Author: Life of Reilly (page 2 of 2)

House Swap review: what’s it like to do a Home Exchange?

Our holiday/vacation House Swap in California

A few weeks ago, we explained why we wanted to try a Home Swap for the first time and how we made it happen.

It’s not, usually, as simple as grabbing a coffee, jumping on your computer, choosing a house you like the look of and agreeing a deal before your drink’s even cold. It can take some time – and effort – to get seal a deal. So, we went through the process that helped us get two weeks’ “free” accommodation in San Diego.

After spending weeks organising the swaps, flying thousands of miles to California and relying solely on the swappers for shelter when we landed, the big questions everyone asked us when we got home were: was it worth it and what was it like?

You’ve probably watched the video above, which gives you a snapshot but we can go into far more detail in an article.

It begins at home

The House Swap began before we’d even left England. We were in contact with our two swappers through our Home Exchange service (we went with Love Home Swap – you can find out why in this article) but it had been a few months since we’d arranged the exchange.

A few weeks before we were due to fly, an email came in from the family whose home we were going to stay in when we first landed.

Emily and Dan Palmer own their own mortgage planning service (check them out if you want to buy a house in California!) so it wasn’t a surprise when we received an ultra-efficient, and professional looking, attachment from them.

The first house was owned by the Palmer family from Encinitas.

The first house was owned by the Palmer family from Encinitas.

The little booklet had everything we needed to know about staying in their home in Encinitas – from how to get into the house when we arrived, what day the wheelie-bins needed to go out, contact numbers and, how to turn the Home Theatre system on – to the most important piece of info: how to get the Hot Tub going and what temperature it should be!!

This re-assured us that the people – and the house – were genuine and that we wouldn’t have to look for a hotel when we all stumble, jet-lagged, off the plane.

I mean, would criminals go as far as choosing a nice font for the booklet and leaving phone numbers (that we could check), just so they could steal our car and spending money when we arrived at the address they gave us? Don’t answer that!

Anyway, this allayed a lot of fears and we were now starting to get very excited about the trip.

Our La Jolla swappers – the Ferguson family – took a different approach and said they’d love to meet up with us in person to show us around.

It was also their first swap, so I think it was good way to reassure them that we weren’t “crazies” that were going to steal their home, identities and never let them back inside!

Time to fly

A nice babycino in the Airport Lounge before take-off - kids have it so good these days!!

A nice babycino in the Airport Lounge before take-off – kids have it so good these days!!

One of the perks of Love Home Swap was the promise of free Airport Lounge passes when take on their Standard and Platinum level membership levels. This wasn’t a deal breaker for us but it was that extra bit of luxury – a word that doesn’t usually mix with young children – that we could all enjoy before our long flight.

In the main Departures Lounge, the food is always really expensive and seating is cramped so it is always a treat to eat a “free” hot meal, grab some “free” snacks and magazines for the journey and prepare yourself for the storm that’s about to arrive. I’m not sure why I added free in inverted commas, as we didn’t pay for the passes, really!

Unfortunately, despite arriving at the airport three hours early to enjoy the food and facilities in the No.1 Traveller Lounge, we got stuck checking-in for an hour-and-a-half so we were close to not even bothering to go inside!! And believe me, forget having two toddlers waiting in a queue, there’s nothing worse than a delay at check-in when you know there’s sausage and bacon waiting for you on the other side of security! We did, however, manage to get 20 minutes in the Lounge and stuff a bacon sarnie down our throats before we had to board.

Arriving in California

Catching the plane to California!

We survived the Trans-Atlantic flights with our two kids (click here for our tips on flying with babies and toddlers) and were now hugging and greeting Alicia’s family in San Diego Airport’s arrivals lounge. The sun was setting across the bay and we now had a 30 minute drive north to Encinitas where I only had one thing on my mind: “Please let the house exist and not be a scam. We’ve been travelling for 20 hours – I don’t care if the house isn’t that good, just let it be there.”

The nerves really kicked in as we drove into the street. What if there was a family in there, unaware that someone else had put it up for a swap? There were no lights on in the house when we did arrive. The whole road was really dark. This could be good or bad. I got out of the car by myself and slowly walked up to the door which had a tiny, matchbox-style safe where we were told the key would be. I put in the code. It didn’t work. I tried it again. Nothing.

I knew it must be the right house – and why would all of the other instructions be correct, even down to the location of the key? If we did have to get a hotel for the first night, I was confident we’d be able to get in the following day. I tried the code one more time and then slid the button down instead of up, and off came the top of the safe to reveal a shiny silver key!!

I opened the door and turned on the light. This didn’t look like the house that we’d seen in the pictures…it was twice as big!! I ran excitedly back to the car to get the others.

The first swap

The house was so much bigger than we expected!

The house was so much bigger than we expected!

American homes are always bigger than English ones but when you’ve seen the photos of a house you think you’d know what it would look like.

Let’s just say the house was so big that I’d often get annoyed if I left something in the bedroom and I was in the kitchen because it was such a long walk back to pick it up again!

We also decided to put Samantha’s Travel Cot (Pack and Play, for Americans) in one of the walk-in wardrobes in the master bedroom because it was the same size as her room back in England – and it meant that we were less likely to wake her when we went to bed!

The ultra-modern furnishings made the house feel like a boutique hotel but it was still comfortable and very family friendly. It was super-clean and tidy but there were family photos up, which you kind of felt bad looking at, at first because it felt nosey, but it was actually really nice and – I’m not spiritual or into those weird aura things – but it did feel like we were staying in a very happy home.

The house was furnished beautifully - like a boutique hotel.

The house was furnished beautifully – like a boutique hotel.

The trust in the house was amazing: clothes were still in the wardrobes, instead of being hidden somewhere else. Their expensive appliances and even their home office was all open and accessible. There was even loose change left around the house. It felt great that they trusted us so much!

We were always going to treat the house better than our own but the faith they showed in us, made us even more determined to make this happen: to minimise mess/accidents we kept the kids out of the formal lounge area. We also made sure that one of us was with them all of the time, which we wouldn’t do at our home.

What is cooler than a zip line in your garden?

What is cooler than a zip line in your garden?

Not only was the house much bigger than we thought but we’d forgotten that the website showed pictures of the garden, which had a play structure and zip line. It was awesome!

We also forgot about how important toys are for kids. We had brought Dylan and Samantha’s favourite Teddy Bears with them but that was it, really. This house had everything a four-year-old boy could dream of: infinite lego sets, Star Wars toys, dressing up clothes, full pump-action Nerf guns with fully-stocked sponge ammo. The list – and the toys – could go on, which is one reason we ended up only letting him play with certain sets to minimise things getting lost or broken.

In the end, it was Samantha who did the only damage during the swap after she decided to eat Nerf bullets for breakfast. They were quick and easy to replace from the local Walmart…it could have been a lot worse!

