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Britons are expected to cut back on foreign holidays this summer as the cost of living soars while salaries remain frozen. The eight percent rise in air passenger duty from the start of April is a further blow to families hoping to head to warmer climes. But there are affordable ways to get away from it all.
The internet has made it easier to swap homes in different parts of the country, or anywhere in the world, and the economic downturn has meant that more families are taking of this option.
Entrepreneur Debbie Wosskow set up her lovehomeswap.com website after she struggling to find affordable accommodation for her family holiday a few years ago. The site lists thousands of homes in 80 countries and annual membership costs £99 (about R1 200). For this, you can swap homes with other members as many times as you like. Other sites include homelink.org.uk and ukholidayswapshop.co.uk.
Samantha Glass, 38, who runs a website selling baby slings, and her husband David Brown, 46, who owns a business offering faster payment technology for companies, are swapping their five-bedroom Victorian house in Clapham, south London, this summer for a similar-sized family home in San Francisco.
The couple, who have four children, Charlie, 18, Sorby, 15, Tabitha, 5, and Coco, 2, wanted to get out of London during the Olympics and were keen to go to San Francisco because David is considering opening an office there, with the family contemplating moving to the West Coast.
“We looked into letting our home during the Olympics while we went to California, but we realised it would involve a lot of hassle and expense, putting most of our belongings into storage,” says Samantha.
“Then I heard about house swapping and it seemed the perfect holiday solution. We can leave everything in the house and we will save thousands of pounds in accommodation costs. We are also going to swap cars so there is a further saving on transport.”
After registering their house on lovehomeswap.com and including photographs and a detailed description of the property, Samantha was contacted by five homeowners in the San Francisco area.
One family were keen to be in London for the Olympics because they have a British family member who will be an Olympic torch bearer. The holiday dates of the two families matched so Samantha says they agreed to swap homes for three weeks in July and early August.
“We emailed and then spoke on the phone with our swappers,” she says. “Then we both signed a contract to say we agreed to stick to the holiday dates and terms. We’ve even agreed to look after each other’s pets so I don’t have to worry about putting our dog Lola and cat Mr Chow into kennels.”
Lovehomeswap.com advises swappers to sign a contract, which can be downloaded from the website.
This sets out the agreed dates and also lists other conditions such as what will be done about bed linen and towels; that the security of the home will be maintained; that utility bills will be covered by the owner of the home; that any phone usage will be covered by the visitors; and that in the case of accident or damage to items in the home the guests will organise a repair or replacement.
Wosskow says swaps are based on mutual trust and problems are rare. “Communication is paramount,” she says. “Use email, phone and Skype internet calls to arrange the details of staying in each other’s homes - everything from where the boiler is, how to collect keys and details of any local restaurants or points of interest.”
Swappers must also consider the insurance implications of having other people stay in their home. Most insurers will take the view that it is better to have someone trusted staying in your home while you are on holiday than leave it empty. However, it is important to contact your insurer to make sure that you are not breaching your policy.
Most mainstream insurers will continue to cover the home under a standard policy, but they will typically exclude theft, malicious damage and also accidental damage caused by the guests.
All the other big dangers, including fire, flood and burglary, are included as normal. As a precaution it is advisable to lock away valuables or items you would not want damaged during the swap.
But home swapping is not just for long holidays abroad. Carolyn Quainton, 33, a teacher of Spanish, her partner, Will Bain, 43, an IT consultant, and their children, Lucia, two, and Zach, one, swapped their three-bedroom town house in the Clifton area of Bristol for a family home in the centre of Penzance, Cornwall, last summer.
Carolyn says swapping for a short British break saved them more than £400 on hotel or private apartment costs. “Cornwall can be expensive, particularly at peak times in summer,” she says.
“We wanted a break for a few nights and were happy to allow someone else to stay in our home, so a swap was perfect.
“I did have some fears that our home would not be good enough, but I spoke to the swappers on the phone several times and they said they were very happy. I would definitely swap again.” - Daily Mail