It’s Your House, Not a Hotel

One of our members has mentioned pillows, which brought it all back to me. With me it was our mattress. Yes, the springs were fine but not only had it seen three children grow up, it had also withstood four dogs, a rabbit, not to mention cups of tea, coffee, cornflakes, chicken soup and the (very occasional) glass of champagne. The poor thing was looking and feeling its age. Its replacement arrived the next morning.

Next I started on drawers that hadn’t been opened for decades and discovered bedraggled garments belonging to another era, including an ancient maternity bra that was close to hammock proportions. “My God,” I imagined our exchangers exclaiming to each other, “what does she do with this? Carry her groceries?”

Still lurking in the wings were the cupboard-under-the-stairs, a British stalwart, traditionally used for storing all kinds of stuff you can’t think what to do with, and THE LOFT. I had to simply shudder at the loft and hope my exchangers would do the same.

But where do you stop? The kind people at were reassuring.

“You don’t have to clear away everything,” they said. “No-one wants a house that looks like a hotel room.

Close the door and feel organised.

Pictures, personal things, are all fine. Just make sure your guests have plenty of wardrobe space and drawers. If you want, take one room as a dumping ground and just put everything in it, from family heirlooms to clothes you don’t want to take with you.”

This worked splendidly. My chosen dumping ground was, and still is, the smallest bedroom in the house, only used when friends of grandchildren come to stay. I then bought clothes rails from one of those wholesale places specializing in storage paraphernalia, covered all our clothes in plastic bags from the drycleaners (50 for 25p), closed the door and felt wonderfully organized. I then plonked a nice bottle of wine on the table, put fresh flowers in a vase and hoped for the best.

Jan & Peter who have become friends since our first exchange.

All this has worked, pretty well perfectly, ever since. With some small additions. Jan and Peter, who have become good friends since our first exchange a couple of years ago always leave a curry in the freezer for us and we leave a casserole for them. It’s such a nice, cosy touch and has become one of the treats we look forward to.

Another exchanger, Fay, who has also become a friend, baked a cake for us when we first arrived at their elegant beach house in Eagle Bay, Western Australia. We could smell it when we walked into the house and instantly and completely felt at home. It’s the sort of warm homecoming that hotel consultants spend entire conferences on trying to emulate. It’s not possible. You can’t fake genuine hospitality. Nor friendship.

My husband, Jafar, enjoying the fruits of hospitality at Eagle Bay

And I suppose that is the answer to the ‘how to I present my home?’ question that bugs us all before we get the message. Doing a home exchange is like inviting friends to stay. We want them to be comfortable, to know where things are, to feel relaxed and at ease in our home and to enjoy our hospitality. And we shall do the same in their home. As I have said before, it is all based on trust. You trust me. I trust you. That’s how it works and that’s what makes it unique.

Still need rules? Of course we do, which is why I want your input in my  ’10 Tips for the Happy Home Exchanging’.

Till next week, Sandra.

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.

6 Comments on “It’s Your House, Not a Hotel

  1. Hi Sandra
    You’re right about making your home a ” comfort zone” for exchangers.
    Advice from our first exchange partners when we (with some trepidation) went on this great adventure, was to keep it simple. Just make wardrobe and drawer space available, leave a pretty extensive file regarding the ” workings” of the home handy, include contact details of a family member or friend in case any problem arises, and add local shopping, transport and maybe some tourist info. All of this makes an exchanger feel just that bit more comfortable in your home.
    I feel that it’s also important to keep in touch via email or Skype leading up to the exchange, so that both parties ” get to know each other” and can ask questions on any matter. We even email a copy of our Home Exchange File to our exchangers prior to traveling, so they get a feel for our home and our area. Again, it’s a comfort thing – especially for first timers to the home exchange community.
    People ask me about mail, utilities, phone usage, car insurance etc, etc. All easily answered. Just ask the questions and keep communicating – then everyone feels more comfortable about exchanging.
    It’s a huge trust thing, allowing strangers to move into your home – but you are in their home too – so it’s a two way street. And you make new friends along the way!

  2. Hi Sandra, your piece this week does really help to make it all seem less daunting for a first timer. The comparison with having friends to stay really resonated for me – I go round tidying up and trying to make the place presentable when friends stay, doing an exchange is not that much more of a leap.

  3. Hello, brilliant advice about picking a room and using it as a deposit and then just making sure the rest of the house is tidy and with plenty of space for ‘guests’ or exchangers to make it feel their own.

    LOVE the idea of sitting down for dinner with a plate of something delicious left by thoughtful friends, too. It’d make it feel like home pretty much instantly.

    A suggestion for a top 10 tip is to make a go-to book (one of those folders with plastic sheets you can insert paper into) that can be a sort of one-stop shop for all things exchangers would need to know about the place (how to turn on the wireless, how to restart the hot water, when the rubbish man comes, how the DVD works, best supermarket, butcher, market, where the local video hire is, useful codes and passwords etc) and leave it on the dining room table. So whenever they need to know something, they know instantly where to look.

    Perhaps also having a helpful friend or family member who can be an emergency local contact should the need arise?

    • Hi Kami, thanks for your thoughts. It’s great to get fellow members’ and potential new members’ ideas. My ‘go-to book’ has grown from a list of instructions to include everything I could think of and has progressed to including the little quirky things about a house that you need to know, like twisting the handle of the back-door in a certain way to lock it properly and not pressing the button on the hob with the red cross on it. It might LOOK like the ignition. It isn’t. It’s the child lock and when pressed cuts out everything. All houses have these little temperamental quirks – they just have to be passed on. I hope you continue to enjoy my thoughts and stories. It’s really great to get such interesting feedback.

  4. Sophie, so glad you’re feeling undaunted. As I said, exchanging is honestly just like having people to stay. And we can all do that!

  5. I’m with you, Jan, about keeping in touch by skype. Skype was invented for home exchangers. You could have been emailing each other for ages, but skype is so much more personal and you feel so relieved when you’ve met someone by skype and like them. It makes the whole idea of exchanging so much easier.

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