Living in Encinitas

Don't worry, Encinitas isn't just a street - there's a beautiful beach and some great surfing spots, including one made famous by the Beach Boys! Name the beach in the Comments section!

Don’t worry, Encinitas isn’t just a street – there’s a beautiful beach and some great surfing spots, including one made famous by the Beach Boys! Name the beach in the Comments section!

We’d visited Encinitas on previous trips to San Diego but we didn’t quite find its charm. We stayed at Alicia’s sister’s house just north of the town and went surfing at a quiet beach which had some steep cliffs watching over us. It didn’t feel like the usual beach towns that were lucky enough to be on Route One.

This time, we saw it through totally different eyes. We were a couple of minutes away from the main street of Encinitas, with its cool cafes and surf-themed shops. We also found the “real” beach, which had car parking, a playground, volleyball courts and lots of space to spread out and enjoy being next to the ocean.

Encinitas is around 40 minutes from Downtown San Diego but the Palmer’s house was just a few blocks from the freeway, so it didn’t hurt that much when we did a long drive.

At first we tried to get out of the house as much as possible so that we didn’t “over-use” the house and so there was less chance we could break anything. But, after a few days we realised that was silly and we were really lucky to be living in such an amazing house so we started trying to use the Hot Tub once a day and invited Alicia’s family over for a BBQ.

What's better than a zip line? Oh yeah, a hot tub!!

What’s better than a zip line? Oh yeah, a hot tub!!

We also got talking to the neighbours, who were really friendly – one had just had a baby. We really enjoyed chatting and meeting up with them every day – we did feel as though we fitted in and it began to feel like our home by the time the week was up. The neighbours said that we reminded them of the Palmers and that we would really get on with them, which was nice to hear.

We had been left instructions on how to leave the house – and how much to pay for a cleaner who would return the house to the exact state that we had left it in.

At the end of the week, we were really disappointed to be leaving but we had a fun trip to Northern California planned – and we knew that we had another swap waiting for us when we came back down to San Diego.

School report One

The Palmer family from Encinitas, San Diego.

The Palmer family from Encinitas, San Diego.

Emily and Dan Palmer have two boys. Hudson, who’s 8, and Wyatt is 4.

They had taken their two kids and RV up to Canada for an extended trip of their own while we were in Encinitas.

We only had to contact them once while we were out there: San Diego had 100 years of July rainfall in one day when we were out there and there was the tiniest leak (an egg cup of water, at most) which we wanted to make them aware of.

I didn’t want to scare them with a phone-call, so just texted, and they were so relaxed and nice about it all. I was so glad that I told them all about it rather than leaving it until they saw a note, no matter how minor the problem was.

This next bit, I’ve left for the Palmers to write about their experience of having us stay at theirs. Fingers crossed they say nice things!

Emily said: “I felt really comfortable doing the House Swap, especially after we chatted via email.

“Our house is kind of built with an indoor/outdoor feel so it’ very tolerant with lots of people and little ones. I’m from a big family and I’ve always thought the more the merrier with friends and entertaining!

The Palmer family went to Canada with our points.

The Palmer family went to Canada with our points.

“We stayed at a beautiful home on the cliffs, right outside of Vancouver, on an island called Bowen Island. We had one of our best, most memorable trips ever – our boys still keep asking when we can go back.

“From our end, the swap was wonderful – you guys were excellent guests.

“I loved communicating with you, before and after and our home looked perfect when we arrived back. Our neighbors loved you – and you brought us thank you gifts – everything went better than expected!

“I love house swapping and we’re planning on being gone even longer than the 30 days we were gone last summer!”

Phew, I think we got away with it!

The Second Swap

As I mentioned before, the owners of the second home in La Jolla wanted to meet up and show us around their house in person.

If you’re not from the UK and don’t follow Very British Problems on Twitter, you might not know how much Brits hate awkward social situations. The idea of having a stranger show another stranger where they were going to eat, sleep and relax in their own home sounded very cringey on paper but in reality, it was really good.

We were all put at ease within seconds when we all quickly realised that everyone was nice and normal and our kids started playing together straight away.

Bob Ferguson owns a successful Building Contracting business, while his partner, Mary, is a Fitness Instructor. They have two children who were the same age as ours when we were out there, which worked really well.

This was Fergusons’  first swap, so they were – quite rightly – anxious about having strangers live in their home so they asked us to sign up to Love Home Swap Security Deposit scheme, in case of any accidents.

The outside BBQ even had a searer for perfectly cooked steak and salmon. I burnt the fish...but check out Ballast Point Sculpin beer when in San Diego!

The outside BBQ even had a searer for perfectly cooked steak and salmon. I burnt the fish…but check out Ballast Point Sculpin beer when in San Diego!

The home exchange service recommends $100 per night, so we were happy and ready to hand over an $800 refundable deposit for our stay. What we weren’t happy about was Love Home Swap’s 10% fee for the privilege of holding our cash – you know how much I like to save money – which was a good percentage of our annual membership fee!

So, when we arranged  the swap, we also agreed to hand over our deposit via cash or a cheque in person – everyone was happy with the outcome. Bob tried to give the cheque back to us that day when he realised we were normal but I insisted he kept it until we had left, for everyone’s peace of mind.

Our visit finished really well – even after Dylan whacked their daughter in the face with a light sabre just as we were about to leave – and we were given the key and told to invite family round to enjoy their amazing outdoor entertaining area.

Living in La Jolla

There's a different place to watch an amazing sunset every night in La Jolla!

There’s a different place to watch an amazing sunset every night in La Jolla!

La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya, Brits) is just 20 minutes from Downtown San Diego and is home to some of the most expensive homes in the world. It all becomes obvious when you see the Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Lamborghini showrooms next to each other. This isn’t your normal beach town.

It’s also very special for its wildlife and village style living. It’s one of the rare towns in California that you can walk everywhere and you don’t need a car. From our house we could walk 15 minutes and be at Windansea beach, which has some great rock-pools to explore. If we walk 15 minutes north, we were at La Jolla Cove, famous for its seals and beautiful wildlife.

At the end of our road was La Jolla Village, which had a supermarket, plus lots of coffee houses, diners, restaurants and the famous Comedy Store (the only one outside of Hollywood).

The house was smaller than the previous one in Encinitas but there was much less to break so we felt as though we could relax a tiny bit more there. Their children were a little smaller, so the toys were also harder to break, which was also a plus! I’d definitely recommend trying to swap with people who are the same age as yours.

Outside living is where it's at in San Diego.

Outside living is where it’s at in San Diego.

The outside areas of the house were stunning. The sofa area on the decking area was perfect for reading a book, with a coffee, while the rest of the family pop to the shops.

