We just came back from a fantastic vacation in New York. Even though we do this almost every year, each time it’s a completely new experience. This is because we always manage to stay in a different, extraordinary apartment each time. So many people ask how we manage this, that I thought it was worth writing about.
We are swappers. (No, I don’t trade in Domenico, my Italian architect husband for a different model) We exchange our five-bedroom villa in Umbria for a week in a fantastic flat in NY. I recently wrote a short piece about this in Town & Country, but since they don’t post any content online (hard to believe) it’s worth going over again. (although here is a link to a pdf of the piece).
Although a lot of my friends do swaps all the time, through web sites like Home Exchange or Craig’s List, I do things a bit differently. Here’s the drill: In October I write up a short email. “Five Bedroom villa with pool in Umbria (for summer use) in exchange for downtown apartment big enough for a family of four, for a week at Christmas.” I do this by word of mouth. But since I have a pretty big mouth, I manage to get the word out there. And these days, with contacting hundreds of people just a click away, who doesn’t have a far reach? I ask friends to forward the email to others and before I know it (I usually start getting responses within 15 minutes of hitting send) the offers start to roll in.
I’m not sure if it’s the economy, but this year more people than ever responded. I think that the idea of paying nothing in exchange for a pretty lux summer vacation has become too hard to resist. This year it was really difficult to choose from among the dozens of offers we got. How to decide between a four-bedroom apartment with park views on the Upper West Side and a duplex loft in Tribeca with wrap-around terraces? Since we usually end up choosing a downtown option (nearer to our best friend Edward’s home and restaurant) the duplex loft it was.
One thing that I think makes us so lucky is that we are looking for an apartment in New York during a period when most people are away anyway, on Christmas vacation. And in exchange, we offer a perfect family vacation during school holidays. A no-brainer.
The one thing that most people ask me is: But you know the people, right? Well, no, we usually don’t know them at all. They may be friends of friends of friends...but in the end, does it really matter? We started renting out our home in Umbria a few years ago, so that sort of broke us in, in terms of letting ‘strangers’ into our home. To tell the truth, we have two kids and a dog, so usually whoever comes to stay at our house can’t compete with the wear and tear of my own family. In fact, I usually find our villa in better condition than when I left it. And of course, we always leave our New York home in pristine condition for our swapper’s return. And a few of bottles of wine makes their re-entry to frigid, snow-filled New York a little easier too.