We’ve just returned from an immensely enjoyable week in Victoria, BC (a two-hour drive from our home). While there, we explored many breathtaking hiking trails, had some magnificent beach time, bought our groceries at local farmers’ markets, took in a couple of IMAX films…and had a restful and rejuvenating stay.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking— “these people are traveling fools! Do they ever stay home?” We love our home, and we do stay here…sometimes. As our retirement allows us the time and flexibility to travel, and there are many people and places that we want to see, we take advantage of this freedom whenever we can (while we can)! Adding to this, our travel tastes are simple, so we have been able to get around quite affordably. Since retiring, all but two of our excursions have been road trips. For accommodations, we have been fortunate to be able to stay with friends/family, find low-cost roadside motels and to use home exchange.
In fact, our recent trip to Victoria was a home exchange (and our fall trip to Palm Desert will be one as well). We became part of this network over twelve years ago when we were living in Beijing. A friend of mine, who was an experienced home-swapper, tried to describe it to me. “The best thing about it is not the money saved…it’s something more than that..”, she just couldn’t find the right words to explain. After doing our first exchange (2004), I knew exactly what she meant. For one thing, it was the space– not being confined to a small hotel room and not being tightly surrounded by tourist traps. It was also the freedom– especially the freedom to read my book in peace, as the television blared out Richard’s favorite shoot-em-up kind of movie…in another room. It was the ability to buy fresh, local produce and prepare this in a proper kitchen (not being restricted to endless restaurant meals). Even more importantly (at least for us), it was about being part of a neighbourhood and being able to have more genuine local sights and experiences right outside our front door. However, the money not drained away by accommodation costs and constantly eating out should not be overlooked…you can save heaps.
Started by Ed Kushins in 1992 as a printed mail-out, homeexchange.com (the site that we use) has grown into a vast social network. It was one of the early businesses to adopt “collaborative consumption” (Source).
Is it safe? Experienced, credible home exchange organizations put several tools and guidelines in place to help with safety and security for all of their home exchange clients. For example, homeexchange.com includes 24/7 on-line member support, detailed member profiles, private/secure messaging systems, comprehensive home exchange agreements, verification of phone numbers/email address/social media accounts as well as verified reviews.
Along with these features, insurance companies generally welcome clients using home exchange as, statistically, break-ins are reduced when a home is occupied (Source).
It is also important that the individuals taking part in the exchange use due diligence. It is highly recommended to meet with your insurance agent and verify that your coverage is adequate. It is also important to take ample time to establish clear communication with potential exchange partners.
My husband and I have completed fourteen very successful home exchanges to date. We have our fifteenth exchange coming up shortly plus one ‘in the bank’ (they’ve stayed at our place in Beijing, now we just need to find the time to get to Panama!)
Do I recommend home exchanging for others? We have loved our home exchanges, and this method of accommodation has worked out very well for us. That being said, I recognize that this type of arrangement is not for everybody. If you are interested in the concept of home exchange, I highly recommend investigating it, looking around, asking questions and seeing if this is something that you feel comfortable trying. If it is, again I stress the importance of taking your time in the process. If you feel rushed or pressured by another party, or if your gut just says “no,” my advice is to skip that exchange and wait for another one that feels right for you. Homeexchange.com currently offers 65,000 listings in over 150 countries. With a bit of flexibility, your options should be plentiful!
Feature Photo: Victoria, BC: only a two-hours’ drive from our home but it felt that we were worlds away.
Photos Below: Previous Home Exchanges (many on which one or more of our other family members joined us).
Maroochydore, Australia, 2006
Phoenix, Arizona, 2012
Six Fours les Plages, Southeastern France, 2014
Vancouver, BC. Due to the extreme generosity of our home exchange partner, we enjoyed numerous stays here.
To list only a few!! We also had home exchanges in: Paris, Prague, Bangkok, Las Vegas, Ladner (BC), as well as in three different accommodations in Vancouver (BC).