Home Exchange
January 21, 2004 2:04 PM   Subscribe

We're considering going to Europe for a few weeks this summer, and thought about the possibility of exchanging houses with someone over there, as a way of saving money (we have a house in San Francisco, a pretty popular place to visit).

But we're worried about the possibility of ending up with some crooks or thoughtless people in our house, and coming back home to find that we've been ripped off, had property messed up, etc. Has anyone had any experiences with any reliable (or not so reliable) places that help make house exchanges successful (e.g., screening applicants, etc.)?
posted by jasper411 to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
Exchanged apartments with a Parisian couple for two weeks, took care of each other's cats, good time had by all, no problems. But the couple was recommended by a mutual friend, so we weren't flying blind.
posted by languagehat at 4:10 PM on January 21, 2004

<not helpful at all>

I can't help with your current questions, but if you want to swap houses with me in Atlanta, GA, I'd be glad to. I'm not a crook, btw.

</not helpful at all>

posted by zpousman at 4:13 PM on January 21, 2004

To echo zpousman:

If you're looking for somewhere in Glasgow, Scotland, give me a yell!
posted by bonaldi at 4:22 PM on January 21, 2004

Response by poster: Well, we were considering Italy, actually. Although we appreciate the offers, Glasgow and Atlanta may be just a wee bit too far away.

Anyone ever use any of those web sites that supposedly help people looking for housing exchanges? They make themselves sound great, of course, but has anyone out here in AskMe land ever tried doing business with one?
posted by jasper411 at 4:30 PM on January 21, 2004

I haven't used it, but here is one: http://www.homeexchange.com/
posted by yoga at 5:11 PM on January 21, 2004

Haven't done the house swapping thing (and as I rent a room in a flat, can't help you out there either) but you might try searching budget accommodation boards like Lonely Planet, Eurotrip, or Fodor's for experiences.

I've also been seeing some free loading accommodation networks pop up, but I haven't bookmarked their URL's and I'm too lazy right now to Google.

If you describe your travel style & per diem budget (ie tent, hostel, b&b, hotel etc.) it would be easier for me to point out options, with an obvious specialization in (but not limited to) Rome.

Oh and there will be a lag in my response. It's 2am and I'm am heading off to bed.
posted by romakimmy at 5:19 PM on January 21, 2004

I've heard good things about Servas, but have no direct experience with them myself. (Though I've kicked around the idea of exchanging my NYC apartment for one someplace else.)

This archived discussion on Rick Steves' site may also be useful, as might this article in his "Travel Tips" section.

I don't claim to have the on-the-ground experience that the fabulous romakimmy does, but I can also help with Euro-trip planning. (I haven't been to every corner of Europe, but the tally currently stands at 21 European countries and counting.) My e-mail's in my profile.
posted by Vidiot at 12:10 AM on January 22, 2004

I have done it with no problems at all. As long as you have the exchange partner's details and you discuss everything a long way in advance, things tend to go smoothly. One expects there to be a mutual trust and respect.

If you want to try out a great part of London, England as your base (and it is a much better base now with the Eurostar train link being so quick and so very cheap) then drop me a line
posted by skylar at 3:14 AM on January 22, 2004

Response by poster: These are great suggestions. The websites that help facilitate these exchanges sound good, but I just keep wondering if they're actually fronts for sleazy wierdos.

It seems like home exchange is one of those internet apps like personal ads or something - you get to pick and choose from a lot of options, but with the anonymity of the whole thing, you never know what you might be getting yourself into.

I guess that if we made a connection over one of these sites and made all the arrangements enough in advance like skylar suggests, we'd get to screen for the wierdo factor. London might work an interesting starting point, with all the train links, now that you mention it...

We (2 adults & 2 kids, 12 & 14) just have never been to Italy, so the idea of going there sounds really neat. The budget thing is - well, I'm past my camping days. Bring on the comfort! But wait! It can't be all that expensive, either. After all, the flight is going to set us back several thou, just for starters.

That was part of the idea about using a home exchange, as we'd suddenly save all that hotel money, and get our cats fed in one blow. But if romakimmy has some suggestions of good accommdations that are relatively reasonable, we'd certainly look into them! Do people rent homes/flats/whatever cheap for relatively brief periods (say 2 weeks)?
posted by jasper411 at 10:08 AM on January 22, 2004

Crap. Forgot to ask for the approximate time period when you might be coming as that can make a big difference in price. And yes, people do rent out flats etc. Another question would be how much self-catering would you be wanting to do?

