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Lois Sealey, Editor, Home Swappers
'Home exchange' seems quite an abstract concept when first encountered. Possibly a past time for bored pensioners or something thought up by tight fisted Europeans to save pennies, it wasn't quite what myself and my brother envisaged our family partaking in. We have in the past travelled all over, with all our family at some stage having worked in the travel industry; and to some extent this manifested itself in a need to avoid the crowds, and get something more out of the average holiday. Of course sun and an open bar can be lovely for a time, but with some members of our family more interested in watching planes than sunsets, and others preferring hitting the bar to hitting the beach, it's often difficult to please everybody. Home exchanges gave us the independence we needed; a stable base and a wealth of information about the local area that let us manipulate the holiday in a way that pleased everybody.
We have taken part in two home exchanges, one in Ontario, Canada and one on Australia's Gold Coast. We live in Sussex, in the South East of England. Now any readers from Sussex will probably understand when we were astounded anyone from anywhere in the world would want to stay in our part of the world. However, we received offers from Italy, California, Cape Town, all over Australia, India and the South of France. We were perplexed until we were given the mission of assembling a folder filled with everything you could possibly do around our area. After a couple of weeks of this we were starting to realise that under the surface we actually had a lot to offer, in fact you'll probably find if you exchange, the other family will end up knowing your area far better than you ever will; and you'll find yourself nodding and agreeing that the little market you've never visited is wonderful, and you'll look similarly enthusiastic when they go on to describe the beautiful view you ignore on the way to work. Remarkably you'll end up knowing your own area much better as well.
A couple of tips for first timers: its normal for neighbours or friends of the family to visit and make sure all is well when you first arrive, and indeed useful to organise for the family staying in your own house. They provide a vital link between you and the other family and are most often charming, invaluable sources of information- from a neighbour in Oz who assured us the sharks were harmless and would only take off the odd limb, to a friend of the family in Canada who insisted on cooking us 'biscuits' which heavily resembled a good old English scone, these people can make your stay just that little bit more interesting.
Core to both our successes has been a mutual trust and respect, achieved largely through dozens of emails and several phone calls that meant by the time we were on the way we knew the families well. We found people with the same approach to life as ourselves and as a result a lot of work was put in by both sides to ensure that accommodation was immaculate and preparation thorough. Lastly, to top off the experience both times, we were lucky enough to engineer a meeting with the other families following the exchanges; laid back and fulfilling, it was a case of matching the photographs to the faces and swapping notes on the holidays that completed the experience. There were highs and lows as with any holiday but I think what really separates a home exchange from any other trip is that you really do leave the other tourists to the beaten path, and experience what life in a place is really like- from a complete lack of ability when it came to steering a small rowing boat, to embarrassing the whole English nation with our lack- lustre sporting performances when it came to meeting local rugby and cricket fans, we rarely missed a trick, and got a glimpse into the day to day lives of other people, with all the perks of a normal holiday; and then there's the money. . . - Andy, aged 19
Editor's Note: Andy's mother, Yvonne, wrote an article for the newsletter but Andy did not like what she wrote - so rewrote the article in a slightly different aspect from a teenager's point of view! Thanks to both of you. Check out the family's very attractive exchange offer (link below) in a village in Sussex.
Many new members join Home Base Holidays as a result of a recommendation from a friend. Forget Google - the very best publicity is by word of mouth.
Members' contributions are included in this newsletter and on the blog, always with links to their listings, to give their exchange offers extra puiblicity. Now, to encourage even more active participation, we will extend your membership period by three months each time a new member joins as a result of your recommendation. Just think - recruit four new members each year and you will never have to pay a renewal fee again!
To make it easy to identify new members that you introduced, please give your friends your User ID (the 4 or 5 digit number after HE) and instruct them to enter this number in the Promotional Code Box on the membership form when they join. We will then match the number entered with your listing, extend your membership period, and let you know the name of the new member who joined as a result of your recommendation.
If you think your friends or colleagues might like more information about home exchange before joining Home Base Holidays, use the Forward email link at the bottom of this (and every) Home Swappers Newsletter to forward the current issue addressed individually to up to five contacts at a time.
