Home Exchange: To Europe From the Main Line, With Love

You're no stranger in a strange land when someone else's house is your home.

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Illustration by John Krause

I grew up in a house where I wasn’t allowed in the living room. Mom was a Depression baby who, as a girl, used to press her nose to the glass of Lazarus Department Store in Columbus, Ohio, and dream of having “nice things.” And when she did, my mother sure wasn’t one to risk her stuff to kids. My siblings and I knew that, if she caught us in the living room, we had better have an explanation. We rarely risked it.

So, Mom would’ve been appalled by the house-exchange concept, which works like this: You give the keys to your house—to everything—to strangers. Then, you leave.

Mom would’ve imagined people playing Frisbee with her fine china. Pocketing the silver. Putting their feet on the furniture. The reality is that home-exchangers treat others’ homes as well as their own. When we returned last August from two weeks in the Netherlands, the Dutch family in our house left it cleaner than we did.

We played with the idea for a while. We joined Home Exchange in 2006, but didn’t actually do a swap until 2009. That experience, with an English family we already knew slightly, went imperfectly. The Brits accidentally locked themselves out and apparently panicked trying to get back in. One tried to force a door we later had to replace. Things with the Dutch, who were strangers, went much easier.

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