Long before frugal family holidays were cool, my family house-swapped. We found a family in our favorite California beach town through a friend of ours and swapped for 2 weeks. They had kids around our kids’ ages and they were anxious to get to New York City. They were experience exchangers, they even had a house manual. We were virgins. My husband, aka Felix (as in Unger) was very unsure about the whole deal. He hid his knife collection.
The exchanging family helped me create a home manual so that they would know how to work the electronics, the appliances and other house ticks. We also laid out a few house rules – no eating in the living room, no food by the computer and no worries if there’s a spill or something breaks. All valuables (knives) were put away. The only valuable I would be worried about were my kids and they were with me.
We enjoyed the swap so much that we have swapped with them two more times and included our cars! This past year, however, our dates did not match up exactly so we added an additional house-swap that we found on www.homeexchange.com. We were short on time and options so I accepted a house with a cat – and didn’t mention it to my family. After all, we’d be at the beach the whole time and it was only for 4 nights. It is now referred to as the Cat House. Did I mention my family is allergic to cats?
The process was the same: phone conversations, date checking, philosophy testing and manual exchanges. The difference this time was that we swapped with total strangers and were very dependent on the information we found on homeexchange.com. Yes, Felix went back to hiding his knives and he was skeptical but it turned out just fine. I am a fan of the website because I met the owner and not only is he a terrific person, he actively uses his own service.
The total cost savings on lodging + car for one of the trips (we were a mile from the beach) was about $4000. It’s the incidentals that are killers in a hotel when traveling with kids: ketchup, salt, pepper, eating out. All. The. Time. What we love about house-swapping versus hotel stays is that hotel rooms get smaller as the vacations get longer. Staying in a house means that we can each have some privacy when we want it. We have separate rooms. There are toys, games, beach gear, bikes that we don’t have to buy or rent. But the best part is that we got a real slice of life and felt like part of their community (July 4 watermelon races are a neighborhood tradition at the beach). Can’t get that in a hotel.