February 21, 2023 | 19:04
Lizzi Seear said she was used to discounted accommodations working for a hotel chain, but after changing jobs, she was looking for a new way to vacation on the cheap.
She has been around the world for 80 holidays.
Lizzi Seear, 51, claims she has toured 84 countries in the past six years with her partner Alun Westoll, 52 – and she has only paid for the plane ticket.
Seear said she was used to discounted accommodations working for IHG Hotels & Resorts, but after changing jobs, she was looking for a new way to vacation on the cheap.
Cue HomeExchange. The site has listings worldwide with an annual membership starting at $175 a year. There are a number of homes to stay in at no extra cost – the only catch is that you swap homes with the owner of the holiday destination.
“I’ve stayed in some amazing places, including a two-week stint in Bali,” Seear told the Sun. “I got to stay in a two-bed private villa in Bali that had its own private pool and a housekeeper who brought breakfast every morning.”
“It was a real pinch-me moment because the whole trip only cost us £400 for the flights,” added Seear, who also revealed she had traveled to Italy, Spain, Finland, Hungary and Germany.
HomeExchange is an alternative to the popular rental service Airbnb, which has fallen into hot water with NYC officials. The app not only succeeds in elbowing its way into the housing market and damaging the hotels’ earnings, but also has some critics who accuse it of having contributed to the city’s housing crisis.
In January, new crackdowns on short-term rental sites came into force, preventing hosts from renting out an “entire registered residential unit” and requiring them to also provide proof of permanent residence as well as diagrams and leases. Failure to comply with the new regulations could cost hosts up to $5,000, with Airbnb fined $1,500 per violation.
Seear said she was hesitant to list her unit on Airbnb, explaining that she felt better with HomeExchange because of the “trust” between fellow travelers who are in the “same situation.”
She said she has hosted 48 visitors at her home in Ealing, west London, over six years, and remembers the first time guests ever stayed there was “the weirdest”, despite them being “lovely people. “
During periods when she was away at work and wanted to rent out her home rather than trade, the site allowed her to accumulate trade-in “points” to use at a later time. Now she not only travels to tourist spots – Barcelona is her favorite – she also tries to visit hidden gems.
“I started looking at Baden-Baden in Germany and thought the Black Forest looked very beautiful,” she said. “We stayed in a really beautiful home, which was a 10-minute walk from the (city) center and in the middle of the black forest.”
Vodafone staff are encouraging people to try house swapping, assuring reluctant travelers that it’s “not about the size or location” of their home. Just “as long as you have a comfortable bed and free up some wardrobe space,” that’s what matters.
“I went to an apartment in Bologna, which looked like it hadn’t been dusted in a month,” she revealed. “We kept our things in our suitcases, but we were only 10 minutes outside the center of Bologna.”
“People need to make the most of what they have,” she added. “Your home doesn’t have to be big or spacious or in London because you never know where people will live.”
HomeExchange seems straight out of the iconic 2006 rom-com “The Holiday” — in which Cameron Diaz’s character swaps homes with a British journalist played by Kate Winslet — and manages to find small-town love.
An unlikely couple even shared a similar meet-cute via the HomeExchange website in 2021, when a New York woman swapped homes with a Londoner and met her British Prince Charming. But she reported in December that she is no longer with the man.
However, the two women who changed homes formed a friendship from the experience.
“Neither of us is still with the man we met: Despite grand plans, the stretch of the Atlantic was a greater force than the simmering romantic connection I found,” wrote Lizzie Frainier in the Telegraph. “But somehow my friendship with Camille grew stronger as the months went by.”