|Home Swappers Newsletter|
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Lois Sealey, Editor, Home Swappers
'I used to have an embarrassing and irrational fear of heights. I've even been known to get jelly-legs walking over a footbridge. So jumping off the top a 2000 metre mountain, suspended from an oversize kite in order to prove to myself that I had once and for all conquered vertigo, was not only a thrilling climax to a wonderful holiday in the Rhône-Alpes, but a leap of faith. Flying through the air (albeit, tandem, with a paragliding instructor's legs around my waist) I felt as close to being a bird as I guess I'll ever get. I was actually quite sad when the flight came to an end and we landed gently in a field at the bottom of the valley near to the idyllic wooden chalet we had been staying in. The rather warm and gratifying feeling one gets in such situations reminded me of our first leap of faith into home exchange holidays.
Since our first home-swap with a London family at Christmas two years ago, I have become a Home- exchange Evangelist, expounding on the miracles of living in strangers' houses and living their lives for a week or more. The first question people ask when I mention the unconventional manner in which we take our holidays invariably goes something like; ' - but don't you worry about what they'll do to your house?' Placing your trust in people that you haven't met to look after your home requires not only an adventurous spirit, but a particularly benevolent trust in human nature. Every time it comes off (and touching wood, all six of our home exchanges have been wonderful successes), it is a life-affirming event that leaves one with a rosy glow and the sense that the community of like-minded people you belong to has suddenly and significantly expanded.
Each of our home-swaps has been a unique and enlightening experience, introducing us to corners of the world that in some cases we barely imagined existed. We live in a beautiful corner of Dorset and are guilty of being rather complacent. An average walk along the cliffs at the back of our house will have us sighing, 'Oh, we're so lucky to live here'. However, each of our exchanges has taken us to another beautiful place that we invariably fall in love with. So far we have exchanged with families in London, France, the Lake District, Wales, Spain and Cornwall.
Home exchanging has given us the chance to take advantage of one of the perks of my job as a teacher (lots of holiday time) especially now that Ruth, my wife, is self employed. We feel that just getting away as a family to spend quality time together relaxing and unwinding is important. However comfortable one's own home is, we invariably end up doing chores if we stay at home. Getting away, even if we end up taking work with us, is refreshing and you always return to see your own home with new eyes. During a wet week in Wales we spent several days just sitting in our host's kitchen drawing and painting together (we covered the table with newspaper first!)
It is not just about saving money. Home exchanging provides the sort of magical and enchanting experiences that wouldn't happen on other types of holiday; falling off to sleep in an amphitheatre of hills echoing to an orchestra of crickets and the tinkle of cowbells; swimming in a mountain lake; picking wild raspberries for breakfast; returning from a country walk to snuggle up to an Aga and a mug of tea; being invited into a farm in the middle of nowhere to buy goat's cheese direct from the farmer. And our repertoire of essential life skills has increased into the bargain; I now know how to operate a robot to keep a swimming-pool clean; I learnt to surf (and how to treat a weaver-fish sting); we have learnt the rudiments of how to feed and care for pigs and piglets and I also spent a whole holiday's worth of bath times surprisingly engrossed in 'A Beginner's Guide to Keeping Chickens'!
Neighbours have quite an importance with this type of holiday. Ours are lovely and it has always been reassuring to know that they will happily lend a hand to our guests if needed, as when one group lost our keys. Since then, we always ensure that we keep them informed about our exchange plans. On two of our swaps we had to drive through farm forecourts to access the house. We enjoyed stopping for a chat, even though we know they were probably also checking our suitability to look after their friend's home!
This summer we stayed in a luxurious six-bed roomed house, complete with pool in a Spanish town that was off the beaten tourist trail but still within striking distance of Barcelona, some wonderful monasteries and breathtaking mountain scenery (photo: with son, Leo, in Catalonia). Shopping in the morning for delicious Mediterranean food, cooling off by splashing around in the pool and enjoying long lazy meals in the shade succeeded in tempting us away from our usual habit of frenetic sightseeing. We were introduced to a Spain that we would have never experienced through the usual routes. Our host's brother and family insisted on turning out in the middle of the night to lead the way from the airport to the house and gave generously of their time to show us round and give us all sorts of valuable nuggets of insider's knowledge. They invited us to an extraordinary Fiesta at their village that was one of the noisiest, most crazy events we have ever experienced with 'Diables' running through dark, narrow streets, banging drums and throwing fireworks. It was dangerous, exciting and completely unforgettable.
The thrill of the unexpected has to be one the most rewarding aspects and I always relish the excitement of opening the front door of our host's home for the first time. However we always take the trouble to get to know our co-exchangers as much as we can through emails and phone conversations so that both parties are clear what to expect. I find this process and anticipation all part of the enjoyment of the holiday and on two occasions the experience was enhanced when we met up with our co-exchangers at a midway point to meet for lunch. On our most recent exchange we looked after a three acre small-holding of chickens, pigs and a very handsome cat. The children loved collecting windfall apples from the orchard to feed to the pigs and collecting eggs and we spent two very happy weeks living a completely different lifestyle that previously, we had only dreamed of. So far, our only regret has been that we didn't discover home- exchanging ten years ago!' - Sebastian, HE18816
A recent post on the blog, 'Home Exchange Guests Bitten by Fleas?', struck a chord with at least one home exchanger:
'This is such a real problem for us in Southern California. I treated our cats several weeks in advance of the exchange and it was still an issue. I was mortified that I had to tell our exchange family that there would possibly be fleas. I flea comb our cats daily and it was a bit much to ask our exchangers to do such a crude chore--but I told them if the fleas were a problem they might have to do it. Our home is very clean other than this. We even had a professional cleaner come just to make sure it was spotless. Our family seemed OK with it, but kept the cats out of the bedrooms. I got no reports of any bites. This is a difficult topic for non-cat owners to understand--our house is clean--REALLY!' - Cyberwife
Although it probably seems a bit embarrassing to mention the dreaded 'f' word to exchange guests, if you have pets, it's better to bring the subject up well before guests are due to arrive than to hope for the best, that they won't encounter a flea problem while living in your home.