Also for your flights, keep an eye on the Eurotrip forum trip link I gave you above; lots and lots of good advice, as well as news on the latest airfare specials.
posted by romakimmy at 10:37 AM on January 22, 2004

Response by poster: My wife's a teacher, so we're pretty much tied to the summer. Unfortunately I *hate* hot weather (which is why I live in San Francisco). As far as self-catering (is this how American expats say "cooking"?), I love to cook, but we definitely want to eat out a lot, as part of the whole point of the trip would be to eat Italy Italian. Rome, of course, but we also could wander around - maybe rent a car? or take trains to other places too.

So, given June, July, August, which would have the least heat, and the least crowded conditions? Any particular cities or rural areas you'd recommend?
posted by jasper411 at 10:54 AM on January 22, 2004

August is the least crowded -- i.e., dead in most big European cities, esp. Rome and Paris.

I'd go for as early in June as you can swing it -- it's still considered "shoulder season" for most airfares (the in-between time between high and low seasons)

If you're doing Rome or any big city, it's easy to take trains to most other places. I'd save renting a car for one end or the other of your sojourn in a big city, so you won't have to deal with parking, theft, etc. issues. (Parking is uniformly a nightmare in most large cities, and Europe is no exception.)

You might enjoy Rome with a jaunt south to Naples, Sorrento, Amalfi Coast, even head down to Paestum for the Greek temples. Or head the other way to Liguria, Siena and the rest of Tuscany, the hill towns (I really like Orvieto and Todi). Or head farther north to the lake district, or east to San Marino and the Adriatic coast -- Italy is great and you can go lots of places in a couple of weeks.

If you're based in England, you could easily spend some time in London and take day trips via train to Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton, and lots of other places. If you rent a car, it makes Wales, Cornwall, York, the Cotswolds, and Scotland much more accessible.

Similarly, basing in Amsterdam (or better yet, nearby in some quiet place like Haarlem) lets you see the city and make daytrips to Delft, Leiden, Belgium, the Zuyder Zee, etc.

Paris? Head to Giverny, Versailles, Normandy, Champagne country, Alsace-Lorraine.

Nice? (or better still, outside of nice in someplace like Villeneuve-Loubet) Go to Vence, Antibes, Tourrettes-sur-Loup, Menton, Grasse, Cagne-sur-Mer.

(You get the idea...)

It's also not too hard to find family-friendly, relatively inexpensive hotels. I hardly ever use reservations in Europe (except for the first and maybe last nights) and look for local pension-type places. Check out the Rick Steves or Rough Guide lines of guidebooks for lots of good listings. Good luck!
posted by Vidiot at 7:24 PM on January 22, 2004

What Vidiot said. Early June will be your best bet as August gets rather toasty here in the city and all the beaches are full up with Italians and germans on holidays. (I like August for precisely this reason, ie quasi empty city, but I was also raised in Texas so the heat doesn't bother me...)

I'm more partial to Venice than Florence, but Venice tends to be a bit pricey...Florence you can actually do in about a day, two if you really take your time. Naples is a city you either love or you hate. Sorrento is a good base to explore the Amalfi coast (mmm limoncello...)

You might also try Puglia in June, the heel of the boot region. It's beautiful and not well known by the tourist hoards yet (so shhh! Keep it under your hat (-; ). Gorgeous white sand beaches and clear blue water -August it will be chockkers with Italians FYI.

I'm not fond of London, but that could be due to yearly trips I have to make for work... Paris is probably my second favorite city in Europe.

I'm partial to Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, in that order. Eyewitness guide are beautifully illustrated and layed out, but a bit on the heavy side. Use your guide book's accommodation and restaraunt sections in the bigger cities as more of a guide than a bible as there tends to be an assload of politics and egos behind their reccomendations.

If you do reserve ahead of time, try to reserve directly through the hotel/whatever as other sites will charge a commission, raising the price.

Don't discount hostels, as many independents have sprung up the last few years and the competition means that everyone is raising their standards to include things like private rooms, ensuite bathrooms, kitchen etc... (Since 9-11, Iraq and SARS, the hotel industry has noticed that the hostel/independent traveller industry bounced back quicker. So now we have hotels selling dormrooms and hostels adding more private rooms....All to the travellers' benefit. Can you tell I work in the tourism sector?)

Anywho, when you narrow things down a bit shoot me an email (found in profile) and I'll try to help you out more specifically. 'Till then here are some more links that might help you out:

Website for Italian train network
Italian National Board of Tourism
Various Web sites: 1,2,3 to start with

Parks and Perserves Info
Budget Italian Airline Volareweb, sort of like Ryanair
posted by romakimmy at 6:51 AM on January 23, 2004

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