When we first started to home exchange three years ago, it all seemed very easy. As time went on, we began to find it difficult to find what we wanted. There seem to be several reasons.
First, all countries are not equal when it comes to home exchange. Let’s take a look at the figures. HomeExchange.com has 65,000 members, including 29,900 in Europe, 17,500 in the US, 9,400 in France (including 2,500 in and around Paris), 3,900 in Canada, 3,700 in Spain, 2,800 in Italy, 2,500 in Australia, 2,230 in the Netherlands, 2,100 in the UK, 1,700 in Denmark, 1,140 in Germany (560 in Berlin), 1,000 in Ireland, 990 in Sweden, 400 in Portugal, 277 in Hungary, 260 in Austria, 175 in Turkey, 75 in Poland and 24 in Slovenia.
Then there are differences in the number of people per household. In Portugal, for example, about 50% of home exchangers have 3 or more people in their party which limits the possibilities considerably when you can only offer accommodation for 2 people.
The first thing is therefore to take a look at the number of members in the country where you are looking for an exchange. If the figures are low, you’ll need to start looking well in advance and be flexible about dates. Don’t forget too that families with children will have to respect the local school holidays. Try to get the calendar for the country concerned.
Next, read the listing of the potential exchanger carefully before asking for a swap. Up until very recently, I did not want to do exchanges with the US. I said so very clearly in my listing. As I was living in a beautiful apartment in the centre of Paris, however, I received two or three requests each week from the US. Despite the fact that our apartment could only take two people, many were requests for couples with children!
The time of the year is also important. If you are not flexible about dates, think about which countries might want to swap with you. You may want to get some sun in February while it’s still winter at home but there is no guarantee that someone from Madrid will want to come and freeze in Paris! On the other hand, the summer holidays in Australia are in December and January and many Australians travel to Europe during this period despite the temperatures. In France, the winter school holidays are staggered over six weeks (February/March) depending on the region.
Your own listing must also be as clear and precise as possible. I have just seen a listing for a large apartment in the city of Blois describing the neighbourhood and indicating a small flat in the middle of Tours, which is an hour away by car. Very difficult to know what’s going on!
Once you have checked that the exchange proposed corresponds to what you are looking for, you can send your request. However, it should be personal and indicate what you are looking for as briefly as possible. Don’t go into a long description of your own house and region without first given your exchange criteria and mentioning the other person’s home.
While you are still working out your swap, use the Home Exchange interface for all correspondence. That way you can easily find the information you need again at any time.
You will notice that I have not suggested that you change your own basic criteria if they are important to you. If you absolutely want a swap in the middle of the city or a certain level of accommodation or somewhere quiet, you will just have to be patient. There are new members all the time and one day you’ll find what you want.
Above all, don’t get discouraged! We were desperately looking for a swap in either Istanbul or Lisbon. In the end, we found both, but by changing our dates. Tell yourself that the aim is not only to find a place to stay, but also to make acquaintances (and maybe friends) in the country or region you want to stay in. Good luck!
I’m Rosemary Kneipp, an Australian-born translator from Townsville, North Queensland, living in France since 1975. With my husband’s retirement, I have just moved from the 1st arrondissement in Paris, right next to the Louvre and the Palais Royal, to Blois in the Loire Valley where we live in a beautiful Renaissance home built in 1584. I have a blog called Aussie in France and second blog called Blois Daily Photo which is bilingual French and English.