The outside kitchen had industry-standard appliances, including a searing grill for steaks and fish. There was a Sonos system to make it feel as though you were in a beach bar. The pizza oven looked great and Bob encouraged me to use it, but it looked waaaay too complicated, even after watching a few YouTube videos. (He’s promised a demo and family pizza night with them, the next time we’re in San Diego!)

The outside kitchen in the house in La Jolla is perfect for entertaining.

The outside kitchen in the house in La Jolla is perfect for entertaining.

It was the perfect base for visiting friends and family, who live further north and south of us, but it also gave us our own space to hang out and have “chill days” where we just hung out, grabbed a coffee and walked around La Jolla, before watching the sunset at the cove.

School report Two

The Fergusons on the rollercoaster outside their Home Swap in Colorado! Photo: Bob Ferguson

The Fergusons on the rollercoaster outside their Home Swap in Colorado! Photo: Bob Ferguson

We were Bob and Mary’s first house swappers but they’ve now swapped three times in six months, including San Francisco and an upcoming trip to Mexico.

They basically won House Swapping with the Points they used from our swap. They recently travelled to Colorado where the resort they stayed at would usually cost $10,000 a night and has some very cool perks.

Mary explained: “We had a blast in Colorado. In Breckenridge, we stayed at a place called One Ski Hill Place. It’s located right on the mountain and had a private bowling alley, which we reserved for just the four of us. It also included ski valet and a private movie theatre where we watched Toy Story!

“If that wasn’t enough, it also had a rollercoaster ride, right in front of the hotel, which takes your around the mountain!”

Bob said: “I have to say, I love this house swapping gig. I just wish I didn’t have to work!”


So, there you go. It all went a bit too well. We saved so much money on our trip – and had the “living in another country” experience with all of the comforts of home.

We’re up for House Swapping again soon, and we’ll be sure to let you know how we get on in the future!

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this blog post, click anywhere on this sentence to find our top tips for finding a swap.



Exploring the Jurassic Coast – and ‘Broadchurch’ – in Dorset

When you think about exploring rugged coastal landscapes your mind automatically goes to Big Sur in California, Atlantic Drive in Ireland and, closer to home, maybe the wild west of Wales. I never realised we had a mini version a couple of hours from us, in Dorset!

I went to uni in Bournemouth and heard lots about the so-called Jurassic Coast that was nearby – mainly because the original films had just come out and it sounded cool – but in reality I was too busy eating £1 microwave meals from Asda and partying studying to even think about visiting a World Heritage Site that was just 40 mins away!

We did Big Sur last year (full itinerary and video coming very soon!) and we’ve also done Ireland and Wales a few times, so Dorset always felt a bit too close – and easy – for a trip.

We finally got there last weekend though, when we visited the region for my sister’s 40th birthday.

As you’ll find out below, we didn’t expect it to have such amazing views – or to stumble across the filming location of a big ITV drama – so we didn’t record any video. Don’t worry, we’ve learned our lesson.

Here’s what we did. Let us know what you think, if you go!

Day 1 – Weymouth

Weymouth 2016 wahoo!

Weymouth 2016 wahoo!

A trip to the seaside is a great place to start any trip with kids. Weymouth has a wide and sandy beach. It has all of the nostalgic attractions on the seafront that will remind you of your childhood: donkey rides, swing boats and random fairground rides with Ronan Keating painted on them.

The buildings are all Georgian, which adds some grandeur, and is very apt because King George III (you know the one who had to deal with those unruly Americans on July 4th) first visited the town in 1789 and came along for his summer holidays every year until he got too old.

You’ll see a huge painted statue in his honour, which you can’t miss, and the replica of his bathing machine, which you might!

Fun walks along the promenade at Weymouth

Fun walks along the promenade at Weymouth

There are lots of tea houses/coffee shops and cheesy souvenir shops, which even sell Fish & Chip flavour rock, on the sea-front. You could easily spend the day at the beach and have lunch in one of these places.

We parked up in the Pavilion car park and paid £6 for the whole day, because it’s free after 6pm!

If the weather’s not great, you could visit the Northe Fort which has protected the British Isles from invasion for centuries. The Sea Life Adventure Park, with access to the spinning viewing tower on the harbour, would be a great day out for young ones. You could even watch a show at the Pavilion theatre.

These all cost money – and we’re tight – so we just enjoyed walking around, watching the kids dig in the sand, dawdling around the shops and looking at the brilliant sand sculptures which Weymouth is famous for. We did a Treasure Trail with the whole family, which gave us a fun hour of learning a bit more about our surroundings.

The Old Harbour in Weymouth is a great place to wander around. Photo: Amy Kartar

The Old Harbour in Weymouth is a great place to wander around. Photo: Amy Kartar

There are some nice views and places to eat around the old harbour. It makes you want to imagine how busy it must’ve been a few hundred years ago. This is a rubbish analogy but…it reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland where you get an idea of what a busy old harbour would have been like.

There are lots of places to stay in the region. Our tight-ness continued with our hotel: we stayed in the same Premier Inn for our two nights in Dorset.

Yes, it was on an industrial estate on the edge of the town but it was clean, cheap and kids for free at breakfast. We’d have preferred to stay closer to the town but it was a great base for us, as we only visited Weymouth for one day.

Day 2 – West Bay aka Broadchurch

The view from the top of the 'Broadchurch' cliff overlooking West Bay

The view from the top of the ‘Broadchurch’ cliff overlooking West Bay

The following day we decided to travel to the west of Weymouth.

West Bay is a quaint fishing village. It’s really small actually, but it’s everything you’d want from this kind of town.

We parked in the old station car park which was only £2 for the day and it was also home to – believe it or not – an old railway station. This thing looks like a toy station that I had with my Hornby Railway when I was a kid.

The original track is still next to the platform so you can get some great photos. Railway enthusiasts will love it even more.

The old Railway Station at West Bay looks like a train set building

The old Railway Station at West Bay looks like a train set building

The station is now a cafe, so you could enjoy a cream tea here. There’s much more to see in West Bay, though.

The beach has unique sandstone cliffs, which are imposing, and the views from the top are breathtaking. It’s probably the reason that ITV Drama producers decided to make it the fictional home of Broadchurch.

The harbour village plays such a big part in the crime series that it feels like its one of the main characters. This is also backed up by the creator who says he wrote it as a love letter to the Jurassic Coast.

We have to confess, we only started watching Broadchurch two days before our trip so we can’t tell you where many of the key sets are but, even with our limited knowledge, we recognised the cliffs, the harbour and the modern flats, which double as the police station. I’m sure bigger fans will recognise much more – if not, here’s a list of filming locations.

It was an unsettled day when were there, so some of the family stayed in the aptly named ‘Windy Corner Cafe’ (real name) while we went for a walk to the top of the hill on the west side of the harbour.

West Bay Harbour

West Bay Harbour

It looked like it might be a hike, but it was quite a gentle walk. There were some good view of the land below. We would have continued along the path but the rain clouds weren’t looking good in the distance and we made it down to the cafe just in time before a huge downpour.

