5 Tips for Home Exchanges with Kids
Guest Post by Samantha Schoech
When we finally arrived in Denmark, after more than 12 hours of traveling, we were stupid with exhaustion. Maggie and Oliver, our six-year-old twins, were like mini-zombies, dutifully toting their rolling bags through an airport crush of foreign languages. As promised, our Swedish counterparts had left their car and perfect instructions on how to get from the airport to their house in southern Sweden. We arrived there in the early afternoon and to keep ourselves awake until 7:00 (which we decided was a perfectly decent bedtime after so many hours of travel) we explored our house and huge yard, played soccer, and rode bikes to a nearby lake.
Whenever I arrive at a hotel, I spend about ten minutes checking out the amenities and testing the bed before I feel guilty about staying in. Hotels are places to lay your head, but they are not places to make yourself at home. To my mind, having a home is the only way to travel with kids. There’s no pressure to be out by a certain time for housekeeping. There are no expensive (and often uneaten) rip-off meals. You get all the comforts of home and the chance to experience day-to-day life in another place.
Trading houses is a stress-free way to travel, but it still offers that magical shift in perspective that only getting out of your own routine and culture can offer. Plus, everything has the patina of adventure. When you travel abroad, a trip to the grocery store counts as an outing, pumping gas the first time feels like a test of some kind, and perusing the home’s bookshelf is exploration enough on some days. But the best part is that your exhausted zombie-children get a chance to get comfortable. And it was in this slow, un-frenzied way that our kids came to know and love international travel.
Five tips if you’re bringing the kids along:
1. Find an exchange family with kids.
While it is not essential that the people you swap with have kids, it sure can help. When our kids arrived in Sweden, dead tired and disoriented, they were thrilled to find Lego, foam swords, and board games to play with. Also, people with kids understand kids and are less likely to die of disappointment if you break the glass water pitcher (sorry about that, Smith Family).
2. Consider the ‘burbs.
The great cities of the world are sirens for travelers, but what they offer—food, wine, museums, sights, and culture—can be lost on a child, especially a young one. When we chose an exchange outside of Malmo, Sweden people thought we were crazy. We even feared we might be crazy. But we ended up with the best of both worlds—Copenhagen was two train stops away. We could go into the city for culture, sights and excitement and then retreat to our quiet, roomy house and yard surrounded by wheat fields and horses. There is something about being outside of the city that takes the frenzied feeling out of travel.
3. Choose something near the water.
This goes along with number 2. Kids can only do so much sightseeing and exotic eating before they just want to go swimming. In Sweden we swam in the sea, in lakes, and in an indoor pool. But it doesn’t really have to be swimming. It just has to be some fun, physical activity that doesn’t involve appreciating culture. Playgrounds, parks, hikes, boats or bikes–Make sure kids have something besides admiring architecture to do with their days.
4. Build in down time.
Most kids don’t like to be going, going, going everyday. One of the great beauties of a home exchange is how relaxed it can be. When our kids wanted to stay home, play soccer and watch movies, we did it. Even when we weren’t out exploring, we could tell we were in another place—the light, the smell, the sounds, the very feel of the air was different and enlivening. We didn’t have to be on train or a tour to know we were traveling.
5. Pack enough for a week.
I learned this the hard way. Even when you’re gone for a month, you only need clothes for a week. That’s the beauty of having a washing machine. If I had thought about this beforehand, I could have left an entire suitcase at home.
About the Author
Samantha Schoech is a writer, editor and passionate traveler living in San Francisco. She’s been detained by the secret police in Romania, stranded on a Greek Island, and crowned Miss Santa Fe 1986 in Panama.