Most exchangers find their own way to their house exchange. We recommend a more complicated approach: Meeting the exchange family, either at our house, their place, or occasionally at the airport.
This face-to-face meeting builds trust, confidence, and friendship. There’s opportunity to be shown how the TV system works with an expert right there to guide you step by step. This is easier than reading the manual and trying to figure it out. You might get to meet friends or neighbors, eating and drinking with them is easier than calling them up because their name is in the manual as a resource.
Case Study: Netherlands
Our exchange with Jan and Maria of the Netherlands illustrates this process. He was there to pick us up at Schiphol. It feels great to be met at the airport by a respectable guy holding a sign with your name on it. We arrived at his mini-van, he gave me the keys. I benefited from learning to drive in the Netherlands with an experienced teacher. He also found time to instruct my wife in the use of his navigation system.
We arrived at their lovely home and got a complete tour of it. We had time for him to show us the town center, supermarket, wine store, discount shop, and railway station. They had invited neighbors and we shared a convivial dinner under the stars on their patio. Their home was large so we all spent the night there. We went over a list of instructions for our house and gave them the keys to our van with detailed instructions on where it was parked at SFO. The next morning I drove them to Schiphol. As we chatted he mentioned a fact I didn’t know—their town had the second highest per capita income in the country. After dropping them off I managed to get home safely making only one wrong turn. Meeting Jan and Maria was practical, the greater reward is that Jan and I stay in touch by e-mail and have become and remained friends.
The Alternate Approach
Preparation and planning can substitute for the red carpet treatment recommended above. If you are picking up their car you need to have keys and its exact location. Be sure you have a map and directions to their house. Avoid traversing a city during rush hour. Make sure you know what kind of gas the car uses. Have local currency in case you need to pay tolls or buy coffee to stay awake. Be sure you understand how to open the front door. Many European homes have complicated systems that require the handle to be pushed up or down while you are turning the key. Yes, we have heard of more than one exchange family that couldn’t get in their exchange home because of this problem. If the home has a burglar alarm you need the code, location of the keypad, and special password when the monitoring service calls to ask why the alarm is ringing.
Our next lesson will be tips on how to quickly get up to speed on your home away from home.