International Home Exchange 103 – The Truly Priceless Cultural Benefits

If you read last weeks bloginar, International Home Exchange 102, you already know how remarkable the economic benefits of an international home and car exchange are.  What you may not yet know is that the economic benefits are not the only worthwhile benefits of international home exchange.

Our English home exchange 2011

Our English home exchange 2011

The fact is, home exchange transforms otherwise typical tourist vacations into far more exciting, enjoyable, educational,  and culturally enriching experiences.

I have experienced the differences between typical escorted tourist tours (Spain/Portugal 1992), independent international tours staying in hotels and rental apartments (Italy 1998, 2011), and lastly five international home exchanges.  Do not get me wrong, all of them were great, much loved trips, but only my home exchanges were exceptional cultural adventures.

Croquet anyone?  Who would of thought, we'd have our own full size croquet court

Croquet anyone? Our English home exchange was equipped with a full size croquet court.

That is why you may see, or perhaps you have already seen, home exchange listings that are so luxurious that they seem unlikely or unbelievable.  The fact is, they are believable. Before I found out how wonderful home exchange was I doubted such properties myself; I wondered why anyone who owned a home like “that”, would be exchanging it; why wouldn’t they just stay in luxury hotels; since I had to assume they could afford them.

Since becoming an experienced home exchanger, I no longer question those properties or their owners motives.  Having experienced the remarkable cultural benefits of five home exchanges; I understand exactly why these homeowners choose to exchange.  They may or may not be motivated by the economic advantages as I am and continue to be, but they are certainly interested in the amazing cultural advantages.

View from our patio in England

Our English home exchange also had 15 acres of properties with horses.  That one is Sully.

Current travel trends will tell you that today, even the most fervent luxury travelers are now looking for authentic experiences rather than luxury amenities.  The truth is, they can have both, authenticity and luxury, in a home exchange.  And maybe, just maybe these luxury property owners still appreciate the economic benefit.  You know lots of wealthy people are frugal – say Warren buffet for instance.

So, I have come to realize that home exchange is not only for people without the means to travel another way, it is simply the best way for anyone who desires an extraordinary cultural adventure.

When you home exchange, say in Italy, you actually get to live in the home of a real Italian or more specifically a real Roman or Venetian or Sicilian, it’s honestly like they leave and you slip into their life for a while. They will tell you where they prefer to shop, to dine, to relax, to sightsee, to exercise, to be entertained, to play, etc…They are likely to leave you some food or may even prepare your first meal for you. They will give you one or several local friends or relatives to contact for assistance or advice, and oftentimes, you get to know these people; and if you like, sometimes you get to know them really well.

Feeding her charges

Our English exchange home also had chickens which my daughter was put in charge of.  She fed them and then  collected their eggs for breakfast.

On our very first home exchange in Spain, we got to know all of our home exchange partner’s friends. They were all expatriates from either England or Scotland, who had relocated to this tiny village in Spain. They were so kind to us and such a fun group, that we decided to invite them over to our exchange home, their friends home, for a 4th of July American Style Barbeque (on the 4th of July of course).

They were all delighted to be invited and readily accepted. While, they weren’t exactly the true locals, not being Spaniards, it was still a great cultural experience.  They filled us in on where they came, in England and Scotland, and also shared stories about their experiences living in this remote village in Spain, and how they were accepted by the Spanish locals; which was heartwarming to hear. We had such a great time with them. One of the men kicked a soccer ball around with my then seven year old daughter; who by the way was wearing a newly acquired flea market Spanish soccer outfit. The rest of us shared lots of sangria and funny stories! It was a memorable evening.

Grandma in the pool the first day

Did I mention our English exchange home had a lovely pool.  That’s Grandma in the pool the first day of our exchange.  Having an adult swim!

So, if you are open to it, you get to experience the local culture and people. You are not limited to the famous landmarks. You have more time in one location to relax and explore your surroundings in depth. It is that depth that provides the fullness that is lacking in typical tourist style vacations. As a home exchanger, you don’t have to spend all you time in the company of hordes of tourists or cramped in a small hotel room. You don’t always have to be on the go, go, go, jumping from one landmark site to the next.

You can enjoy yourself in a much more pleasing and relaxing manner by just soaking up the local atmosphere. Just sitting in your temporary homes sunny garden, pool, or terrace can be a delight. Even if your kids are in the home and watching TV, they are likely watching local programming and being culturally enriched as they watch; it is all good stuff!