After a coffee, we planned to try to get up the famous ‘Broadchurch cliffs’ which the opening murder scene is set around. It looked pretty steep from the bottom so Dylan and I left Alicia and Samantha in the cafe.

The famous Broadchurch cliffs at West Bay in Dorset

The famous Broadchurch cliffs at West Bay in Dorset

The rain had stopped for about an hour but the steep grassy bank was still quite slippery. It was a case of finding somewhere to safely put your foot and keep on going without looking down. I did look down at one point – and regretted it – but we were soon safely at the summit.

At the top, you get a beautiful panoramic view of the coastline and West Bay. For some reason, the wind wasn’t too bad up there. There’s no fence at the cliff-edge, so I held Dylan very tightly the whole time and gave him a health and safety briefing, which started and ended in: “you will DIE if you let go of my hand and get too close to the edge.”

I might have made something up about four boys plunging to their untimely deaths in the past week, but I can’t remember! 😉

We walked to the end of the cliff-top path but it continued for quite a while after a dip, so we took some photos – and the selfie below – and headed back to the steep bank to make our descent.

Dylan and David at the top of the Broadchurch cliff

Dylan and David at the top of the Broadchurch cliff

Gripping each others’ hands, Dylan and I took one step at a time to quickly (and safely) made it to the bottom without even a stumble.

I wouldn’t take any children under five up there, even with them on my back, as it was quite steep.

Another walk around some other parts of the village and it was time for us to go and get some dinner.

The view from the top of the 'Broadchurch' cliff

The view from the top of the ‘Broadchurch’ cliff

We could have stayed in West Bay, as there are loads of pubs to eat in, but we fancied exploring Dorchester.

We’d planned to walk around the town before we ate, but we were all so hungry from all of our climbing and walking, that we went straight into a restaurant and went back to the hotel for a few drinks after.

Day 3 – Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door

Lulworth Cove in Dorset

Lulworth Cove in Dorset

I studied GCSE and A-Level Geography, so I’d heard of both of these places but had never actually visited them.

Lulworth Cove is about half an hour east of Weymouth.

We parked in the official car park, which was £4 for four hours. That was just about enough. You can use the same ticket to park in the Durdle Door car park, but I’d recommend leaving the car here and walking to Durdle’s famous arch.

Lulworth is another picture postcard coastal village but very small. There are two or three thatched cottages, a couple of cafes and a visitors’ centre. It makes it very safe to walk around and it was nice and compact.

Panoramic view of Lulworth Cove

Panoramic view of Lulworth Cove

We ventured out to the cove. The view is quite amazing from the shingle beach. It’s a perfectly formed circle which has been carved out by the waves over thousands of years. It’s a small, natural harbour. The blue sea and white stone makes it look really special.

David and Samantha exploring Lulworth Cove

David and Samantha exploring Lulworth Cove

It all feels as though it could be the setting for an Enid Blyton novel.

After yesterday’s Broadchurch cliffs, I didn’t fancy taking Dylan or Samantha on the walk to the top of the cove. It was pretty safe, and there were some steps this time, so it was a shame we didn’t get to all experience the beautiful views from the top, together.

There’s a small walk around the top of the coastal path which then descends into the village again. There are a couple of stunning views of waves crashing against crazy rock formations – and some very rugged ‘Big Sur’ landscapes just in this small walk, so give it a go as a family.

The landscape looks more like Big Sur than Dorset

The landscape looks more like Big Sur than Dorset

I didn’t take the kids on the three mile round-trip to Durdle Door. This was a tough walk with some long stretches uphill and steep stoney slopes going down.

It was also a very satisfying hike, when you look back to see how high you are, or get your first view of the amazing archway. It’s a real sense of achievement when you make it down the steep and winding stairs down to the beach. You really do deserve your selfie at the bottom.

It would have made an amazing family photo but, again, I don’t think Dylan (at 4) would have been able to walk the route himself – and buggies are out of the question.

The amazing view of Durdle Door from the beach

The amazing view of Durdle Door from the beach

I could have probably made it with Samantha in a baby carrier, but it wouldn’t have been easy. This would be a great jaunt for anyone with kids over seven, though.

After the one hour walk, we we needed some water, rest…and a cream tea!

There’s a cafe at the bottom of the hill into Lulworth which ticks every box. They’re also very generous with their double scone, double teapot combo, which helped the clotted cream and jam go down reeeeally well!!

A cream tea is the ONLY way to finish a hike in England!

A cream tea is the ONLY way to finish a hike in England!

While I was trekking to Durdle Door, Alicia and the kids were walking around the cove looking for fossils and interestingly shaped stones. It was a great little history lesson and he loved hearing about how there could’ve been dinosaurs on the beach a few thousand years ago!

The wind was quite unforgiving, so we called it a day at around 4pm, so we could get home at a reasonable time.

Durdle Door stones

We all really enjoyed the trip back to the Jurassic Period – I definitely know Dylan did because I found half of the rocks from Lulworth Cove were hidden in his coat pockets!

I promise to no longer turn my nose up at places that are too close to home – as I’ve just found out that there’s still lots to discover in your back yard! I also promise to bring my video camera next time and make a video.

It sounds like a pretty good reason to go back and do it all over again, don’t ya think?!


How to survive a long-haul flight with babies and toddlers

When two people from different countries decide to start going out, the thought of flying to each other’s countries sounds exciting and romantic. We knew that we’d want kids in the future but, during those early exciting days of Trans-Atlantic dating, the thought of having to do the same 12-hour trips with children didn’t even cross our minds!

Fast forward a decade and we’ve now travelled 21 long or short-haul flights with a baby or a toddler – these days both at the same time!

And, we’ve experienced every type of flight you can imagine: from lots of sleep, and smugly receiving compliments from those near us, to death-stares from half of the plane. Even the cabin crew have skipped their “Thank you, goodbye!” as we got off the plane – I didn’t even know they could do that, isn’t it part of their contract to be ridiculously perfect?!

Every parent wants to know the big secret which reveals how to have a successful flight with young-uns. While there isn’t one solid answer, we’ve put together a few tips to help you keep your sanity…and maybe your fellow passengers’.

Different airlines have varying facilities for kids. Left: Samantha in her own car seat. Top right: Dylan in the "duffel bag". Bottom right: Virgin Atlantic's Sky Cot

Different airlines have varying facilities for kids. Left: Samantha in her own car seat. Top right: Dylan in the “duffel bag”. Bottom right: Virgin Atlantic’s Sky Cot

It begins as soon as you book your flights

Call the airline as soon as you’ve booked to see if you can get an in-flight cot/bassinet for your baby. Virgin Atlantic has a brilliant one that uses their Upper Class leather and makes you want to swap places with them for the whole flight. One of these can give your baby a proper sleep, instead of waking every time you move a millimetre and can can make a world of difference.

