Home exchange: To swap or not to swap?

Our historic city has a lot to offer visitors

Our historic city has a lot to offer visitors - Credit: Archant

The school holidays are almost upon us, but getting away outside of term time simply isn’t affordable for many, as Jane Howdle discovered.

Jane swapped St Albans for Sydney

Jane swapped St Albans for Sydney - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you don’t fancy remortgaging your home for a long weekend at Center Parcs, there are other options – one of which is an exchange.

Anyone with a property can register with sites such as Lovehomeswap.com or Homeexchange.com, which offer the chance to trade your little piece of Hertfordshire for anything from a villa in Valencia to a duplex in the Dominican Republic.

£100 buys you 12 months of access to Homeexchange.com’s database of 65,000-plus properties in more than 150 countries, while Lovehomeswap.com charges £12 per month for access to 90,000-plus homes in over 195 countries.

Some swappers are happy to throw their wheels in too, saving the expense of a hire car, while other benefits can include everything from feeling part of a local community and enjoying acres more space than you would in a hotel, to simply having someone at yours to feed the budgie, put the bins out and keep the burglars at bay.

A house swap frees up funds for sightseeing

A house swap frees up funds for sightseeing - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

There can be issues, however: There’s the inevitable anxiety of having a stranger – or a whole extended family of strangers – in your home. What if they break stuff? What if they rifle through your things? What if they cancel at the last minute and leave you in the lurch?

Then there’s the simple organisational headache of having to spring clean and change the bedding before you go away, and again when you leave their place.

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For many holiday-makers, this is a price worth paying, however, as the chance to visit another country for the cost of a plane ticket suddenly puts many more exotic destinations within reach.

From St Albans to Sydney

Leaving your home in the care of strangers can be anxiety-inducing

Leaving your home in the care of strangers can be anxiety-inducing - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

I experienced the joy – and pain – of a home exchange last year, during a family trip to Australia.

Having shelled out thousands on our plane tickets, we were keen to cut back on accommodation costs, and a house swap seemed like the ideal option.

A friend had been on several exchanges with her family, and spoke highly of the whole experience, so we joined one of the main swapping sites and started putting together a gushing sales spiel to post online.

A swap offered us the added benefit of allowing our elderly cats to stay on their home turf, but this combined with our three young kids meant – understandably – that we wouldn’t be the ideal exchange partners for many.

Eventually an Aussie couple got in touch, having spotted our ad online. We emailed back and forth for a few weeks, finally coming up with a mutually agreeable plan.

They were keen to point out (repeatedly) that their ‘very small’ car wouldn’t be big enough for the five of us. Our family fun bus provided ample space for the two of them, however, so we agreed to throw that in.

Sadly, our swap was plagued with pet problems. The out of character tidying in preparation for our departure caused the cats such distress that, on their arrival, the Aussies were greeted with a selection of unwelcome anxiety-induced presents. They were understandably unimpressed, while we were utterly mortified. There’s nothing like sitting in someone’s home office on the other side of the world and receiving notification of the sorry state of your rug back home. By its nature, no swap can ever be truly fair – they had our animals’ (out of character) incontinence to deal with, and the worry about three kids running riot in their home. We had to spend hundreds of dollars on a hire car, as well as paying to insure them on our motor, but they got – literally – a free ride (for 1,500 miles, it turned out).

Ultimately, a lack of a bond with our fellow swappers left us feeling a little ill at ease, and this, combined with the cat factor, has put us off doing another exchange in the near future.

This summer we’re swapping St Albans for Scarborough, and we’ll be paying for it with hard cash – half of the money last year’s swap saved us will buy a week’s accommodation and more fish and chip suppers than you could throw a boomerang at… so it’s definitely not all bad!