For further information, read the article on About.com, 'Don't Flee the Flea! Control and Prevent Fleas in Your Home'
Are there any other topics you have found difficult to raise with people you are planning to exchange with, or have already swapped with - either to do with your own home or theirs? If so, do let me know. Although it's useful to share information with other members in the newsletter and blog, I will not identify you as the source without permission.
Sebastian, the author of the feature article above, recently introduced his brother, Luke, to Home Base Holidays. See the blog post, 'The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread' - Pass it On! for descriptions, photos and links to the brothers' attractive exchange offers in Swanage and Chichester respectively.
Word of mouth is always the best form of publicity and, as the larger the choice of up-to-date exchange offers, the better for all members, we want to encourage and reward members who recommend Home Base Holidays to friends and colleagues. If you are a current member, each time you recommend our service, your own membership period will be extended by three months as soon as your friend joins and names you as the source (with your last join or renewal date also re-dated so your offer won't be seen as out-of-date or drop position in search results). Recommend to four friends (who join) a year and you will have free membership for a full year!
How to Recommend Home Base Holidays
Forget previous instructions to provide your User ID to friends. Instead, just ask them to type your name in the box below 'Where did you hear about our service?' at the end of the membership form. We will extend your membership and let you know whenever a new member joins and enters your name on the form.
As this is a great time to join to get a head start on arranging home exchanges for 2009, if you aren't already a Home Base Holidays member, join now (direct link to application form below), entering the discount code, oct08, in the Promotional Code box you will see near the top of the form. If the code is entered correctly any time up to 15 November 2008, you will automatically receive the 20% discount (paying £23.20 instead of £29 for one year membership or £31.20 instead of £39 for two year membership).
Why not join now at the discount rate and then recommend Home Base Holidays to your friends? Any who join and quote your name - at any time while you are a member - will entitle you to a three month extension on your membership period (details above).
Insurance options (travel, home, car) can be difficult to compare to select the best policies at the lowest price to cover your particular needs. I recently found this out myself when I called to renew my annual travel insurance before a trip to Canada. Normally I would have renewed on-line without much thought but wanted to check a couple of things and so called the insurance company for advice. I would never have thought that my wrist, broken in July, would have been considered a 'pre-existing medical condition' as it was well on the mend by the time of travel. However, I found from this conversation that bones broken less than four months ago do apparently fall into this category and hence I had to pay a higher premium.
Although taking part in a home exchange shouldn't usually cause problems with insurance cover and, with home insurance, most insurance companies acknowledge that a home is much safer when occupied than if left empty, it is very important to check this out well before an exchange to give yourself time to switch companies if necessary. See the article in the last issue, Hom e Insurance: Cover for Home Exchange Guests, for suggestions based on a member's recent research.
Another issue you need to look into if you plan to be away from home for several weeks, is whether there are any limits on household insurance cover (contents and building) when away from home over a certain period. The length is likely to vary. Although, if you arrange an exchange for the full period, your home won't be left unoccupied, you do still need to check. One UK member, leaving soon for a four month trip, recently found home insurance cover from Axa via Swinton Insurance Brokers after finding that his original policy didn't provide cover for such an extended period of absence. For UK home exchangers, a good starting point for information could be MoneySavingExpert.com (see the article, 'Cheap Home Insurance').
Most of the information and feedback we receive is from UK members but if you live in another country, please do share your tips and experiences - good and bad - when checking conditions of insurance policies before a home exchange.
The Aug/Sept issue of Home Swappers included a competition with a prize of a copy of 'South of France', signed by the authors (and Home Base Holidays members), Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls. The question:
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 entry from Julia from London was selected at random and her answer was correct - the name of the organisation is Know Your Trade. See full details in the post, Home Base Holidays: Home Exchange Member Testimonials.
When informed of her prize, Julia said:
'I'd really love to have the book, especially as we want to travel more in France. We had our first journey by TGV to the Loire Valley this year and John is bravely learning French, so it would be great. Thank you!'
Congratulations, Julia! 'South of France' is on it's way to you.
Even if you weren't the lucky winner of the competition, you can still order from a selection of Cadogan guides at a £2 discount on each. See full details in the June /July issue of Home Swappers (link below).
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
Our colleague at partner agency, Green Theme, has requested help finding last minute accommodation in New York City for a member from Paris whose party will be arrivng on 16 October. There are six people travelling (three couples). The home available, a second home (probably at this late stage for a non- simultaneous exchange) is a one bedroom flat right in the centre of Paris. See the full listing for details, HE21468.
If you are a current Home Base Holidays member, please log on and contact the member directly if you may be able to consider a non-simultaneous exchange or have a second home in New York that you could offer them at short notice, even if not large enough to accommodate all three couples. If you are not a current member but can help, please use the link below to contact me and I will forward your offer.