Arranging travel around home exchanges

By Tom Kilroy
This item appears on page 24 of the March 2020 issue.
Joan Anderson and Tom Kilroy at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

After our 3-week home exchange in Nimes, France, in June 2019, Joan Anderson, my companion of many years, and I were reminiscing about how we got into this wonderful way of traveling.

It all started in 2004 when we attended a travel club meeting. A representative from HomeExchange (based in Paris, with an office in Cambridge, MA; gave us information about the company, its listings and the concept of house swapping.

I heard someone at the meeting say, “Exchange your home to a stranger? No way!” But I was thinking, “This is the way to travel!”

Joan and I were tired of spending just a day or two at each location in Europe and had already started lingering in favorite cities, but long stays in hotels can be expensive, so at that evening’s meeting we joined up.

Once we signed up, we needed to take photos of our home and our neighborhood and post them on the website. We learned that the more photos you provide, the more home exchangers you attract. We also wrote up information about the attractions in our neighborhood plus some information about ourselves and our interests.

A human pyramid at the festival of St. Bartholomew in Sitges, Spain. Photo by Tom Kilroy

Membership with HomeExchange currently costs $150 per year, and you can exchange as many times as you want during your 12 months of membership. There are no other fees or taxes.

If you are unable to arrange a home exchange in the first year, your second year’s membership is free. This may happen depending on where and when you want your exchange home.

We have found that long-range planning works well. Some of our exchanges are planned three to four months ahead of time.

And if you can stay at another place while someone is staying in your home, nonsimultaneous exchanges are far easier to arrange than simultaneous exchanges. Joan and I have separate homes, so I am able to offer my house anytime and simply live with her while the guests are in mine. We then can “bank” our exchange at someone else’s home for a later date. (Many home exchangers have second homes.)

One feature on the website makes this easier. You can use the “Reverse Search” to find home exchangers who want to stay in your area.

The location of the home exchange is very important! We have declined a number of exchanges due to the location of the property. My home is a modest, 2-bedroom beach cottage on a pedestrian court all of 50 yards from the Pacific Ocean. I felt that the old saying of “location, location, location” would work out well for us. How true that would be.

We received our first home-exchange request from a teacher in New York City. After communication back and forth by email, we said ‘Yes.’ (One can also SKYPE with potential home exchangers.)

Tom Kilroy and Joan Anderson in Venice.

On our flight to New York, I kept wondering if there really would be an exchange apartment waiting for us. There was — a wonderful apartment in the Upper West Side, a block from Central Park.

Our next request was with the owners of a bed-and-breakfast in Puyallup, Washington, who wanted to visit San Diego for a long weekend. They offered us all the services of their B&B. Since we were heading up that way later in the summer, we agreed to this nonsimultaneous exchange. Later that summer, Joan and I were able to tie this exchange with two others that we received from home owners in Vancouver.

Overall, we have had over 35 terrific home exchanges, mostly outside of the US, allowing us to enjoy Berlin with its history, Venice and her canals, and Sayulita, Mexico, and her waves.

Our friends kept asking how we could give up our home to total strangers, but we replied that we would be the “strangers” in the others’ homes. The whole concept is based on the fundamental of trust, and I believe in trusting my fellow travelers.

One of our favorite exchanges was with a property in Costa Rica near the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a great place for bird-watchers. While we’re not bird-watchers, we were excited to see the quetzal, and we enjoyed the wildlife that visited us, including howler and capuchin monkeys, coatis and even a sloth. Checking the insides of our shoes for scorpions became part of the routine. We made a repeat exchange with this place because we loved the area so much.

Arc de Triomf in Barcelona, Spain. Photo by Tom Kilroy

On a Netherlands visit, while staying in an area of Amsterdam, we saw a posted notice for a neighborhood “pot luck.” Joan made a large salad, and we joined the get-together. When some of the neighbors asked who we were, we told them about our home exchange, which fascinated them. There have been a lot of these serendipitous moments in our travels.

We have been to Paris several times; we love the Canal Saint-Martin area. When France won the World Cup, we were pulled into a small café next to the canal and celebrated the win with all the neighbors. They had seen us so often, I’m sure they thought we lived there.

Most of our exchanges have been two to three weeks, with our longest one being a month in Barcelona. The long stays gave us opportunities to really visit all the wonderful sights of that beautiful city plus the time to visit nearby areas, such as Sitges and Montserrat.

Again, we became familiar faces, and the waitress in our favorite restaurant told us about the local Festa Major de Gràcia. In August, many of the streets in Barcelona’s Gràcia district set up elaborate homemade decorations on a selected theme, such as “Hollywood” or “Jules Verne.” In the evenings, there are beer gardens and music and many happy smiles.

We have found only one main problem with our home exchanges, and that is the door key. There are so many different techniques to opening doors in Europe — including pushing or pulling the door as you turn the key and turning the key a certain number of times either to the left or right first — but it’s all part of the adventure.

Home exchanging really is a unique way to travel.

San Diego, CA

People in Paris' Place de la République celebrating winning the World Cup. Photo by Tom Kilroy