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Most of us want to travel more together as a family, but it is finances that often hold us back. This week on our TRAVEL MORE Case Study series we talk to a family that is using home exchanges to travel on a budget. One of the biggest costs of travel is accommodation costs, especially for a family. Home exchanges completely eliminate that cost making them a very affordable way to travel.
The sharing economy has created a plethora of new ways to travel via sites like Couch surfing, Uber, Airbnb, WOOFing and so many more. There are some amazing home exchange websites out there that offer a range of home swaps from traditional one-to-one simultaneous exchanges to a more flexible points system. With the points system, you don’t have to find a perfect match. You offer your house up for exchange, collect points and then use those points to stay at another swapper’s home. Essentially you are leveraging your home to travel for less.
This week we talk to Marta from Learning Escapes all about home exchanges. Their family loves to travel, especially when they can truly get to know a new place and its people. They travel as a family whenever work and school allows and blog about their cultural travels around the world.
1. Tell us a little bit about your family and your history with travel.
We are a family of 4: my name is Marta, my husband is Philip and we have a 7 and a 6 year old which I usually call ‘Mr M’ and ‘Little Ms E’
We are an international family and I like to say that travel is a fundamental part of who we are.
I am Italian and grew up in Rome with 2 travel mad parents: during school holidays, they would pack up the car, get a map and go, heading towards whatever destination took their fancy and was somewhat reachable on wheels (we drove all the way to Morocco once!).
These adventures got me to develop a huge love for travel and eventually lead me to move to Brussels, to pursue an international career. There, I was lucky enough to meet my Irish husband who shared with me a love for all things international and that experience led us eventually to set up home in Dublin, where we now have 2 kids.
The kids are growing up bilingual Italian and English and they very much inherited our wanderlusting genes.
We travel with them whenever we can, both locally and internationally, and love creating memories with them on the road.
2. How did you get involved with house exchanges?
I had known about home exchanging for a long time before I joined the programme and always thought it was a fantastic way to travel in a cheap and authentic way.
Despite the good feeling about it however, it took me a long time to take the plunge and actually gibe it a try: I didn’t know anyone who was doing it and a voice in my head kept wondering ‘do people actually do this?’
In the end, I decided that the only way to find out was to try it myself and created a profile home exchange.com: I asked for a dream destination (Canada) and in the space of 2 weeks we had our first exchange confirmed! We are now about to go on exchange n.6 so I would say that first experience was a huge success.
3. Can you tell us about some of the home exchanges you have done?
Our first exchange was with Montreal, in Quebec. The second was in Florence, Italy, and then we had 2 in California (San Francisco, LA) and on in Madrid,Spain. The next one will be in California again, in San Diego and we are counting the days!
4. What do you like the most about house exchanges?
The two things I love the most about the home exchange idea is that you have a real home at your destination and you get to make connections with local people. We were always very lucky with our exchangers and having someone fiving you tips and advice on how to make the most of their area is priceless.
I also very much like the idea to teaching the kids about life abroad in a very hands on way: we always exchange with families and I think it is a powerful thing to get your kids to reason how their life would be as they were locals while leaving in a real home.
I also like that it allows them to see the value of our own home: we don’t live in a mansion or anything like that but the fact that our house allows us to travel, I believe it a way for them to see value in it and not take it for granted.
5. What resources can families use to organize swaps? Is it hard for families to find exchange partners?
We trust Homeexchange.com as a provider and it is the only resource we use. We have been using it for years and never had a problem finding suitable accommodation: many families use the system and having kids has never been an obstacle. Our first exchange was confirmed in a matter of weeks, others took a little longer but we receive a lot of requests all the time. If you are flexible with exact dates and location, I reckon we could travel with a home swap almost full time!
6. Can you explain some of the logistics – insurance, contracts?
Home exchange holidays rely, to a large extent, on trust but the system we use does have some guarantees.
The system we use allows you to record the exchange on the homeexchange website and this acts as a contact: when confirming and exchange you accept that the agreement is binding and that you will compensate the other part should you cancel or change dates etc.
To be honest, I don’t know how much it would take legally to pursue someone in breach of the contract or how easy it would be to get compensation, I hope we never have to find out! Usually, what we do is we make sure we talk extensively with our potential exchangers before agreeing, we check references (there is a review system on the site) and only confirm when we have a good feeling and reasons to trust our guests/hosts.
In terms of insurance, I would advice each person to check with their home insurance provider as they would for a guest. A big thing I believe helps in terms of safety is to remember while the exchangers are in your home, you are in theirs so it is an exchange between equals and they have the same worried about you that you have about them
7. Do you have any tips for those wanting to try a house exchange?
My best tips for people wanting to exchange a home is: be honest about your house.
The one thing that can make an exchange go bad very quickly is to let down your guests with a house that is not as described. Keep photos up to date, be honest about the size, disclose anything that may affect their stay negatively, if any.
During our exchanges, we stayed in some stunning homes and some small quirky ones and loved every single one of them. The owner of the small one was worried we had been short changed once her arrived to our home (we have 3 beds, they had 2) but we had known it all along and were able to reassure them we were more than happy with what we got. It’s all about managing expectations really and abut feeling confident that what you are offering is good for your guests.
I have written a guide for families interested in home swaps.
8. What travels do you have coming up?
Our next home exchange trip is going to be to California, in summer. Before that, we are going to go to Amsterdam for a long weekend, but we have a friend there so accommodation will be with her.
If I can, I would also like to add a stop in Rome before we head across the Atlantic but we travel around school holidays so I may find myself without a free weekend to go so I better go do some planning!
Connect with Learning Escapes
Marta has tons of great content on cultural travel with kids, home exchanges and lots of great destination guides for Europe and beyond on her blog: Learning Escapes. You can follow along with her family on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
If you are looking for more information about home exchanges, check out these top websites that facilitate swaps:
TRAVEL MORE Case Studies
Don’t forget to read the other case studies in this series:
- Becoming a Digital Nomad Family
- Travel Hacking and Using Points to Travel
- Renting your House on Airbnb and Wintering in the Alps
- Meet this Sailing Family
- Taking a Family Gap Year
- Life as Expats in the Middle East
- Round the World with Kids
Is a home exchange something you are considering? What questions do you have and what is holding you back? Tell us it in the comments below.
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