Our Home Swaps

Here’s a quick rundown of the home swaps we’ve completed over the years, along with some key information about each. Most of our home swaps are three weeks long, happen in the summer, and involve a side-trip in addition to various day trips. Also, these are only the swaps, and don’t include our many other trips to Europe during this time frame.

2006: Paris, France

Kelly (4) and Mark (8) in Paris

Location: L’Haÿ-les-Roses, France
Side-trip: Brugge, Belgium; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Brussels, Belgium (driving)
Duration: Three weeks
Arranged through: Intervac

Our first home swap was a matter of good timing: We visited Paris twice over the preceding winter, thanks to some unusually inexpensive flights, so we got the rare chance to meet the family we’d be swapping with ahead of time and see the house. The swap itself was excellent, so much so that we started plotting for ever-longer swaps in future summers. And we have continued to visit Paris again and again, and not just on swaps.

2007: Paris, France

Mark (9) and Kelly (5) at the Park Esplanade des Invalides in Paris

Location: Fontenay-sous-Bois, France
Side-trip: Toulouse, France (train)
Duration: Four weeks
Arranged through: Intervac, friends

This was an unusual swap in that we swapped with a family living in an apartment in central Paris and had use of their car, but we actually stayed at a friend’s home outside of Paris because there was more space and it was near other friends of ours. It worked out great, but in stretching the swap time to four weeks, our daughter missed her friends back home, so we decided that three weeks was, in fact, the optimal time frame for a summer swap.

Key stories

I’ve Been Depardieu’d!
One Cathedral Too Many

2008: Dublin, Ireland

Steph and Paul at the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Location: Bettystown, Ireland
Side-trip: Northern Ireland (driving)
Duration: Three weeks
Arranged through: Intervac

This was the first time in which the home we stayed in was categorically nicer than our own home in the US, which was a weird feeling. But we always received a lot of swap requests from Ireland because of the large Irish population in Boston, and this was a great choice. We’d been all over much of Ireland before, so we specifically visited Northern Ireland on a side-trip, discovering that it is the most beautiful part of the island in the process.

2009: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Mark (11) and Kelly (7) at a playground near the home swap house in Amsterdam

Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Side-trip: Paris, France (train)
Duration: Three weeks
Arranged through: Friends

Paul has a friend who lives in Amsterdam and he was interested in our experiences swapping homes. (We had visited them on our side trip three years earlier.) So when his own children were young enough, he did his first swap with us. And we got to stay in his incredible three-story apartment right in the heart of Amsterdam.

2010: Germany

Kelly (8), delighted to be having tomato soup in Baden-Baden, Germany

Location: Weingarten, Germany
Side-trip: Stuttgart, Germany; Baden-Baden, Germany; Freiberg, Germany; Basel, Switzerland; Colmar, France; Strasbourg, France (driving)
Duration: Three weeks
Arranged through: Intervac        

This was an excellent swap, despite the remote location and some weirdness with the family we swapped with. Our understanding of Germans was—still is—that they tend to be very precise, and we had experiences with their desire to always follow the rules. But these folks, while nice, were horrible about the details, such that they didn’t provide us with the correct address to find their home and, at the end of the trip, never bothered to note the location of our car in a very large, multi-level garage. (It took us over an hour to find it.) Worse, after conversing with their neighbors, who had apparently been tasked with spying on us, they told us they were disappointed that we had had friends of ours in their house. So Steph showed them the email exchange in which we asked them if friends could stay in the house for a few days each at the start and end of our side-trip (for which they had come out to Europe). And the email in which they said that would be fine. Amazingly, they remained unconvinced. I will never understand the level of miscommunication we had with these people, but at least it didn’t undermine the swap.

2011: San Francisco, California (USA)

Steph riding a cable car in San Francisco, California

Location: Martinez, California
Side-trip: Los Angeles, California (airplane)
Duration: Two weeks
Arranged through: Intervac

After 2010’s misunderstanding with the Germans, we made sure to be as clear as possible with the next family, who were from London, England. For some reason, we continued procrastinating on buying our plane tickets, which ended up working out because the London family, first-time swappers, bailed on us at the last minute. So we had to scramble to find something quickly, and ended up doing our only non-European summer home swap (so far) with a couple from the San Francisco Bay area. It was fine, but were lucky to have not purchased tickets to London, and at great expense. We’re not sure how we would have handled that one.

2012: Rouen, France

Mark (14) and Kelly (10) at the D-Day beaches in Normandy, France

Location: Saint-Léger-du-Bourg-Denis, France
Side-trip: Paris, France (train); Honfleur, France; Bayeux, France; Mont Saint-Michel, France (driving)
Duration: Three weeks
Arranged through: Intervac

Like the Germany swap, this was a bit of a risk because the location was remote and we were afraid that there wouldn’t be anything fun for the kids. But it worked our wonderfully: There were several ropes courses nearby that the kids fell in love with, and nearby Rouen is quite pretty, with great sights and food. It also helped that we visited Paris twice and that our Normandy side-trip was excellent.

