Traveling Around the World with Home Exchanges

In 2004, my-soon-to-be husband and I decided to skip the traditional two week honeymoon in the Caribbean and instead went backpacking for 8 months. I negotiated a career break from my Occupational Psychologist role and Chris quit his job. About half way in we realized we hadn’t come so far to go back to a life we had already left behind. I quit my job and, when we returned to the UK, we moved towns.  With Chris’ new full time job to provide a steady income, I started to freelance.

After a couple of years of me as his most demanding and least lucrative client, Chris eventually left full time work to join me in developing a business together. The one thing we hadn’t really thought too much about was how working for ourselves would impact our lifestyle. Within a month we packed up our laptops and relocated our ‘office’ to France for a few weeks. We shaped our business to allow us the freedom to operate from anywhere. We rented holiday homes in Central America, the US and Europe. They weren’t so much career breaks as the work definitely came with us! But they were breaks from the usual routine and we realized that, with our business model, we could do more and more breaks.

We quickly recognized that paying for holiday rentals at the same time as covering our mortgage back home was not sustainable long term. We didn’t want to rent our place out as we liked the freedom to come and go as we pleased. But it didn’t make sense for our home to sit empty either, especially as for short breaks of one to six months we were still maintaining all our usual household expenses.

My sister had been a big fan of home exchanging when her kids were young. We weren’t too sure how it would work but decided to test the water by filling out an on-line profile. It’s a bit like internet dating! Within weeks we had an offer from a family in Canada to spend the month of June in their 4 bedroom house with pool outside Quebec City while their family visited our UK home by the sea.

In 2012, we were on the lookout for adventure so we decided to see if we could travel round the world in home exchanges, running our business along the way. We are currently 7 months, 5 countries and 15 home exchanges in and still going strong! It takes a fair bit of organization to arrange consecutive swaps for that length of time but no more so than arranging your travel and accommodation for any long trip. Everything else just stays the same- we keep paying our bills and insurances at home- we’re just living in other people’s homes rather than our own. We’ve had some amazing experiences; paddling in a Waka canoe with a group of French teachers in Tahiti, learning to wake-board with our neighbor on a mountain lake in Oregon, looking after a sheep at an artist’s home in rural New Zealand; learning Mexican cookery with a fabulous chef in Puerto Vallarta…. none of which we’d have done if we’d chosen more traditional accommodation options.

How To Go About It

There are plenty of home exchange websites.  The big ones like homeexchange.com have thousands of options all over the world. If you prefer a bit more hand-holding, there are plenty of smaller sites, like swapst.com.au, springing up to offer you just that. You’d be surprised – wherever your home is, someone, somewhere will want to visit where you live!

Although it might seem daunting, the process is incredibly easy. You browse the homes available and when you see something you like, you send them a message. You’ll get plenty of requests landing in your inbox most days too. If it’s a good match, you get the ball rolling with emails and calls to iron out the finer details.

Home exchanging doesn’t just keep your travel costs down (it’s free apart from your annual subscription fee); it also removes a lot of the hassle of traveling. You don’t have to take towels or bedding; you can eat in if you like and know the cupboards will have at least the basics; there will be books to read and information to help you explore the hidden gems only locals know about.  You can make yourself at home enough to not feel like a permanent guest while having all the benefits of a completely new environment. It’s pretty normal to make some great new friends at the same time, from the people you exchange with (you’ll get to know them in the run up to the exchange) to their welcoming and curious neighbors!

Making It Comfortable

Depending on your comfort level, it can be easy to make your arrangements run pretty smoothly.You can have a day or so to overlap so your hosts are there to greet you on arrival before leaving you to their home. Or you can travel simultaneously, leaving your car at the airport, ready to collect theirs and drive it ‘home’ at the other end so you never actually meet. You can leave keys with a concierge at the airport or mail them beforehand. The good news is there are plenty of people with experience on the home exchange sites who will show you the ropes and make sure you are as happy and comfortable with your exchanges as they have always been.

Is It Safe?

One of the biggest concerns people have is whether it is safe. The only problem we’ve ever had is working out how old that pasta sauce is that was left in our fridge! If have valuables, simply lock them away – the most expensive things in your home don’t tend to be portable anyway. We have found people to be very respectful and considerate. After all, you are in their home too. Home exchangers love to travel and it’s a fantastic way of leaving your old life behind for a while, knowing it’s there for you to return home to whether it’s a few days, weeks or months later.

Home exchanging works really well for us now that travel is a permanent part of our work and our life. It can also work really well for a career break.  If you’d like your home taken care of while you are away and don’t relish the thought of always living out of a suitcase it’s definitely worth considering.

Hannah Vallance is a location independent psychologist and dedicated traveler. With her husband Chris, she runs loveplaywork.com, where they write about their challenges and adventures, and other (slightly less fun!) businesses from both home and overseas. Learn more about their “Round the World in Home Exchanges” travel challenge here. You can also sign up for their best advice and unusual strategies for a location independent lifestyle, and receive their free Insider’s Guide to Flexible Working and Holidaying for Free at www.loveplaywork.com/meetplango.

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