- Chrissie McClatchie is a freelance journalist who lives in the south of France with her husband and two daughters.
- Instead of spending thousands on a vacation rental this summer, McClatchie’s family opted to do a home exchange, swapping their apartment on the French Riviera for a house with a garden in the French Alps.
- They only spent around $ 150 for the home exchange membership fee and less than $ 200 for shipping, and were able to bring their cat with them as well.
- The experience has grown increasingly difficult, but McClatchie says they enjoyed their stay overall and look forward to doing another house swap soon.
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This summer my family and I did a home exchange organized through an international home exchange portal, homelink.org. It was the first home exchange we have ever done. We exchanged our house, a 667 square foot sea view apartment with terrace in Villefranche-sur-Mer, on the French Riviera, for a house four times the size with garden, in a village in the valley between Grenoble and Chambéry , in the French Alps.
I know we got the best deal. But the truth is we swapped the sea breeze for a place that everyone told me is the hottest part of France in the summer – and there wasn’t even a fan, let alone air conditioning, in it. the House.
The first night we all had trouble sleeping because of the heat. As I lay awake I wondered if maybe our friends and family had been right: were we crazy that we handed our house over to a stranger for 18 days? “Weren’t we worried that they would touch our stuff? People had asked before we left.
For us, the incentive was financial: As a family of four, we saved at least € 2,500 (about $ 3,000) off the price of a long vacation rental this summer – and that’s a conservative estimate.
A friend recommended Homelink to us. The process of registering and creating a profile was straightforward. After writing a description of our apartment and neighborhood, I uploaded some photos and paid the annual fee of € 125 ($ 148). (For US members, the annual membership fee is $ 99).
We were quick to receive exchange offers
“We always love going to Villefranche for a vacation, so let us know if you fancy a week or two in London,” wrote a member. In total, we have had offers from England, Wales, Ireland, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Germany, United States and France.
Finally, we voted on the first request we received from a retired teacher in the French Alps. These are the photos of the trampoline, swing and outdoor theater that sold us. “The girls will love this space,” my husband said. Plus, Grenoble was only a five-hour drive away, and the 250-mile journey would only cost around € 80 ($ 95) per trip in fuel and tolls. The list also welcomed animals, so we could bring our cat.
During our first exchange, it seemed wise to us to stay close to you in case of a problem.
We signed the agreement at the end of January before any major outbreak of COVID-19 in Europe. Looking back, we can now see how happy our decision to stay in France this summer was.
Our home is one of more than 8,000 homes listed in 70 countries on the website, Homelink UK manager Caroline Connolly told me via email. “A number of members have hidden their ad at this time due to COVID-19 travel restrictions,” Connolly said.
Connolly explained that swaps are often arranged six to nine months in advance. “Many trades were canceled very early on,” she writes.
We also had our moments of doubt, especially since the rate of COVID infection rose again in France in the weeks leading up to our departure.
But, as the usual August tourist crowds began to descend on our village, we realized that we would actually feel safer there than at home.
We came to a three-story stone house, which the owner says dates from the Renaissance
The property is located at the foot of the Chartreuse massif. It’s full of character, but it’s also big and quite squeaky. This was our exchange partner’s 40th exchange and it showed: I found a welcome basket in the kitchen and there are notes and instructions stuck all over the house. In the living room, tourist information files were spread out on the sofa. I wondered how I could keep the house clean.
But she didn’t tell us everything, especially since her road is dug this summer. Most mornings we were woken up by the sound of diggers walking past the bedroom windows. During the day we often found machines parked in the driveway. The road was covered in loose stones which bounced off the undercarriage of our car every time we left the house.
I struggled to relax. It didn’t help that soon after we arrived her two goldfish died, although they followed their tee care instructions.
My husband was right when he said, “The problem is, this place is not ours, so I can’t move in. I didn’t want to be that family – you know, the one that breaks legacies (or kills pets).
Fortunately, my daughters were oblivious to all of this. Our exchange partner has three grandchildren and boxes of their toys have been left out for our children to play with. I really appreciated this touch.
It took me a week, but I finally settled into vacation mode
I closed the rooms we didn’t need to use and bought a fan to keep us cool. My daughters got entertained by playing in the garden.
We visited the three mountain ranges that surround Grenoble and discovered lakes and waterfalls that are both shady and socially remote. We hiked kid friendly trails and got a glimpse of snow capped Mont Blanc in the distance.
Since we didn’t have to budget for accommodation and our transportation costs had been modest, we also had more money to spend on holiday treats, like nice cuts of meat for the barbecue.
Suddenly our departure is looming and I already find myself browsing the exchange lists for next summer
“The first trade is always the hardest – the next one will be a snap! Connolly signed in his email.
Am I ready to test his theory and start over? Absolutely.
We were able to vacation in a house and garden in the heart of the French Alps without paying anything more than the Homelink registration fee, plus fuel and tolls to get there and back. It doesn’t get much better than that, really.
Interested in a home exchange? Here are five things to consider:
- In practice, most exchangers are owners. “Renters can switch as long as their landlord (and any associated mortgage and / or insurance companies) are happy with the arrangements,” Connolly said.
- You can specify dates and / or set preferred destinations, or leave either option open. Some listings offer a “non-simultaneous” exchange, which means you don’t have to exchange homes on the exact same dates.
- Your home doesn’t have to be in perfect condition. “Get spring clean and declutter – you don’t need a show house, but it has to be clean and comfortable,” Connolly said.
- If you are traveling as a family, consider finding an exchange partner with children of the same age. For us, arriving in a house already equipped to play was invaluable.
- If you are flying to your exchange destination, look for a listing that also offers a car in the exchange, as this will save you on rental car costs.
Chrissie McClatchie is a freelance journalist who writes on luxury, lifestyle and travel with a special focus on the world of superyachts and stories from the south of France.