A SAVVY couple has told how they get free family holidays in Europe each year, saving them thousands of pounds.
Just like in the blockbuster hit The Holiday, starring Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, Tim and Kate Cook swap their home each year with people they have never met.
They enjoy breaks in France and Spain for nothing by exchanging their home in Kent for one in the sun.
Kate, 46 a fertility nurse and Tim, 41, a civil servant, live in Bromley with their three children, Oliver, 12, Isabella, 10 and Sophia, six and say the only costs they incur are travel ones.
Kate said: “Going on holiday with three children would be so expensive and unfeasible for us, because most hotels are based on a family or two adults and two children.
“We have saved thousands of pounds by literally getting a holiday for free.
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“We started looking into doing a holiday home exchange when I was pregnant with our third child and realised that we would not be able to afford family holidays for a long time.
“Both of us love travel and value not only what it brings to us as individuals but also to the family as a whole.
“Some family friends have children who have moved to Australia – every year they go via a home exchange and stay for 2-3 months in Sydney so that they don’t miss out on being grandparents.”
The Cook family first swapped their home with strangers in 2018 when Sophia was one.
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This summer they are going on their fifth home exchange holiday and also plan to go to the US and Canada in the future.
They will go to France for two weeks and two separate French families will stay in their home.
The last paid for holiday they went on was to Cyprus when Kate was pregnant with Sophia.
The ten day holiday cost more £6,000. Now they are able to stay in beautiful places without paying anything for accommodation.
Kate said: “On our first exchange we went to a small town just outside Alicante in Spain.
“We stayed in an immaculate apartment that had access to a beautiful pool and it was close to the beach.
“We have been to France three times since.”
A home exchange operates with two parties who agree to holiday in each other’s homes for a set period for free.
Tim and Kate are registered with homeexchange.com where they can advertise their home and facilitate a swap with people living in properties all over the world.
Families are not just tied to a direct swap either, many sites offer a flexible points-based system.
“The beauty is that you don’t have to do a direct swap – you can earn house points and use them anywhere,” Kate says.
“To have this freedom we had a family stay at ours for a week to gain the house points, which we could then use to arrange a holiday swap of our own, when and where we like.
“You can swap either ‘with guest points’ where you use the points from someone else staying in your home to exchange for staying somewhere else.
“Or a ‘reciprocal exchange’ where you stay in the home of your hosts, and vice versa.
“Advertising our home was pretty easy.
“You have to put a bit of thought into how you describe your house and the area around it, and wait for a nice sunny day to take some pictures of the house in the best light.
“The number of ‘guest points’ you can get for someone staying is left to an algorithm, though you can adjust it slightly.”
It’s mostly families on home exchange so we don’t have to pack toys or anything with us – the home we are staying in is all set up for kids which makes packing quicker and easier
Some people may baulk at the idea of strangers staying in their home but it doesn’t phase Kate or Tim at all.
“It doesn’t worry me, we’ve never had any problems or any damage, not even a broken plate or glass,” says Kate.
“I’m very conscientious when getting our house ready and make sure that it is clean and organised for the families that visit.
“And the families that stay have treated our home wonderfully – we always return home to an immaculate house.
“We usually do video calls with the prospective families first, so while we haven’t met them face to face, we have chatted online.”
“Before you agree to the exchange, it’s usually just a case of looking at their profile and reading the reviews that other people have left,” says Tim.
“It’s a community with a lot of trust, and with a lot of families in similar positions to ourselves. Once you’ve agreed to the swap, it’s entirely up to the individual how much contact to be in with your guests/hosts.”
Although getting the house in order can take some effort, the Cooks say it motivates them to keep the house in order and on top of jobs.
Kate says: “The few weeks leading up to the exchange include a lot of tidying, clearing & cleaning cupboards, charity shop runs and fixing things around the house that can feel like an extra load to an already busy time in your life, especially if you have school age children.
“However, having a deadline for your visitors arriving gives a huge motivation to get things in order – which ultimately we as a family will benefit from, as it forces you to sort out the things you’ve been meaning to fix for ages.
“I clean every cupboard and surface before we go and make all the rooms nice but I like doing this as it means I keep on top of running the house and declutter – it’s a good reason to have a clear out.”
Tim and Kate say an additional benefit is that swapping homes is much more personal than staying in an Airbnb and makes packing and travelling easier too.
“It’s mostly families on home exchange so we don’t have to pack toys or anything with us – the home we are staying in is all set up for kids which makes packing quicker and easier,” says Kate.
“We are given information about the local area, tips on places to see and things to do, and logistical suggestions (such as how to get kids travel passes.)
“It feels like a home-away-from-home as there is everything we could possibly need, such as toys, recipes books and condiments.”
And pet care and car swaps can be thrown in too.
“Our guests take care of our rabbits and we take care of their pets, saving us both money,” Kate adds.
“Sometimes you can swap cars too so there are no car hire costs.”
The Cook family advertise their home on homeexchange.com and theft protection and damage cover are included.
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When they were due to go to Ireland and Covid put a stop to their plans, their flights were fully refunded.
‘It’s a brilliant idea that is literally saving us thousands of pounds and I would urge other families to do it,’ says Kate.
Benefits and drawbacks
● We can save thousands of pounds and have spacious accommodation. As a family of five, we find hotel stays expensive and cramped. HomeExchange gives us the opportunity to have a holiday in a property a similar size to our own, in a very affordable way.
● Home from home – general home comforts are there which you don’t usually get from commercial properties – for example a wide and different selection of toys and games.
● Pet care – no need to pay for our rabbits to be looked after
● Authentic experience of a different country or place – with excellent recommendations for places to visit/food
● We get to help other families to see London
● Some families are also willing to swap cars – another massive saving
● The few weeks leading up to the exchange include a lot of tidying, clearing & cleaning.
● Admin-wise the first time you do the exchange you need to spend time putting together information for the visitors with regards to; how stuff works in the house, bin days, heating, hot water etc. If you have pets you also need to leave instructions for their needs. However, this isn’t a big ask and the kids enjoy putting together videos to demonstrate our rabbit care.
● It can take quite a few approaches (dozens, maybe) to find a place that can welcome you on the dates you’re interested in, and can be even harder to find a direct ‘reciprocal’ swap. So you can’t necessarily be as choosy as you would be selecting a holiday let, for example, but that said we have been lucky enough to stay in some very nice places… you just need to send a lot of messages to get them.
What cover is included?
As a host, HomeExchange cover you in three key ways:
● A 500 USD Security Deposited by the guest for the coverage of minor damages.
● Damage Coverage up to 1 000 000 USD
● Theft Protection: HomeExchange financially compensates losses from theft.
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