As soon as you agree to a home exchange, let your household insurers know that you will be having non- paying guests in your home and the period. Your home is almost certainly safer being occupied than left empty but not all policies provide the same level of cover. Most insurers won't cover you for burglary unless there is evidence of a break in so make sure that your exchange partners are aware of all procedures to keep your home secure (as you will do in their home). If possible, don't leave small, expensive items like jewellery in your home. Check the terms of your insurance policy on accidental damage and agree mutually that the exchange guest will pay for any damages that are not covered by insurance.
Home Base Holidays members have rarely reported problems with home insurance cover while exchange guests are staying in their homes but it is important to be aware of potential exclusions or additional payments that may be required. Recently, experienced exchanger, Liz (photo is of her home in St Mellion, Cornwall, HE20205), let us know that her current insurers charge an extra £25 each time she has exchange guests. As Liz and her husband had five exchanges in the past year, the additional costs mount up. Liz did some research before renewing her current household insurance and shares her findings which should be useful for other UK members:
'We have been making a few enquiries about alternative home insurers which I think have paid off. All were given the same information of our guess of how many exchanges we might do and length of stay (normally no more than about two weeks). We emphasised that no money is involved and it means that the property is occupied. We approached four well known names:
1. Existing insurer (UK clearing bank) wants £25 per occasion so you have the inconvenience of phoning them each time as well as paying extra and they will cover Building only not Contents.
2. Our Bank (UK clearing bank) who have insured the house in the past, will provide insurance for building and contents no problem but their underwriters would not cover us for home exchange at all.
3. Major insurer for Over 50s (we already have car insurance with them) will provide building and contents insurance including home exchange provided the exchange is arranged through a bona fide agency (not quite sure what this means as the person I spoke to seemed to be under the impression that we would be in some way vetted by an agency). They are to send me written details of the cover which will contain endorsements setting out the exact details. Price on a par with the others.
4. Another big financial name said they will cover Building and Contents and home exchange (except malicious damage), no problem. Price on a par with the others plus they give £50 cash back!
So far as renewal is concerned it's what's known as a "no brainer" I think!'
Editor's Note: Thanks, Liz, for sharing the results of your research. The company (#4) that Liz found to offer the best deal by far is the Halifax, tel. no: 0800 032 0844. With insurance issues in the past (most notably car insurance), not all members have had the same experiences when using the same companies but, hopefully, the Halifax will prove consistent and be useful for other UK members looking for the best value and comprehensive Building and Contents insurance to cover exchange guests. MoneySavingExpert.com is also a useful source of information on insurance.
Our feature story in the last issue of Home Swappers was No Place Like 'Home' by Dana Facaros who, with husband Michael Pauls, has written a number of widely acclaimed Cadogan guides.
The publishers have kindly offered a copy of their popular 640 page 'South of France' guide, signed by the authors, as a prize for answering the following simple question from our blog, Trave l the Home Exchange Way (hint: the answer is in a post published in June or July):
Quotes were included from a number of Home Base Holidays members' testimonials published, along with ratings, on an independent home exchange information website. What is the name of this organisation?
The first entry giving the correct answer selected at random on 26 September will be sent the signed copy of 'South of France'. To enter, use the link below to send a message (subject line: Travel Guide Prize Draw). Include your full name and mailing address along with your answer. The winner will be announced in the next newsletter.
Even if you aren't the lucky winner of 'South of France', you can stll order from a selection of Cadogan guides at a £2 discount. See full details in the June /J uly issue of Home Swappers.
Home Base Holidays members will know that there are a number of tick box options on the membership form to choose any activities relevant to your exchange offer: boating, fishing, golfing, horse riding, skiing, tennis, walking.
Use Advanced Search to look for homes where you could pursue an activity you are interested in (members: log on and search listings, using the link to more search options). First, either choose a country from the drop down country list or leave it blank for a general search. Select any other important criteria. Then choose one activity from the drop down list beside Leisure activity.
I recently checked the numbers of listings with at least one of the activities selected and was quite surprised to find Boating topped the list but not at all surprised to find Walking as the next most selected option. Walking, whether at a leisurely pace through urban parks, or a more ambitious trek along coastal paths or mountains, is a very popular way of getting to know a new area. One recent example of members both able to offer great walking opportunities, and wanting to exchange to an area offering the same:
'. . .Our home (in photo) backs onto a reserve and is 15 mins walk from Brisbane Forest Park providing extensive walking trails. . .