The bassinets can get booked up quickly on popular flights so book asap so you don’t have to hold them the whole flight. Different airlines have different levels of bassinets – we were given a “duffel bag” to put Dylan in on his first long-haul flight. Weirdly, he did sleep really well on the floor almost the whole flight – and if he cried, we just zipped him up!! (Just kidding – honest!)

While you’re on the phone, check the rules on what baby accessories you can take on board for free and which you’ll have to pay for so there are no surprises when you arrive at the airport.

Also, book the food for your child now, too, if you didn’t do it while you booked. The kids’ meals usually come out 15 minutes before the adults. It will keep them entertained and might mean that they’re finished in time for when your meal is ready so you can use the tray, instead of sharing with your toddler.

The headphones that are given out on-board are usually uncomfortable for children, so invest in a nice, comfy pair.

The headphones that are given out on-board are usually uncomfortable for children, so invest in a nice, comfy pair.

Download their favourite shows or cartoons

You know that TV show or movie your little one is obsessed with? Be prepared and bring it with you! The last thing you want is to find out that there’s no Frozen on your two-inch screen that you’ll be staring at for 12 hours. Cue first meltdown of the flight and it’s from the adults: “No Elsa and Anna? Who doesn’t have Frozen as standard on every flight?!!! Noooo, I can’t get that movie out of my life and the ONE time I need it, it’s nowhere to be found?!!!”

All you need to do is be prepared and have it ready to go on your preferred device. And don’t just stick with their favourite, add some new ones on there too. You don’t need to pay through iTunes to download them these days. Remember, BBC iPlayer lets you download a show and keep it for 30 days, while Amazon Prime Video let you save movies onto your device, too.

We bought a cool external drive for our more recent trip which lets you stream three different films/shows at the same time. You can also upload (via its own wifi) all of your iPhone photos and videos so you’ll always have room to capture more memories.

Just remember to charge everything up the night before!!

Get them to practice wearing headphones

This sounds a bit OTT but you need to know what you’re getting yourself into. Headphones are funny things that toddlers and babies don’t really like to wear. Borrow or invest in ones with large comfortable pads that go over the ears – they have some cool boy and girl (Frozen) versions out there – wireless ones would be the dream, if you can afford it. Never use in-ear headphones, they won’t stay in and it’s not good for babies and toddlers.

Always check the volume before putting them on your cherub’s ears and if they decide they hate the feeling of them during the practice,  at least you know not to bank on them during the flight and you can pack sedatives instead (kidding again, promise!)

If they do like their new headphones and get used to them quickly, then they should feel comfortable wearing them in the air and, will be more likely to amuse themselves.

Make the most of your baggage allowance

You can get your bassinet on a flight as part of your "buggy." The bassinet can then double up as a bed so there's no need for a travel cot at your destination. It's also good for babies not to always be in the car seat on the buggy, too.

You can get your bassinet on a flight as part of your “buggy.” The bassinet can then double up as a bed so there’s no need for a travel cot at your destination. It’s also good for babies not to always be in the car seat on the buggy, too.

So, everyone in the family will usually get one free checked bag with the flight – even the tiny newborn whose clothes are the size of your granny pants – not that I have any! So, why not stuff their clothes into the rest of the family’s suitcases. This will allow you to check a travel cot (Pack-And-Play) or a car seat, as their bag. Also, check with family/your hotel to see if they have any essential items that you can borrow for free.

Again, make sure you’ve phoned the airline ahead to make sure you know what you have to pay to take on the flight. Some items, such as car seats and buggies/strollers, are often free to check in. If you have a nifty ‘Transformer’ buggy, which can carry a car seat, traditional seat or bassinetto turn it into a bassinet buggy at check-in, so the car seat flies for free.

If they’re still ickle, you can use the detachable bassinet as their bed when you stay instead of a Travel Cot.

BOOM! Car seat, bed and buggy all for free!!

Snacks (lots of them) and toys (not too many)

Get those snacks out and keep 'em coming!

Get those snacks out and keep ’em coming!

The “distract them with food” principle pretty much works for all toddlers and babies at anytime, anywhere. Try to pack ones that aren’t quickly eaten so they have to take a while to eat them.

This does however mean they might not eat their actual plane food dinner but this is probably ok. Most baby/toddler meal items are pretty easily packed away to eat later, and trying to have two meals on a tiny pull down tray with a wriggling baby or toddler on your lap, trying to grab your delicious glass of wine brownie, is not easy.

Also be selective with the toys you choose to bring in your hand luggage. The planner in you will want to pack every toy that your little one could possibly play with but this is just one more thing to juggle, along with everything else. Think of small, new toys that you can deal out slowly.

Make friends with the check-in staff

This is a bit of a gamble but try not to check-in online ahead of your flight. Yes, you won’t have that peace of mind that you’ll definitely be sat next to each other. The thing about checking in online is that you won’t be able to leave a spare seat between you and your other half (in the hope that no-one will want it and you get a “free” seat for your toddler without having to pay full-price for one) BUT the check-in staff can!!

Arrive nice and early, so you don’t end up at different ends of the plane, but be nice (friendly and chatty) to the staff there and ask if they can help you out with our “spare seat” trick. Some airlines try to sell you these “cheaper” toddler seats but quite often, if the check-in person likes you, they can make the seat next to you inaccessible for free.

Got an Under Two on your lap for the flight? Look at the benefit of getting that middle seat!

Got an Under Two on your lap for the flight? Look at the benefit of getting that middle seat!

You see, the difference between a spare seat in between you and your partner in crime is SLEEP, food and drink. Instead of having to wake the baby up to go to the toilet, or by mistakenly dripping ice-cream on their head while they’re sleeping (come on, we’ve all done it!), they can snooze away next to you!

It also doubles up as an impromptu playroom for the thousands of toys you brought broken headphones they decide to play with. It really can make all the difference.

The airline staff want to make the flight as enjoyable for you and the other passengers so many look to help young families out whenever they can. It’s not like you’re asking for an upgrade to First Class, which is what people usually try!

Make besties with the cabin crew

The cabin crew can also sometimes provide a free creche service!!

The cabin crew can also sometimes provide a free creche* service!! *We can’t back that up, some are just really nice and helpful and will entertain your kids for you!

So, the Check-in staff might’ve helped you out but it’s the cabin staff who are actually on the flight with you for 12 hours. When they’re not busy during take-off, landing and meal service, the cabin crew like to chat and make the flight go faster themselves, too.

Smile, thank them for everything and find out more about them.

It seems trivial but there have been many times where the loving arms of the stewardess have distracted our little ones from screaming down the plane and given us that much needed ten seconds of rest.

