Arranging a house swap

Before having kids, I loved galavanting around the world to exotic places like Australia, Thailand, Central America. When I was pregnant with my first child, I was even planning a Srilanka and India trip with a 6 month old. Then Galen arrived and reality struck. Travelling with young children is not like travelling by yourself. But, it's not impossible, it's just different. So for the next few years at least, we plan to explore Europe.

When planning our house swap I initially thought I'd like to spend the whole summer in Italy. My husband's work is flexible, as long as he has an internet connection, he can work. There are several house swap sites available. They vary in price from around £30-150 a year. (Some of them say you can list for free, but you can't arrange a swap.) I joined one (I'm not really sure what the difference is with all of them.) Took lots of photos of the house and filled in my profile.

Next, I emailed everyone in Italy to see if they wanted to swap. A quite long and arduous 'copy and paste' exercise. In a word, no one wanted to.

Hmm, back to the drawing board. How about South of France or Switzerland? No one in Switzerland wanted to. France was closer to home, but I thought it would be quite like where we live already. I did get several replies, but in the meantime, someone from Albi had emailed to ask if we wanted to go there for a week.

Albi, is about a 4 hour drive away, in the midi-Pyrennes (in-land). Well, it wasn't exactly spending the whole summer in Italy, but perhaps that was a little ambitious.

The house was spacious and had a swimming pool which seemed like a necessity with so many children and no sea. The arrangements went fine. We drove up on a Friday to collect the keys, they spent the night in another house and drove to ours the next day. (She was quite specific about what days she wanted but luckily we're quite flexible.)

The swap went well. All bar the fleas which we discovered a couple of days into the stay. I'm getting used to mosquitos being in my life, but I really don't like fleas or cats, nor does my husband.(The cat wasn't at the house, it was staying somewhere else.) Luckily they didn't affect the children, otherwise I think we'd have headed home. So a few bucket loads of insecticide and we managed to stick it out for the week. Although, I must say it really did put a dampener on the week. We could only put the babies down in certain areas and we were constantly looking at our legs for new visitors.

Fleas aside it was a great holiday and very cheap (I estimate that we spent around £500 in total, diesel, road tolls, entries to attractions, eating out) for a week for 6 people (perhaps 4 would be more accurate as 2 of them don't cost much!) I guess that cost depends on how far you travel and what you do. Some people even swap cars.

I have had several people email me from around the world offering swaps to fantastic destinations. As much as I'd like to go, we're not really in a position to be jetting off with 4 kids to exotic locations yet. Also, a preliminary email doesn't mean that anything would come of it if I were to accept, they're just seeing what their options are.

I think house swapping is a great idea, especially if you can be flexible. The more you decide where you want to go to and on what dates, the more difficult you'll find it to swap. So, keep an open mind and plan ahead. And next time, I'm going to specify only people without pets...