Thinking of joining a home exchange programme and looking for tips? You are in the right place!
As a family, our last 5 vacations were all organised with home swaps and they were all very successful for us and our guests/hosts. I have a full home exchange guide for families you can read here but in this post, you will find my top tips to get started and make your home exchange experience a positive one.
My top tips for a successful home exchange
Choose a reliable home exchange provider
There are many providers on he web, with different price ranges, services and number of users and it’s definitely worth to do your homework before joining up.
A home exchange is based on mutual trust, but the system can protect you: the ability to see reviews of previous exchanges, report problems and sign a standard agreement are a huge element to minimise the chances of things going wrong.
Programmes we have used / are using at the moment are:
Home exchange: this has been our provider of choice for the last few years. However, it had recently changed owners and the website and system had an overhaul we haven’t been able to test yet.
HomeLink: our new home swap home! This is the oldest provider of home swap opportunities and offers a 2 weeks free trial option, excellent to check if the system is for you before committing to paying anything
People Like Us World: a newcomer in the home swap world, this is a small site at present but it is growing fast and has a dynamic facebook group where you can chat with potential exchagers and get to know them better before the swap.
Communicate with your host and guest as much as possible
Home swap websites have a built-in emailing system and my advice is: use it!
You don’t have to become best friends with the people you are exchanging with, but the more you know about them, their house and their expectations over yours, the higher the chances of a satisfying exchange.
If you do become friends with them, even better!
Pay attention to the photos.
When you look at the photos of the house you’re considering, make sure you do not make assumptions about its size, layout etc. Ask if you have any doubts.
The most accurate photo will not fully portray a house so anything that is important to you, just flag it.
To give you an example: we were going to a house with amazing balconies, but we have kids and worried about their safety.
Speaking with the owners about our concern helped us get over the worry and we got good tips on how to keep the kids safe. Update: I am delighted we had this conversation about the balconies as we were super happy in this house and it made our vacation in Florence one of our most successful to date!
Research the area
One of the hardest things for me, when exchanging with a place I not familiar with, is to gauge how safe /convenient / family friendly an area is.
Depending on the location, you may find information on the web but once again I feel the best way is to turn to your potential hosts and ask them: I often receive questions such as ‘I am coming to Dublin to visit family, is your house close to xyz?’ – I never mind these questions and actually appreciate them: a home swap is successful only if the house matches your needs.
Make an extra effort to leave your house clean, tidy and overall in good condition
Your house is not a hotel and you shouldn’t stress yourself out trying to make it look like one. However, making your house the best it can be is important and can make a huge difference in how welcome your guests feel.
You know that small repair or painting job you keep meaning to take care of? Before a home exchange could be the perfect time to do it. You don’t have to renovate your house or spend loads of money, but do look at your house with the eyes of a guest and see if there is any easy improvement you can make.
To give you an example: each year before our big home swap we get a skip to get rid of clutter, we double check our appliances work and, if possible, give a clean leak of paint to the walls. A thorough cleaning is of course paramount.
Make space in the wardrobe
You don’t have to do this if you physically don’t have the space but if you can, leave some wardrobe space of free up some drawers for your guests so they don’t have to live out of their suitcase.
Leave a small manual about your house
Prepare a document with with emergency phone numbers, appliances manuals etc. It doesn’t have to be long but it gives your guests a great sense of safety: remember to include wifi passwords, information about rubbish disposal if relevant and practical tips about the house that may be obvious to you but less intuitive for your guests.
Also, prepare a small map of the area marking the closest supermarket, pharmacy, off licence, gp etc. If you can, get some free tourist maps/leaflet from the local tourist office
Leave some supplies for the first day of your guests.
You don’t have to do this, but I feel making sure your guests have at least some bread, milk, a list of take outs/home deliveries and toilet paper makes their arrival day easier and pleasant.
If you can, ask them what they eat / don’t eat and leave them enough for a first meal: this takes away the stress to run to the shops first thing on arrival and will help them settle, especially after a long journey.
Make sure you take a note of their time of arrival so you don’t leave perishable food out too long.
I usually also leave to our guests a bottle of wine, chocolate, fresh flowers and some treats for the kids – I know it feels lovely to open these type of presents on your first night somewhere and I like to think my guests feel the same.
Store all very personal stuff
If there is anything you’d rather not share with your guests, put it away. From bank statement to work contracts or personal photos, make it easy for everyone and store them so that they will not accidentally fall out/get ruined.
Even just a locked drawer can be enough: a respectful home exchanger will not snoop around for personal stuff!
Tell your neighbours
Tell your neighbors about the exchange and make sure you leave spare keys with a friend: chances are your guests won’t need either but I think it’s reassuring to know there is someone local to rely on.
Last but not least: relax!
Opening your home to someone you don’t know can feel strange, but the rewards are worth it.