When traveling with kids, slow travel methods like home swaps can help you make the most of a new region.
When you travel, do you get tired of breezing through a country in the space of a few days? You might see a few of the guidebook-approved highlights while battling for prime photo-taking space with other tourists, but you’ll likely feel like you’ve just skimmed the surface of what your visit can offer. Sure, if you’ve only got a day or two in Rome, you might drop a coin in the Trevi Fountain and gawk at the Colosseum, but you won’t have the time to test out your Italian at the neighborhood gelaterias, or find your favorite piazza to stroll through during the midday lunch rush. If you’re the type of person who likes to get off the beaten path, you won’t find what you’re looking for with this type of visit.
The solution? Consider a home exchange. It’s an opportunity to explore and settle in a new region by trading homes with another family, saving thousands of dollars over what you’d pay in lodging costs.
My family recently completed our first home exchange with a family in Canberra, the capital city of Australia. We welcomed them to our home in Scarborough, Maine for two months, while we based ourselves in their house, just a few minutes’ drive away from my husband’s relatives. Our kids were able to make use of their two young sons’ toys, and we enjoyed plenty of family time as well as visits to great cafés, restaurants, zoos, and museums. By trading cars as well, we were both able to explore fantastic day trips around our respective regions. And to top it off, they even looked after our dog, Daisy. (Their boys were devastated to say goodbye.)
In future articles on Gimundo, we’ll explore the logistics of home exchanges in much more detail, but for now, here are five reasons why we think it’s one of the best ways to travel:
Many travelers today want a more authentic experience when they venture away from home. They’re not simply looking for the same chain hotels and shops in a different region; they want to explore the diversity of small businesses and scenery, and cross paths with people who live and work in the region. Many travelers have already made the shift from sterile hotels to homier AirBnBs located in neighborhoods—but a home exchange presents an even greater opportunity to live like a local.
When trading homes, you’ll have access to just about everything in your exchange family’s house, from books to cookware to pantry items (our tradees had a fantastic array of nuts and spices). Home exchanges give you the time and space to get comfortable in your new environment, and begin to develop your own routines. If you’re traveling in a country where your native tongue isn’t common, you may even have the opportunity to practice a new language, too.
Most international travel is a costly affair—you might spend several thousand dollars on flights alone, and thousands more on lodging, restaurants, and all of your daily excursions.
On our home exchange, we managed to keep our travel budget low by using credit card points for most of our airfares, cooking most of our meals at home, and, of course, lodging for free. We had plenty of opportunities to explore the region, but usually limited our splurges to a coffee (and hot chocolate for the kids) rather than a meal out. We went for hikes, and explored playgrounds and free museums. And while we were happy to pay for must-see attractions, like the National Zoo, we didn’t have many big-ticket items on our itinerary. This allowed us to wrap up the trip without a major hit to our bank account.
Renting a car for a long visit in a region can add up quickly, costing in the high hundreds or even thousands. But if your exchange partner has a vehicle that you can drive and vice-versa, adding a car to the exchange is an excellent way to cut expenses even further. Just make sure to add your exchangers to your auto insurance policy for the duration of the trade. In our case, it added an extra $300 a year to our policy, but only worked out to $50 for the length of time they were on the policy—about what we’d have paid for one day of car rental in Australia.
If you’ve got kids under 10, you know transitions are always tough. It’s hard enough to get your son to turn off the TV and come to the dinner table—so why subject your family to a trip where you’re repacking your suitcase every few days for a new destination? Inevitably, it will end in tears (probably on all parts). By adopting a slow travel model, you’ll be able to settle into a new destination and give everyone a chance to feel comfortable.
While renting an Airbnb home is very transactional in nature—and in most cases, the owner doesn’t even live at the home—a home exchange is a far more personal kind of arrangement, based only on the Golden Rule. You’re trusting strangers to take good care of your home and possessions, while promising to do the same for theirs. The process requires a lot of trust, and you may find yourself getting to know the other family quite well.
Time the exchange properly, and you may even get to meet in person: We hosted a BBQ for our exchangers when they arrived in Maine, and, since we’ll plan to visit Canberra again to see family, we’ll likely have a chance to catch up with them next time we’re there as well. Their boys are nearly the same age as our son, and they were instant best friends.
All this said, we realize home exchanges aren’t always the easiest thing to execute. They take planning, flexibility, and the ability to either take time off work or work remotely. In future articles, we’ll cover all these issues in depth.
Have you ever done a home exchange? What did you enjoy most?