Don’t assume they all hate kids just because everyone thinks children on planes are the worst thing ever created – nice kids are fun to chat to. A few of the Virgin Atlantic crew on our flight to San Diego started entertaining them for free!! One let them sit in the crew seats and showed them around the galley. The kids loved it and it chalked off another 30 minutes off the flight. We saw them at the baggage carousel and a few of them said “Bye Dylan, bye Samantha!” The Virgin Atlantic crew really are fab, so do try to go with them, if it’s cost-effective for you!

If all else fails, and the airline isn’t as friendly, then find an old lady who’ll coo and fall in love with your little one as you walk around.

Expect the worst

Dylan and Samantha ended up becoming cabin crew during a recent flight

Dylan and Samantha ended up becoming cabin crew during a recent flight

Gone are the days of a flight being 12 hours where you’re forced to relax, watch some films, read a book and have a few drinks. Well, they might not be gone. Just don’t have these kind of expectations. Remember that  half a day in a metal tube, travelling at hundreds of miles an hour in the sky, is a real challenge for us adults.

So, if you expect the worst, most headachy, sleep-deprived journey of your life, at least you’ll be mentally prepared from it.

There is a chance that your little one surprises you and they don’t scream their way across the Atlantic but by thinking that this will be the toughest few hours since that first night you brought them home from the hospital, any good moments will feel like heaven.

Work as partners in crime

And stay united. Don’t let your little dictator break your bond! They control enough of your life and will do for many years to come. Remember those early days of sleepless nights and the ‘no way out’ feeling? Long haul flights are just like that.

Work as a team throughout the flight so you each get time to sleep and relax...a tiny bit!

Work as a team throughout the flight so you each get time to sleep and relax…a tiny bit!

Work as a team. Agree a set time to “swap shifts.” Whether it’s a valuable hour-or-so to watch a movie or get some shut-eye, choose wisely and make the most of it so that you each can enjoy a few minutes to yourself and so you don’t feel resentful of your partner before the holiday has even started.

You might get lucky and the baby will fall asleep on your shift. This is the dream because you still get to pass the baby over after two hours, even though it was an easy one. (Actually, the dream is for everyone to sleep for a few hours – it does happen!!)

Get your walking boots on

Plan on walking pacing the aisles. You’ll have the cabin’s floor-plan memorised by the time you get off the plane.

Long-haul is not your hour-and-a-half flight to Spain where you’re only allowed to take your seat-belt off to go to the loo – walking around is encouraged. It has a very different culture. People hang out at exit rows, change into ‘sweats’, and go to the toilet just to brush their teeth and freshen up. So, don’t be afraid to let little ones tear up and down those aisles.

Little legs need to walk and run, so restricting them will just add to those tantrums. You’re more likely to find that the old lady who is staring at them is actually trying to catch their eye and wants to play with them while you stand there and zone out for a few minutes!

For babies, remember to pack a Baby Bjorn or sling. They’re a great plane accessory so you can give your arms a break and give them some different views. It also increases the chances that your little one will fall asleep on you so you can – ever…so…carefully, sit back down once they’re out and enjoy some quiet time.

Feed those newborns

Dylan, at three-months-old, on his way to California for the first time

Dylan, at three-months-old, on his way to California for the first time

Whether it’s a plastic nipple or the fleshy kind, get that milk flowing.

This may not be possible for those with 3 or 4 year old travel companions (or maybe it is, who am I to judge!?) but did you know that if you breast feed your bubba on take-off and landing that the sucking action will help to pop their ears? Ain’t no fury like the fury of a baby whose ears won’t pop when those seatbelt signs are on!

It’s also usually the scariest part for a baby so the comfort of some milk and their momma is a great combo.

Nappy changes

I’m sorry, but even the best airlines in the world don’t have baby changing facilities that are fit for purpose. Quite often, only one of the six or seven toilets will have a baby changer, so note down where it is.

Even worse, I’ve pulled the baby changer down and it’s literally half the size of the baby and no way to secure them, so I luckily caught my little one before they fell into the sink! It’s all very 1980s still!

So, for older toddlers, practice the standing-up nappy change. This can be tricky, especially for number two’s. Have them stand over the mat and “touch their toes” when needed.  “Ew gross!” I hear you say? Well if you would rather sit for 12 hours with that smell on your lap – or the death stares of your fellow passengers –  be my guest! It is possible to do – and there may be no other option – so it’s best to practice at home when you can actually move your elbows.

If you’ve got a new-born and have seats in the bulk-head area, which is usually reserved for those travelling with babies, then we have done several discreet “number one” changes which are SO much easier than having to enter the dreaded toilets.

No flight is the same

The kids are only as good as their last flight. Don't expect them to be awful or great.

The kids are only as good as their last flight. Don’t expect them to be awful or great.Just because the first leg of your journey was close to what you imagine a brief stay at Guantanamo Bay might be like, doesn’t mean that the return journey will be.

Every flight is different. We find that the kids are more lively flying from the UK and then sleep most of the way home.

The opposite also applies.

Be careful not to brag too much about how your little cherub “slept the whole way” and “everyone on the plane complimented you on how good they were” because, as luck would have it, you’ll be eating those words during your next in-flight meal – if your toddler hasn’t knocked it onto the floor yet.


Try not to worry what others are thinking

Let your little one stand in the aisle next to you. It's a long-haul flight, no-one will mind as long as they're not annoying them.

Let your little one stand in the aisle next to you. It’s a long-haul flight, no-one will mind as long as they’re not annoying them.

As you take your seat on the plane, it’s most likely that all your neighbours will give you a polite smile as you sit down, then turn to their travel companion with a big, “oh great!” at the sight of your family sitting next to them for what was meant to be a relaxing flight to their dream destination.

Try not to be wrapped up in what everyone’s thinking of you. There’s no need to have the permanent “I’m sorry” face stuck on your mug the whole time.

Remember, that most of the people on the flight – even the solo business travellers that avoid eye contact – have probably got kids and know what you’re going through. Some people might look at you with a pained expression. Not because they’re annoyed that your child is screaming, but because they feel sorry for you.

The odds are that they will find your singing (loudly) and dancing (badly) two-year-old funny and cute! And, if they don’t, worrying over it isn’t going to help anyone. It’s best to save your mental energy to dig the recesses of your mind for just one more song to sing with your little one. And besides, you know your baby best so whatever their judgement is: it’s wrong. I promise you, at any given point in time whether it be in air or on land you are inherently doing what is best for your baby and therefore the rest of the passengers too.

The Golden rule…

Your kids will be great, Frequent Flyers before long!

Your kids will be great, Frequent Flyers before long!

Is that there is no golden rule. No tips will help stop a baby with colic from crying – sometimes you’ll just have to power through. Babies don’t read blogs, unfortunately.

But remember, you are on this trip for a reason. Think about the family you’ve missed so much, who will be delighted to take your little screamer off your hands for as long as you want when you land. They can’t wait to get to know them better and you can rest/eat/shower/zone out.

