Q&A: Travel Writer, Ainslie Waldron
- Which websites are best?
There are many online websites for home exchanges. Some are listed in the appendices of this book. Websites are growing as more and more of us decide to try this type of vacation. There will be many more of such websites when you read this compared to the time I am writing this.
Naturally, we have our favourite website, however what I recommend doing, is using your favourite search engine to find home exchange websites. Then take some time to browse those sites and see which ones have the most variety in the types and locations of homes that you are looking to exchange with. Do not forget to use the Advanced Search as well as the Search buttons.
Many websites have a free trial period. Sign up for that and really get to know the website well.
Remember the tips I gave in earlier chapters about how to make the most of finding exchange homes. Just sending a one off email to a home you think would be your ideal exchange home may result in an offer, however we receive many more “thank you but no thank you” replies than we do “yes please” replies. Blast out there with offers and see what returns. It is a numbers game, the more you send, the more likely you will receive a positive reply and the more you will have to choose from too.
- What do I leave in our house to welcome people?
After a long journey it is great to feel welcomed into the house that will be your home for the next few weeks. Often it is impossible for you as home owners, or your representative, to personally welcome your guests and a few little things do make them feel very extra welcome.
The information folder with all of the details is very important to leave for your guests. There is an example in the back of this book of the sorts of information that can be included in the folder. It is very important to include how to contact the owners or the owner’s representative should they be in need of advice or should something go wrong. The owner’s representative may be a family member, neighbour or friend or even an employee such as housekeeper.
Visitors need to know how to make all appliances in a home work especially heating and air conditioning. Televisions with their sometimes numerous remotes can be painful too and require specific instructions. A comprehensive list of how to operate appliances in the house is very useful as well as what not to do e.g. for people not used to air conditioning do not leave windows open when air conditioning is on. It is also good to leave an indication as to whether the water in the house can be safely drunk without boiling or filtration.
An indication of favourite restaurants and shops is always good and any “specials” that locals know about. For example, our local bowls club will pick you up and drop you off for free if you want to go there for a meal. Another example which we liked on our travels is that the mountain gondola ride in Keystone is free on Friday afternoons in summer.
Leave a selection of brochures from local places and a map of the area. Go to your nearest tourist information centre and gather a number of useful brochures for your visitors. Also leave them timetables for local transport.
It is always lovely to leave a little food and drink for your guests if you can. It makes visitors feel very welcomed and happy. Nothing fancy, just something like a packet of dried pasta and a bottle of pasta sauce with a bottle of wine to accompany the simple food. That will provide them with an initial meal if they are exhausted upon arrival. It is not always possible logistically to give welcome gifts, but I assure you from personal experience that they are always welcomed.
Some people leave quite lavish gifts. This is not necessary at all. Also gifts should be things that can be eaten, disposed of, or very lightweight and not bulky so that travellers can fit them into their luggage without having to pay for excess baggage. A hand written note of welcome can often be more meaningful and more appreciated than a gift of the local plastic mascot.
- Do I leave a thank you gift?
Leaving a thank you gift is not necessary. We usually leave a thank you card letting the hosts know how much we appreciated their home. As we are from Australia, when we travel overseas, we also carry little trinkets like key-rings with an Australian theme. Sometimes miniature koalas, kangaroos or boomerangs.
Home owners do appreciate receiving a note of thanks and letting them know that all was well when you were in their home.
The best thank-you gift, I feel, is to put a recommendation up on the home exchange website recommending their home to future prospective home swappers. If you have been comfortable in their home and all went well then others will be delighted to know about this. It will hopefully assist them in finding more future home exchanges.
- Do you get pictures of the proposed exchange, and what facilities available, e.g. bike, car, boat, aeroplane etc?
Well I have never had an exchange which included an aeroplane. However I have had exchanges which included bikes, cars, boats, skis and various other pieces of equipment. The website should include photos of the proposed exchange. If you would like to see more photos before committing to the exchange then it is up to you to ask the home owners for them.
The website will most probably also give details of other facilities available however if you are wondering whether or not there are certain things at your disposal, for example a car or bicycles, then it is up to you to ask. Asking for photos is a very reasonable thing to do, especially nowadays with the ease of photo taking and delivery by using mobile phones. If there is reluctance to send photos then do not choose that particular home to exchange with.
- What insurance do you require for damage, misuse, breakage?
The responsibility for home insurance cover is yours in your own home and is theirs in the exchange home. If you have valuables, lock them in a locked room or cupboard. Check with your home insurance policy if it covers insurance for when you have visitors there and you are not at home. If it does not, then take out additional cover with your insurers. Do not assume that your current insurer will give you the best deal. If you require additional insurance then shop around.
- What bills would you be responsible for e.g. electricity, gas, and water use?
You are responsible for paying all utility bills in your home and they are responsible for paying all utility bills in their home. There is no expectation that you will pay utility bills when you are in an exchange home.
- What guarantee do you have from the owner that all is in working order prior to your arrival?
There are no guarantees as mostly home exchanges are made in the spirit of trust and openness. If you arrive at an exchange home and find that things are not in working order then it would be sensible to communicate immediately with the owners letting them know what is not working. They will want to know. It is preferable to communicate initially by phone if possible and back this up with email as you have a written record that way.
- Can the owner return/check the property during your residence?
This is not normal practice however we have experienced the owners’ representatives (friends, neighbours, family) paying us a visit during our stay. This is mutually beneficial as we can use the visit to ask about any details in the home that we are unclear of (quite often this includes how to work the various television remotes) and they can look around and report back to the owners that the house is being used normally. If you are undertaking a house swap for the first time, this can be reassuring for the home owners. As I have nothing to hide and live normally I have no objections to an owner or their representative visiting during my residence. Usually we become friends with the people we are house swapping with and welcome a visit from them or their representative if they wish to visit.
- What do you have to provide at your own home? Most insurance specifies you as the resident, so what checks are required with insurer for your ‘visitors’ to be covered?
I have discussed at length in earlier chapters what I consider to be the basics and essentials that should be provided in your own home. Really you are providing everything that someone requires to live normally in your home, apart from the food and drink. There should be sufficient furniture, bedding and cooking materials to function comfortably.
In terms of insurance, check with your insurance company what they require for you to be covered while visitors are in your home.
- What costs are incurred if you do not front, due to medical, injury or other cause?
Well, as you are not paying in the first place, there are no costs to you if you do not turn up for the exchange. Most people will just rearrange another time to do the exchange. However you should generally still honour the exchange you promised the other couple, to come to your home, even if you cannot go to theirs.
For a printable version of these questions and many more, please click here: Ainslie Waldron FAQ.