Advice, guide and practical information
A step-by-step guide to exchanging
On this site you will find detailed descriptions of the homes, services and facilities in the various regions you wish to visit. Also take note of the dates you would like to exchange.
January through March are the best dates to make your first contacts for a summer exchange. Four years ago, we had 14 offers -- one for Tahiti and another for Reunion Island. The other 12 were for France: Alsace, Poitou, Normandie, Provence, Landes, Centre Paris, etc. We made our first selection from these offers, and we answered all of them whether we liked them or not!
After that, we corresponded with two or three people: checked dates, exchanged photos and details about the house, the car and the region. Then we had to make our final choice: where do we go this year? The south of France is usually our first choice; after a cold Canadian winter, we want a warm and sunny region, even if it means sweltering heat! However, we are open to other areas of France.
After we've decided on the main points, we make our flight reservations and contact our exchangers with more questions: Can we camp there? Do you have bicycles? Which restaurants do you recommend? We keep in touch with our exchangers up until the actual exchange takes place.
Ready to experience making a home exchange? Take a good look at the offers, then subscribe. Contact many people, send them photos via the Internet. Check flight dates and airfare with your travel agent. Take your time before committing yourself to an offer, but don't wait too long: you could miss out on a nice occasion. Revisit the site: there are new listings daily! Don't look for too many homes with pools in Provence if you can't offer something similar in quality.
If you don't find anything one year, it's ok -- you're allowed to dream! At least you saw how our website works and there's always next year!
The advantages of exchanging
We are a teacher couple living in Montréal. Louise, my partner, and myself, Serge, are travel freaks. Not that we've visited every country in the world, or the most remote areas; or that we've been to Europe at least 15 times and know all the countries. Just the opposite! Beside having visited Spain, Portugal and Italy, we go to France every year.
We have (time and salaries permitting), driven all over France. We would rent a car for a month, sleep in a hotel every night and eat at restaurants. The Canadian dollar had a favourable exchange rate against the French Franc in those days, so our vacations were affordable. But when the Loonie dropped, prices shot up in France, our salaries froze, and our purchasing power decreased, we had to find another way of spending our vacations. So we decided to try something new: home exchange. This concept allowed us to travel to different regions of France.
Thanks to this inexpensive formula, we were able to enjoy the house and use the car of our French counterparts for 4 to 6 weeks, while they stayed at our house and borrowed our car in Montréal. We drove from Provence to Landes, the Massif Central to the Rhone Valley. In all these regions we discovered quaint little villages, met many people and soaked up the surrounding landscapes. We visited few churches, chateaux, abbeys and fortresses. Instead we swam near shady hills, strolled along roads under rows of majestic plane trees, and sat on sunny terraces to enjoy the French joie-de-vivre.
At night, instead of looking desperately for a hotel or bed and breakfast, you can come back to your home, without tons of baggage in tow, sit on the terrace and enjoy they evening. You can discover the restaurants and nightlife of your "adopted" village, knowing that a comfortable bed awaits you that doesn't cost a cent -- all the more reason to splurge on good food and a good bottle of wine!
Many advantages, few disappointments!
First, the financial advantages: How much does an exchange cost? Answer: no more than the price of a plane ticket, or $800-$1000 per person, or $2 000 per couple, depending on the going rate. Many things, like food, gas and clothing, are more expensive in France, or are about the same -- but not in Paris! Some delicacies are cheaper, such as wine, cheese and prepared foods. Here is an example: one couple spends a month's vacation in an exchanged home in France and another in Canada (assuming they don't spend all their time indoors!). I am convinced that both couples will spend less and profit more in different ways than if they did not exchange.
More advantages? Maybe you are dreaming of a small chalet in the countryside, but certainly not the rental price of $2 000 per month. And would you ever leave the chalet? Would you really feel comfortable there? Would you familiarize yourself with the particular customs of the region? Wouldn't you miss the pleasures of flying?
In France, you could invite the acquaintances you make to your French summer house -- and next year to another house! This is what we did to host our guests Jean-Pierre and Monique, René and Lorraine, Claude and Marianne, Daniel and Lilianne, Geneviève and Louise. They all enjoyed their stay in our "summer homes"
Disadvantages? A bad exchange can happen, especially if you aren't well prepared. Ask to see photos of the house, the car and of the surrounding area where you will be immersed for several weeks, and you will avoid any surprises.
The qualities of a Home Exchanger
Lending your house to total strangers for five or six weeks is not something everyone would do. Therefore, having faith in others is key to home exchanging. But don't forget that while they sleep in your bed, use your television and drawers, you are doing the same thing at their place.
Respect for personal property is also an essential quality to being a good exchanger. You probably wouldn't like it if whomever you are exchanging with would finish your jam or bottle of scotch. And they surely wouldn't like it if you ate all their homemade foie gras or their collection of Margaux wine. Finally, you will be using each other's spices, perishable foods that will not be good upon their return, and even their soap, detergent, etc. Of course, before leaving, you will replace everything.
I have a cousin who would not exchange because he was afraid of having other people drive his car, his "chariot". A friend of mine would not let anyone sleep in her bed and was afraid of anyone going through her drawers and seeing her underwear. Another friend didn't want anyone using his bathroom, and another his clippers. Other friends were afraid that their valuable objects would "disappear". You therefore have to be more open-minded to exchange.
