Thursday, 18 June 2015

Exchanging homes

Three children is just that little bit more than it's polite to go to a hotel with, apparently. A cheap hotel anyway. We got away with putting the little girl in a cot for as long as we could, but now the game is up.

Static caravans and camping are options, but they're not always practical, so this year we decided to give home exchanging a go. We're lucky enough to live in a tourist town, people might want to swap with us, we reckoned.

I was particularly keen to find somewhere in my home town (Ilkley, in God's own county) - to give us our own space to retreat to, allowing us to enjoy time spent with friends and family, rather than stressing over the bathroom. There is nowhere to camp in my Ilkley, although we've camped nearby before. But I wanted somewhere we could wander into town from, somewhere we wouldn't need to drive to get to.

Just after Christmas we joined Guardian Home Exchange, who were offering a free trial. I think it was for a fortnight, although now I see their free trial is for a week. Anyway, I quickly set up a profile and contacted all the possible exchange partners, and...


No response at all.

Guardian Home Exchange offered me a special rate to extend my membership, but I decided to accept that I was on a hiding to nothing.

Then in March Home Exchange got in touch and offered me a year's membership to give them a go, and post about it.

Well, it was worth a try.

Again, I set up a profile:

  • pictures of my home (after it had been cleaned, tidied, and on a sunny day)
  • ideas for what people might like to do around here (mapped), 
  • pictures from the local area, and,
  • information about us: broad strokes about what our family is like, and what we like to do.
If you're thinking of swapping, you kind of want to know what the people are like, partly because that helps you point out things they might like.

I found people in Ilkley and I got in touch with them:
  • One said sorry, no...
  • One had sold their house (they took it off home swap after our conversation, and were very sweet).
  • One has never responded;
  • and the last one said maybe next year.
I got in touch with people a train or bus ride away, but no luck there yet either.

I decided I was being too specific, so one evening I just looked through for places I'd like to visit and got in touch with them. 

Lots of them said no.

But one of them said yes!

We're just back from a weekend in Dunblane.

I'd got in touch with them because we'd stopped off in Dunblane to get some fresh air on the way to Pitlochry last year. I was impressed by the loveliness of the place. I also looked at the pictures of their home, and thought that it was way out of our league, but there was no harm in asking...

I'm glad they said yes.

In the lead up to the swap I'd come to the conclusion that it was a terrible idea, because I live in a house with hordes of children (I only gave birth to three, but I swear there are hordes rampaging through). 

It took me more than a week to tidy away the drifts of random stuff that accumulate in any location not constantly requiring cleaning, and the rest of the areas, I seemed to be constantly cleaning, sweeping, and mopping.

On the final morning before we left I changed the beds and towels, I hoovered, and I cleaned everything again, growling at the children that dared to come near.

When we left for our weekend I was stressed out and shattered.

But then we arrived.

And the kids were so excited. They were running around choosing bedrooms, and exclaming over toys, and X Box games, and the piano (pianos are louder than I remembered).

The house was gorgeous, and it was great to be staying somewhere with so much for the kids to do. To be honest, they would have been happy if we had never left the house.

We went out for tea at a pub, which sold my favourite Pear Koppaberg cider, and Kenny 'taught' the kids to play pool while I did very little. We have never done that at home, although perhaps we should.

That night of course, the kids couldn't settle, and I ended up moving the mattresses around so they could all sleep in one room. It still took a while, they were so excited.

Naturally, they still managed to get up at 6.30am, but on the Saturday I was super excited too. Kenny had suggested we go to Doune Castle - otherwise known as Winterfell in the first episode of Game of Thrones. Also from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It's in Outlander too - Gabaldon fans.

We were just about ready to go when Terraria crashed again on the boy's tablet, causing a strop of overtired proportions. The tablet was confiscated, and the boy was prised out of the building, but he was not happy about going to some stupid castle AGAIN (although this is the first time we've been to this particular stupid castle).

So we were running late, and everyone was sick of each other. Oh the joy of family holidays.

 However, at the castle, I took the boy off, just the two of us, and regaled him with suitable-ish stories from Game of Thrones, while we explored the castle, and I wrestled an audio-guide off someone who looked a bit like they were leaving.

We explored, took lots of pictures, and I even saw a bit of a smile. We went up to the roof, and talked about what Bran would have seen from up there, and I asked him to pretend to hold a great big sword called Ice, and think 'Winter is coming'.

Winter is coming.

It turned out it was Doune gala that day, so the place was busy, but we got lunch at the Buttercup Cafe (which is great by the way, and does lots of gluten free stuff too), and then went home, to snuggle up under a blanket on the lovely swappers sofa, and watch their DVD, while quietly wondering what they were doing, and what they were like.

I woke up awfully early on the Sunday, and did some writing before taking the kids who would get dressed into Dunblane.

It was shut.

It was still nice to be somewhere different.

Back at the house the kids helped to clean up, with barely any moaning, and we left for yet another lunch out (I love eating out), followed by shopping on the way home.

At home we found our house clean and tidy, the beds stripped, and the washing machine on. I'm sorry, I hadn't thought to do that in the Dunblane house.

It is a bit weird to swap houses with someone, because you're into their lives without ever meeting them. It was nice to find some evidence of these mystery visitors - a forgotten top (going in the post shortly), a cup left in my boy's room.

Kenny asked if I'd do it again? My immediate concern was the cleaning, and he thought we could get a cleaner in next time, which would help somewhat.

I think that doing it for a weekend wasn't long enough. We needed a little while to acclimatise.

I also think that house swapping is no good for getting somewhere specific, like Ilkley. You've got to throw a lot of stones before you get a hit.

I've noticed that I've had a lot of messages offering swaps from lots of wonderful places around the world. If we could afford another holiday abroad I'd be jumping at some of them. It would be brilliant to go somewhere far away, but be in a proper home, with stuff to do, and advice from the locals. It's something that I want to try. But not yet.

Our weekend away also highlighted that there's lots of stuff we could do together closer to home which just gets put to the side because of all the things there are to do. I intend to spend more one on one time with the kids and to snuggle up on the sofa with a film more often.

That's for next weekend.

Have you tried home swapping?

*Many thanks to Home Exchange for making this lovely weekend possible.