We previously mentioned that we would be welcoming Home Exchange visitors to our French home this July and August. But what exactly is Home Exchange? There are several main sites that cater for those who wish to swap their home, but we will concentrate on the one we are signed up to – homeexchange.com.
For the uninitiated, here is a quick overview of how it works.
In the same vein as House-sitting or Workaway projects, Home Exchange is a centralised web-based hub bringing together like-minded travellers and holiday-makers who hope to, well, exchange their homes for short stays. The concept began as a simple reciprocal swap, stating that you visit my house and I’ll visit yours. This was a good start, allowing members to search, find and contact others who may be interested to swap their home for a fixed holiday period, allowing both families to experience a different place, an alternative culture. Through its success, this then grew into non-reciprocal exchanges, sometimes between hemispheres, where each participant would take it in turn to visit the other in the optimum month for their visit. The flexibility and ease of finding an exchange was growing.
But this still proved limiting; what if I, based in France, wanted to visit Norway, but the Norwegians wanted to visit Scotland? And the people in the Scotland wanted to visit Japan. And the Japanese family wanted to visit France? This was where Home Exchange truly became a global enterprise, opening up a wealth of opportunities for members. After experimenting with fixed price ‘balloons’, tokens from a received exchange that could later be ‘spent’ on a future exchange of your choice, the Exchange system became value-driven and fully flexible. Each home, once described in detail by the owner, is given a value rating by the Home Exchange algorithm, listed in ‘Guest Points’. This depends on location, facilities, square meterage, number of bedrooms, desirability of region etc.. This is tweakable by the owner, within defined parameters, but generally derives a fair figure for the home. Then other members can search the worldwide database and find a property of their liking, then request an exchange.
In setting up your account and building your profile, you are gifted starting guest points to allow you to participate fully in the community. From then on, guest points can predominantly be gained by hosting exchanges in your home, or from introducing new members. Your accumulated points can be spent by finding exchanges that suit your travel plans, contacting the owners to see if they are amenable to the exchange, and finalising through the website. For full members, the exchange offers advice, insurance and other services that can arbitrate any issues that arise, ensuring exchanges go smoothly once agreed. The value-rating has been a little controversial, but is helpful for us as we are offering a three-bed family home with a pool, but searching for one-bed apartments or small terrace houses that are perfectly sufficient for us, meaning we can often afford two nights away for every one night we host visitors.
All our exchanges to date have been families with children, either four or five visitors on each occasion. We have enjoyed welcoming them to our home, briefly explaining where things are and how they work, then driving off in Benny hoping they enjoy their stay. As everyone involved is making the same commitment and offering the same trust to those invited into their home, the community is quite tight-knit and made up of similar-minded folks. It can be quite a leap of trust to allow strangers to live within your walls, to trust them with your personal items, your private spaces. You must always remember that the same trust is being offered to you on your visit to another home, and mutual respect for person, property and privacy is paramount throughout. It is a mindful leap of faith.
The advantages greatly outweigh the potential negatives, as we have already secured six house exchanges for the coming winter, using points gained from our July/August hostings, all in Australia. We are taking an extended trip to avoid the cold winter months, a slow travel or perhaps more accurately described as an extended residence of a month in each of three cities; Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne. We hope to secure a couple more house exchanges to complete our plans, ensuring all our accommodation needs are met during the entire period away. Several of our future hosts have been friendly and open, in constant touch, and we feel already that we have made friends down under. We are looking forward to getting under the glossy tourist veneer of each city in turn and, with more time than normal, gaining a deeper understanding of each.
Home exchange is the vehicle that has made such a trip possible for us.
[PS – If anybody is considering joining homeexchange.com please let us know so that we can formally refer you, as both yourselves and us would receive extra guest points when joining. Many thanks…)