Stacey Wolf's NYC apartment, swapped for a Paris Flat.
Click to enlarge this photo.
My Tiny Slice of Heaven For Yours:
A Single Swaps Her Digs
These days many of us are searching for unique travel experiences, even as we become more budget-conscious about these journeys, too. Whether you prefer an outdoor adventure or crave city culture, an inexpensive globetrotting option lies where you rest your head: The home swap!
I had heard about swapping but never considered doing it myself until suddenly, after a ten-year relationship ended, I found myself with a beautiful (but small) apartment, a flexible career, and a BAD case of wanderlust.
I knew I wanted to swap my real estate and explore the world—but how?
Traditionally, home exchanges are popular with families and large homes but swapping is something that’s available to everyone from a private room in a shared space to a couple with a one bedroom. Yet, as I discovered, there are real differences in how you search, find, and prepare for a swap as a single with a studio apartment than your full-sized counterparts.
From A Studio Apartment to a Luxury Home: The Search For Your First Swap
The first thing I discovered when I began the search is that while the popular home exchange sites are open to homes of all sizes and locations, they don’t really accommodate shared or small apartments and travel parties of one or two.
Sifting through photo after photo of luxury homes and the large families that go with them can be intimidating if what you are offering in exchange is a small, functional space. After trying several small apartment exchange sites as well, I ultimately went elsewhere to find my exchange: craigslist.
The living room in Paris.
Craigslist has ads from mostly younger people with typical apartments located in cities across the globe. It’s not uncommon to find a student listing a share, a single traveler, two friends, a couple with a small child, or even a retired person with a home in New England searching for weekends in a nearby city.
If this sounds like you, place and search for ads on both the craigslist that serves your area and the location where you would like to swap.
In addition to craigslist, another good place to start is roofswap.com. While it includes both large and small spaces, membership is free so there are more small places. It’s a perfect place to explore swapping before investing more time, energy, and money.
On the other hand, if you have a larger or more luxurious home, want to swap for an exotic location, or one that’s far from a major city, you are better served by going to one of the traditional home swapping sites like homeexchange.com or digsville.com.
These piano movers were the first thing Stacey saw out her window in Paris.
With thousands of listings, there’s something for everyone on both sites. Plus, they both have a cool reverse-search feature, which, if you’re open to new destinations, allows you to see who wants to visit your area and work backwards.
Because the listings on craigslist expire every two weeks, they are all current but you’ll likely find slightly out-of-date listings on the other three sites. While the members of homeexchange.com and digsville.com pay a monthly or yearly fee, not everyone keeps current or is available to swap when you are, so you may have to cast a wide net to find one that’s interested in exchanging.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing An Engaging Ad
It’s easier to create your dream ad working with the three home swapping sites listed above, because their online forms lead you through the process. Unfortunately this isn’t true for craigslist, where anything goes. Do your homework, homeexchange, digsville, and roofswap all have wonderful how-to sections--read them!
The swappers on craigslist mainly give information on their spaces but it’s also important to discuss the amenities of the building, specifics about the neighborhood, and add a little background about you and the members of your travel party, too.
While luxury home swappers might exchange cars, small apartment swappers may decide to put a bike on the list of amenities. Things like wifi, a computer, laundry, air conditioning, famous food shops, parks, and public transportation, will catch potential swappers attention.
The neighbors chat on a street in Paris.
Don’t exaggerate the size of your place and don’t leave out vital pieces of information. For instance, my couch becomes a bed that’s a bit of an odd size. At not-quite-a-queen, it works well for one person or an intimate couple. It’s a great piece of furniture for a New York apartment, there’s no need to sugar coat the details. I don’t want someone to be uncomfortable.
Lastly, take the time to create a host of awesome photos. Clean up, de-clutter, even put some fresh flowers out. Making them an accurate but polished representation of your space will make other people want to live there, too!!
Finding Your Perfect Swap-Mate
Ok, so you’re ad is up and (congratulations!) someone has reached out to you or you’ve found an ad you’d like to answer. Now what?
Begin an email dialog by exchanging important details; introduce yourself, discuss travel dates and basic needs. Some people need sunlight, some people need to be near a certain location, and some people just want a bed!
Once you’ve determined that the swap has potential, embrace technology.
