Trip Coach: October 14, 2008
Joanna Goddard, whose house-swapping experience has included stays in other people's homes in L.A., Paris, and Switzerland, answered your questions.
Joanna Goddard: Hi! This is Joanna Goddard, and I'm excited to talk with you today about house swapping. So, let's get started!
New York, N.Y.: How much prep of your own place did you do re: cleaning, "hiding" personal stuff, closet space, etc.? Have you swapped overseas? We'd like to spend a month in Rome in the future, and ideally, to swap apartments the entire stay.
Joanna Goddard: To prepare our apartment for apartment swappers, we cleaned it top-to-bottom. We scoured the bathroom, washed the dishes, swept the floors, tidied up and, of course, set out clean sheets and towels.
Many people are worried about their personal valuables, like computers and cameras. We've done about 10 swaps and have never hidden anything—and have never had a problem. I think when people swap apartments, there is an implicit trust, since you're in their house, too!
But, if you want to be extra safe, you can buy a small locker from IKEA, so you can lock things away. Or you can create an "owner's closet" by attaching a latch and padlock to a closet, and putting your valuables inside.
Finally, I have swapped overseas—to Berlin and Paris (twice). Both apartments were fabulous! You can find many Rome apartments on craigslist.org. Good luck and have fun!!
Saint Augustine, Fla.: In this day of identity theft, how do you insure that there is not some stray piece of paper with an account number, etc., inadvertently left around?
Joanna Goddard: Before your swappers arrive, make sure to put your bills and mail in a locker or tuck them in a bottom drawer, where people won't see them.
That said, when you're arranging an apartment swap, you see photos of the people's house and exchange many emails (and, if you'd like, phone calls). So you get a real sense of who these people are and what they're like. After emailing with them about their favorite local restaurants and swapping keys through the mail with a nice little note, you come to feel as if you're friends with them. Trust me, once you get started, apartment swapping is a lot less scary than it sounds!
Lexington, Ky.: Where has been your favorite house swap location? And where there any big obstacles? I would love to visit Switzerland again, where I lived in the early '90s. This time, my two girls—ages 5 and 7—would be with me and my husband. The trip would be next summer. The departure gateway is Cincinatti, Ohio or Lexington, Kentucky for a family of four.
Joanna Goddard: I'm sure that your family would have a lovely time in Switzerland! Oooh, think of the homes you might be able to swap with—chateaus in the mountains, or cottages in the rolling valleys. It would be amazing!
I've swapped to L.A. (twice), San Francisco, Berlin, Connecticut, Paris (twice) and more. I've loved all my swaps. Berlin was perhaps the coolest because we stayed in the apartment of a very cool photographer. It was in a bohemian part of the city. The apartment was modern, bright and beautifully designed, and we adored reading his giant art books and cuddling up in his vintage chairs. There was also a beautiful courtyard, where we sat on sunny days among the bikes and trees. We felt very cool!
Charlotte, N.C.: I have done several swaps from homeexchange.com. I get similar responses from friends about exchangers taking things and so forth. My experiences are similar to yours. They have always left the place nice, nothing missing and I try to leave their homes the same. Had great swaps so far. Any interest in coming to Charlotte?!?
Joanna Goddard: Yes! Once you swap once or twice, you lose your beginners nerves, because you see that most people who swap are lovely and trustworthy. Again, I've swapped 10 times and have never had a problem. Charlotte sounds gorgeous!
Ventura, Calif.: What do you deem the single most important issue when swapping homes?
Joanna Goddard: Good question! Hmmm, I think it's really important to be open about everything from the very beginning. Take accurate photos of your home, ask lots of questions, make sure you describe any surprises, such as a temperamental toilet or a noisy street. That way, there won't be any surprises, and you'll be starting off your swap with honesty and kindness.