Home away from home
Bianca Keegan examines a growing trend in the travel marekt - house swapping across the globe.
You have seen it before.
Remember the time when Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet decide to swap homes in the name of a hard-earned holiday and they meet the men of their dreams? Well, it’s the same concept boasting exotic locations on a budget, but minus Jude Law and the Hollywood lights from the 1996 movie The Holiday.
The house swapping idea behind the hit film has become a popular way to travel worldwide and now holiday makers living in the Far North are joining the global travel trend.
Mossman’s Mandy Coxon, her husband and two teenage children, recently packed their bags for a 10-day holiday in Manly, Sydney, after successful house swaps in Hobart, Byron Bay and London.
“As a family of four the cost of travelling is enormous, especially if you want to go overseas,” Mandy says.
“By house swapping you take out two of the biggest expenses – the cost of accommodation and the cost of hiring a car.’’
The family, who run Mossman Gorge Bed and Breakfast, joined US-based website HomeExchange.com two years ago and say their swap to Hampton in London for Christmas 2011 was their best trip so far.
“Since we began swapping we have probably been approached by more than 60 families wanting to swap with us. Lucky for us we are in a place a lot of people want to visit.”
The Coxon’s are just one of 43,000 members on HomeExchange.com, which was started by American businessman Ed Kushins in 1992.
Last year in September, the site recorded a nine per cent increase in international activities compared with the same period the prior year.
Mr Kushins says members are attracted to the authentic ‘live like a local’ experience and last year clocked up more than 75,000 home swaps across 140 countries – all for a $10 per month membership.
“As an example, France being one preferred destination worldwide, attracted more international visitors in 2012 than the previous year – but with a significant change in their accommodation choice,” he says.
“While paid accommodation grew 0.2 per cent, free accommodation including HomeExchange grew 5.5 per cent.”
Fellow ‘swappers’ Mike and Karen Newman of Palm Cove recently juggled Mike’s work commitments with a six-week tour of Europe.
Mike and Karen own Xplosive Art Cairns, which specialises in fi reworks and pyrotechnics.
“We have completed several house swaps including a recent six-week house swap trip through Europe,” Mike says.
“We ended up in Malta for the International Symposium of Fireworks.”
Trinity Beach retirees David and Jocey Johns are also living the swappers dream after taking part in 11 home exchanges since joining the website in 2000.
"Our best series was in 2003 when we lined up two months in central London, followed by two weeks in Paris then on to six weeks in Belgium – all with a car,” David says.
“We were driving our Belgian exchange car (in Koblenz, Germany) and camping on the river bank when a German arrives and camps besides us.
“We talked for several days then he says ‘you speak very good English’.
“So I should! I’ve been speaking it for over 80 years.
“He was fooled by the Belgian plate on the car and we enjoyed a good mutual laugh.’’
The couple was also on exchange in Christchurch, New Zealand, during last year’s devastating earthquake and were
woken with a frantic phone call from their daughter worried for their safety after the 4.6 quake.
“We hadn’t felt a thing despite being three storeys up,” David says. With offers to holiday in London, New York, Costa Rica, Tahiti, across Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the pair say they have never had a problem with letting strangers stay in their Trinity Beach home.
“Our next exchange is to Christchurch for two months in June to a warm home.”
Also jumping on the bandwagon is Pam Bigelow of Yorkeys Knob, who swaps her abode for luxurious holidays avoiding the expensive price tag.
“I will never travel any other way now,” Pam says. “You save money, but actually it’s the quality of the holiday that I love most. You are not in a small hotel room, you can entertain, you have books and music and more than two coffee cups.’’
Experiencing a Bastille Day ball in a small French village and taking in the rugged beauty on the Italian Riviera, Pam says home exchange is based on mutual trust and respect.
“It works well,” she says. “We loved the south of France where we stayed in a restored 15th century house in a gorgeous
village. But in the north of Italy we spent time visiting the world heritage listed villages of Cinque Terra – it was incredible. We were able to get on a boat to there from a five-minute walk from our lovely house in Pegli, northern Italy.”
The venturing couple with two adult children don’t plan to stop there with future home exchanges already on the horizon.
“In May I am going to Ibiza in Spain and Skyros in Greece. We use the houses as a base and travel out from them all
around the region. I am taking a friend to Ibiza and she’s organised the house swap to Greece.”
Visit homeexchange.com for more information.
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Swap it: Mandy Coxon with her daughter Phoebe, 14, and their dog Angel at their Mossman home that they have been swapping each year with other house owners for holidays in places like Tasmania and London.