HomeExchange Turns 25: Ed Kushins Looks Back… and Forward

In 2017, HomeExchange celebrates its 25th birthday! Here are some reflections from HomeExchange founder Ed Kushins on the quarter-century journey from modest origins to today.

“Hey Ed, our end-of-January newsletter is scheduled to include a piece tentatively titled What We’ve Learned in 25 Years. Can you put some thoughts into an article?”

I usually jump right into tasks like this, especially one that celebrates 25 Years of HomeExchange. But I found myself uncharacteristically procrastinating. Introspection made me realize how much the past 25 years have meant to me, and how I accept the future. I also felt uncomfortable that “What We’ve Learned” sounded a little “preachy.”

So I’m just going to share a few stories and personal thoughts. You can decide if there is anything to be learned.

Modest, Almost Accidental, Origins

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HomeExchange didn’t start as a business. In 1992, recently divorced, I wanted to take my kids (then 14 and 11) to Washington D.C. on vacation. I knew it would be a rough trip with sightseeing all day and then returning to a cramped hotel room with two beds, one chair, one TV and no refrigerator. I get up early but my kids slept late, so I’d have to wait two hours for breakfast.

This was in the days before the internet or Google, but through word-of-mouth I had heard about “home swapping” and tracked down some people willing to trade their home in Washington for our place in Hermosa Beach. It was great! My kids and I each had our own bedrooms, and there was a swimming pool, pool table, pinball machines and three TVs. Best of all, we had a kitchen with a refrigerator that I could stock with cereal, milk, fruit and other stuff to satisfy a hunger at any time of day.

I learned first-hand how much more comfortable home swapping is than staying in a hotel, besides not having to pay anything. An unexpected benefit: we didn’t have to check in after 3PM or check out by 11AM.


Finding Structure and Going Online

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Following that, I still had no idea of starting a business; instead, I just wanted to share the home-swapping concept with other people. So I started a little club for people who wanted to exchange their homes during vacations, using a mail-ordered, printed directory.

By 1995, what had started as an avocation turned into a shared passion with over 1,000 other club members. But spreading the word was challenging and the cost of producing and distributing the printed directory made it a very expensive hobby. I was the chief cook and bottle washer, except for my friend Judy, who would come to my house to answer the phone and stuff envelopes.

Then, thank goodness some guys invented the internet! I was lucky to recognize its potential as a tool for expanding reach and lower costs, so I shifted to an online community. Not only was HomeExchange.com one of the first internet-based businesses, it was one of the first social communities within the travel industry. We now have more than 70,000 active members around the world in more than 150 countries.


Keeping Things “Small”

Having worked at big companies, I made it a point to keep the feel of the company “small,” even as we were getting bigger. A visit to a Chevy plant many years ago had a surprising influence on how we grew HomeExchange. I don’t remember much about the tour except my surprise that the parking lot was filled with Fords and Toyotas. I couldn’t understand why anyone at a Chevy plant wouldn’t be driving Chevys.

Years later, as we slowly added capacity to HomeExchange, we did so almost entirely by recruiting from within the community. Today almost every Team member is an active HomeExchanger. I like to think that this translates into better products, better service and a better experience for all our members. I even met William and Jim, my two partners, who are now my best friends, when and because they were doing home exchanges in Hermosa Beach. Karma?


Tapping Trust, Optimism and Curiosity

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I’ve been exceptionally lucky to spend 25 years working with a team and members who appreciate what HomeExchange offers. We very rarely get calls from people who start off angry or unhappy, and I ask that those be sent to me. I try to make them my new best friends, or at least happy, and am generally successful.

But there’s a reason why we see very few cases like that. I believe that most HomeExchangers are genetically predisposed to be trusting, optimistic and curious. They start out like that, and their HomeExchange experience only intensifies those traits. And those who are adventurous enough to dip their toes in the water and try it, find it changes them. Many or most join HomeExchange thinking it’s going to be a great way to save some money when they travel, and it is. But they find out and remember how comfortable it is, and how the experience of meeting neighbors, getting personal recommendations and “living like a local” makes it such a memorable experience.

HomeExchange makes the world a smaller, more personal, better place. People open themselves to new opportunities and experiences, and travel longer and more often. If there is one thing I hear in different variations over and over, it’s “HomeExchange has changed my life.” My own wife, Terry, started out as a sceptic, uncomfortable about having “strangers” in her house, but now she is as enthusiastic as I am.

We still do at least 3-4 exchanges per year, and now with our Passport program we make our guesthouse available all the time and will be traveling even more. Our own recent exchanges include weeks in New York City and Paris; three amazing weeks in Queenstown, New Zealand; a return visit to exchange partners (and now great friends) in Berkeley, California; and we are looking forward to a world-class scuba cruise on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef next November.


What’s ahead?

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HomeExchange has been and is more than just a company. I consider our team and our members as family. I like to think we were instrumental in making home swapping a mainstream vacation alternative.

I love being able to click on “Live Chat” and know who is on the other end, often someone I’ve seen many times over the years, had meals with, skyped with. It could be Tessa (who has gotten into stand-up-paddling), Kristina (who, surprise, wasn’t blond the last time I saw her) or John or Nick or Marina or Tom or Nina or Stephan.

Sometimes I log in just to say “Hi.” But time flies and things change. Four years ago, I realized I needed to bring in someone with additional skills who would let me and Terry take more time off. Now I know every single person on the team and their families by sight, but we’re poised for a new chapter that I’m confident will be positive and maintain the “HomeExchange” spirit. Bring it on!

