July 17, 2014
A home exchange occurs when one family trades the use of their home for the use of the home of the other family. Usually this is for a vacation but it might also be for a sabbatical, temporary work assignment, or special event. Our family has successfully completed twenty home exchanges. We think it is a great way to vacation and learn more about other countries and cultures. This guide looks at home exchange (Rotary and non-Rotary) from many viewpoints.
There are many different types of home exchanges. Exchanges can be between singles, couples or between families with children. They can be in the same country or another continent. They can be for a year or a weekend though a few weeks is more normal. They can involve your principal residence or a second home. They are usually arranged with people you have not known before. An advantage of the Rotarian Home Exchange Fellowship is that you focus on trading your home with other Rotarians if you wish.
Rotarian Home Exchanges are arranged by listing your place with the Home Exchange Fellowship, www.RotarianHomeExchange.com. As a member you can list your home for exchange and review other homes listed for exchange on our partner’s website. You use the website and e-mail to propose and discuss possible exchanges.
All of our home exchanges have been with families in Europe. We live in California. Our exchanges run from one to five weeks. Our exchange experiences may not fit your preferences or situation but hopefully the information will still be helpful. We may talk often about families as opposed to singles or couples. Trading as a couple or individual is easier than trading as a family and you have more options. You don’t have to worry about school holidays, video games, or random acts of careless destruction. Most Rotarian home exchanges involve couples traveling without children.
We will focus on international exchanges as these are what we know and we think they are more challenging and involve more issues. An exchange in your own country is easier to arrange and manage. Rotarian exchanges within countries are common.
One of our motivations for home exchange is that my wife is British and has family in England. We can exchange in Europe and work in a visit to her parents and her brother’s family. After 11 months of plentiful sunshine, sharing the road with mammoth SUV’s, and constant exposure to the American way of life, we need a break. We want our fish and chips or raw herring. We appreciate a certain amount of bad weather. The green European countryside and old buildings are a contrast from the golden brown landscapes of modern California. We can watch a soccer match on television instead of baseball, which for us is more of a sedative than a sporting event.
Home exchanges have many advantages and benefits. The most obvious is economic. You get a home and often a car (assuming you aren’t driving to the exchange.) The economic value of this is between $750 to $2000 (or more) per week. This is based on the alternative of renting a car and a home on a weekly basis. If you home exchanged instead of staying in a hotel the savings would even be greater.
A home you exchange for will normally be better equipped and furnished than all but the most luxurious rental homes. It will also be more interesting as the art, furniture, books, and design will reflect others’ sincere interests as opposed to cheap and cheerful or a bland lowest common denominator. One of our homes had game trophies in profusion, a zebra skin rug, stools made from elephant’s feet, and Andy Warhol prints of Marilyn Monroe in psychedelic colors. For once I didn’t mind being short since I could avoid bumping the water buffalo head when using the stairs.
The other key property item in a home exchange is the car. The car, because it is a secondary consideration to the house, may or may not be better than what you could rent, but it will probably be cheaper. This is because each mile put on a car decreases its value. You are trading the use of your car and the more the other family uses it the more it costs you.
Some folks may not be able to provide you with a car because they don’t own one, there are insurance problems, or is a company car that can’t be used by others. You can always rent a car or go without if you think a car is unnecessary or a liability, such as in a large city. If you are concerned about too much use of your car you and your partners can agree to a mileage limit with an agreed payment for each excess mile. Or you can avoid trading cars.
Home exchanges allow middle class families to take a great vacation every year because they are affordable. Retired couples may take several home exchange vacations a year. The only mandatory extra costs are those to get you from your home to the other family’s place.
Another advantage to home exchange is that the families you are exchanging with are experts in their region. They can and should provide information that will increase your cultural understanding and enjoyment of the place you are visiting. They will have tourist brochures and maps for your use. They will tell you about obscure village celebrations, musical concerts, and pottery classes. They will recommend their favorite pub, restaurant, or picnic spot. They can tell you what to see and what to avoid. They can introduce you to their Rotary Club and other Rotarians.
We always ask the folks we are trading with to provide us with introductions to Rotarians and Rotary Clubs as well as to other kind people. These folks will take us out to dinner, take us on a bicycle ride, invite us to their summer cabin, etc. They will also provide information and local color on their region and country. Armed with this kind of support and information a Rotarian home exchange vacation is usually much deeper and more satisfying than a traditional trip.
With a Rotarian home exchange you have an opportunity for cultural immersion though you don’t have to take it. A home exchange can be a transaction or it can be transformative. After three weeks or a month in a home in a particular country I begin to feel and in some ways act like a local. I don’t want to return home. I become attached to the local Rotary Club.
If you have special interests they can be indulged. I love to bicycle. The families we trade with provide information such as bicycle maps and friends that will take us out on a ride. I love to drink wine. Our hosts will provide introductions to their oenophile friends and compile a list of the best local shops and tasting opportunities. A friend on a home exchange in England was able to play on the local soccer team and send his son to a soccer camp run by Manchester United. He was also given tickets to a soccer match between Celtic and Rangers in Scotland. It was one of the most moving religious experiences of his life.
Another advantage is friendship. We meet local families during our home exchanges that are outstanding. We have kept up with many of these folks over the years. They include the legal counsel for a large supermarket chain, the chief health officer of the region, a travel writer, a married couple who work for competing banks, and the chief of economic development for the county. I would be happy to meet people of this quality in any circumstances and it is a special pleasure when traveling abroad.
