How to travel the world for free this summer – if you’re a homeowner

As a transatlantic couple, university lecturer David Reilly, 41, and his wife Alicia, 38, a swimming teacher, were used to traveling back and forth to Alicia’s native California to visit family and friends. But as their family grew – they have children Dylan, 11, Samantha, eight, and Jude, four – staying with relatives became more difficult, and they soon realized they would have to find another way to keep their holidays affordable.

“Before we had kids, it was easy,” says David. “We would go over two or three times a year and we always had a place to stay because it was just the two of us.”

With a bigger family there just wasn’t enough space for everyone, and hotels were too expensive and uncomfortable with small children in tow. “Trips ended up being like a jail term,” says David, who later discovered an inventive way to travel.

“We watched The Holiday starring Cameron Diaz, whose character in the movie swaps homes, and I started Googling what sort of places were available in real life.”

The Reillys later listed their three-bedroom Basingstoke home with Love Home Swap, choosing the site because of the free trial, and the fact that you can view the homes before signing up.

Love Home Swap, launched in 2011, is a members-only platform, founded by Debbie Wosskow, who also drew inspiration for her business from watching The Holiday (she saw the movie on a flight home from the Caribbean after a bad hotel stay). On the site, members list a home to swap, while choosing one of three pricing plans.

“We were pleasantly surprised with what was on offer,” says David. “In San Diego, where we often go, there are very good options with swimming pools, beach houses, huge kitchens.”

Another reason why Love Home Swap appealed was the points exchange option, where, rather than swapping like-for-like, you can earn points when another member uses your home and you don’t stay at theirs, then use them to travel at a later date.

Alicia initially had her misgivings about opening her home to strangers – and spending time in theirs. “My first question was, is it safe? What if someone is in our home and they break something or they steal our TV? Or what if we break something in someone’s home?”

Love Home Swap’s insurance convinced her to take the plunge. She also found that having video calls with guests or hosts beforehand helped to build relationships and trust.

“When you have someone else in your home, you feel a bit vulnerable for the very first time but now we know that the benefits far outweigh any costs,” adds David.

He and Alicia have made the most of their American adventures, taking in supercars, seals and sunsets at art market coastal town La Jolla, treating the kids to days out at Disneyland, and enjoying the mountain scenery in Lake Tahoe. For their next adventure, they hope to visit Hawaii for Alicia’s 40th birthday and they also have a planned trip to Yosemite.

“There are pinch yourself moments in those homes,” Alicia says. “When you’re sitting by a pool having your morning coffee while the kids play and there’s this beautiful view of the mountains, you’re thinking… this cost us next to nothing.” A hotel stay during peak season would cost considerably more.

“But we’d be 100 per cent priced out of the houses we’ve stayed in had it not been for Love Home Swap,” says Alicia. Renting out their home holds the key.

Would you rent your home out to a stranger if it meant you could go on more holidays? Comment below to join the conversation

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