Our First Home Exchange

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The idea of a home exchange first came to me when a French friend told me that her stepson and his Australian wife were going back to Melbourne to live. I consoled her by saying she and her husband could visit them for longer and at less expense if she did a home exchange. I even recommended a website I’d been told about: www.homeexchange.com. And it has an iPhone app as well. The next thing I knew she had organised a 6-week stay. I immediately set about persuading Relationnel to do the same thing despite his reluctance in the past.

We were planning our next holiday in Australia to include a family reunion in Armidale. During our absence, friends from Canberra were to stay in our apartment in the Palais Royal in Paris for part of the time. They recommended that we go to Tasmania so we organised a 12-day exchange in Launceston and Coles Bay including a car. Our exchangers will be using Paris and our new house in Blois as well as our second car while they are in the Loire Valley. We then started receiving other offers – Victoria, Hobart and Adelaide – so we set up some non-simultaneous exchanges as well, some of which won’t be redeemed until our next trip in 2014!

Palais Royal Gardens

With Blois and the Palais Royal combined, the possibilities seem endless. I thought that we might appreciate a break in sunny Spain before the final signature in Blois in mid-March.  Miguel, who lives in Madrid, had written earlier on to see if we were interested in a swap over Christmas but we were having our bedroom ceiling repainted, so I contacted him again to see if there was a weekend in March that might suit us both. Bingo! We bought our airline tickets, arranging our flights so that he would arrive in Paris before we left and thus exchange instructions and keys.

The next question was how to get the apartment ready, especially for a short stay of four days. Should I empty the fridge or just leave a couple of shelves? What about sheets and towels? How about kitchen essentials? Our Adelaide exchanger, Kathy Stanford, a fellow blogger (Femmes Francophiles) is much more experienced (she uses www.homelink.org) and offered to share her “instruction manual”. It provided me with a good base that I could adapt to suit our particular situation (and country).

After a rather frenetic morning on the day we were going to Madrid, I now know that we need to have some spare room in our cupboards to be able to easily free up space for our guests. We had decided to buy extra sheets and towels so that there wouldn’t be the problem of changing our sheets before we left and finding enough clean sheets to make the bed when we got back. But just storing all this extra linen takes up space we don’t really have. Fortunately we will be able to transfer a lot of things to Blois which is much bigger. That should make things easier in the future.

Courtyard in Madrid

Next time, I will specifically leave a tray with kitchen essentials that don’t need replacing and indicate food in the fridge that our exchangers are welcome to use. For just a few days, it’s rather silly to have to buy oil and vinegar, tea, coffee, butter and sugar, for instance. Miguel left us a basket of fruit which I thought was a great idea. I regretted not having done the same. I put clean tablecloths and serviettes in our usual drawer in the living room but it would have been much more sensible to leave them on the table as he did. I also forgot to put the remote controls for the TV in an obvious place.

The other thing I think is essential is to have a blown-up map of the local area and indicate the closest supermarkets, grocery stores, bakeries, restaurants, pharmacies, etc. We didn’t find the supermarket in Madrid until the day we were leaving! When you don’t know a country and language well, it’s not always easy to find such basic commodities. I’ll also take along some Earl Grey tea bags with me next time. I strongly believe in “When in Rome, do as the Romans”, but not for breakfast!

I’d love to have feedback on your home exchange experiences, particularly any advice you’d like to give a new home exchanger. Oh, and I nearly forgot to say that we found it a very positive experience and are looking forward to the next six we’ve already organised over the next year. Relationnel totally regrets his former reluctance!

www.homeexchange.com (which turns into www.trocmaison.com, www.intercambiocasas.com, www.scambiocasa.com, www.haustauschferien.com, etc. depending on your language!)
www.homelink.org (not always easy to follow, but you can sign up as a visitor to consult the listings without joining)
www.homeexchange50plus.com/ (a newcomer but promising because of its speciality)
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24 thoughts on “Our First Home Exchange”

  1. I am glad the ‘manual’ was useful. The idea of a fruit basket is a great one. Amongst Homelink exchangers there is a bit of a tradition to leave out a bottle of local wine and items for the first meal. We head off to Sydney for another exchange next week. I will also be staying with a couple of families in France during May who have kindly offered hospitality and then will return to Paris for a 7 week exchange over Christmas / New Year. We have met some lovely people and had great experiences so far. It is quite exciting getting invitations coming through for exchanges – where will they come from next.

  2. I had intended to leave a bottle of wine too but in the rush of leaving, I am embarrassed to say I totally forgot! I shall have to draw up a “to do” list next time. Items for the first meal are also a good idea. Enjoy your stay in Sydney.

  3. Many thanks for the mention of our website. http://www.homeexchange50plus.com is specifically for the over 50s although we have a rental section open to all. I agree with ‘Femme francophile’ above that a bottle of wine is a must!

    Home Exchange is a great way to holiday and more and more of us are doing it, from all different walks of life and age groups.