Think of the holiday you’ll have with the squeals of delight coming from your little one as they splash in the pool. The awesome memories you will be making and the photos you will be able to show your little one of their first big trip.

Remember, in the big scheme of things, it’s just a short(ish) flight for a lifetime of memories.

Be that annoying person that pays LESS for the same trip

Find cheaper flights and holidays – Seven Top Tips

January. It’s the month that no-one really likes: Christmas is over, you’re broke, you’ve eaten too much and you’re back at work, depressed – searching for something to look forward to.

January can put most people into a glass case of emotion. Source:

January can put most people into a glass case of emotion. Source:

What adverts do we see in the middle of every TV show?

Tanned people, skipping in slow-motion across an idyllic beach; Arnold Schwarzenegger “vel-coming” everybody to California from a table on a rock-pool; or the latest “viral” idea from a package holiday company with an annoying kid dressed as a shark dancing to a cool song that won’t stay cool for much longer.

They all make you want to throw your remote at the TV!

It’s time to go hard, or…go on holiday!

January? Really?

Booking a whole year ahead is the best time to get a good deal but it’s pretty hard to afford, and plan, another holiday while you’re still kicking sand out of your shoes from the last one.

In January, the travel industry applies pressure everywhere you look to “help you” beat the January blues, but I think it’s a pretty good month to book your tickets – especially with everyone in ‘sales’ mode.

Dylan cockpit web ready

Dylan found a cool way to save money: become a co-pilot!

You see, the big airlines (British Airways, Virgin Atlantic etc) usually have their sales on in January – it’s nearly impossible to find seats cheaper after this. The smaller airlines try to compete and the package holidays are still well-priced for the summer and will only get more expensive (unless you’re going to go for a late 1990s ‘Teletext Last Minute deal’ where you turn up at the airport with just a passport and a suitcase).

As I’ve said before, I always look around for the best deal on everything because I like using the money that I’ve saved to help pay for the next big purchase.

I’ve booked at least one long and short haul trip every year since I met Mrs R on a revolving dancefloor in Mexico in 2004 (that story will need its own blog post) and I’ve never paid the full price.

If you’d rather not have the hassle of spending a couple of hours on your computer to save a few hundred quid, go and book your holiday now (or skip to Tip 6) but to be fair, if you’re that kind of person you’re probably not still reading this article, anyway!

For everyone else, here are the Life of Reilly tips to help you save some hard-earned cash:

Top Tips to save money on any trip

1. Grab a beer or glass of wine

Good tip, huh?! You’re going to be on your computer for a little while, so get relaxed and settle down for some super-searching.

If you’re looking at a long haul trip, I think it’s best to book your Flight and Hotel separately (there are exceptions) but if you’re going for a two-week, all-inclusive trip in Europe, then stick with the package holiday theme.

2. Go to a big-name travel company/airline’s site

If you’re flying long-haul find a guide price at the airline that you’ve got most Air Miles with, whether that’s British Airways, Virgin Atlantic or Delta.

If you’re looking for a package holiday, go to a major holiday company website, like Thomas Cook or Thomson. They usually have a really nice, user-friendly layout with great photos, videos and easy to understand pricing so you can pick a resort that you want to search on some no-so pretty sites.

Note down the prices of the dates that you want to travel. Make sure you check a midweek flight, as these are normally cheaper.

3. Check the comparison sites – and ours!

You may have found a good price for your British Airways flight in their sale but you can usually buy it cheaper through a smaller travel company. The quickest and easiest way to do this is to put the flight you found – and dates – into a Comparison site, such as Skyscanner (flights only), Travel Supermarket (flights and packages) and (flights and packages).

This should have knocked a couple of hundred off the total flight price, and maybe more than a grand from a package. They will tell you the company that the cheapest offer is with: note that down.

Our website also gets sent loads of great offers every month. So make sure you check our Voucher Codes page to see if you can save some money with our help!

4. Go to that cheapest site

Now you know where the cheapest flight is from, head on over and see if it’s even cheaper via their own website. Sometimes they give the best deal to the comparison site, but quite often they don’t. You may not have heard of this company you’re looking up but the comparison sites should only send you to legitimate companies. If you’re worried, keep an eye out for the ABTA and ATOL logos.

You should now know where your  best deal is. Don’t get the credit card out yet, we can still save more!

5. Check the online big-boys (flights only)

Quite often, the internet travel giants, Expedia, Opodo, eBookers, etc, will have special exclusive deals with an airline, so just check one of these to make sure you’re not missing a bargain.

6.  Get some cashback

Did you know you can get cashback on most major purchases? We’ve got more than a grand back via Top Cashback in the last few years. There are others out there too, Quidco is the other big one.

Choose one of these providers – unless you’re more thrifty than even I am and you want to check both – and search the name of the company that offered you cheapest deal, whether it’s Virgin Atlantic, Thomson, lowcostholidays, they’re usually all on there!

You could get anything between 1% and 15% cashback, just for clicking through this site and then booking in the normal way! We got £65 ($95) off our flights to California last summer – and money off hotels, car hire, airport parking etc.

7. Seal the deal

Now it’s time to book your dream holiday! Congratulations – think of us when you’re spending that extra money at your swim-up bar!

You can go through the same process again to add a hotel, car hire, airport parking and Travel Insurance and more.

Let us know how you get on and how much you save on our next trip!


Our first holiday Home Swap – how we saved money and found a new way to travel

Home Swaps are always portrayed as a great idea in blogs, on TV and in films – have you not seen The Holiday? – but it’s not something that the average person ever seems to do and it’s never really caught on, despite the promise of a snog with Cameron Diaz or Jude Law as part of every deal. That could be about to change.

“I don’t really want strangers staying in my house?  No-one will want to swap with our small place? Will the house we’re swapping with even exist when we land? What if our TV and furniture ends up on eBay after featuring in a news report about an illegal rave that happened in the living room?”

Many people don't want to do a House Swap in case their home looks like this when they return

Many people don’t want to do a House Swap in case their home looks like this when they return

These are some of the fears that we had about House Swapping and we put the idea aside for many trips, that was until this year.  You see, we had worked out a way to take six weeks of leave from our jobs so we could have a special summer with my wife’s family in California before our four-year-old started ‘big boy’ school.

Now, we’ve got friends and family that we could stay with in the States, but a month-and-a-half is too long for a family of four to impose on anyone – especially one with a know-it-all toddler with a penchant for danger and a baby heading into her terrible twos, early. That’s before you even factor in the annoying parents!! Finding our own place – even for a few weeks of the trip – was a priority, so that we would still have natives that would speak to us at the end of the trip.

Our initial plan was to spend as little money as we could on the swap, so we posted our request onto Facebook in the hope that some friends-of-friends might want to visit England and let us take over their house for the summer. That would make the swap free and we’d also feel safer because we would “know” the homeowners who would stay at our house.

