The Fine Art of (Home) Swapping
By Justine Tyerman
I’m in a trance, half-awake, half-asleep. It’s very late at night and my fingers freeze on the keyboard, my eyes not fully believing the vision before me. I have wandered, like a somnambulist, into the most exquisite place… a whitewashed villa gleams in the sun high above a sparkling blue sea.
It’s after midnight, and I should be tucked up in bed but the hopeless optimist in me – or the reckless gambler – gives into the urge to delve into this most alluring of websites. I am being offered a villa in Greece, a chateau in France, a ski lodge in the Swiss Alps, an apartment in Rome, a beach house in Sydney, a hideaway on Waiheke Island in New Zealand… free!
Hours later, I wake up my husband to tell him the exciting news. For some reason, he’s not as thrilled as I am… and tells me I must be dreaming. But in the cold light of the next morning, with a mere nudge of the mouse, the site is still alive on the laptop and there’s that idyllic villa in Santorini again, all tantalisingly real.
So I silence the little voice of caution which keeps me safe and sensible on the Internet, decide that valour is the better part of discretion, and make bold advances into the website. It’s even more mind-boggling now I’m wide awake! I am offered access to a home swap website with thousands of stunning properties all over the world and the potential to save mega dollars in accommodation costs, and all for a modest membership fee. You can list your house for free and then pay a monthly fee for an unlimited number of swaps throughout the year.
I do quite a bit of research to satisfy the discretion bit. I discover I have stumbled upon Love Home Swap, the world’s largest home swap site, launched in 2011 by UK entrepreneur Debbie Wosskow, with just 250 houses.
I talk to Debbie’s brother, the company’s chief marketing officer Ben Wosskow and based in London, to check out the credentials of the scheme and settle my ‘it’s-too-good-to-be-true’ qualms. Ben says their members save an average of £2,000 per swap, so it’s definitely a smart way to travel.
“What really appeals about home swapping is that you can holiday for free, all around the world in some amazing homes,” he says. “Home swaps also offer a much more local and personal travel experience, as people share recommendations with each other on the best things to do and see in their own neighbourhoods – insider tips you wouldn’t get from even the best hotel concierge.”
I also read in-depth articles in The Wall Street Journal, The Sunday Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, and other reputable publications, and decide that if their journos have given it the big thumbs up, then it’s safe enough for me.
Next morning, there’s a ‘ding-ding’ as an email plops into my inbox. My heart skips several beats when Chantal, who owns the villa in Santorini, replies in the affirmative.
“When would you like to come to visit us and how many rooms do you need?”
Home Swapping Made Easy
Fast forward a few years and I’m now a veteran of 10 home swaps, the first of which was Chantal’s dreamy villa in Firostefani, Santorini, where this reverie all began. High above the Aegean Sea, the villa, built around 1720 as a convent, was once owned by a German Prince and has been renovated in keeping with traditional Cycladic architecture. The floors, inside and out, are made of Dionysus white marble. Built on four levels above the cliffs of the caldera, the villa accommodates up to 20 people. It’s mind-boggling, utterly beautiful.
The Santorini experience triggered something akin to a home swapping obsession in me. As empty-nesters for 98 percent of the year, it seemed logical to put our five-bedroom country home to good use as a springboard to travel to other beautiful homes around the world.
Our next home swap was the idyllic Casa Bella at Palm Beach, an hour north of Sydney. All four bedrooms and extensive living areas at Casa Bella look out straight out to the Pacific Ocean with the golden sands of Palm Beach just 300 metres away. The sunrises over the ocean were spectacular.
There was no stopping us after that. We ventured far and wide, staying at an elegant five-storey townhouse in Islington, London; a trendy apartment overlooking the Seine in Paris; a splendid five-bedroom chalet beside the ski lifts in Grimentz, Switzerland; a cosy ski lodge at Sixt Fer à Cheval in the French Alps; a stylish, award-winning home overlooking Lake Wanaka in New Zealand and a gorgeous family home in Parnell, Auckland.
How Does Home Swapping Work?
Since I joined Love Home Swap five years ago, there have been radical changes to the way swaps are managed. Gone are the days when you have to negotiate a simultaneous or non-simultaneous home swap, although that’s still an option. The phenomenally-clever improvement to the scheme is the introduction of the points system which opens up a vast realm of possibilities.
Points are a form of currency whereby a Love Home Swap (LHS) member can accrue credits when he or she has another member to stay which they can then “spend” at LHS houses anywhere in the world, anytime that suits them. If a house swap does not suit one or other party, the points system offers the ultimate in flexibility.
“Love Home Swap is a super-simple idea,” says Ben. “You choose where you want to go and a home you want to stay in, make the swap – either directly with the owner or through our Swap Points system – and then sit back and enjoy holidays without the hefty bill of a hotel or a holiday rental. With thousands of great quality properties around the world within the Love Home Swap group, there’s something to suit everyone’s taste and style.”
Ben says the points system makes it easier for Love Home Swap members to travel to destinations of their choice throughout the year.
“We have been delighted by how it has been received,” says Ben. “It has quickly overtaken traditional home swapping as our most popular way to travel as points allow you to stay at any member’s home around the world at any time without having to do a direct swap with them. The benefits of travelling this way are clear: you can save a few thousand dollars on the cost of accommodation and enjoy a much more local holiday experience.”
Adds Ben: “We’ve seen explosive growth at Love Home Swap over the past 12 months, with more and more holidaymakers looking to stay in homes rather than traditional travel options, as peer-to-peer travel becomes part of the mainstream.”
Bells and Whistles
To make it easy searching through the company’s thousands of properties around the world, Love Home Swap has also launched an easy to download iPhone app.
Another wonderfully refreshing thing about Love Home Swap is how relaxed and stress-free the lead-up to a holiday is: no demands for a massive deposit months in advance or terrifying cancellation policies that make your blood run cold. Just friendly emails offering travel advice and things to do and see.
To give you a little insight into my own travel plans through Love Home Swaps, here’s what we have lined up next. I think the family will quite like these places:
- A private African wildlife conservancy in Kenya with a colonial country house that sleeps 10 people
- A villa in an exclusive lodge at Wakatobi Marine Reserve, Indonesia that sleeps five
- A fairytale French château built in 1490 set in 36 hectares of grounds in Limoges, France that sleeps 12
- This luxurious rural retreat at the foot of Coronet Peak ski resort near Queenstown, New Zealand sleeps seven
- We’re also planning a family wedding on Waiheke Island so this stunning place has potential as a home base and accommodates 12 people
And if you are into quirky accommodation, how about a treehouse in British Columbia, Canada; a converted butter factory in Byron Bay, Australia; a Mongolian yurt in Essex, UK; a converted church in Edinburgh, Scotland; a windmill in Merseyside, UK; a glass-floored loft in Amsterdam, Holland; or converted train carriages in Western Australia.
You can watch a great video of my favourite Love Home Swap locations on Luxury.TV.
Contributing Editor Justine Tyerman is an award-winning travel writer, journalist and sub-editor from Gisborne, New Zealand, with 20 years’ experience in newspaper and freelance work. Check out her work at www.just-write.co.nz and Tyerman’s Travels Facebook.