2013: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

King Mark (15) in Ghent, Belgium

Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Side-trip: Antwerp, Belgium; Ghent, Belgium; Brussels, Belgium (train)
Duration: Three weeks
Arranged through: Friends

Back to Amsterdam, again at Paul’s friend’s apartment in the city center. (And the beginning of a tradition in which we swap homes every 4-5 years or so.) For this trip, we wanted to try out a mini-version of something Paul had wanted to do for a long time, which is sightseeing in Europe via train. So we traveled by train to three cities in Belgium and had a blast.

2014: Barcelona, Spain

Kelly (12), Steph, and Mark (15) at the Cathedral of Barcelona

Location: Barcelona, Spain
Side-trip: Seville, Spain (airplane); Tangier, Morocco (Africa, bus and boat)
Duration: Three weeks
Arranged through: Intervac

We had visited both Madrid and Barcelona on separate winter trips and were eager to do a home swap in Spain. So we jumped at a chance to do so in Barcelona, which is one of our favorite cities. The only downside is that the apartment, which was otherwise beautiful and spacious, somehow lacked air conditioning, so we ended up buying 4 fans to keep the air moving. (We left them in the apartment, and the swap family later apologized, unnecessarily; that one was on us, we had never thought to check.) Our side trip was incredible, and fulfilled a long-time goal to visit Africa.

2015: Lyon, France

Kelly (13) and Mark (16) eating lunch outdoors in Lyon, France

Location: Lyon, France
Side-trip: Venice, Italy
Duration: Three weeks
Arranged through: Intervac

We’d always wanted to visit Lyon, which we viewed as a sort of Paris without the tourists (or sights). And that’s kind of accurate, though the city has a personality of its own. The high point here, honestly, is the food, and the general walkability of the place. Our kids would have been bored with this kind of trip when they were younger, but they had a great time. Our incredible, but hot, trip to Venice—one of the most gorgeous places on earth, period—helped, too.

2016: Paris, France

Kelly (14) and Steph at the Louvre in Paris

Location: Paris, France
Duration: Two weeks
Arranged through: Intervac

With Mark heading off to his first year of college, we had a tight schedule and, worse, Mark didn’t want to come along because he was leaving his high school friends soon. Amazingly, we got a swap request that perfectly matched our only free time that summer, a single two-week block of time. Best of all, we were finally able to do something we had wanted to try for years, and stay in an apartment right in the heart of Paris. It was amazing, but we wish Mark had come along. We didn’t go on any side-trips because we were only there for two weeks.

2017: Montreal, Canada

Steph and Kelly (15) meet the Easter Bunny in Montreal, Canada

Location: Montreal, Canada
Duration: Long weekend (driving)
Arranged through: Intervac

We randomly received a home swap request from Montreal for the Easter long weekend and turned it into a driving holiday in which we also visited Stowe, Vermont (where we were engaged a million years ago) and Pennsylvania (for a family event). Montreal is gorgeous, with plenty of sights and great restaurants. (We had previously visited here a handful of other times.)

2017: Barcelona, Spain

Family selfie in Barcelona

Location: Barcelona, Spain
Duration: Three weeks
Arranged through: Intervac

Barcelona is a no-brainer: Everyone loves it there, and we never run out of things to do. This time around, we were sure to book an apartment with air conditioning. And it was just two blocks from the Barcelona Beach, which was wonderful. Because we were in the middle of moving from the Boston area to the Philadelphia area at the time of this swap—we booked it before we even planned the move—we dropped the side-trip to save some money and just stuck to Barcelona.

Key stories

Night Swimming in the Mediterranean

2018: Stockholm, Sweden

Steph, Kelly (16), and Mark (20) in Stockholm, Sweden

Location: Tullinge, Sweden
Side-trip: Berlin, Germany (airplane)
Duration: Three weeks
Arranged through: Intervac

This is another example of a non-obvious destination, and it’s one we probably couldn’t have done when the kids were younger. But Stockholm is a beautiful city, with great food and sights, and we had a blast. The side-trip to Berlin was a first for the kids, but Steph and I had been there the year before for a long weekend.

2019: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Our next home swap destination!

Location: Hilversum, The Netherlands
Side-trip: TBD
Duration: Three weeks
Arranged through: Friends

We’re excited to undergo our third home swap with our friends from Amsterdam this coming summer. Since the previous swap, they’ve moved from an apartment in the city center to nearby Hilversum, so that will be a new experience. We have vague plans for a Germany side-trip, which we’ll write about as the date gets closer.