Help! It’s My First Time…

We’re sitting around the kitchen table, as you do, problem solving. I have had at least four coffees and three brownies and will either waddle home or fly, depending on whether the caffeine wins out or the chocolate.

But it’s all going to be worth every last sip and every last crumb, because a virgin exchanger, teetering on the edge of panic, has been calmed down and EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT.

Should she be steaming the curtains and ironing all the sheets? How many wardrobes does a couple need for a four week stay?

It’s not the exchanging that’s worrying her at this stage. She has had the skype tour, got to know her host couple, discovered they have lots in common and is consequently feeling pleasantly excited about living in their house. It’s her house that is giving her sleepless nights.

What will they expect? Should she be steaming the curtains and ironing all the sheets? How many wardrobes does a couple need for a four week stay?

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? We’ve all agonized about how our precious, comfy, but individual home will appear to others. Will they learn to love its little ways? Or will they find the porch sofa a bit sun-bleached and worn out instead of cozy and worn in?

It’s moments like this when I say STOP! Take a deep breath and put yourself into the shoes of your exchangers. Are they looking for perfection? No, they are not. Are they looking for comfort and charm? Yes they are. Do you want to present your home in its best possible light? Yes you do.

So let’s apply a few rules. Have a look at these pictures. Which looks better? The sunroom with the magazines strewn about, or the one with the plumped up cushions and sunshine flooding in? It’s the same room; it just looks better without the clutter.

What about this entrance hall? It’s quite nice and practical looking, but doesn’t it look a whole lot better without the stuff strewn about? Of course it does. None of these pictures are taken by a professional photographer. I took them with my little digital set on ‘idiot’s automatic’. It’s all about trying a little harder to make our homes look their best. You know how you brush your hair and put on a dab of lipstick before you go out. (Well, not you, sir but I guess you have your own routine). It’s still you, but a better version than the one who slips out to the supermarket in the anorak with the missing zip and a pair of slippers.

Which would you prefer?

Which would you prefer?

One messy, one tidy.

Getting your home ready for your first exchange is a leap of faith. Over the next few weeks let’s have a go at it together and see what we come up with. I have stories to tell, anecdotes that have become family classics and I am sure you have too. Let’s share them and then put together our definitive list of 10 top essentials for a successful home exchange. I know what I think is important, but what about you? Tell me, give me your ideas and let’s pool them for the common good.

It’s going to be fun.


About the author

Sandra has been a freelance broadcaster, journalist and writer all her working life. She has reported on TV for Thames Television, London, presented on radio for the British Broadcasting Corporation and has written for The Sunday Times, You Magazine, Punch, Times 2, She Magazine and High Life where she became commissioning editor. Later she became editor of Business Life and created the highly successful sister magazine to High Life for British Airways Club World and Frequent Flyers. She became an enthusiastic home exchanger after writing an article about it for the British national daily newspaper, The Guardian when she interviewed Ed Kushins, the founder of Since then she has traveled to Rome, Sicily, California, Melbourne, Perth, Morocco and Venice, writing about her adventures not only for various glossy magazines, but for Sandra has been married to Jafar Ramini for 40 years and has three adult children and four grandchildren.

13 Comments on “Help! It’s My First Time…

  1. PILLOWS!! I think it is always nice to have new (or unmarked) pillows on the beds. I also use pillow protectors under the pillow cases as these also can be washed or replaced. Nothing worse than removing the pillow cases for washing and discovering brown stains all over the pillow. I feel there is no excuse to have stained pillows even for yourself. This is a very small investment for your holiday.

  2. Yes, Rosalie, I totally agree. That blissful moment when you finally lay your head on a smooth, cool pillow must not be sullied. I’ll go further. Mattresses. I intend to share my mattress story next week. Meanwhile, keep your ideas coming in. This list of ours will be the definitive one!

  3. Dear Sandra, Thank you for this post!! Its FANTASTIC!! I was never an exchanger, always thought I wont be comfortable and it will never feel like home! But your enthusiasm and the way you break down what I need to consider makes me think twice now! Beautiful house you have – if I plan a trip to London I will contact you for an exchange! 🙂

  4. A list of ‘best buys’ in the area would be helpful. Where to get the tastiest fresh bread, the best (or maybe the cheapest) place for extra grocery items, the best fruit & vegetable shop, the closest florist, the most reasonably priced but good hairdresser, the best cafe (selling of course the best coffee). Shopping where the locals shop makes the whole experience so much more fun.

    • Desma, thanks for your interest. You’re absolutely right; a guide to where to find local secrets is vital and most experienced exchangers include this information in their list of instructions. I find I am up-dating mine all the time. Nothing worse than being told that the local Italian is great when it has been replaced by a local Vietnamese! My great pals, Jan and Peter, have pages of advice on where to shop, where to browse, where to go for the best and the most competitive. I always look forward to following their tips.

  5. Thank you so much, Sandra, for this most helpful insight into what exactly you need to do if you’ve signed up for an exchange. I’m wondering what happens about transport? A car? If you’re in a city with good public transport it may not be an issue but some places will be off the beaten track and whatever, a car is always handy.

    • Most exchanges include a car, sometimes two. Of course, some places just don’t need a car. We were offered one in Sicily but only the very brave or crazy would take on Palermo traffic. London is another city where a vehicle is an encumbrance, but it’s nice to be offered one. If you do decide to exchange cars it’s very easy. You just put each other on the insurance, make sure all the protection is in place and off you go.

  6. It’s amazing how a little tidying up can make a world of difference. I know that it’s important to me if I go anywhere to stay. Hope everything worked out for the best.

  7. i am not willing to pay $ 150 for one exchange when you give me 14 days free

    • Hi Ali,

      Sorry to hear that you won’t be joining us as Home Exchange Member. Please let us know if there’s anything we can help you with in the future.

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