Instead of spending money on a hotel or renting a villa more families than before are now opening up to the idea of swapping their homes with families overseas. Aside from being budget friendly by saving money on hotel costs, rental cars and luggage, home exchanges also gives you the opportunity to really immerse yourself in a foreign country or culture.
Alan and Ruth from York have been doing home exchanges since 1981 with more than 50 exchanges. The idea came when their son was born and Ruth joined a group of young mothers, which had regular meetings together. Alan and Ruth were low on money at the time because Ruth had given up work to have their child and they didn’t envision having any holidays at all until one of the young mothers recommended her to try home exchanging.
“So I came home with this idea and we thought we’d give it a go and what she recommended in the early stages was that it was more important to look for a family that matched your own so if you had one baby you’d look for a family with one baby” Ruth says.
That way the family they were exchanging with would be able to tell them about things suitable for children and they would be able to make it a more child based holiday.
”So that’s how we got started and we found that it was wonderful, we found we had great holidays and they seemed to get better and better” Ruth says.
One time they made a home exchange just north of Paris in France and got to stay in a beautiful old “half a château” with ten bedrooms.
“Right at the top in the pointed bit they had put spiral stairs up to it and you had all these books going around which was wonderful” Alan says.
Their favourite and most interesting exchange was one they made in Australia however when they arrived in the middle of a rainforest during a cyclone,
“that was exciting and scary” Ruth says chuckling.
They stayed in a wooden house in the Australian rainforest and looking out through the top of the trees you could see all the way to the coast of Queensland. Right outside their bedroom they had geckos and the Australian bird kookaburra, which would sing to them every morning Ruth says.
They have also made quite a lot of home stays, which is when you live with the family in their home instead of swapping houses. One benefit is that it allows you to swap with countries that don’t have holidays at the same time as you or ones that are in a different hemisphere.
“We have that problem that sometimes if you go further afield like the southern hemisphere they don’t want to swap at the same time. They don’t want to come for our winter and we have their summer and vice versa. So we still have some people to return from Australia and New Zeeland” Alan says.
The Australia and New Zeeland trip was part of a bigger holiday they made when they travelled from Shanghai to New Zeeland and from there onto Australia ending the holiday in Japan.
“It seemed crazy to me to have a stop-over somewhere and not actually see the places we we’re stopping in and we we’re informed that you could now go to china for three full days, 72 hours without a Visa so we thought we would do that” Ruth explains.
In Shanghai they also met up with a friend who used to stay with them in York as part of a homestay. He took them around Shanghai and showed them various museums. They also meet up with another friend in Japan who had stayed at their house. Their original plan was to only do three days in Japan but he convinced them to stay longer so they were there for ten whole days.
“We went to see various temples and things, that was nice” Alan says.
Ruth and Alan are currently with a website called Intervac which started in 1953 by a group of European teachers looking to travel internationally economically during their summer breaks. Alan says some people are hesitant towards doing home exchanges and some people never will. They might be afraid of having their things stolen or worry about them breaking something or leaving the house in mess but Ruth and Alan says they haven’t encountered any problems.
“You always bother about coming home, you always worry about entering the door again but I think were quite relaxed and the more you do it and the more it’s been successful the less you expect a problem” Ruth says.
Ruth and Alan also often have people living with them as part of home stays. They have been doing it for the past elven years with nearly 200 home stays. It’s mostly University students studying in York or people doing internships. But home stays can be quite a lot of work too so they only do five days minimum.
“We don’t want to be a bed and breakfast, we like to get to know people, if they stay for longer it just gets much easier” Alan says.
This summer they are going to Berlin for a week, then ten days in Ireland, a week in Barcelona and fourteen days in the French Pyrenees. They also have one in the pipeline for October in Vienna and are still open to do occasional weekends in England.
“There’s always something you could do in London” Alan says.