Home Exchange - A Member's Viewpoint
Long-term member Elizabeth Happer lives in Hertfordshire and has been with HomeLink for more than 20 years; she wrote this article for her local U3A magazine.
Holidaying by Home Exchange
When we tell people that we are in a Home Exchange organisation and not only are we going away to stay in someone else's house, but they are coming to stay in ours, they look at us with wide eyes and the first question we are asked 'have you ever had anything stolen?' closely followed by 'and what about damage?' No , I can honestly say that nothing has ever been stolen, nor broken (except a cats bowl and a lovely new one appeared one day sent all the way from Canada!) and no one has ever done any damage to our house or car in all the 20 years we have been enjoying our holidays in other people's homes.
So how did we get involved?
My friend and her husband started exchanging their flat in London more than 25 years ago. It was in the days before emails and the internet and everything was done by letter. When we met, my friend would show me the letters and photos she had received from people all over the world who wanted to stay in their flat in Clapham. I was intrigued by the lovely places she was being offered. Nick and I had just taken on a new mortgage together and although I have always loved travelling and in my twenties had taught in many different countries we couldn't afford expensive annual holidays. Eventually, I persuaded Nick (reluctantly at first I have to admit) to give it a go for a year. That first year we had 3 exchanges - 2 in the UK and one in Cape Cod in the USA, somewhere we had never dreamed of visiting. After that, we were both hooked.
In the following 20 years we have visited numerous countries including several different States and Provinces of the USA and Canada, Australia and NZ, Germany, Belgium and France and of course, many different parts of the UK. Occasionally, we have had an additional summer home included in the offer and once a sailing boat on a local lake.
Pros and Cons of this type of holiday
Well of course there are some cons, but we both feel the positives out-weigh the negatives. The biggest headache is getting the house ready! It must be in good working order, clean and comfortable. But making that into a positive, all those DIY jobs get done and both house and garden get some tlc just before our exchanges. We update any household notes we leave for our guests and collect all the latest local tourist information. These all need time allocated each year. But over the years, we have got into a routine and know the jobs that need to be done at the last minute ie changing the bed!
But once we get away, we know we will be going to a comfortable home away from home where we can relax and enjoy all the home comforts that we are used to in our own home. We get to visit places we would perhaps never expect to visit, non touristy places where we join in like a local, even if it's only for a short time. And we have made some good and long lasting friendships over the years many of whom we keep in touch with, either by email, Facebook and several we have met up with in subsequent years.
So how do we organise our home exchanges?
We are members of an organisation called HomeLink International. We pay an annual fee to be entered onto their database and then it's entirely up to us who we exchange with, where and when! There's no one else doing it for us. We search for places we want to visit, look at photos of the fellow exchangers and their homes and if we like what we see I send them an email and hope they like the look of our home too. We also get offers come to us by email. If we don't like what we see, or it doesn't fit with our plans, we politely refuse.
This summer we are off to France on an exchange with a lady doctor who is bringing her sister on a visit to see her son and her new grandchild who live in London. And we will enjoy rural France without having to worry about our home and our cats who will be well looked after.
And next year? Well who knows! That's the excitement of Home exchange - the world is our oyster and well within our budget.
Liz Happer and Nick Ambrose are members of Thorley U3A & Homelink International