I Did A Home Exchange Like "The Holiday" And Here’s How It Went
Last Thanksgiving I decided to try my first home swap on the site HomeExchange. This is different from home rental places like Airbnb or VRBO, as there is no money exchanged. You either decide to do a reciprocal exchange, home for home, or offer guest points, which you earn along the way and they can use toward another home. There is a $150 annual fee, and you automatically score points toward a free stay when you sign up.
When Kathleen from Los Angeles reached out to me about Thanksgiving week, I instantly replied yes. She’d get my home in the country (Sonoma, CA) and I’d get her city digs, which looked beautiful from her profile, making me the Kate Winslet character in this The Holiday-style home swap.
We chatted over the phone to a) make sure we were not insane, b) “meet” each other, and c) talk logistics, like the cleaning plan, garbage day protocol, bringing our dogs, etc. We both have 8-year-olds, which was perfect because there would be plenty of new toys to keep them entertained on our respective trips.
The Pre-Host Prep
My living room, post-cleanup
Before the trip, I started to panic: Prepping my home for stranger-guests was an added stress to my already busy life. I’m pretty sure it was the first time I ever deep-cleaned my fridge, all the bedding needed to be washed and beds made, and I had to face my daughter’s room, which looked like a toy tornado had struck. Was this all going to be worth the effort? (Spoiler: YES).
I also decided not to bring my dog, who’s prone to carsickness. Kathleen offered to watch our dog (so nice!), but I didn't want to add the extra burden of puppy watching. But that was one difference between home swapping vs. home rental — it all felt more personal, casual, and friendly.
I chatted with Kathleen one more time to talk logistics, like where she left the key and what time we were both planning to arrive. I dropped off my pup at her hotel (feeling major dog-mom guilt) and we hit the road for L.A., car fully packed.
Photo courtesy of Kathleen Shannon
We finally arrived at Kathleen’s Brentwood home and I literally did a Winslet-style happy dance just like in the movie.
Her arrival text: We made it to your house! It is perfect! SO cute!!!
My arrival text: We just arrived! OMG, your house is amazing!It was basically a home exchange lovefest. What I didn’t see from her HomeExchange listing was the cool courtyard entry, the views out back, the modern architecture, long hallways and beautiful natural light flooding in. It felt like a spa - and I wanted the source for all her art, furniture and textiles, not to mention the perfectly curated coffee table books. She was also incredibly organized and labeled *everything*. I started to think back to my messy drawers and linen closet... sigh.
The Welcome Treats
Kathleen left us a bottle of wine, healthy snacks, a dog toy for our pup, a puzzle for my kiddo, and beautiful handmade soaps for my mom and me. I left them a bottle of wine, a bag of Atlas coffee, some soap, and free rein of what was left in the fridge. Clearly, she won the welcome treats game.
We had shared our favorite restaurants and things to do in our respective 'hoods. It was so nice to return to warm weather (70s to 80s in late November!) and experience a change of scenery. We drove to the beach 15 mins away, discovered new restaurants like The Butcher, The Baker, The Cappuccino Maker(their colorful lattes are so pretty!), visited the Getty Center, and I got to meet Brit + Co’s VP of Content, Ali Ives, IN PERSON for the first time after countless Zoom calls!
Ali Ives, Brit + Co's VP of Content (left) and me
And every night we got to come back to our cozy home, lounge outside with a glass of wine, play charades, and relish in the fact that we were saving a ton of money on lodging. We even had a Santa Ana storm like in the movie, firmly cementing my Winslet role.
Kathleen’s husband (who come to think of it had a Jude Law vibe in photos) fixed my fridge and they found my bike lock (cue prayer hands), we brought in each other’s packages, and shared local babysitter info. It was a match made in house-swap heaven.
Jump for joy: My daughter in Marina Del Rey, Thanksgiving Day
In the end, we had probably the best Thanksgiving ever - the day was warm and the beach was empty. We made lasagna in lieu of the traditional meal to satisfy vegetarian preferences, shared what we were thankful for and announced our “word” for 2023 (mine: adventure).
We cleaned up, packed up, and decided to stop in Santa Barbara on the way home, not ready to end our holiday adventure.
When we finally arrived home, we found our linens washed, beds made, and my linen closet fully organized! Kathleen left us another dog toy, a bottle of wine, more coffee, and a note thanking us for a wonderful stay. I left fresh flowers and a charades game while my daughter left a note for their son, thanking him for letting her play with all his toys.
I’m so glad I didn’t give in to my initial anxiety that planning this trip away from home was a mistake. I immediately came home and said yes to a Barcelona swap for my birthday next summer and reached out to a few exchangers for spring break next year. It was all the perfect ending to a perfect stay.
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Social image: Samson Katt; Main image courtesy of Kathleen Shannon
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Theresa Gonzalez is a content creator based in San Francisco and the author of Sunday Sews. She's a lover of all things design and spends most of her days momming her little one Matilda.