16 Comments on “HomeExchange Turns 25: Ed Kushins Looks Back… and Forward

  1. Hey there… I just read that HomeExchange is turning 25 this year. I just wanted to take a moment and say THANK YOU!

    You have made our lives truly richer and more diverse!
    In the 4 years that we have been on HomeExchange we have made 15 exchanges and have many more planned. We look forward to every opportunity to travel, discover a new city/state/country, and to plan ahead to future adventures. We as adults have learned so much and our children have been cultural, geographic, and linguistic sponges!

    If the world was as kind as those on HomeExchange we would be living in a much more compassionate and peaceful land.

    Thanks so much from all 4 of us (Novotny Family) and all of our extended family and friends that have benefitted from traveling with us! The last 4 years of HomeExchange have been life-changing!

    Peace
    Blake, Lindy, Valen & Dakin Novotny
    BLVD

    bl.novotny@hotmail.com

    • Thank you VERY much for your kind words! This makes our day. We are really pleased to help like-minded travelers connect and have much more meaningful travel experiences.
      Thank you Blake, Lindy, Valen & Dakin!!! Happy Home Exchanging to you all!

    • Hi Novotny Family,
      Thanks for the kind words, they are truly heartwarming and have been read by our entire Team. Home exchangers are like a self selective club with our own secret handshake, and we just know that we have shared values that start and end with “trust” in ourselves and our exchange partners.
      For experienced exchangers (and we’re trying to convey this to people who haven’t tried it), many more say that “It’s been life-changing” than “It’s saved me a lot of money”.
      Keep exchanging and pass the word!
      Best regards,
      Ed Kushins

  2. I remember when a representative from Home Exchange, it may have been Ed, came to our “Travel Club” and talked to us about Home Exchange. This was in 2004. We immediately joined, and have had 35 wonderful Home Exchangers since then, and looking forward to many more.
    We had a write up about us in the local people several years ago about our Home Exchanging; now there are a number of us from San Diego involved in this wonderful idea.!!!

    • Hi Tom and Joan,
      That was me at your club.
      Wow, 35 exchanges since 2004, glad to hear you are making good use of the site! Our Team loves to hear stories like that, that’s what drives us.
      Keep exchanging!
      Ed Kushins

  3. I am a total addict of home exchange and wish I could make money out of “selling your programme” as I am forever telling people and encouraging them to do the same. As you mention there is a “trust” barrier and when friends hear i give my home to strangers they are shocked.
    My only limit is the amount of time I have to travel and that I live only 6 months in summer in my home and so I want it when many other people want it.
    I havent had a single bad experience and have made wonderful friends all over the world.
    Congratulations on this excellent programme!

    • Hi Murrae, thanks for the kind words! Write to me at Ed@HomeExchange.com and we can talk about our program for Ambassadors like you.
      Yeah, it’s all about “trust”. Doesn’t it seem like some of has the “trust” gene and some don’t? Or maybe it comes from some childhood experiences. But I believe that home exchange provides an opportunity to “learn” trust. For many couples (even like my own situation) there was one partner who was all for it and another resistant, but a good exchange can convert the skeptics.
      Keep exchanging and passing the word!
      Ed Kushins

  4. Ed, what a lovely message! Meeting you, Terry and Jim last September was such a treat for me and my husband (also Ed). We have done several successful exchanges and we’ve told countless other couples about Home Exchange over the years too. We look forward to exchanging more through the Passport program and seeing a lot more of the world, most especially the wine regions! Thank you again for sharing your story and for making Home Exchange the best home swapping site out there!
    XO
    ~ Monica (and E2)

    • Hi Monica!
      Thanks for the nice note. We remember fondly sitting by the firepit and drinking some good wine… looking forward to doing it again! Our guest house is completed and ready to host you.
      Cheers,
      Ed and Terry

  5. Aloha Ed, we are avid home-exchangers & have been using your site since geez 2001 – ish? We have done over 60 exchanges to date. We love the program & the new updates that keep coming in. Looking forward to a fantastic next 20+ years of exchanging! A hui hou!
    Mahalo, Robin & Pete – Volcano, HI

    • Aloha back to you and mahalo for the kind words. Don’t be surprised if you get an exchange request from us for Volcano for next year.
      Ed Kushins

  6. Hi Ed and Terry
    My partner and myself have embraced home exchanging since 2003 with a vengeance !
    One of our first hospitality stays was south of Barcelona and when we saw the home- huge, stately, beautiful etc-I cringed, worrying our simple home on the coast in the bush was such an inadequate swap.
    Our hosts later came to Australia and we went swimming in pristine ocean, had surf lessons ,saw kangaroos and koalas, ate kangaroo ,( we dont eat koalas!) swatted flies etc
    I still felt our humble home was short of luxuries that they usually enjoyed at their home.( eg house staff, antiques)
    He said later that as a wealthy business person he stayed in Hilton Hotels around the world but never met locals ! Only other tourists.
    He thoroughly enjoyed staying with us and experiencing a truely Australian( or at least north coast NSW) lifestyle
    That money can not buy!
    Enjoy your travels
    Dawn and Mark

  7. Oh I forgot to add my initial fear re exchanging:
    I said to my adult children
    “”Ï’m worried the exchangers will take my music CD’s””
    They both replied in unison ”
    “No one in the world will like your music”
    I returned to find all my CD’s still there. Dont know if I was relieved or hurt!

    • Dawn and Mark, that’s pretty funny about your CDs! First time I heard that one, but I have heard many variations of your story about your exchange partner who was well traveled but never got beneath the surface until he home exchanged. But both stories show how home exchange changes you.
      Thanks for sharing and keep traveling!
      Ed Kushins

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