You´ve got the travel bug - especially with warmer weather and the lure of holidays. Everyone seems to be going somewhere - why not you? Oh yea, it´s expensive. Maybe you can find a cheap airfare, but hotel prices in July and August are outrageous, not to mention eating out all the time. Free accommodation would be really helpful. Ever considered home exchange? Home exchange is simply when two families agree to stay in each other´s homes for their holidays. So you pass along your Prague flat to a lovely French couple who offer you their Provence cottage for the same week.
There are quite a few international home exchange companies out there, and now the Czech Republic has its own. Home Exchange Czech (www.homeexchangeczech.com) went live online in March and is busy building its databases of cottages, homes and city flats to offer people from abroad. If you are looking to get out of the country for a bit this summer, exchanging your home for someone who may want to visit the Czech Republic may be an economical way of doing it. We talked with company co-founder Hana Ferstl Darlington to get the ins and outs, dos and don´ts of house swapping.
Darlington swapped her country cottage with a Swiss woman´s house last summer and had a fabulous experience. She and her co-founder discovered there could be a large demand for this type of service on the Czech market.
“Czechs are enthusiastic travelers, they own a large number of country cottages,” she explains. “Our country is very attractive and, in some places unjustly neglected, by foreign tourists.”
While she and her partner were researching the business, Darlington says they ran into a large number of views, ranging from ‘There is no way someone else would use my flat´ to ‘Fantastic idea, I would swap immediately!´ She says there are many opinions on the topic.
“Lots of people have no problems with home exchanging and there are lots of people who have problems going on a package holiday to some no-name hotel,” she says. “Everyone has a choice.”
Sound interesting? Darlington says there are types of people whom home exchange works for, and types whom it doesn´t. If you like traveling and exploring other countries from a perspective other than that of a travel agency; hate mass tourism; tourists who attack the hotel dinner buffet every evening drive you mad; are an individualist and like to travel independently and if you yearn to visit countries which might be a little too heavy for your pocketbook; home exchange may be for you. Darlington says if you don´t want someone looking in your fridge, or if you´d be thinking about YOUR home the entire time you were away; it´s best to stick with a hotel. Safety is probably the most common red flag that pops into people´s minds when thinking about letting strangers dwell amongst all their worldly possessions.
“Home exchange works on reciprocity - you provide your home to other people while they provide THEIR home to you,” says Darlington. “You are not exchanging homes in order to destroy one, so neither are your exchange partners.”
Darlington says you´ll get to know your co-swappers in the ensuing months before the exchange occurs via emails, phone calls and perhaps even share photos and other information about yourselves. Plus she adds, “it is difficult to imagine that someone would travel around the globe to steal a TV set from you!”
“Trust and respect are the major tools considering safety,” she says. “If you are still hesitant, there are more tools available - less abstract ones like a signed contract with your exchange partner, guaranteed home insurance, car insurance coverage, etc.”
Yep, depending on the owners you may have access to a car, garden, bikes, internet access or other bonus non-hotel amenities. For sure you´ll have more space and freedom than in a cramped hotel room. You´ll also have access to a kitchen and, especially nice if you have children, separate bedrooms. When Darlington did her exchange in Switzerland, she says her children had a ball, made friends with the neighborhood kids, and the woman left a list of things to do, restaurant recommendations and other helpful advice for the area. Darlington did the same for her while she was staying in her Šumava cottage; even asking her German speaking neighbors to assist if necessary.
There are a variety of companies out there offering this service, including HomeExchange.com (www.homeexchange.com), International Home Exchange Network (www.ihen.com) and Global Home Exchange (www.4homex.com). Darlington says there are a large number of both global home swap companies, and those who operate in a specialized niche, like them.
“We are concentrating on developing a home exchange system aimed at in-and-out-going tourism for the Czech Republic,” she explains. “In other words - to serve Czechs for international home exchanging and foreigners for their home exchange vacations in the Czech Republic.”
She adds that being smaller means they have a good overview of their customers needs and can handle them individually. Another bonus of Home Exchange Czech (and some of the other home exchange companies) is that they offer rentals. You might not be able swap your home for whatever reason, but you could nab yourself a Czech countryside cottage this summer. Lots of Darlington´s members are offering their properties for exchange or rental.
Prague is still a hot destination and was recently voted by TripAdvisor readers the number 1 budget European destination. It might be easy for you to swap your city flat with someone in another city, or even smaller town. Folks who live in a not-so-major metropolis might be looking for something a little more exciting for their holidays; while you may be looking for something a little more low-key. Obviously, the main advantage to home exchange is the cost factor: zero. But the opportunity to stay more comfortably in a “local” manner is quite a draw as well.
Have you ever swapped homes? Share your experiences below!