As a transatlantic couple, university lecturer David Reilly, 41, and his wife Alicia, 38, a swimming instructor, were used to traveling back and forth in Alicia’s native California to visit family and friends. But as their family grew — they have children Dylan, 11, Samantha, 8, and Jude, 4 — it became harder to stay with relatives, and they soon realized they had to find another way to spend their vacation to keep affordable.
“Before we had kids, it was easy,” says David. “We went there two or three times a year and always had a place to stay because there were only two of us.”
With a larger family, there just wasn’t enough room for everyone, and hotels were too expensive and uncomfortable with small children in tow. “Travel ended up being like a prison sentence,” says David, who later discovered an inventive way of travelling.
“We saw The Holiday starring Cameron Diaz, whose character in the film swaps houses, and I started googling what kind of real life locations are available.”
The Reillys later listed their three-bedroom Basingstoke home on Love Home Swap, choosing the site for the free trial and the fact that you can see the homes before you sign up.
Launched in 2011, Love Home Swap is a members-only platform founded by Debbie Wosskow, who also took inspiration for her business from The Holiday (she saw the film on a flight home from the Caribbean after a bad hotel stay) . On the site, members list a home for trade and choose one of three pricing plans.
“We were pleasantly surprised by the offer,” says David. “In San Diego, where we go often, there are very good options with swimming pools, beach houses, huge kitchens.”
Another reason Love Home Swap was so appealing was the points swap option, where instead of swapping like for like, you can earn points when another member uses your home and you’re not staying at theirs, and then use these to travel at a later date.
Alicia initially had reservations about opening her home to strangers — and spending time in hers. “My first question was, is it safe? What if someone is in our house and breaks something or steals our TV? Or what if we break something with someone?”
Love Home Swap’s insurance convinced her to take the plunge. She also found that previous video calls with guests or hosts helped build relationships and trust.
“When you have someone else in your home, it makes you feel a little vulnerable at first, but now we know the benefits far outweigh any costs,” adds David.
He and Alicia have made the most of their American adventures, seeing supercars, seals and sunsets in the coastal town of La Jolla at the art market, treating the kids to days at Disneyland and enjoying the mountain scenery at Lake Tahoe. For their next adventure, they hope to visit Hawaii for Alicia’s 40th birthday and they also have a trip to Yosemite planned.
“There are moments in these houses where you pinch yourself,” says Alicia. “When you’re sitting by a pool and sipping your morning coffee while the kids are playing and you have that beautiful view of the mountains, you think…this cost us next to nothing.” A hotel stay in the high season would cost significantly more.
“But we’d be 100 percent cheaper than the houses we’ve lived in if it wasn’t for Love Home Swap,” says Alicia. Renting out your home is key.
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