How HomeExchange Saves You Money… in Iceland or, Really, Anywhere
How we spent 34 glorious days in Iceland without breaking the bank. And how you could do the same in any destination.
My family has logged 10 home exchanges in three years, spending as long as three months a year traveling. And we’ve done it by maximizing all the benefits of HomeExchange.
Guiding our thoughts is the belief that not spending money on expensive tourist activities is a down payment toward future travel. Every dollar we save on one trip means more travel days in the future. We know that we can turn one week in a bucket list location into three weeks if we make the right choices, and HomeExchange is the right choice – one heck of a great way to save a lot of money.
Tip #1: Decide what is important. For us, it is gaining great experiences.
We went to Iceland and never visited the Blue Lagoon. There, I said it.
Instead we had a neighborhood pool in Kópavogur, part of the greater Reykjavik area, where we swam almost every day. For me, it was more important to experience swimming like a local than to spend a great deal of money on a visit to a tourist attraction.
Tip #2: A flight costs a bunch of money. Do you really want to stay for just a few days?
Consider extending your time in your destination for as long as you can. You can “do” Reykjavik in a few days, but wouldn’t you rather “live” there for longer?
Every time you move from one place to another, it costs you money. Save money by staying still and really settling in. The longer you live in a place, the better you will be at living affordably.
Tip #3: Home exchange provides you with a free bed… and a free kitchen.
Too often people think of a home exchange as freedom from paying hotel bills. We also think of it as freedom from paying restaurant bills.
Restaurants are mind-bogglingly expensive in Iceland, so eating at home will save you a bucketload. Check out supermarkets like Bonus, Netto and Hagkaup, and comparison shop for best prices.
Try packing a picnic lunch (every day). No cooler required, as it never gets hot in Iceland. We ate some of our best meals as tailgates on remote beaches or before setting out on a hike to a glacier.
My favorite Icelandic picnic location was sheltered from a howling wind just a few miles from the Arctic Circle, where we waded into the Arctic Ocean. Now that’s an experience you can’t get in a restaurant!
Tip #4: Turn your vacation into an Icelandic staycation. Live like a local, not a tourist.
Confession time: I think “tourist” is a dirty word.
I want to live like a local. I want to immerse myself in a neighborhood, in a way of living. I like to think of my home exchanges as staycations in other places. This means keeping a whole lot of regular life in every day, rather than becoming a full-time tourist.
Remember, regular life stuff is way less expensive than tourist stuff. For example, knit a pair of mitts from Icelandic wool or spend the afternoon at the local library. Bonus tip: the Kópavogur Public Library contains a free Natural History Museum that is really worth a visit.
Tip #5: Longer stays mean you can take a day off.
Since you are going to be staying longer, you won’t have to work so hard to fill every day with once-in-a-lifetime activities. We find that some of our favorite days on a home exchange are the days we take off.
Just being a family and doing ordinary things in someone else’s home is a lovely way to spend a vacation.
When we were staying in Kópavogur we could take an extra long swim or ride a bike along the shoreline overlooking Bessastadir, the home of the Icelandic president. We could also do laundry and grocery shopping.
Tip #6: No matter how long you visit, you will never do everything. So don’t try.
Once you accept this, you can enjoy it. We did an 18-days home exchange in Florence, Italy, and never entered the Duomo, didn’t go to Pisa, and barely left the historic center. But we had an amazing time.
In Iceland, the list of things we didn’t do only starts with Blue Lagoon. We also didn’t eat hákarl (fermented shark), go whale watching or go to the Icelandic Sagas – The Greatest Hits in 75 Minutes show. But we enjoyed every minute of our visit. And we stayed for 34 days, something many people couldn’t afford without maxing out their credit cards.
Give yourself permission to do things at a relaxed pace. Every day we ask ourselves if we are having fun. If the answer is yes, we are succeeding.
Tip #7: Do the free things first. And make a day of it.
The first free thing you can do is get to know your new neighborhood. Figure out where to get groceries. Find the best bakery. Identify what and where the locals like to drink. If you have kids, scout out the coolest playground.
Find a list of free things to do and do them. A little research and organization go a long way. We’re always amazed at what is on offer at little or no cost, including free days or evenings at museums or galleries.
Of course, when you do spend money, make sure you get the most out of it. Slow down. Immerse yourself. It’s not a race.
Tip #8: Iceland with and without a car
If you are going to home exchange outside of the greater Reykjavik area, you will need a car. So see if you can arrange to use your exchange partner’s car. While we were staying in Höfn, a fishing village in the southeast, and while traveling to Akureyri in the north, we put 5,000 kilometers on our rental vehicle! That vehicle rental was the largest cost of our whole trip, but necessary if your home exchange does not include a vehicle.
To save money if you must rent, avoid having a car for most of the time in the Reykjavik area. Driving the Golden Circle? Yes, you will need a car. Visiting pretty much anywhere else in the region? Use Reykjavik’s very good transit system. Not really a transit person? Get over it. It’s just another part of living local.
Tip #9: If one Icelandic home exchange is good, two or more must be better.
If you live in a place where flying to Iceland is expensive (like me), string some home exchanges together on an extended trip. My recommendations are the Reykjavik area, Höfn and Akureyri, but go with whatever you can get.
If flying to Iceland is cheap and easy, go a few times to different places and at different times of year.
And if you have a house somewhere warm and sunny during Iceland’s winter months, and you long to see the northern lights, there are few home exchanging Icelandic families who will jump at the chance for a sunny vacation in the middle of winter.
Tip #10: Finding a home exchange in Iceland can be a ride on the hope rollercoaster. But it is worth it.
Iceland is one of the most sought-after destinations for HomeExchangers. Even though the percentage of Icelandic homes listed for HomeExchange is among the highest in the world, finding your perfect match can be a challenge.
Start early. Be flexible. And go anywhere in Iceland, not just Reykjavik and its immediate area.
Thanks to Sigrun and Valgardur, Rannveig and Magnús, and Jónas and Alma for making our Icelandic dream possible.
About the author
Learn more about Joy’s dream trip to Iceland, as well as other home exchanging adventures, at smallfamilybigjourney.tumblr.com.
Joy Orr lives in Golden, British Columbia, Canada, with her family, except when they are all living in someone else’s house in another part of the world.