After a few emails, it’s nice to get on the phone and get to know them but it’s even nicer to skype so you can really get a feel for each other. Beside the obvious (talking about work, lifestyle, apartment, neighborhoods) ask about and share your house rules. Are they smokers? Do you allow pets? Are their any allergies you should know about?
A market in Paris where the author learned about buying chicken and cheese in France.
Click to enlarge photo.
What’s going to make you comfortable with an exchange is discovering common ground. I answered Vincent’s ad. A successful photographer, he was looking to swap for 2-3 months in a cool part of New York.
I was looking to swap for 4-6 weeks in a cool part of Paris. Due to work commitments, we ended up trading places for 5 weeks.
In addition to both having well-furnished, cozy, (and slightly quirky) apartments, the minute we started talking about our creative careers, we knew we had found that perfect exchange partner.
It’s important to know that not everyone wants to swap for a similarly sized space so don’t let that intimidate you, when somebody wants to visit a certain location, as long as their needs are met, they may be more flexible than you think, so try them!
Looking out the window of the Paris apartment.
Vincent’s apartment is about twice the size of mine, yet we both felt very at home in each other’s spaces and are looking forward to exchanging again in a few months!
A Little Homework: Preparing For Your First Swap
Some of the home exchange sites out there suggest creating contracts. While I’m no legal expert, I say, through good communication, you can accomplish the same thing in a less formal way. Put everything into writing. In an email, recap what you have discussed and ask them to agree or add points.
I agree with the popular home exchange sites, there doesn’t seem to be too many swapping horror stories out there, yet when it comes to important things like insurance and security, again, do your research. The relationship you build is based on trust and you want to be a good host, but it’s common sense not to leave out anything you don’t want to be taken or used.
Once you have the basics down, make a detailed welcome document. Type out recommendations of restaurants, local food shops, and cultural activities; give them details on how to use your washing machine. Perhaps guide your partner through a skype tour showing them where the garbage and cleaning supplies are. I even made a short video of how to turn my couch into a bed and back and emailed it to Vincent before he arrived.
Running in the Parc Monceau.
Think carefully and write down EVERYTHING. It didn’t occur to me to tell him that the floors in my apartment are a soft wood and I got back to discover some scratches, probably from a suitcase. (Of course I learned this because I inadvertently scratched the floor first… it’s part of life in a Manhattan apartment.)
On his end, if he had not showed me how to use his shower, I never would’ve figured it out on my own!
Add emergency numbers. Give them the names of a local doctor and dentist, in case they get sick, and show them how to dial the police or fire department. This is especially important when exchanging with someone from a foreign country who may not be that familiar with the language and culture. And ask for this information from them as well.
Be generous. Stock the cabinets so that your swap-mates have plenty of dishwashing liquid and toilette paper. Leave a bottle of wine (and the opener!) on the dining room table to welcome them with a print out of your notes and the house rules.
If you are traveling alone, why not swap neighbors or friends, too? It’s nice to have someone greet you at their place, to reach out to with questions, or share a quick hello in the hallway.
And encourage them to stay in contact. If you have any questions about their home or run into any unforeseen issues, don’t feel you have to deal with it by yourself, if they are in your place, you know how to reach them.
Pleasant Surprises: What You Can Expect From Your First Exchange
Bird Prints at Les Halles, Paris.
Whether you are exchanging for a week or a month, swapping is much more than a vacation. While living in Paris, I studied French, got a cheese education, ran along the Seine, and wrote my astrology column as usual.
As any traveler knows, being in a foreign country makes you a very creative problem solver. Google became my concierge, my GPS, and my translator.
For interesting activities, directions, and necessary communications (like when it was time to make a key to the apartment for a visiting friend and I conveniently learned to say, “une copie de cette clé s'il vous plaît“!).
Vincent’s friends and neighbor’s welcomed me into their lives, inviting me join them for drinks and dinner parties. They taught me French, and gave me great tips on how to be a neophyte Parisian chick. In the end we even swapped personal gifts. I left him an autographed copy of one of my books, he sent me a signed copy of a photograph he had taken from the roof of my building.
I would not have been able to have such an extended, immersive experience had it not been for swapping. In the months since I’ve been back, I have placed other ads on craigslist and communicated with lovely singles and couples with small apartments in Rome, Vienna, Lisbon, and Barcelona, about possible future exchanges.
I’m confident that my next swap will be as magical as this one!
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