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One Family’s First Home Exchange Experience


Read about Visiting London’s Top Royal Sites with Kids

I had always wanted to visit London but things were always getting in my way—in particular, the notoriously high costs of eating in the city’s restaurants and sleeping in its hotels. Then I went to work for a home exchange website and needed to try out our service, which gave me the nudge I needed to visit this pricey city with my 7- and 9-year-olds in tow.

Here’s how my first experience with home swapping went down.

Getting to Know You…

london parkDespite my desire to like the idea of home swapping, I was nervous about handing my home over to strangers while moving in to their home on the other side of the continent. But the Internet is a great tool for closing up distances. I found a home I was interested in, where there was mutual interest. And we began chatting by email and skype, which did a lot to put my mind at ease.

The other homeowners were very helpful and readily answered specific questions about the house and neighborhood and more general questions about tackling this giant city with kids. I tried to do the same about Barcelona and my home there.

Make Yourself at Home

Before I knew it, voila! We set dates and made an agreement and my kids and I were off to London!! Getting from point A to point B with kids can be an exhausting task, but once we arrived we all relaxed quite easily into our home away from home. The kids ran off to find the toys and I was able to put my feet up and read over all the advice and recommendations my home swap partner left for me.

Get the Inside Scoop on your Destination

UK natural historyOn our first day we went to The Natural History Museum (free!), by far  my kid’s favorite excursion of the trip. It is incredible and I highly recommend the Dinosaur exhibit with its fantastic interactive features. My son now considers himself a Dinosaur genius!

After too much excitement we made our way to Harrods. The famous department store is enormous and has absolutely everything you could ever dream of. Beware the Toy Kingdom on the third floor; your children will go mental, but it is so worth it. The only way I could get mine to leave peacefully was by luring them to the YooMoo frozen yogurt store one floor up. The menu offers some two dozen toppings and shakes in flavors like Chunky Monkey. It was the perfect end to a fun filled day.

Have an audience with the Queen...sort of.

We also had a day of being the ultimate tourists. We took a ride on the London Eye and visited the original Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum (right) and the London Tower. Thanks to advice from our home swap partner, we managed to avoid lines at every single venue! And it was a lot easier to plunk down the steep admission fees (nearly $25 or more per person at each venue) knowing I wouldn’t face a sky-high hotel bill at the end of the trip.

A Relaxing (Really!) Family Getaway

I will tell you something else: There is nothing more comforting after a long, hectic day of site-seeing than arriving back at a real home, putting the kids to bed, popping open a well deserved bottle of wine and flopping down on a couch in your PJs.

For once I actually returned from a holiday feeling relaxed and satisfied that my children also had a great time (the two usually don’t happen together in my household).  I’m a total convert and am already thinking about our next swap.

Penelope Hobbs works for Knok, a platform that helps people find a home exchange for their holidays.




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11 Comments

  1. Joanna Jaeger
    June 13, 2013 at 8:55 pm — Reply

    My family did a home exchange in 1973 and arranged it all over a few snail mail letters and a phone call! I recently ran across the letters that were exchanged and marveled at how adventurous my parents were! 40 years later we still visit each other and my 21 year old daughter stayed in their Paris apartment just last summer. It DOES take a little leap of faith, but you’re both trusting that things will be taken care of and treated well. One of the best things we ever did. It’s so much easier now with the Internet.

  2. InACents
    June 7, 2013 at 4:42 pm — Reply

    I’ve been looking a lot more into the home sitting aspect since we had someone guest post for us on the topic. I tend to agree with others that I’m not sure I could quite feel comfortable exchanging our home even though we would be getting someone else’s in exchange.

    • June 10, 2013 at 9:04 am — Reply

      The thought of having a hypothetical stranger in your home is daunting. But I think the idea here is that you get to the know the folks a little — which is so much easier to do online — and the prospect of swapping homes with Fred and Mary, who seem like normal, reasonable people, seems much less scary.

  3. Mary {The World Is A Book}
    June 7, 2013 at 4:31 pm — Reply

    I’ve always been leery about home exchanges and just too paranoid to let strangers in my home. Glad to hear other people’s positive experiences though. Love the tips here. We’re going to London next month and hope to see most of the free museums.

  4. Adam Share
    June 7, 2013 at 3:05 pm — Reply

    What a great idea. Being from London and now living just outside the city I would just like to say that it is not that expensive. London can be as cheap or expensive as you would like it to be. It all depends on your budget and what you are happy to pay.

  5. Sonja
    June 7, 2013 at 1:36 pm — Reply

    I’d be nervous about letting people into my home. But I’d love to stay in someone else’s!

    • June 7, 2013 at 2:34 pm — Reply

      I guess that’s where AirBnB comes in!

  6. Lisa from Gone With The Family
    June 7, 2013 at 11:15 am — Reply

    I have always been a bit nervous about the idea of a home exchange but we do tend to rent apartments when we are away so that we can come “home” at the end of the day. Loved reading about your visit to London. We are heading there later this summer. It will be our second family trip but there are a lot of things that we didn’t get to the first time – the British Museum is top of my list.

    • June 7, 2013 at 11:47 am — Reply

      I think there are certain cities like New York, Paris, Rome, London that are huge and complex. You go the first time and see all the famous touristy things and then go back for the little neighborhoods and museums you missed and to get beyond the touristy side of the city.

  7. Jessica
    June 6, 2013 at 11:11 pm — Reply

    This is something that I really want to do. If only I lived somewhere more interesting…

  8. June 6, 2013 at 8:57 pm — Reply

    I totally agree about coming home after a long day and feeling at home. The homeowner tips are a great bonus, and the bottle of wine at the end of the day, seals the deal!

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