We are keen to have a long term exchange home close to walking areas such as the Lake District, Yorkshire or Nth Wales and within 1.5hrs of family in Manchester. While in the UK we will take short breaks to walk and cycle in parts of Italy and southern Europe and would be interested in non-simultaneous short break exchanges in these areas.'
Read the full home exchange offer in Brisbane, HE21199
Leisure activities don't need to be confined to sports. If you have ideas for other options that would be useful to add to the list and be able to search on, please let me know.
You've probably heard of the slow movement that has been attracting converts over the last few years - slowing down to appreciate good food and relaxed travel are two prime examples. I can add one more - slow work. In my case this has been forced by breaking a wrist three weeks ago - typing one handed is sure not fast!
Slow travel is generally associated with holiday/vacation rentals, i.e staying in one location and getting to know it well, but home exchange suits the idea even better. I thought of this when I read Da na's feature article published in the last issue. A quote:
'These days whenever we do a home exchange (so far we've done lovely swaps with Edinburgh, Lucca and Amsterdam) Michael and I still like the feeling of play acting the "local" even if it's only for a couple of weeks- walking around the neighbourhoods, the markets, shops, and restaurants, and of course seeing the sights. Especially the minor ones, the second raters, the third division homespun attractions- a museum of socks or tin whistles, a quirky Romanesque portal, the birthplace of an obscure composer- the obscure stuff most people tend to skip when they stay in hotels where time is money and there's always that itchy feeling, that compulsion to move on to the next town to see the next World Heritage Site.'
Lastly, for a fun take on the slow movement check out SlowDownNow.o rg - 'The official website of the International Institute for Not Doing Much'. And that's exactly my philosophy right now - I'm off to give my one good hand a bit of a rest. - Lois
Newsletter Contributions: We are always pleased to hear from members and subscribers and to receive contributions for the newsletter and blog - short reports on your exchange experiences, tips you feel would be useful to those new to the idea of home swapping and any questions you have on home exchange. Please include 'home exchange' in the subject line when contacting us as messages with no subjects (or dubious sounding subject lines!) or unexpected attachments may end up in our spam folder and deleted unread.
Reading this on the Website? Use the newsletter subscribe link to add your email address and receive the newsletter regularly. If already on the list but not receiving your copy by email, there can be a number of causes:
Reminder to Members about Messaging System: A short alert message is sent to you by email to let you know whenever there is a new message for you in the Inbox in your member area. The subject line in the alert messages you receive by email is: New home exchange message for you from HExxxxx (the member's User ID). Alert messages are automatically sent from the site whenever a member leaves you a message. You then need to log on to your member area to read and respond to the message. Please respond to all messages promptly even if you can't consider an exchange offer.
Although you should receive alert messages without any problem, it's a good idea to skim through your spam folder before deleting messages as a very few alert messages, like other 'good' messages, may be filed there by mistake - ISPs' spam filtering systems aren't perfect! If your ISP or email programme enables it, add our email address, homeexchange 'at' btinternet 'dot' com (replacing the 'at' and 'dot'), to your 'safe senders' list to ensure you don't miss any alerts.
The site based messaging system is for your security - you decide when you are ready to provide another member with your email address and any other contact information.
Be Alert: The Home Base Holidays private member area is for one-to-one exchange offers between members only, not for any other purpose. Please let us know if you receive any other type of message via your member area. Never respond to unsolicited messages from unknown sources.
Further Information: Check the archives to read past issues of Home Swappers Newsletter. Also, don't forget to visit the Travel the Home Exchange Way blog for regular information and updates plus special exchange requests. To receive notices by email whenever a new post is added (generally no more than three a week), add your email address to the box above 'Get email updates' in the left hand column of Travel the Home Exchange Way.
Copyright: All Home Swappers content is copyright and cannot be used in any form without written permission from Home Base Holidays. However, please feel free to forward the newsletter (in full) to friends and colleagues who may be interested in home exchange (use the Forward Email link below the newsletter).
Home Base Holidays, London, UK 1985-2008: 23rd year providing a home exchange service worldwide