Lately I've been hearing a lot about Home Exchanges as an alternative, and cheaper, accommodation option for travellers. Having never done a Home Exchange myself, the best person to ask was Rosemary Kneipp, an Australian who has lived in France for over thirty years. Rosemary and her husband have exchanged homes numerous times over the years, mostly in Europe, and she agreed to share her experiences and tips with me.
What attracted you to home exchange?
I love travelling but don’t really like staying in hotels because those in my budget range (3 stars) are often under-equipped. Also, financially, it makes a huge difference, especially if a car exchange is included.
How does the exchange program work and what checks are put in place to ensure all home exchangers are legitimate?
I use homeexchange.com and I find that the personal information, photos, etc. that home exchangers are required to give, plus the fact that you usually talk to them by skype or email, are sufficient to know they are legitimate.
How many times have you done a home exchange?
I think we’re up to twelve with three others still owed to us in Australia and one in Istanbul. Up until now, our exchanges have not necessarily been simultaneous.
Have there been any nasty surprises or times when the home you have stayed at hasn’t lived up to its online description?
Nasty surprises, no, although there was no electricity in one home exchange so we couldn’t stay there. It was not the owner’s fault (her manager had slipped up) but she ended up paying for her accommodation in France (we had a gîte at the time in which she stayed) so it all worked out in the end and we have become friends!
We have been disappointed sometimes though. It often happens when you’re “desperate” to find an exchange and settle for something less than you would take otherwise.
What about letting others stay in your home – did that take some getting used to, and have you encountered any problems?
My husband was initially very reticent but once he agreed to it, there were no problems. We simply lock up the writing desk with our personal papers and important belongings inside. People have always respected our home perfectly. I usually have my cleaner come during their stay.
In which towns and cities have you exchanged homes?
Hobart, Coles Bay, Launceston, Armidale and the Gold Coast in Australia, Barcelona and Madrid in Spain, Sofia in Bulgaria, Budapest, Venice, Lisbon, the Basque Coast in France.
What are your tips for someone considering a home exchange?
It is rarely easy to find exactly what you are looking for. You have to have an open mind about dates, location, etc. We made the mistake of looking for an exchange in Madrid in February without realizing that not many Spaniards would be interested in going to Paris in the middle of winter!
If you want specific dates and places, then you have to start looking well in advance. You also have to be prepared to pay for accommodation if the exchange falls through at the last minute.
We were asked for a swap in Sofia in Bulgaria, which we would never have dreamed of going to otherwise. We really enjoyed it!
Which home exchange association/s do you use and recommend?
I use homeexchange.com because it corresponds to the type of accommodation I am looking for. I tried another site but the members were mainly young people and their flats were much more basic than what I wanted. I suggest checking out various home exchange sites to see whether their listings correspond to the countries and level of accommodation that suits you.
You can read more about the destinations Rosemary has visited on her Home Exchanges on her blog Aussie in France under the category "Home Exchange".
Have you done a Home Exchange before? I'd love to hear about your experiences and where you exchanged homes in the comments below.