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Laura and her husband Lance are based in the sleepy town of Abingdon in Oxfordshire, UK where they live with their five children with another due soon. The family try to go on holiday at least once a year, abroad if they can manage it, as well as the odd weekend away during school holidays. However, with all their children under the age of 10 finding travel accommodation that suits their big family within budget can be a struggle.

The family usually go for self-catering and avoid staying in hotels that involve multiple rooms “That is, however, until we discovered home swapping!” Laura mentions.

 

The Williams family outside their home in Oxfordshire, UK (Source: Laura Williams)

Home swapping was something I'd been aware of for a long time but never fully investigated. My husband was always very reserved about the idea, and I probably kept mentioning it for a good year or so before he decided he might be able to get his head around it.”

“We had left our house for some family members to come and stay in while we went away on holiday, and after returning to a house that was all in order and just as he'd left it, he realised that actually having people staying in his house while he was away wasn't as strange or uncomfortable as he thought it would be.”

The Williams family tend to spend around two thousand pounds each year on travel accommodation for their summer holiday. “We are currently used to spending around £2000 for a couple of weeks self-catering accommodation in high season for a house big enough for all of us, so the idea that we could nearly halve the cost of a holiday by removing the cost of accommodation through a home swap made it very appealing.”

 

The Williams family enjoying their summer holidays (Source: Laura Williams)

 

The importance of trust when home swapping

Trust was a big part of the Williams family’s decision to home swap, and reviews of properties helped with their decision to try home swapping.

“The fact that most seasoned home swappers have reviews on their houses and on them as swappers, you soon realise that it is not in their interests to come and throw a house party and ruin your sofa while you're away (and anyhow, we'd have their address, so it wouldn't be hard to track them down!).There is mutual feeling of trust between the two parties - ‘You look after our house and we will look after yours’.”

“Once we'd decided on the website and got our profile set up, we started messaging other swappers.  This was around January/February time, and we soon found looking for a swap for the coming summer was going to be tough as most people had already sorted their swaps for the summer a long time ago!”

“Finally we had a request to swap with a family in London.The member was doing the Abingdon marathon and wanted somewhere to stay for the weekend. Having never taken all the children to London we jumped at the chance.”

Video of the Williams family enjoying their first home swap to London this year (Source: Laura Williams on Vimeo)

 

“The house was just stunning and we had the best weekend - we were staying in East Dulwich, in the most beautiful restored Victorian house. It was so close to everything we needed.  If we had stayed in a similar place through Airbnb for example, it would have easily cost us around £200 a night or more. The family had two sons the same age as ours, so the children were fully entertained with all of their toys, games consoles etc.  One of my first thoughts on arriving there, and being blown away by the house, was "This is just incredible that we are staying here for free - why on earth isn't everyone doing home swaps?!"

The family were hooked – and shortly after organised their second swap as a family, this time abroad to Spain.

“Our second swap was this summer to a house in San Sebastian.  We were approached by a family who wanted to come and stay in Oxford, and who lived right in the centre of this beautiful city in the north of Spain.  We had previously looked at going there on holiday after having it recommended by friends, however we found the self-catering accommodation there quite limited and very expensive, so we had given up. So naturally we readily accepted the offer to do a home swap with them.”

“We drove down through France, so that we would have a car to use when we got there and had the most wonderful holiday for two weeks.  As in the previous swap, the owners were a family with children so the house was really comfortable and easy with the children - a garage full of scooters, bodyboards and wetsuits that we could use, plus mountains of toys.  We felt very at home straight away.”

 

The Williams family enjoying their swap to San Sebastián (Source: Laura Williams)

 

Best things about home swapping as a family 

Vacationing as a large family is no easy task, so we wanted to hear from Laura about what their favourite thing about home swapping as a family was.

“Having opportunities open up to you that you would never normally be offered; not having to take everything you normally need to take on holiday for the children, as, if you are swapping with a family with children of similar ages, they will likely have most of the things you need already; getting to the house and having lots of store cupboard ingredients already in the cupboards so you don't have to go out and buy everything like, salt, oil, jam etc; it's FREE!!”

 

Advice to future home swappers

Home swapping can seem daunting to those who are new to it, so we wanted to hear what advice Laura and her family have for those considering a home swap.

1.) Make sure you message other home swappers well before the date you have in mind, or else you might struggle.  We have found many people arrange their swaps a year in advance.


2.) Send lots of requests.  Don't be disheartened if you aren't accepted for a swap straight away.  It can be quite a long-winded process, but it’s worth it in the end. 


3.) Once the time for your swap has arrived, it is worth booking a cleaner to come in after you have left to do the last bits of cleaning that you may not have managed to do.  I usually sort the house out and getting rid of clutter before the swap and cleaning the bathrooms and washing floors.


4.) If the family coming won't be using every one of your bedrooms, you can always use one room as a dumping room to hide away anything you want kept secure or out of sight, and also for emptying a couple of drawers so they have some space to unpack.


5.) Having a phone call with the family you are swapping with can make you feel much more at ease about them coming to stay in your home and helps to build up some rapport. 

 

6.) Keep communication up all the way through the swap also makes things run much more smoothly and ensures you get positive reviews at the end!

 

"Home swapping has definitely improved our travel experiences - we really feel that travelling with (soon to be) 6 children is not completely unrealistic cost wise now that we can discount the cost of accommodation, and means we will hopefully be able to take the children to places much further afield than we would have done previously.  We highly recommend it!"

 

How to get started home swapping

Interested in getting started home swapping? Build your own profile and start our free trial today. Or if you’d like to chat more, get in touch with our team – we’d love to help. Want to share your home swap story? Tag us using the hashtag #welovehomeswap on social for the chance to be featured on our blog 

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