Travel Often & Richly Within Your Budget

How I Lost My Home Exchange Virginity

The White House, with lawns and fountains in the foreground, taken while on vacation in Washington DC, USA.

The White House ~Washington DC, USA

My 1st home exchange didn’t exactly happen by design. But this is how I came to do my 1st exchange that led to 24 more.

Picture it

You’ve booked your flights and can’t help but smile a little. Maybe the best thing about a seat sale is that there’s no going back: no refund, done deal, you’re going on vacation.

This time it’s a two-week trip. You’ll stay with family in Montreal the first week and tour Washington DC the second.

A couple of days later you sit down to book DC accommodation. You want to be in the heart of the city and near a subway station.  This trip is about touring the city so you don’t need a luxury hotel, but of course you want a clean, comfortable room.

You search for a well-known, reliable hotel chain and–

It doesn’t make sense. You pick a different hotel and check the rates for your dates. You know it’s the height of tourist season, but seriously?! You check another one and… Butterflies invade your stomach, and they aren’t the ‘healthy nervous’ kind.

You switch to looking up reviews on the hotels. The verdict? Borderline at best so there’s no comfortable way to drop a star rating, and it wouldn’t matter anyway. The rooms are $300+ a night. All of them.

Crap! $2100+ for a week of accommodation? There’s no way your travel budget can do that. Your flights are booked solid and you don’t want to lie awake every night cringing in some scuzzy hotel bed…or dig into your line of credit.

This was not your plan.

I Lost My Mind

I’ll come clean: this isn’t fiction. It’s my true story.

For years I’d filed home exchanging (or home swapping) under “we should try that”. My parents had spoken of it when I was a kid but had never done it. Clearly they’d never made the stupid mistake of booking flights before accommodation in a major city. You might say I was more compelled than I suppose they’d ever been.

I found a home exchanging website, poked around and was instantly hooked. There were tons of places listed for DC ranging from basic to jaw-dropping, and I found myself thinking, “I’d give my right arm to stay there!” I’d have been happy to stay in one of the more modest homes, too.

I knew that with fixed dates and short notice it might not work, but I checked the annual membership fee and it was less than I’d be paying for a single night in the hotels I’d found. It was a no-brainer.

I didn’t do any due diligence and it’s fair to say that I’ve learned a lot since then. But I just signed up and posted my home for exchange.

For the record, I didn’t exactly have a unanimous cheerleading squad behind me. The one really important person in all this –my husband– was willing to try it. Others?

My parents were curious.

My friends stared blankly.

And a dear friend and neighbor thought I’d fully and wholly lost my mind.

I Lucked Out

I sent many offers that night, explaining my fixed dates. I had no idea then how lucky I was (the first clue would have been that I only had one other person respond and that was with ‘thanks but no thanks’). But twenty-four hours later, there was a different kind of note in my Inbox. It was from very experienced exchangers. They were used to jumping at offers for destinations on their bucket list.

They’d already worked out an itinerary that included a week of travel before arriving at our place.  And, they were even happy to look after our cat the entire time we were gone! It took a few days to nail down the details, but they were a ‘go’.

Their place? Wow.

A penthouse in an impressive, stately building. Two bedrooms. Two bathrooms. Beautifully decorated and furnished. Near Dupont Circle with embassies for neighbours. A brief walk to the subway. A view of the Washington Monument from the living room. A quiet street one block from restaurants and shops.

The living room of our Washington DC penthouse home exchange

Our exchange home ~Kalorama Heights, Washington DC, USA

Too good to be true?

Hardly. From the minute we met them at our home, to the moment we closed their door, wonderful experiences just kept chasing us down. With our budget freed up, we experienced more of DC by day and retreated to exceptional comfort at night.

By the time we boarded the plane for home, I was planning our next exchange, my husband was all over it, and our neighbor had retracted her original assessment.  Bless her heart, under the cover of home-baking delivery she’d conducted reconnaissance of the home-exchange-nut-jobs on their first day in our home. Not only did they meet her high standards, but she became instantly enamored with them and their stories of more than twenty home swaps.

Our neighbor has since exchanged her own home…three times. (And I admit I smiled to myself a little the day she asked me to help get her started.)

My Take

The master bedroom of our Washington DC penthouse home exchange

Our exchange home ~Kalorama Heights, Washington DC, USA

I’ve since learned that there are lots of reasons to home exchange, beyond the financial savings. But admittedly this one saved my budget, my bacon and my vacation!  It couldn’t have been a better introduction to swapping but, frankly, we haven’t had an exchange that wouldn’t have been a great way to start.

And in case you’re wondering, I’m okay –more than okay– with having lost my home exchange virginity.

Your Take

Have you ever had to pay more than you wanted (or could?!) for accommodation?

Author: Nola

Nola is passionate about travel and a home exchange diva. She shares how you can travel in comfort, save money while you do it, and splurge on travel treats with the savings. She is a travel writer, speaker and trainer.

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