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Author Topic: House swapping can be more than you bargained for  (Read 2870 times)

Offline flopnfly

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House swapping can be more than you bargained for
« on: June 18, 2010, 07:25:35 AM »
House swapping can be more than you bargained for

Nancy Trejos Washington Post

WASHINGTON, D.C.—I thought I knew all I needed to know about my first potential houseguest from Facebook: her age, her religion, her relationship status. She also listed quite a few of her favourite things: favourite casino, favourite feeling, even favourite credit card.

But of course, I didn’t really know her at all. And that was the problem.

She lived in New York and wanted to visit Washington to see the cherry blossoms, and she wanted to stay with me. We had both recently joined, a nearly year-old online community that links travellers looking for places to stay with people who have rooms to spare.

It’s one of the newest twists in an ongoing travel trend: vacationers choosing the hospitality of strangers over the hospitality industry. But I wondered: Would we hit it off? As much as I studied New York Girl’s Facebook page, could I really know what it would be like to have a stranger live with me for three days? Would I feel comfortable being a stranger in someone else’s home?

In today’s economy, lots of budget-conscious travellers seem to have no problem staying in nearly random people’s guest rooms or swapping houses with people they’ve never met. Home exchange — a straight you-stay-in-my-place-while-I-stay-in-yours trade — is still the most popular option. Home-swapping site has seen its membership rise by about 20 per cent each year since it was started in 1999, to about 3,000 now., which is 18 years old, is getting 2,000 to 3,000 new listings a month and has a total of 36,000 worldwide.

“When the economy tanked, people realized that this is a great way to continue going on vacations without cutting into their budgets,” said Ed Kushins, the website’s president.

Casa Casa, by contrast, bills itself as a budget B&B. Members are asked to play host in their homes and provide breakfast. For $20 a year, you get access to the online profiles of potential hosts and guests. You can contact as many members as you want; they reserve the right to turn you down for any reason. Each member must host at least once a year, and each guest pays a daily $15 to $20 “gratuity” for clean sheets and breakfast. Since its creation last August, Casa Casa has attracted 180 members.

Lauren Braden, 35, a communications director in Seattle, got the idea for the website from the Affordable Travel Club, a similar online community her mother manages that’s limited to people 40 and older. Braden saw a market for travellers in their 20s and 30s: “They’re on a budget, but they’re past where they’d be staying in a hostel.”

I tried both Casa Casa and a home exchange. During the course of several months, I stayed with a family in Toronto and rattled around a big house in Denver. My apartment, in turn, housed a mother and daughter from Charlottesville, Va., a self-described slacker from New York and a spunky former journalist from the West.

Everyone was lovely, and we all tried hard. But some arrangements worked out better than others.

When New York Girl introduced herself via e-mail, she said, “I am clean, conscientious, independent, curious, and laid back.” On her Casa Casa page, she listed her occupation as “slacker.” She was actually a paralegal, but I took it as a sign that she had a good sense of humour.

I agreed to let her stay for three nights. On the day of her arrival I waited all day to hear from her, but no word. She finally called before getting on a bus at 6:30 p.m.

She arrived close to 1 a.m. and immediately asked to use my laptop. To my dismay, she also let me know she was up around 7 the next morning — a Saturday, no less. She declined an elaborate breakfast I had arranged and opted for a banana.

As we sat in my living room, she peppered me with questions. Did I have siblings? Did I want to have kids someday? Did I want to buy a house? It was too early in the morning for me to think about those things.

I didn’t think we were clicking, but as she headed out to sightsee, she asked what I was doing that evening. I told her I had dinner plans with a friend. “Let me know where you’re going,” she said.

My friend agreed to let her crash our girls’ night out. It was a warm evening and the outdoor patios beckoned, but my houseguest balked. “I get cold easily,” she said. Our plans to dine al fresco scuttled, we ate indoors, struggling to make conversation.

On her final morning, she walked me to the bus stop and hugged me. “Thanks so much,” she said. “I’ll buy you a drink in New York.”

That was nice, but somehow, I didn’t think it would happen.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

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