There have been so many wonderful blog posts — Why to exchange houses, How to exchange houses, Tips for Hosting, Where Home exchange can take you, How to make local connections….I didn’t think I could add any new information.
So I am taking this opportunity to challenge you to try something way out of the ordinary. It was 22 years ago, way before I ever heard of home exchange. The internet was mostly dial up then (we would download all our messages to save money on data costs), and we didn’t have smart phones either. In ways, it might be easier now than it was for us. Now you can become digital nomads and just travel with your kids. Here is how we did it.
My husband gave notice and we packed up the kids (then ages 7, 11, 13) and moved to the UK for a year.
We chose York, UK, about 3.5 hours train ride north of London. We wanted to immerse ourselves in British culture, and we never met another American family in York our whole year there. We each packed 2 suitcases and 1 carry on (plus 1 toy per child). I mailed 5 boxes with some linens and winter clothing, but that was it. At the end of the year, you realize all the things you can live without!
We wanted an English speaking country to make an easy transition for the kids. We put them right into the UK local schools. The boys could easily bike to school. Note: UK schools use “years” vs “grades” and we had letters from our USA principal stating which Year they should be in—so grade 2 in the USA was Year 3 in Primary school in the UK.
I was concerned the kids would possibly miss out on a year of USA schooling, or be behind. In actuality, the school was ahead of our school in many ways (particularly math or "maths" as they call it). Our 8th grader missed out on some US history, but had a much better understanding of world history. Our 6th grader learned geography, a course not even offered in our US school. The year 9 students had been studying French since year 1, so our oldest son was way behind with only 2 years of French. Luckily, a student teacher from France was there that year and he offered one-on-one classes. Overall the class sizes were larger than we were used to, but the kids were so well behaved it was never an issue.
We could have home schooled and many travelers we have met choose home schooling. That was not for me (and I am a teacher). The real key here was going to the UK schools, making friends with the other children, playing on the “football” team, and joining Brownies with the other kids. I met other mums in the playground when we collected our kids at the end of the day and was invited to join them for weekly hiking trips and their local book club. My husband joined the other guys at the pub every Thursday evening. PTA meetings were especially fun, 100% participation! I think the fact they serve alcohol to the parents at school functions definitely helps.
You might ask how you can afford this… we actually did it while paying rent (which is why it would be ideal for home exchanging). We collected rent on our US home. Our UK home was mostly furnished (although I bought a few things, such as an extra bed, dishwasher, etc). I was able to sell all these items to the other mums when we left at my cost. We also bought a used minivan the first week we arrived and then sold it at the end of the year for just a few $100 less than we paid for it. We saved in preparation for the year, and were in the preparation of setting up our own Animal Health company back in the US upon our return. Our suppliers were located in the UK, so the year gave us time to work on our business plan and meet with potential suppliers.
Visas are another issue to consider. We traveled extensively during the year so we were in and out of the UK all the time. The UK schools have so many more breaks than the USA— we were able to visit Ireland, Denmark, Germany, France, Spain, Cyprus, and Italy all on school holidays.
We didn’t have the luxury of knowing about People Like Us then. Since that time, I have done almost 50 exchanges. But, I think a home swap would be ideal for what I am proposing—find another PLU member who wants to pick up their family, try a new culture and swap houses for 6 mths or a year. You will not be sorry. Just do it! To this day, we say it was the best year of our lives.
PS. We still love to travel and experience new cultures (especially with our now grown children) so check out our PLU listing #1151 in Vail, CO.