I had written earlier last week how we had decided to use HomeExchange.com for our holiday trip to Paris for my grad school present. HomeExchange.com is a vacation alternative where you trade your home (apartment, or condo – or whatever you live in!) for an agreed upon time frame. You pay a minimal monthly fee to see the various listings. At this time it’s about $10/month for a year commitment. When I had posted our apartment on the HomeExchange.com website, I didn’t realize how fast things would start moving. Within three days, we had offers to exchange from Dubai, France, Iceland, New Zealand, and Spain.
We decided Paris, France would be a great city to explore because it is just like New York City: It’s a beautiful walking city with a great mass transit system which makes getting around with two little girls very easy. I’ve been to Paris several times in the past for work plus I speak some high-school French, so at least I could get us around.
Let’s get the first question I know you’re all asking out-of-the-way: “You are allowing absolute strangers into your home?!” Well, yes and no. Yes, we have never met the family we decided to exchange with, but for seven weeks before the exchange, we had written almost daily emails to each other, gave each other tips about our cities, spoke on the phone, and became friends on Facebook. Our French family even created a personalized Google Map for us so we knew where the local boulanger and boucher was even before setting foot in Paris. HomeExchange.com also provides agreements that you and your family can use once an exchange has been confirmed.
There are many things you can do to prep for a home exchange. Here are a few of my own. Feel free to add your own comments, too!
- Get to know your family really well and vice-versa:
- Ask questions! Your family is your local expert – ask them about restaurants, places to visit, non-touristy things to do.
- Give them tips about your city. I found out what they wanted to do and see here in NYC, so I also created a personalized Google Map for them with a list of restaurants, museums and flea markets to check out. It took over an hour, but well worth the time and effort and they appreciated it. I know I appreciated it when they did it for us – without even asking!
- Skype, Google+ or have a simple phone conversation with them. Making some form of contact where you can see each others faces or hear each others voices helps in the “trust factor.”
- Be their friend on Facebook. You can see who they are, what they do and what they talk about. And vice-versa. I have actually become friends with the dad and their two kids on Facebook.
- Send them a picture of you and your family. Just personalizes things a bit more.
- Arrange your flight schedule so you can meet each other. Our French family arrived the day before we left (they stayed in a hotel nearby). They came about an hour before it was time for us to leave, which gave us ample time to meet them, chat and show them around the apartment. Again, helps on the trust factor.
Preparing your home for a HomeExchange.com vacation is different from any other vacation. There’s just a lot more to do and requires work, but what kept us motivated was thinking about the 2,800 Euros we were able to save by exchanging instead of getting a hotel room.
- Clean out your home. This is obviously an no-brainer. You don’t have to clear out everything, just the important stuff:
- Put all your fine jewelry in storage. ‘ Nuff said.
- Box up all personal files like tax forms, bank statements, credit card bills etc. and lock those up.
- Buy an external hard drive and put any personal documents from your computer on to the hard drive and lock that up in storage.
- Buy new sheets and towels that you can specifically reserve for when you do an exchange.
Again, I know it’s a ton of work, but once you mentally add up the amount of money that you save plus the kind of experience that you and your family get by actually living in a home instead of vacationing in a hotel room – its priceless. We were able to go to the local boulangerie (bakery) and make friends with the boulanger. Whenever we passed by to go to le metro, he would wave to us. I mean, you can’t get that when you’re in a hotel, can you?!? The girls were also able to have their own bedrooms and had more than enough room to run around and have “alone time.”
The night before leaving Paris, we did have to clean up the apartment: I lightly vacuumed, and we cleaned up the dishes and took out the trash. The morning we left, we threw our towels and some bed linens into the washer and left everything neat and tidy. When we came home, we found our apartment as we had left it: clean and tidy with nothing out-of-place. At the end of an exchange, you can also ask your exchange family to write-up a review of the experience. We just finished up writing our positive review for our French family and we are already trying to figure out when and where our next HomeExchange.com experience will take place.
Have you done HomeExchange.com before? If so, I’d love to hear about it!