bicycle. A cook would enjoy pouring over cookbooks that might even be in a foreign language. Non-smoking families would surely not welcome smokers living in their homes.

We exchanged with a family with young children because we also had a young child. After two weeks of travel via airplane, trains, buses, taxes, and rental cars, I was tired. At first, I thought children were immune from travelling stress because they were oblivious of making reservations, purchasing tickets, running after trains, looking for hotels and getting lost while driving. I was wrong. As we settled down in our “Home in France“ and my son played with Legos that were available in the home, my son emphatically said, “I am not moving anymore.” The family from France told us that their young son was the happiest during their trip and I think it had something to do with Legos too that were available in our home.

3. Get To Know The Other Family and Become Friends.

Communicate with them in every imaginable way possible. Exchange emails, send information through mail, and most important of all, talk to them. Exchange photographs of your home.

Find out their needs and tell them yours. Help them plan their vacation in your city; and, let them help you plan yours.

Build trust. Trust will be built when both families exert their best to ensure that both families' vacation objectives are achieved and that both have a good experience.

4. Pay Attention To Details In The Home Exchange Arrangements.

Arrangements between home exchange parties must be in writing. Details such as use of a family car should include where and how far the car can be used. Make sure that the visiting family’s use of your car has adequate car insurance. Also, make sure to update your Homeowner’s Insurance to include the new and unique circumstances.

Discuss and agree on utility usage and unforeseen expenditures such as emergency repairs, etc. Come to an understanding about overnight guests in the home.

5. Write Careful Instructions.

We cannot assume that visitors in our home would know how to operate our microwaves, stoves, coffeemakers, and blenders. There are differences in home appliances and electrical systems in different countries. Our visitors will have to come to grips with our answering machines, televisions, refrigerators, air conditioners, furnaces, and fireplaces. just as we would in their home. We must leave detailed instructions on how to lock doors and windows, security systems, and garage doors. Our visitors from France looked all over our house for an ironing board and iron which we did not have. They were shocked that our house did not have pressing facilities. We had to tell them with a little embarrassment that our shirts are pressed at the cleaners.

6. Provide Helpful Information.

We must leave instructions on what to do in case of an emergency. Write down emergency telephone numbers such as 911 and the police department.

Contact information of immediate neighbors, plumbers, and housecleaners would be helpful.

Leave information such as where the supermarkets are, the restaurants, the dry cleaners, the post office, the churches, the walk-in clinic, the hospital, a dentist, etc., and where to shop best for food, clothing, shoes, etc.

They have to know when trash is collected and how to prepare the trash bins for the pickup.

7. Arrange Logistics.

It is important that the visiting family is extended as much help as possible especially upon arrival. We asked a good friend to meet our visitors at the airport and drive them to our home. They did the same for us. This was extremely significant since we arrived in the wee hours of the morning after a train accident delayed our arrival. We arrived in a virtually empty train station with only a few taxis for a full trainload of passengers.

8. Prepare Your Home.

Many would not even think of allowing strangers to live in their home and I went through the same anxiety. What is important to remember is that the visiting family coming to our homes also have the same anxiety about us who they will be allowing to stay in their homes. These strangers, if we had made all necessary arrangements for the home exchange, will no longer be strangers by the time both families leave for their vacations.

To ease our anxieties, we removed personal items and put them in storage. We provided them with newly bought pillows, pillowcases, towels, beddings, soap, and shampoos. We decluttered tabletops. We provided them with empty closet space. We provided newly bought laundry detergent, dishwashing soap, and cleaning supplies. We cleaned out the refrigerator and emptied it except for bottles of water and drinks. We put a stop on our mail delivery but we made sure they received the newspaper.

9. Make Arrangements So That Your Visitors Will Not Have Big Responsibilities Maintaining Your Home.

If you have a regular house cleaner, your visitors would be happy that there is someone at least who can come to clean. If you do not have a regular house cleaner, leave instructions on how best to clean your home.

10. Make Your Visitors Feel Welcome.

Leave flowers on the table, a welcome note, a bottle of wine, etc. Make sure the house is clean.

11. Leave Their Home With A Big Thank You.

Leave a nice thank you letter. You can leave gifts for each member of the family.

Include information that they should know like names of people who have called them and relay messages that they received, etc.

Leave all keys. Replace items that were consumed like sugar, tea, coffee, etc., if that was part of the arrangement.

How We Lived In our "Home in France"

In our “Home in France”, we lived as we did in California. We cooked, lounged, rested, watched TV. We went to the village grocer for fresh food and to the boulangerie to buy bread. We went to the city to shop. We biked in the neighborhood. We met and entertained their neighbors and friends.

Because we wanted to be at the different stages of the Tour de France, the “Home in France” was our base where we rested between trips. We drove to tourist spots nearby using the family car that was included in the home exchange agreement.

We treated their home just as we would our own home. We locked doors and windows when we left the house. We closed windows when the weather dictated. We kept the home clean and immediately wiped off spills. We were lucky that our “Home in France” was provided with a regular house cleaner who came once a week but we still made sure that it was as clean as when we found it when we left.

The Best Thing

We toured as tourists and yet, we had a home away from home. We learned about France and we learned what others thought of how we in California lived. Our visitors from France marvelled at the amount of food served in US restaurants. Our visitors were surprised when offered by waiters to pack their leftovers. Our visitors commented that everything in the US was huge. The country was large. California was large. Our desserts were large. Our supermarkets are big. And they thought the home appliances in our country were large too be it refrigerators, washers or dryers. What I appreciated most in the "Home in France" were the windows that could be opened to let fresh air in. I was not kept inside by screens and sliding glass windows and doors.

Apart from a great travel experience, we earned a friendship for life.

Flower Shop window in Colmar, France
Flower Shop window in Colmar, France

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