I Swapped Homes With A Stranger Like In ‘The Holiday’ & Here’s The Biggest Lesson I Learned

Tanya Ghahremani/Bustle; Columbia Pictures

If someone claims that they’ve never compared their life to someone else’s, just a note: They’re straight up lying. It’s as common a human experience as death and taxes are, which is why the 2006 film The Holiday is still so damn resonating in modern pop culture, despite being nearly 13 years old. Starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, the film depicted two women — a stressed, high-powered Hollywood executive, and an unlucky in love wedding columnist from London, respectively — who swap homes after connecting on a home swap vacation website. By the end of the film, the women’s lives are forever changed, both from living in someone else’s world as well as from watching someone else appreciate their life in ways they never did. It’s a goddamn classic that taps into the secret desire many of us have to escape from our own lives into someone else’s shinier, more put-together one. Of course, The Holiday is a movie. Could that type of life therapy be possible by actually swapping homes with a stranger, IRL?

Of course, home swap companies really exist. Airbnb, for instance, could be considered one — however, unlike in The Holiday, there’s no real feature to set up a home swap between two users. Home swap sites like the one in The Holiday are a thing, however — for instance, Love Home Swap. As creator Ben Wosskow told Bustle in 2018, he specifically based Love Home Swap on The Holiday. To sign up, users must commit to listing their own home on the site; once they’re approved, they can then connect with other users to swap homes with each other. Travel dates between users don’t have to match up exactly, either; if one user is looking for a home for one week, for instance, and another user has other travel plans that will leave their home empty for at least a week, they can make their home available for stays even though they won’t be swapping with any other users. It’s kind of like a more flexible version of The Holiday, adjusted for the modern day.

I only learned about Love Home Swap in 2018 from Wosskow himself during a brief meeting in NYC, but the idea of home swapping had been on my travel bucket list ever since I saw The Holiday in theaters. However, despite being an avid traveler, I’d never actually tried a home swap. It wasn't that I had a problem staying in someone else’s home — instead, it was always the idea of someone else staying in my home that gave me pause. A person’s home is ground zero for their deepest, darkest secrets, and home swapping requires two virtual strangers to let each other in on them with open arms. You have to be prepared to be emotionally vulnerable quite quickly, and leap before you look. It’s terrifying.

But, after Love Home Swap heard of my own personal love of The Holiday, the company was kind enough to offer me the opportunity to experience the site — and home swapping — for myself. Despite my anxieties, seizing the day was at the forefront of my 2019 goals. I couldn’t pass up the slight chance that this experience, though very much out of my comfort zone, could enhance my travels. Plus, I just really love The Holiday... and I would be lying if I didn’t say that a tiny part of me was hoping to meet my version of Jude Law during this trip. After all, any vacation based off The Holiday was going to have a magical quality to it; anything could happen.

So, I did it. I leapt before looking, and honestly, I’m so glad I did. Thanks to Love Home Swap, I finally home swapped — and ended up loving it, too.

The Home You Stay In Will Probably Be The Polar Opposite Of Yours

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The beauty of Love Home Swap is the variety of properties available on the site. Your home could be a small apartment in New York City that seems totally blah to you — but to someone who lives elsewhere and wants the authentic New York experience, it might be perfect. On the flip side of things, their giant villa in Tuscany might be perfect for you. Both travelers can get a totally different experience without any difference in cost; the only money you pay is your annual membership fee (which starts at $11) to Love Home Swap. Once a prospective home swapper joins the website, they're prompted to list their home for other swappers to peruse. After that's done, users are able to connect with other members and start setting up home swaps.

In my case, Love Home Swap set me up to stay in a beautiful one-bedroom flat in the Little Venice neighborhood of London belonging to a woman named Jane; which, with its high ceilings, preserved crown molding, balcony, and sprawling square footage, was a far cry from the three-bedroom apartment I share with two other girls in NYC. When I say that my first walk-through of the apartment was pretty much exactly like the scene in The Holiday when Kate Winslet explores the giant Hollywood mansion she’s spending her vacation in, I’m not exaggerating: I felt like goddamn royalty. There was a balcony!

Make Sure You Have The Contact Information You Need

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My experience didn’t start out exactly like The Holiday — which is to say, for a couple of hours, I couldn't even secure my key to Jane's flat. See, within the first few hours of landing in London, I learned the funniest thing about home swapping: much of the time, you never even meet the person you’re swapping with. In my case, upon landing at Gatwick airport in London, all I had from Jane were instructions to pick up the keys to her flat at a nearby café, and that they’d be with a man named Alberto. Simple enough, but like with many simple things, there was a rather large snag: Upon my arrival, Alberto didn’t have the keys. Since neither of us had her contact information, I was effectively stranded without a way into my flat.

So, there I was — running on a few hours of sleep after a red-eye flight, luggage in tow, wandering the streets of Little Venice to find the flat building that I didn’t have a key to. Glam. Learn from my mistakes, kids: Always make sure you have the phone number of the person you are home swapping with on hand in case there is a snafu such as this one. In my case, I managed to casually loiter outside the building (sorry, tenants I probably creeped out!) until I received a message from a Love Home Swap employee that Jane had actually left the keys with her neighbor because Alberto’s café had been closed upon her departure. (Considering it was quite early on a Saturday morning when this was all happening, bless Love, Swap, Home for looking out for me.)

