Travelers benefit from exchanging homes

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Rebekah Sewell

Londoners Brian and Catriona Luckhurst created the Home Exchange 50plus website to make it possible for older adults to travel inexpensively around the world by swapping homes with each other.
Photo courtesy of Brian Luckhurst

Some years ago, Londoners Brian and Catriona Luckhurst were looking for an inexpensive way to vacation in Brittany, France. With young children, the cost of traveling and lodging was too high. Their solution? Swap homes with someone who wanted to vacation in London.

“We swapped our four-bedroom, semi-detached house in Twickenham in west London for a six-bedroom detached house in a rural location in Brittany,” said Brian Luckhurst. They stayed for two weeks, and shared the home with another family during the third week, another potential option for exchangers.

Initially anxious, the London couple spoke at length to the French couple over the phone to make the situation more comfortable. “This helped allay our concerns and put our minds at rest,” Lockhurst said.

“Our other main concern was, would they like our home? Would it be good enough for them? But of course it was, and I remember them telling us how much they particularly liked the location of our house, as it is minutes away from the train station with direct access to central London,” he said.

Helping others now

By 2009, the Luckhursts were nearing retirement age, and they wanted a project to keep them busy. Since they had such a great experience years earlier, they decided to create an online portal for others to use for global home exchanges.

The couple hired a website designer who designed and launched the site later that year under the name Home Exchange 50plus. The service is only for older adults.

“The Internet has been a great boost to the home exchange community,” Lockhurst explained. “It allows people to easily and quickly view the homes available for swapping, and allows for better communication between all concerned — a perfect fit.”

Maintaining an online system also offered the couple working flexibility while they, too, were travelling. On average, they make two to three trips a year, and frequently use the exchange program to find their own lodging.

The most obvious benefit to exchanging homes is the financial freedom it offers. Without the heavy fees of accommodations, the rest of the vacation budget can be spent on food and travel. Some participants also agree to swap cars, bicycles, sporting equipment and more to keep costs down.

Luckhurst said he has only come across two complaints from vacationers using HomeExchange 50plus. One was that a house was more “tired” than members thought it would be from the photos and description. The other was about the attitude of their swap partner being less “friendly” than they expected.

Site users Linda and Philip Koniotes used the program during their three-month trip to Australia in 2013. To make the trip last that long, they swapped homes with nine exchange partners and also gained use of their cars.

“We saved over £7,500 by not having to eat in restaurants every night, pay for laundry, or a hire a car,” they explained.

Live like a local

Exchanging homes also offers the chance for a more immersive vacation. Living like a local often provides a closer and more authentic look at the community and culture. Your partners may even have tips on the best local spots for eating, visiting and shopping.

Another benefit is the potential for making new friends. The Koniotes have hosted site visitors several times, and even keep in contact after the exchange is done. We “love meeting people,” they said.

Another couple, Jane and Alan Shakesshaft, have exchanged over 20 times in order to visit the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Spain and France. They have found an additional plus to exchanges: “We seem to ‘inherit’ their friends and families, getting invited for meals, trips out, picnics, etc.,” they said of their exchange partners.

The fact that the site is limited to older adults also has its benefits. Many of the site’s users are already retired or working part-time. They therefore have more time to go on vacation, and more flexible dates to travel, offering a larger pool of potential vacation dates and making it easier to schedule exchanges throughout the year.

User John Mensinger says he appreciates the site’s clientele because they “don’t need to take vacations in the summer.” He ended up swapping his California home for a spring vacation on the island of Cyprus. The island was filled with “wildflowers complementing the ancient Greek and Roman ruins and accompanied by the fabulous vistas of the Mediterranean,” he described.

“We enjoyed visiting small wineries, walking in the countryside, and eating tasty and fresh local food, both at home and at tavernas. Our exchange home had a pool and views of the Mediterranean. It was impeccably clean and comfortable,” Mensinger recalled.

For more information, visit www.homeexchange50plus.com. A one-year membership on the website costs $45; a two-year membership is $70, and five years costs $125. Members pay no fees to homeowners when they exchange homes. Registration is required before you can contact other members.