The family you exchange with may become lifelong friends. We remain in touch with most of these families and have seen five of them subsequent to our exchanges. We have youth exchanged with two of these families. There is a unique bond that develops when you live in someone’s house and they live in yours. We have also enjoyed discovering how similar (and sometimes different) our lives are to those of the families with whom we exchange.
There are different kinds of exchanges. In the usual home exchange, you use the family’s home while they use yours. If you have a second home you can trade it instead of your main residence. For people who are nervous about home exchange, trading their second home may be easier than trading a principal residence. Another advantage of a second home is that it can be used in a non-simultaneous exchange: Family A can visit while Family B is still at home. Family B can use the home from Family A at a later date.
A variation is called hospitality exchange. Family A visits Family B at their home while they are there. They entertain each other and at a later date Family B visits Family A. A hospitality exchange will often be short and/or the guest will absent themselves for days at a time to give the host a break from the overwhelming pleasure of their company. There are documented cases of retired couples managing to assemble a chain of several consecutive hospitality and/or normal home exchanges as they explore an entire continent for a few months. The International Travel and Hosting Fellowship is another Rotary Fellowship that happens to offer hospitality exchange.
The Rotarian home exchange system should not be oversold. There is no guarantee that you will find an exchange in a place that interests you. Your ability to secure an exchange in a particular place is a function of the supply and demand, the strength of your offer, and the time and effort you put into the process. However, most Rotarians, assuming they have a decent property and are flexible as to destination and dates, should be able to find a home exchange if they put enough time into the search.
Traditionally Rotarian home exchange is strongest in North America, the British Isles, Australia, and New Zealand. The opportunities for Rotarian home exchange outside these areas are limited. If you want a home exchange in Western Europe there are a few Rotarian Home Exchange Fellowship members. You can vastly increase your choices in Western Europe if you choose to widen your search to include non-Rotarians. This is an option with our partner, www.HomeExchange50plus.com.
Home exchange is a middle class phenomenon though there are wealthy people that appreciate it as an economical and high quality vacation system.
The folks that participate in home exchange tend to be educated and well traveled. A 2006 survey showed that 92% of respondents had attended University; over 60% of these had also done post graduate work. The professions of the people we have traded with include lawyer, veterinarian, executive, teacher, accountant, school principal, business owner, nurse, dentist, non-profit management, and government administration.
Serious problems with home exchange are rare and should be even less likely if you trade your home with a Rotarian. All of us on the Board of Trustees of the Rotarian Home Exchange Fellowship are experienced exchangers. We trade our homes with fellow Rotarians and with non-Rotarians. My experience has been that 90% of the folks we trade with who are not Rotarians would make excellent Rotarians.
The Internet has revolutionized home exchange. Those interested can list their home on the Internet and can look at listings of others. Negotiations can be handled via e-mail quickly and cheaply. It is common for photos to be exchanged via e-mail or even floor plans of the house. There are scores of Internet Home Exchange Agencies. We have partnered with www.HomeExchange50plus.com. As their name implies, any family that signs up with them must have someone over 50 years of age. They have waived this age requirement for Rotarians, but most Rotarian Home Exchange Fellowship members are over 50.
The Internet is useful for home exchange because it allows you to easily research possible destinations. You can use Google Street view to check out the neighborhood of a possible home exchange. You can research a city or region on the Internet and retrieve photos, event listings, tourist attractions, etc. You can look at detailed maps of the neighborhood. Our family has had wonderful home exchange vacations in obscure places we had never heard of before we received an e-mail inquiry or saw the home listed. The Internet allowed us to research these areas and discover their quality and attractions so we could feel confident in visiting them on a home exchange.
The first step is to figure out if home exchange is right for your family. Chapter 2 reviews the advantages and disadvantages of home exchange so you can make an informed decision. Home exchangers have to be trusting, flexible, and willing to invest time in the process. You may be concerned about whether or not your home will be of interest to people living where you want to go. This can be an issue but since the cost of trying to find a Rotarian home exchange is $45 British pounds it is easier to give it a try rather than over-analyse it.
Once you have decided to join the Rotarian Home Exchange Fellowship you should prepare your home exchange listing. Chapter 3 provides advice on creating your listing. It also discusses how to review the listings to find what you are looking for and how to write an e-mail of preliminary interest. There are techniques for researching possible destinations.
Chapter 4 discusses the process of negotiating with a potential home exchange partner. A home exchange is a serious transaction and full understanding and communication are important. You need to make sure your home exchange partners are trustworthy, capable, and committed, even if they are Rotarians. You want to make sure the home, place, family, and other aspects of the exchange will meet your expectations. You want to convince those with whom you would like to trade to go for it.
Once you have agreed to an exchange there are details to be negotiated, arrangements to be made, and preparations to your home including cleaning, organizing, and fixing of problems. This is covered in Chapter 5. Our philosophy is to be generous and thoughtful towards the family that will be living in our home. This sets a positive tone and may result in a competition where they try to be kinder to you than you are to them. This is a win-win game.
Chapter 6 focuses on the actual exchange, how to enjoy and benefit from it, and problems that you might encounter. Minor and occasionally more serious problems will occur and you need to have the patience to resolve them and not let them ruin your vacation.