Living in someone else's house is not easy either: often you won't be able to find where the owners keep things, or you miss having your own car, or you don't know how to use the washing machine and dryer -- until the day you leave! However, you will see that it was worth it, because you will want to go back next year and do things right!
Studio in Paris for a big lakeside house in northern New-York...
Lower duplex two steps from the metro in Montreal. Exchange for a "mas" in Provence...
Suburban home in San Francisco for an apartment in a small village in the Alps...
Westfalia 1995 motor home in Washington for similar in Europe.
Everything is exchangeable, but don't expect to exchange your 3-room apartment for a mas in southern France, or to get a huge apartment with a terrace and garden in the middle of Paris -- the owners of these apartments don't need to exchange their homes! Country houses have more greenery around them and are usually larger than city homes and apartments, and this goes for Europe as well as Canada.
However, city homes and apartments have their advantages: they are close to metros or buses, cultural attractions, sporting events, restaurants and other services. Country houses will better suit nature lovers who prefer wide open spaces, being next to a lake or river, fishing, hiking along trails, or just enjoying the peacefulness and isolation of the countryside and discovering small hidden villages.
The size of the house is also an important factor in exchanging: a couple with one bedroom cannot exchange their apartment with a family of five. For example, French exchangers usually travel in families or groups of more than 4 people, so you have to have at least two bedrooms to be able to exchange.
Ideally, you should correspond with 2 or 3 potential exchangers and trade pictures of your homes. Find something reasonable off the beaten track -- don't go beyond your budget and rent a seaside villa in Cannes! For Americans or Canadians, I would recommend that they choose any small village in France, even if it is in the middle of nowhere! I encourage Europeans to do the opposite and choose a home on a lake in Canada or USA!
Feel free to call each other to make sure that you have understood all the details. Also, concerning the car exchange, determine how much mileage you will both be doing in advance; try to agree on an equal limit, or be sure to make up for it. In North America, long distances separate the major towns and cities, and Europeans will love going to Niagara Falls or New York while you tour the surroundings of the region you're staying in.
Well, you've decided to go for it and spend 5 weeks in the French countryside while your European counterparts live in your bungalow in Orillia, New-York. Here are some tips (non-exhaustive) to help you prepare for your exchange. Get ready to take notes!
Plane Tickets and Money
Reserve your tickets as early as possible. Don't wait until it's too late: you have committed yourself to the exchange and your exchangers cannot cancel without any reason. Also, if you wait until the last minute and you can only get a flight to Marseilles but you're exchanging in Lille, you'll have to spend extra money to get there.
Don't take too much money with you. There are bank machines throughout Europe. Take out a large amount at once because it costs $3 each time you use your bankcard to withdraw money in Europe.
Exchanging Keys and Documents
This is done more often at the airport because both exchangers usually plan the same arrival and departure dates. Otherwise, leave a phone number they can call to pick up the keys, or ask someone to go to your house to meet them, give them they keys and help them get settled.
Make sure your house is spotlessly clean before you leave, and it should look the same way when you return. Make a list of things your exchangers should know like garbage and recycling days, where the sheets and towels are, that the hot and cold water taps are reversed, how to open the garage door, where you put your camping equipment, how to use your appliances, how to change the fuses, or how to clean the pool. Either give this list to your exchangers, or post little notes around the house; on the fridge, for instance. If you have valuable objects or documents, lock them in a safe, closet, or another piece of furniture.
Make sure your car is clean and the tank is full before exchanging. Ask your exchangers to do the same. Leave your registration papers in the car and call your insurance company. Do an oil check before leaving. Never park in front of the front door, or you will get a ticket lest you forget!
Tell at least one neighbour that you are exchanging your home, and ask them to pick up your mail if your guests leave for a couple of days. It would also be nice if your neighbour checked every now and then on how things are going. Our charming neighbour, Mr. Boisclair, does all this for us!
Maps and Plans
Leave maps of your area, city and Province for your guests. Tell them where the restaurants and the dry cleaner are located, or where to buy good bread (very important for a French person!). Show them where the closest markets, supermarkets and department stores are located, and explain to them what a dépanneur is (if the exchange takes place in Québec). Do everything to make them have the most pleasant stay possible.
Leave a list of the most important numbers: your neighbour, the police, fire department and ambulance (911 in most communities throughout North America), clinic, doctor, hospital, plumber, electrician, garage, your family and friends, etc. If your exchangers need to use these services, in case of an emergency, for example, exchange bills afterwards to determine how much is owed and by whom.
You are on vacation and so are your exchangers, so don't expect them to tend your precious orchids! Give them to a friend or neighbour until you return. Also ask your friend or neighbour to water your lawn or garden, or hire a company to do it. Plant fewer flowers so people don't feel obligated to water or tend them as you would.
Do you have a big cat (like us)? Ask your exchangers if they have any allergies, or if they would mind taking care of your pet. If they do mind, find someone who will take care of your pet for a month. A dog is more complicated than a cat. You can also put your dog in a kennel or take it with you.
Finally, did you...
... cancel your newspaper subscription?
... leave clear instructions on how to use your VCR that never works?
... give your exchangers a spare set of keys?
... explain to your exchangers that to start your car you have to keep the clutch down?
Seems like too many little details? Not if you want a successful exchange and another one next year, as most of exchangers do.