London, Paris, New York, Amsterdam, Mauritius and the Italian lakes. That’s where we have been – and we have stayed for free.
How? By house swopping.
Our house-swopping journeys started years ago when by chance I met an English expat walking her dogs on Clifton beach. She then bumped into a fellow Londoner on Clifton steps some time after. He needed some sun, and we needed a London flat, so with our mutual London lady as the go-between, we agreed to swop houses.
From that first exchange we have never looked back – and we constantly look forward as we plan for our next overseas trip.
Our London swop was a very comfortable two-bedroomed flat close to Hyde Park. Earl’s Court was just one block away, which meant we could be in central London in 10 minutes.
Considering that in London you would be paying over a R1 000 a night per person for a grotty hotel room, we felt we were truly in the pound seats. We became firm friends with our swoppee.
He has since acquired a share in a Cape Town home and become a “swallow”. We see him regularly.
Our next swop was to Amsterdam. A friend knew two Dutch guys who had a really comfortable apartment on Java Island and wanted to swap to Cape Town.
The apartment (a modern showcase) had lovely views of the sea and central Amsterdam. We had access to their car and made a quick visit to Belgium to see the medieval city of Bruges. Their parents joined them in South Africa, and they had a grand time touring the Garden Route in our car.
Next up was Paris (by word of mouth again). The apartment was in the 16th Arrondissement – an area frequented by well-heeled Parisians. We spent Christmas morning at Notre Dame and New Year’s Eve on the Champs-Élysées.
At that stage, the swop bug had really bitten, so we registered with Home Exchange (see box). Cape Town is a popular destination, and soon the offers came streaming in.
It takes a little of the humdrum out of the morning coffee ritual when you can log on and consider swop offers ranging from Canada and the US to Réunion, Switzerland and Scotland.
But we were determined to return to the Italian Lakes, which we had last visited on our honeymoon. A quick e-mail to the owner of a beautiful apartment in Laveno Mombello on Lake Maggiore and we were on.
The apartment was right on the lake – we could watch the passing parade from our balcony. Or we could hop on the ferry that ran every 30 minutes to the variety of villages and towns dotted along the lakeshore.
We spent a night in Milan and two romantic nights in a beautiful hotel on Lake Como.