On a serious note, many people including experts in the field of education, business, etc…will tell you that exposing children to diverse cultures is a WIN, WIN situation, and clearly a benefit to them on many levels.

It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength. MayaAngelou

More conventional tourists use the term “off the beaten path” and they say they want those experiences too, along with the typical tourist stuff; but most don’t stay long enough in one place to ever have those wonderfully gratifying experiences. That’s a key difference with home exchange that may not be obvious to you, and I do want to make it clear.

Our private tennis court on the property

Yes, our English home exchange even had a private tennis court. We were heckled by locals – the sheep bahhhing at all our missed serves and returns!

I’ll use another personal example. On my first trip to Europe at the age of 27, I took a “BIG BUS” group tour to Spain and Portugal. The 15 day itinerary included overnighting in all these cities: Spain: Madrid (3 nights), Toledo (1 night), Granada (2 nights), Torremelinos (3 nights), Rhonda (2 nights) and Portugal: Lisbon (3 nights). As you can see the itinerary included packing/repacking and moving six times between two countries in 15 days; with the longest stay being three nights. In such a hectic itinerary, you only have time to visit the major landmark sites and you generally have to do it at a very brisk pace.

Chartwell was lovely!

We visited Winston Churchill’s family home named Chartwell.  It was was also lovely and very educational for us and the kids!

There really very little opportunity to relax, or to venture “off the beaten path” and we didn’t. You are on the go from morning to night trying to cram in as many sites or attractions as you can. I might point out that at the age of 26 and single, this pace was fine for me, but I do remember clearly being exhausted by the time we reached Portugal on day 12, and really didn’t enjoy the last three days of that trip.

What I know now, as an experienced traveler and as a parent, is that a trip with such an aggressive schedule is not the most enjoyable, nor is it suitable for families with children. It will not provide the wonderfully relaxing, enriching and delightful cultural benefits, including lots of “off the beaten path adventures”” that you will want for your family.

All  self respecting English manor homes have AGA hobs, or so we were told

All self respecting English manor homes have AGA hobs, or so we were told.  Our home exchange home had this one.  It was always on and always hot! I grew to love it.

It has only been through my families’ home exchange experiences that we have been able to afford to visit so many famous cities and world heritage sites, like Paris and the Eiffel Tower, Grenada and the Alhambra Palace, and Rome and the Vatican. At least as important however is that no other style of travel could allow us to experience living like temporary locals in each of the places we visited. I am so grateful for the cultural adventures that home exchange has afforded my family; because I know my family has been immensely enriched by them.

I hope you enjoyed seeing just a sample of photo’s from our 4th home exchange in East Sussex, England.  We stayed in this home for two weeks and enjoyed many greats sights, including several day trips to London, Rye, Eastborne (and by chance a great airshow), Hastings, and more.  As you can imagine, the kids favorite thing of all was staying home and enjoying all the amenities that this particularly remarkable home exchange had to offer.

Home cooked meal on our patio

My family, not including me – the photographer; enjoying one of our many meals on the patio of our English exchange home.

Our exchange family consisted of mom, dad and three teenage daughters, they enjoyed two weeks in my home on the Northeast Coast of the USA, one hour from New York City and twenty minutes from the Jersey shore.  It was a great exchange.

 For all the information you need to embark on your first international home exchange, check out Have Home Will Travel here.


About Kerry Ascione

Past business and IT professional turned travel writer, blogger, speaker and coach. Huge supporter of the Peer Sharing Movement, especially as it relates to making the lives of families richer in culture and travel. Author of Have Home Will Travel, The Ultimate International Home Exchange Guide for Families.
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2 Responses to International Home Exchange 103 – The Truly Priceless Cultural Benefits

  1. Kerry, a good read and you are so right. Saving lots of money is a huge part when swapping homes but it is also about the experiences gained and friendships made, I just wish more people would travel this way, although it is becoming more and more popular.

    Brian Luckhurst


    • Hi Brian, it really is ironic how hard it is to get people to take advantage of something that is not only remarkable, but free. I do hope that as the ‘sharing economy’ gains mainstream momentum, that it will become second nature for people to trust their peers. Then more people can afford to experience wonderful cultural adventures. Are you interested in home exchange or experienced?


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