Little did she think when she dropped the first letter into the post box offering their house for exchange that this was a process she was destined to repeat many times over the next thirty years!
As time has gone by, the means of communication have become more sophisticated – letters and phone calls being superseded by faxes, and these in turn by e mail – making the entire process simpler and quicker. What has not changed though is that thrill of anticipation when a communication arrives offering a house swap with details of their home and themselves.
Our first exchange was to the Swiss town of Luzerne. Keys were exchanged over an Indian meal in Canterbury as we hurried towards the Channel and onwards towards the continent of Europe. It was a good start; spectacular scenery, a flat situated in the old part of town and easy access to the surrounding countryside.
This exchange also introduced us to the more idiosyncratic and unexpected side of house swapping where odd requests can come out of the blue. On this occasion we had to babysit a harpsichord, where its room had to maintained at a constant temperature and humidity for the duration of our stay. It was our baby and we managed to nurse it through our stay.
It was onto a different form of nursing thereafter when our own sons arrived on the scene. Home exchanges continued but now it was onto more humdrum considerations such as a washing machine, toys and outdoor play areas galore.
Children bring with them their own share of issues but thankfully, this phase went off without anything amiss occurring, apart from an incident in Coutance (Normandy) when we woke one morning to find our eldest son had undressed over a hundred Sylvanian family characters and the discarded clothing formed a small mountain on the floor beside him… enough said!
Soon, our travels took wings. As the boys grew our horizons widened as our sights became set on going further afield. Australia was unforgettable, Colorado full of light and space and Mexico hot and dusty – each was visited, and many revisited, over the years. New York was everything it was claimed to be. Fond memories abound but few linger as much as a conversation in the shade of the World Trade Centre reflecting on how the US had been fortunate in its lack of terrorist attacks; six weeks later they were smoke and ash.
On a brighter side, exchanges continued to mount up. Inheriting another house allowed us to arrange non-simultaneous swaps. As a result, travels were no longer limited to the summer months. Ski trips to the Dolomites, Idaho and Utah amongst others were combined with Christmas and New Year abroad, while celebrating festivities on a beach in New Zealand put a completely new twist on celebrations.
Many exchanges were shorter in length and nearer to home. City breaks in Scotland, Portugal and France filled many Easters and Autumns. The fact that car exchanges were also negotiated allowing greater freedom and mobility without the complications and pitfalls of car hire.
Suddenly, we have reached a milestone; fifty exchanges in thirty years, and counting. Home exchanging has allowed us to travel further and more frequently without the pain of accommodation costs usually associated with holidays, where a real sense of community can be experienced that is far removed from traditional tourist sites and which can be a common feature of time spent abroad.
Unexpected and unusual offers have allowed us to visit places we would otherwise never have considered. A generation on, our boys too have the travel bug; this story still has a way to run – who knows when, or where, we will reach our century!
Irene Bews an outdoor experiential consultant and run Adventurascotland with my business partner. We run expeditions with young people and adults worldwide, teacher training in developing countries and Europe, and deliver expedition training/camping/hiking with groups and individuals. All of these are delivered following experiential
Check out her HomeExchange listing in Scotland!