offwego-2

We joined HomeExchange.com in July of 2015 and by November, we’d made plans with Cora and Hans, a lovely couple from den Haag who loved country music and couldn’t wait to discover Nashville. Since my husband Justin had never been out of the country and I was itching to get back to Europe, we were open to almost any location, and this one seemed kind of perfect. Cora and Hans seemed super friendly, my family has friends in the Netherlands, and my husband’s whole family is Dutch. Plus, there was no language barrier in the Hague, as everyone speaks English. We said yes!

denhaag

We made plans to swap for a whole month the following summer, and had nine months to plan, dream and worry — though, to be honest, all the worrying was done for us by other people.

“Total strangers sleeping in your bed?”

“What about, ya know, private stuff? What if they go through your underwear drawer?”

“What if they break your stuff?”

The number one thing we’ve learned about home exchange is the importance of mutual trust.

Yes, there is always the possibility that someone will raid you drawers, but they probably won’t because they don’t want you to raid theirs. You must trust one another to be mutually respectful and take care of one another’s homes. We established trust through long messages with Cora and Hans and buying our airline tickets on the same day. We stayed in touch during the months between booking the tickets and getting on the plane, sending Christmas cards and postcards from other trips, emailing about car insurance, and sending excited texts days before our journey. By the time we moved into each other’s homes, we were no longer strangers.

firstnight

Secondly, you can further build the trust by getting friends and family involved.

We had the added benefit of meeting our partners. We got to the Hague two days early, stayed with friends, and had dinner at our temporary home the night before our exchange began. Cora and Hans invited their adult children to join us, so we’d know some other people in town.

Meeting one another isn’t always possible, but try to have family members or close friends welcome your partners to your home. My parents picked Cora and Hans up from the airport, showed them around our house, and invited them over for dinner a couple times, while we had dinner with their daughters twice.

We had also prepared our neighbors for our absence; one of them helped unclog the toilet and another invited them out fishing, while Cora and Hans’ neighbors watched the house for us when we went out of town one weekend. Getting more people involved builds the network of trust and makes you feel more at home in an unfamiliar city.

Third, be prepared to feel out of your element!

Even though we felt at home in a house that wasn’t ours, there were still plenty of things to get used to. Appliances with buttons in Dutch; finding the band-aids and spray cleaner; cooking in someone else’s kitchen; being surrounded by someone else’s photos. And man, Dutch toilets are weird. But any feelings of discomfort disappear if you approach it all with curiosity and adventure! Isn’t that the whole point, anyway? To have the opportunity to live like a local?

And finally, the most important lesson: the only thing holding you back is you.

Too often our friends lament that they’d travel more if they had the time, if they had the money, if they had a remote job, if, if, if. There will never be more time than right now. Many employers are willing to discuss remote options, especially temporary ones, so ask! And travel doesn’t have to break the bank; by forgoing traditional methods – hotels, tours, timeshares – you can see and do a whole lot more than you ever thought possible for a whole lot less.

I researched home exchange horror stories for months before signing up, and the worst I could find was stained carpet the guests paid to clean. Once we let go of our fears and said yes to something new, the possibilities opened up and exchange requests started rolling in.

Next year, we’re going to Mexico, Atlanta and Austin, all with free places to stay, which means we don’t have to pinch our pennies when exploring the area. Four weeks of free accommodations in Holland let us expand our trip to include two weeks of country-hopping that would not have been previously affordable.

Combine the free accommodations with airline miles & credit card points, hostels and cheap apartment rentals, DIY walking tours you can research ahead of time, and not having to eat out for every meal because you have a full kitchen (and the local grocery store loyalty card!), and now the trip of your dreams can become a reality.


I always think about Mark Twain’s famous words when debating whether or not to do something: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” The threat of disappointment and regret scares me more than trying something out of the ordinary and sharing my home with strangers. And now that we’ve tasted home exchange, and experienced for ourselves just how sweet it can be, we are converts, home exchangers for life. The only question now is: where to next?

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