Ronny Flynn shares her experiences of touring the world on a shoestring budget. Choose from a castle or a cottage, an out of the way exotic location or the heart of a capital city. Let the world be your oyster.
If the thought of free holiday accommodation in a location of your choice appeals to you then try home exchange. Home exchange offers a window on homes rarely available to tourists in places you might not think of visiting, and you could also make lasting friendships. You might live simply in a studio flat, or in a luxurious house with a private swimming pool.
Home exchange is where you simultaneously live in someone’s home while they live in yours, or arrange a non-simultaneous exchange at different times. You usually need to be a home owner, though some rental agreements will allow home exchanges. There are many websites advertising a matching service for exchangers. Most ask for a subscription, but some are free. You post your photos and details of who you are and what you are offering and wait for people to contact you, or browse the listings and contact the owners of properties that catch your eye.
My husband and I have been home exchanging for three years now. We are lucky enough to have a main home in England within an hour’s train ride from London and a tiny apartment with a stunning sea view in Southern France. We mostly exchange the French apartment. We have stayed in 18 homes so far 13 of which have been in coastal locations in England, Wales, Belgium, Australia and New Zealand. We recently spent three months in Australia and New Zealand using 6 exchanges. We have stayed in a converted public house in Wales, in a riverside sandstone house in Sydney and on the edge of an extinct volcano in an Auckland suburb. Each home has given us insights into the owners and the surrounds. We have exchanged without the use of a car and gladly used owners’ bicycles or hired them when we were there.
There have been no negative experiences. One or two homes have been dirtier than we would like; and a few exchangers have not left our homes as clean as they found them, but that’s all. If you have valuable possessions you can lock them in a cupboard, or keep one whole room locked and out of bounds. Because you contact people beforehand by email or telephone, you get an idea of who they are and if the exchange will work out. You can formalise the arrangements with a written and signed contract, or rely more on trust. The majority of our exchangers are like us – in their 60s and retired or semi-retired, comfortably off with property but little disposable income, and with time and a desire to travel.
So why not give home exchange a try? Two websites to get you going are below – one free, the other by subscription. You can browse them both without commitment.