In my debut novel, Irish Encounter, the main character, Ellen Shepherd, visits her daughter in Galway, Ireland, and reconnects with friends she made years earlier through home exchanging.
The idea for this minor plot point came from my own experience. Over the past sixteen years, my family has enjoyed three different home exchange vacations to Ireland.
Our first house was in Galway. We spent three weeks there in the summer of 2000.
Then we moved down to County Cork for three weeks. Here’s a picture of us in front of our house in Bandon.
In 2007, we exchanged with a family in Blessington, County Wicklow, not too far from Dublin.
We loved our time in all three houses and still correspond with the families through Facebook, emails, and annual Christmas cards.
Home exchange is a great way to vacation with a family. It’s cheaper than staying in hotels and eating out every meal. We’re settled in a comfortable home, not living out of suitcases. We get to eat home cooked meals. We get to meet neighbors which sometimes can lead to invitations to dinner, church activities, or community events.
When we began planning our trips, we used two organizations to find other home swappers. We joined us.intervac-homeexchange.com and homelink-usa.org. These companies charge a membership fee, but most offer a free trial period. Options for memberships include joining for a monthly rate or for an annual one.
The organizations supply the contact information for families, but finding the perfect match for your family is up to you. Partnering families have to put forth a mutual trust of each other. Emailing and Skyping are great ways to discern whether or not a family is dependable and trustworthy. Some families offer references, too.
We exchanged houses at the same time, (a simultaneous swap), but some people choose a non-simultaneous exchange and stay in the swappers’ vacation house or second home. One more alternative is the hospitality exchange with the visiting family staying in the house while the owners are there as well.
Depending on your insurance policy, you may be able to swap cars also. For all three of our exchanges, we used the host family’s cars which saved on car rental fees.
Home exchanging isn’t for everybody. On the last day of your vacation, you have to sweep, vacuum, dust, change the bed linens—basically remove every trace of your family’s stay in the house, except maybe a parting gift. People who stay in hotels can leave soggy towels on the floor and unmade beds. Our family, however, loved stepping into another family’s shoes, so to speak. In fact, we’d love to go again if we could synchronize our schedules.
What do you think of home exchanging? Would you try it? Why or why not?
Hope Toler Dougherty holds a Master’s degree in English and taught at East Carolina University as well as York Technical College. A member of ACW, RWA, and SinC, she has published articles on topics ranging from gardening with children to writing apprehension. She blogs for Almost An Author. She and her husband, Kevin, chat with their two daughters and twin sons through ooVoo from North Carolina. Her first novel, Irish Encounter, was released in May, 2015. Connect with Hope at hopetolerdougherty.com.