This restored English Victorian cottage provided a base from which Jim Flint and Karen Spence explored England's Lake District. - Photos courtesy of Jim Flint

House swap

Are you ready for a vacation change of pace?

You've probably enjoyed the social aspect and pampering of a bed-and-breakfast. A hotel room usually fills the bill in the city. Sometimes, you may feel like keeping it simple, so you rent a mountain or beach cabin for a few days.

But if you're looking for a new experience, consider a home exchange.

The burgeoning home-exchange industry is off the radar for most people. My wife, Karen, and I were introduced to the idea five years ago, and after three exchanges, we can't wait to do more. It's an especially attractive alternative for the extended stay, although many arrange short stays.

Home exchangers trade their homes, condos or apartments at a time convenient for both parties.

No money changes hands between home exchangers. Most use an online service, for which they pay a small annual fee to access the service's listings. There are many home-exchange companies online. Google "home exchange" to find them.

We joined HomeLink after friends told us how much fun they had with exchanges arranged through that company.

Our first exchange was with a woman from England's Lake District. She and a friend wanted to trade her updated Victorian cottage for a two-week stay in our home near Yakima, Wash.

After sorting out the details by email, we decided to trade homes, cars and cellphones. If you trade cars, make sure your insurance covers your exchange partner. If there is an extra premium, decide ahead of time who will pay.

It was fun putting together a notebook with information for our visitors. We included a section on how the house worked, a guide to local restaurants and attractions, as well as suggestions for some day trips. She had the same kind of package waiting for us.

When we arrived home at the end of the exchange, the linens had been washed, the refrigerator was restocked and a birthday present for Karen was sitting on the kitchen table. We did the same at her house and left a thank-you gift.

We arranged a nonsimultaneous exchange with a San Francisco couple who stayed at our Ashland home last fall while we were in Idaho. We'll use their home next spring when they're away.

Last summer, we exchanged with a Chilliwack, British Columbia, couple who are active in community theater there and wanted to trade in Ashland to see the plays.

Every exchange is unique and relies on mutual trust and goodwill. It's natural, of course, to have reservations about giving up your home to strangers. Will they break something? What if they're not as tidy as you are? But remember, the people you're exchanging with face the same risks.

There are lots of reasons we enjoy exchanges.

We get a good "feel" for the places we visit by living in a neighborhood instead of in a downtown hotel.

Our house is being cared for while we are away.

We don't have to eat every meal out.

And the connections one makes can turn into great friendships.

Who are home exchangers? They run the gamut from retirees, families and singles to professionals and business people. Most are well-educated, adventurous and dependable.

There are several different types of exchanges:

Simultaneous: you stay in their home while they stay in yours.

Nonsimultaneous: you stay in each other's homes at different times.

Hospitality exchange: you host each other at designated times. Your trade partners stay with you as guests, then you go and stay with them.

CouchSurfing: a relatively new variation on the theme. CouchSurfers tap into a network of welcoming people worldwide who offer their hospitality — and a room — for travelers.

We aren't the only locals who have discovered the joys of home trading.

Charlotte and Will Nuessle are experienced exchangers, with more than a dozen under their belts.

"We started exchanging when we lived in Hawaii and continued after moving to Ashland six years ago," she said.

She's a yoga instructor, and he's a psychologist. Their destinations have included The Hague, Copenhagen, Scotland, Paris, England's Cotswolds and, twice, in both San Francisco and Portland.

"It's been wonderful," Charlotte Nuessle said.

They were in Paris for two weeks last May. The Paris couple will use their Ashland home in 2014.

Tom DuBois of Ashland has tried the CouchSurfing scene, both as a guest and as a host. He works at Louie's Restaurant & Bar as a server and hosts Louie's popular trivia night.

He CouchSurfed twice in Portland, once when he went to a Pink Martini concert and, more recently, for his daughter's graduation.

"I stayed at two really great places," he said. "I had a private room, the people were friendly and, at one place, they had snacks and a drink waiting for me."

Gene Flory is relatively new to the scene. He joined Seniors Home Exchange for people 50 and older.

The Ashland resident exchanged in the Napa Valley for a wine-tasting adventure with his lady friend, and they're considering a trade in the San Francisco Bay Area this fall.

"I would recommend it to everyone," he said.

So if you want to put a new twist on your next holiday, try a home trade. Exchange is good.

Jim Flint is a former Washington state newspaper publisher and editor, now living in Ashland. Reach him at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

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