    Communication is vital between both parties and we always advise our members to get to know their potential swap partner prior to the actual exchange by exchanging lots of emails and telephone calls. Swapping Homes is based on trust, trust in the details of the property being correct and trust in the individuals involved. As a holiday concept it has been around since the 1950s so it can’t be all that bad a way to vacation.

    We look forward to you joining us.

    Brian Luckhurst

    1. Hi Brian, thanks for your input. We’ve run out of holidays for the moment, but I’ll definitely be looking you up next time.

  4. This sounds really helpful, but, like Relationnel, Mr Becca totally ain’t up for it! I’m not sure how I’d feel about having strangers in my house either, even though we’d be in theirs. My sis and hubby have done it loads on their last trip to Europe from Melbourne, Oz and they had a blast!

    1. You’ll just have to work on him! But I don’t think I was really ready before either. I guess there’s a time for everything in life!

  5. Great post Fraussie, I have an australian friend who house swapped in Paris, and it was very successful, not sure who she went through tho. I think I am warming to the idea! I am always looking for ways to make trips to France more often..cutting out the expense of accommodation would be an absolute bonus. Cheers Jill

  6. It definitely helps! And you’re very well located for a swap because French people love being near the beach.

  7. A really interesting read, and very sound advice !
    I’ve just listed our house in Melbourne with http://www.homeexchange.com too, hoping to exchange for an appartment in Paris in mid-September this year. It’s my first listing, so I would appreciate any hints – or, preferably, would-be tenants ! Our place would be available for all of September. If you’re interested in having a peek, it’s #233409
    I’ve definitely bookmarked this page !

    1. Hi Denise, thanks for stopping by! I’m sure the requests will start coming in soon. I’ve noticed that I often get more emails during the weekend. You might have to be a little flexible about the dates because September is “la rentrée” in France and anyone with children (even at university level) will be busy during that period. You also need to search actively and contact anyone who is likely to be interested, even if they haven’t specifically mentioned the period you’re interested in. May I suggest that you add at least one photo of Melbourne or the local attractions to your listing? Home Exchange gives some very useful suggestions on what to say in your email to encourage people to swap. We will be needing somewhere in Melbourne in the future, but not until 2014 and we have used up all our possibilities until mid-2013! Kathy Stanford held a get-together for home exchangers recently. You might like to see if there are any going on in Melbourne.

  8. Hello, I’m thinking of doing a home exchange France/Australia for 3 months. I don’t know much about home exchange but it seems to be something interesting. My Australian fiance wants to live in France for a little while and do an intensive French course before our wedding. We should be able to take unpaid holiday from work here in Sydney, but what worries me most is that we would still have our morgage to pay here while we would be in France in addition to renting a flat in France (we won’t be able to stay with family or friends for 3 months – it’s way too long). Home exchange could be a good option. I’ll have to look into it further.

    1. Hello, you should definitely think about it, particularly if you are well-placed in Sydney. You can take an initial 3-month subscription to homeexchange.com, for example, and see how it goes. I’ve only had good experience so far! What period of the year are you looking at?

  9. I think that home exchanging is a great way to go. Our neighbors in Annapolis (USA) convinced us to try it after we kept listening to their stories about living like a local in distant lands. Come to think of it, they’re in Australia on an exchange right now. And, they’ve already lined up an exchange in Paris for next year.

    I’m still in contact with the people with whom I’ve arranged exchanges – I’m going to stay with one when I go to Boston in March and she’s going to stay with us when she comes to Paris in April.

    The only downside is that we don’t have enough time to do all of the exchanges that we would like. That will change once Stephane retires!

    1. I’m trying to organise exchanges for our next cycling trip – to Budapest – but it’s proving difficult to find exchanges outside major cities.

  10. Having done several very successful exchanges to England and in Australia I am keen to do one to Paris – so if you fancy a few weeks by the beach in Sydney, Rosemary, do let me know! Not this year, but in the future. Oh yes, and I have a cat who my exchangers are always very happy to look after. Happy exchanging – such a great way to get to know a new place! I use homebase-hols.com which I find very good. Oh yes, and New York is on my wish-list for the future ….

    1. Hi Gara, if I do, I’ll definitely let you know although we usually stay with friends in Sydney. I didn’t know homebase-hols.com. I’m looking for a swap in Ulm in June but can’t find anything. Germany is proving difficult because most people seem to have large families and we can only accommodate 2!

  11. Enjoyed your article. We too love vacation home exchange, but always be prepared for the unexpected. After having purchased flights this summer to London, our exchange partners withdrew from the exchange stating “due to illness”. It was too late to look for another exchange and we ended up having to rent a flat for a few weeks. We have had more inquiries for exchanges to our Louisiana, USA home from homebase-hols.com (our Ref # HE28073) than any other exchange website.

    1. Welcome to Aussie in France. Glad you enjoyed the article. Yes, home exchange definitely has its hazards. Our exchange with Budapest this summer didn’t work out because there was no electricity. Fortunately it was only for a few days and our exchangers offered to pay for the use of our accommodation in October which we rent out during holiday season. I thought that homeexchange.com tried to help in the case of a cancellation but I guess that between Louisiana and London that would be a little difficult at the last minute. Shall check out homebase-hols.com.

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