This weekend we will be having a family to stay in our house while we are away. Not unusual, you may think. What is different about this family, is that we have never met them. We met online. They want to surf for the summer and we like skiing. We live near the beach and they have a ski chalet in the Alps. We got chatting and that was that. Simple. That is how house swapping works. Like-minded people sharing their home and what their area has to offer and getting the same in return. No money exchanges hands just top tips on places to go and things to do that you don't get from impersonal rental properties. I did a 'welcome pack' the first time with loads of information on walks, cafes etc and I dig that out every year, edit it, depending on what has come and gone, then leave it out. You can swap cars and look after their pets if you want to. If you've both got kids it is like Christmas for them when they get to the house and discover all the toys. I tend to leave a few local treats and a bottle of wine.. and a some Bendylegs, of course. We have returned each time to find the house clean and tidy with wine, flowers, lovely thank you cards and last year a piece of original artwork from the very talented artist who stayed here with her family.
Ah... I know what you are thinking... No, you don't have to live by the sea for this to work. There is something for everyone. Each swapper has different wants and needs when it comes to what they are looking for in a holiday. City breaks, location close to family, small village, isolation, hills, central location, history, charm, suburbia. We joined www.homelink.org.uk 3 years ago which is a well established organisation with 25 years in the business. We have only ever had positive experiences. We have not rejoined next year purely because we have our trip to the Alps to take at some point and we are hoping to swap again with the lovely couple we first swapped with in Tofino, Canada the following year. I have no doubt we will rejoin after this. This will be our 5th swap in total. Tofino, Oxfordshire, rural France, Flaine and now Morzine. You can sit back and wait for people to contact you, but the best way to swap is to open up your mind to all sorts of possibilities and destinations, send out lots of e mails to places you like the look of, and see what you get in return. The more proactive you are, the more likely you are to get what you want. You can have a snoop on the website at all the potential houses you could swap with before you join as well.
If you are anything like me then the problem is actually saying no. We have been offered Dubai, Perth, Florida, Norway, Denmark and countless holidays in Europe. My poor, long suffering other half lives in constant dread, I am sure, of me saying 'We've had a swap offer... what about we go to.......' He listens (ish), nods, makes that 'mmmm.. really...?' face and then reminds me that the reason he lives here is because he likes being here... just occasionally... to enjoy it too.
So, try it. See where it takes you. You never know. Some friends of ours swapped their Cotswold cottage for what was essentially a private island in the Caribbean where the fisherman delivered a fresh catch everyday.... now, that reminds me. I wonder whether they'll fancy Christmas in Swansea. I'll get on to them....