Mishaps Will Happen; Look At Them As Peeks Into Another Person’s World

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Though the missing key experience wasn’t the most fun way to start out my home swap adventure, I do have to admit that it was sort of a nice intro into Jane’s daily environment. The café where the keys were originally going to be kept is somewhere that Jane clearly frequented, to the point where its owner knew her by name; and the neighbor who ultimately had the key was the woman who lived in the flat above her, whom Jane was clearly friendly with. I never met Jane or even spoke to her, and I likely never will — but even just being around people who knew her made me feel like I was truly walking in her shoes.

This feeling was only amplified once I finally got into the flat, of course. Unlike many Airbnbs I’ve stayed in, Jane’s home looked genuinely lived in — her things were in the closets, photos of her and her family lined the shelves, and there were even thriving plants on the balcony. It had a homey quality absent from hotels and Airbnbs that are clearly run by vacation home companies, and it just made me feel all the more like I was starring in my own version of The Holiday. Any moment now, a dashing Englishman would knock on my door looking for Jane, find me instead, and we’d get brunch.

Even If You Never Meet Your Home Swapper, You’ll Learn Tons About Them

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The thing I found the most moving from my home swapping experience was the sheer amount of things you can learn about a person by just spending even a few hours in their home. All I had from Jane was a lovely handwritten note that she’d stuck with the key to her flat, and a booklet she kept in the kitchen for guests that included house rules and recommendations for the neighborhood. Yet, I can tell you a number of things about her:

  • She’s a lawyer.
  • She has children.
  • She doesn’t watch a lot of television, which she herself noted in the guest booklet, but she has a smart TV that guests are welcome to try and figure out.
  • She’s an avid traveler, with Lonely Planet guidebooks for Indonesia and Turkey.
  • She enjoys films featuring Hugh Grant, as indicated by the fact that she has Music and Lyrics, Notting Hill, Love Actually, Bridget Jones’s Diary (two copies!), Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, and Paddington 2 on DVD.
  • She does not have The Holiday on DVD, though.
  • At one point, she was learning Italian, and still has the cassette tape lessons.
  • Her music taste ranges from Eminem to Queen to the soundtrack for Phantom of the Opera.
  • She enjoys having plants.
  • We wear the same shoe size.
  • She has excellent taste in tote bags:
Tanya Ghahremani/Bustle

Despite the fact I’ve never met Jane and likely never will, I feel as if I know her at least a bit simply from living in her flat, meeting her neighbors and local café owners, watering her plants, and being in her world.

You Probably Won’t Meet Jude Law

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Honestly, the closest I got to thinking this is it! over meeting my Jude Law happened on Day 2. I walking into the building that morning, and saw a handsome man walking down the stairs I was about to begin walking up. He did a double-take when he saw me and I smiled, because you know, flirting, and then began going upstairs — only to hear him say, “Excuse me?”

I turned around. It’s happening, I thought. “Yeah?”

Not-Jude Law smiled, before proceeding to utter the three words that ruined it all: “Are you Samantha?”

My Jude Law thought I was named Samantha. Romantic, considering my name is Tanya. End of encounter.

You’ll Return Home Inspired

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This was a biggie for me. When I went into this trip, I was hoping for an experience like The Holiday — and in a way, I kind of got it. Though I didn’t end up meeting my Jude Law, my two days living in Jane’s flat were the most relaxed I’d felt in a while. This realization didn’t hit me until the end of my stay, but it eventually became clear that I couldn’t feel as comfortable and relaxed in my own home as I could in Jane’s because I wasn’t offering my space the same amount of care I was offering hers.

Weirdly, it hit me when I was packing my clothes from Jane’s dresser drawer back into my suitcase — I had the absent-minded thought that the ease with which I was packing wouldn’t be possible at home because my own dresser drawer set had been broken for ages, and the drawers barely worked. As a result, an organization system in my dresser at home was nonexistent. But in Jane’s place, I kept things neat, and retrieved my clothes with ease. After all, I was a guest in Jane’s flat — why wouldn’t I make every effort I could to keep things neat? I made sure to water her plants, keep things sparkling clean, make sure the bed and linens were perfectly made every day, etc. In my own space at home, I let things get chaotic, with the excuse that I was so busy with work and my social life that I didn’t have time to organize and keep things tidy. And it was, subconsciously, stressing me out. I had no excuse to not treat my own space as if I were a guest there as well; after all, we’re all our own guests when we’re at home.

Upon returning home, I made a point to be better about getting my room in order. I finally got rid of that broken dresser in my room and invested in a better one that actually works; I rearranged my furniture to maximize the amount of space in my room, eliminating the clutter; I donated all my old clothes I didn’t wear anymore; I even wallpapered one of the walls in my room to give it a happier, brighter vibe.

And it worked. I still feel that sense of relaxation I felt at Jane’s home, except now, I do in my own room. I know it sounds strange that a home swap experience is responsible for this, but one of the most beautiful things about travel is that we often take home a lot more than just souvenirs and memories.

Tanya Ghahremani/Bustle

Overall, home swapping is something I would recommend anyone try; you may not find your soulmate like Cameron Diaz in The Holiday, but I guarantee you will find out more about yourself than you expected. And, no disrespect to Jude Law, but that’s worth way more than him any day.