News, Culture & Society

How home swapping lets you travel and take longer holidays for less

Letting strangers stay in your home for free might sound like a nightmare for many people, but for some it is the best thing they have ever done. 

That’s certainly the view of Martin Gibbons, who started house swapping all the way back in 2008 and has never looked back.

Martin, his wife and son, have been able to take longer holidays, visit places off the tourist track and make new friends, all while saving substantial sums.

He said: ‘It really changed our whole life. We went away for one month, staying in back-to-back house swaps in Spain. We took our boy out of school and just decided to home school him instead.’

Money saving: Martin with his wife and son on one of their house swapping holidays in Europe

Home swapping is where people live in each other’s houses for a set period of time, usually with little to no money exchanging hands.

And it being the digital age, swapping homes with people has got substantially easier in recent years.

A host of websites have sprung up to help match up those who would like to swap homes and make the process much easier that it would have been even just a decade or two ago. 

Ben Wosskow, managing director of LoveHomeSwap, one of those home swapping website, said: ‘Home swapping is different from other ways of travelling – think online dating for homes.’

There are three main groups of people who house swap, according to Wosskow: families who want to stay somewhere new with outside space and home comforts, empty nesters with time on their hands to explore, and holiday homeowners looking to put their second home to good use. 

He added: ‘All appreciate the chance to stay in a home away from home in an interesting location they may never have thought of visiting.’ 

So how did Martin and his family, from Uddingston, near Glasgow, initially get into house swapping?

The businessman, who is co-founder of a personality profiling and personality testing website, says: ‘We wanted long summer holidays but could never afford them as that’s when it is most expensive. We had to try another way as we wanted a taste of what it was like living abroad.

‘Most of the people we swapped with were families but some people were retired.’ 

Cost is one of the main motivators for many houseswappers, according to LoveHomeSwap. 

The cost of doing a home swap is significantly lower than renting out a villa 

 Ben Wosskow, LoveHomeSwap

Ben said: ‘The cost of doing a home swap is significantly lower than renting out a villa or staying in a hotel. By choosing to home swap, we’ve found that our members save an average of £2,750 a year on the cost of holiday accommodation, allowing them to travel more and stay for longer.’ 

House swaps can be between people in the UK, or further afield. Whilst some people swap for a week or two for their summer holidays, other people swap for longer, exchanging homes for up to months at a time.

Martin and his family often decide to go away for long periods of time, staying in multiple home swaps, usually in France or Spain. 

Back home their property is also being used by a series of people and that brings a few logistical challenges. 

When away for longer than a couple of weeks,  Martin said he has to manage his time carefully, making sure that the people staying in his home would be happy to wash the sheets for the next people, who were coming to stay after them.

A property in France currently featured on the LoveHomeSwap site - ready for someone to stay

A property in France currently featured on the LoveHomeSwap site – ready for someone to stay

How to swap homes 

To organise a trip, most swappers use a number of different platforms including Guardian Home Exchange, House Exchange, LoveHomeSwap and Homeswapper amongst others.

On these websites, home swappers are able to browse the different properties from home owners looking to swap and contact them online. 

Most sites will charge a small fee for finding suitable properties for swappers, but there are others that provide the service for free.

We would never normally have gone there if it wasn’t for house swapping 

One of the main benefits of house swapping is being able to stay in places you would never normally go.

Martin said: ‘We generally go to stay in quieter locations. One of our favourite places was Montauban in North France as it was away from all the tourists. We would never normally have gone there if it wasn’t for house swapping.’

For the time being, however, home swapping is on hold due to domestic life. 

Previously the family had a detached, four-bedroom house with back and front gardens, but they recently moved and are currently renovating a new property in Glasgow, which they hope to swap when it is finished.  

Another benefit is being able to stay in some luxury properties for very little money. However, just because a home is expensive, it doesn’t mean that it is the best option, according to Martin.

 We stayed in a million pound house in Bordeaux but I didn’t really like it, but we loved  a cheap apartment in the Alps

‘We stayed in a million pound house in Bordeaux but I didn’t really like it. But when we stayed in a cheap apartment in the Alps which only had one seat, we loved it.’

Martin and his wife loved house swapping so much, they actually got married when staying at a house swap in France with the home owners acting as their witnesses.

He said: ‘We’ve made lots of friends through our experiences.’ 

Martin (second from left), his wife (far left) and the people they stayed with on their wedding day

Martin (second from left), his wife (far left) and the people they stayed with on their wedding day

Would you worry about others in your home?

Although some people might be alarmed at the idea of having people stay in their home, Martin never thought of it that way.

He said: ‘Everyone else was horrified at the thought of someone else being in their house but I never thought that much about someone else being there.’

In an effort to avoid any issues, he keeps a room closed in the home where he stores any valuables while they are away. This is quite common with most home swaps, Martin says. 

He is fortunate enough that the only incident the family have encountered so far is an ornament breaking in their home, but it is advised that people looking to get into house swapping should purchase additional home insurance and car insurance.

One of the reasons for this is that most home policies won’t let policy holders be away for more than 60 days without invalidating their insurance, meaning those travelling away will need to make sure they’re not in breach of their contract. 

Another reason is that it’s not just homes that are swapped, as many people often decide they are comfortable swapping cars as well. 

Ben said: ’40 per cent of LoveHomeSwap members are open to swapping cars with other home swappers and 20 per cent have also shared access to other services like gym memberships, clubs and equipment like bikes and ski gear.’

With the potential of cars, and perhaps either items of value, also being included within a house swap, insurance is definitely something that people need to be aware of.

Pikl is one such insurance company that exclusively provides customers with insurance for the sharing economy, whether that be house swapping or staying in AirBnB’s. 

Its policies will cover customers for theft, accidental or malicious damage, lost or stolen keys, injury to guests while in your property and property damage from fire, explosion or an escape of water. 

Louise Birritteri, CEO and founder of Pikl said: ‘House swapping is a great way of giving yourself more options in terms of holidays and travel. 

‘However, the majority of people that are hosting home swap or are a guest, do not realise there are major gaps in standard home and travel insurance policies. 

‘For example, if a guest is seriously injured on your property with long term injuries, you as the host would be liable for the cost of any ongoing medical treatment and/or costs if the person could not work. This could run into thousands of pounds and you would not be covered and your guest in all probability would not be aware of this either. 

You learn a lot about yourself when doing home swapping 

‘At the other end of the spectrum you could be a host with an expensive ornate mirror damaged, by accident, by a guest in your home, this damage would not be covered either by your standard home insurance.’ 

Martin added it is also handy to have family members close by the home when someone else is staying there, just in case something goes wrong or there are any problems. 

Ben said: ‘Home swapping is an amazing way to have truly memorable holidays that can save you a fortune – do it once and it will change the way you travel forever!’ 

This is something Martin backs up. He said: ‘You learn a lot about yourself when doing home swapping and you get to meet people you would never normally meet in your normal life. We love it.’

 

 

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