We had a couple of bites but no firm interest, which was disappointing because I’m really tight, but it made moving to a real House Swap site easier.

Swapping our home swap provider

After admitting defeat in trying to find an exchange independently, we decided to cough up some money for a proper service.

This meant hiding the mountains of toys in the garage, de-cluttering the house and taking snaps to show off our home as best we could. Now we felt confident that we would quickly snag an 18-bedroom Californian mansion with its own swimming pool and bowling alley that you see in the movies.

We found four solid options when looking at Home Swap sites:

Home Link is the original House Swapping organisation. It’s been around for more than 60 years, which means that it was able to make holiday exchanges happen years before the internet was even invented (they did it via a booklet, just so you know). It costs £115 per year in the UK. For some reason, it’s half that ($95) for Americans – why are they so special? I didn’t want to take this further because you couldn’t look at any of the homes until you’ve paid your money. What if they didn’t have many options for us in San Diego and I’ve paid up front? And, we didn’t have the money, or time, to throw away to leave it to chance.

Jude Law and Cameron Diaz in The Holiday. Columbia Pictures/Nancy Meyers

Jude Law and Cameron Diaz in The Holiday. Columbia Pictures/Nancy Meyers

Home Exchange is one of the best-known sites – it’s the one you see Cameron Diaz find Kate Winslet’s house in The Holiday. (Speaking of which, I got chucked off the set by Cameron Diaz when I went to make a TV report on the film being made – I might blog about that in the future, or at least upload the package to YouTube). It’s £100 for the year, which is competitive. It has a great catalogue of homes but there was no free trial, and I wanted to see if I could get the swap done for free!

Knok was my curve-ball. They didn’t come up on many search engines but they were featured in several travel articles, as being family friendly – and also one of the cheapest sites to find a swap.  You can join for free and you only pay (£99) when you find your first home exchange. It sounded fool-proof so we signed up and created our profile. We found a handful of people whose profiles said they wanted a USA to UK swap and messaged them. We sat and waited for a flurry of requests but they never came. The statistics of our house being viewed by members was also very low. I wanted to get the swap arranged as soon as we could so, after two weeks, I decided to go to the other home exchange site that offered a shorter free trial.

Love Home Swap offered a chance to try their service for free for two weeks. The site was easy to use and it seemed like a premium service, especially with its offer of free Airport Lounge passes as part of the membership. There are three tiers, which range from £124 a year to £240, but the extra deals within each level make it worth looking at all three options. It offered a two-week trial, which I wanted, I but I was also impressed with the amount of stylish homes on offer and how user-friendly the site was.

 Free trial? HomesExtrasPrice
Home LinkNO 14,000+Representative in your country to discuss swap£115/$95
Home ExchangeNO65,000 Second year free if you don't find a swap£100/$150
KnokYES25,000Only pay when you find your home exchange£99/$99
Love Home SwapYES75,000Airport Lounge
Buy Points
Concierge service
£124 to £240/$240 to $408

Making the swap happen

First off, Home Swapping is not as fast as Cameron and Kate make it look in The Holiday (clip below). You need to work pretty hard at it.

I’m not afraid to spend a bit of time researching deals, if it saves me a good amount of money, so I was prepared and ready to do what was needed to make it happen.

The free trial went pretty well. Our house was viewed by double the number on the previous site within a couple of days.  I searched for houses in San Diego that were available for our dates and then messaged a few (with huge swimming pools, rock pools and water slides, of course) to show our interest.

A few emailed back straight away, saying that their pool area wasn’t secure for young children, others politely declined because they had no interest in travelling to the UK that summer – or maybe more likely, swapping and staying in our house. Another five or six requests went unanswered – many without being read (a great feature to let you quickly avoid the time-wasters on the site).

This is something you need to get used to because you’ll find this a lot. Some members are probably no longer active, others may not like your home when they see the email sent to them (it’s only considered ‘read’ when you login to the website’s messenger portal), while many others aren’t actively looking for a swap that year so ignore requests until they need somewhere.

Search smarter

Always make sure you’re searching efficiently. Image:

There are some nice search filters on Love Home Swap. I started by widening my desired location to include the whole of San Diego County, which is 50 miles from North to South, rather than 15 miles for San Diego City. I then made sure I had checked the “Bring the kids” and “People who want to visit my location” options.

This brought up some nice, family friendly houses. I sent another ten messages to the homes I was interested in. Of those that emailed back, most said they were looking for a place in London, rather than Hampshire. The others weren’t planning on a trip that year and hadn’t updated their calendars. This took out quite a few potential targets.

Ticking the “Vacation Homes” filter helped because lots of people didn’t want to give up their main home to young families. The houses might be a bit smaller (certainly the opposite in some cases) but I got some near-misses by engaging with people with holiday homes.

However, I wanted to get the deal done before my free trial was up, so I looked around the site and realised there was another option, which I hadn’t considered, that could counter-act one of the biggest reasons for rejection on the site.

You can swap for Points on Love Home Swap so the home-owners don't have to stay at your house. Image:

You can swap for Points on Love Home Swap so the home-owners don’t have to stay at your house. Image: lovehomeswap.

Swapping for Points

Up until now, we’d been searching for a straight swap (we stay at their house, they stay at ours) but Love Home Swap had another really good option: ‘Swap for Points.’ This meant that we could stay at someone’s house but they didn’t necessarily have to stay at ours.

For example, David and Victoria want to swap their London home with Brad and Angelina in Beverly Hills, however Brad and Angelina don’t want to travel to the UK this summer. So, they swap for Points with David & Victoria instead. To gain the points needed, David and Victoria have Barack and Michelle stay at their pad instead – for Points, of course.

It essentially means that members can receive a Points swap request from anyone in the world which could make your dream swap a reality.

How can you get Points to begin the trade, I hear you ask? Well, you are given a certain amount of Points for free depending on the level of membership you pay for. Silver Members get 100 Points (One night) when they sign up; Gold receive 300 (Three nights); and Platinum get 700 (One week).

The whole concept seemed like a no-brainer and I was certain that I would be able to organise a swap with this method. So, I finished my trial early and became a Platinum member, knowing that I would also get: four free Airport Lounge passes, our house pushed harder with a ‘featured listing’ and a concierge service who could do some of the hard work for me. Here are the current prices for each level of membership – there’s usually a good deal for new members so wait, if you don’t see any offers on the page.

Securing a swap

The Fire Pit area of our House Swap in Encinitas

The ‘fire pit’ and BBQ area of our House Swap in San Diego, California

My “smarter” searching, combined with being enabled for Points swapping, brought lots of new houses in San Diego up into my searches. I went for one house, about 25 miles from Downtown, which had recently been added to the site.

Looking at the pictures, there was a play house and swings, plus a Star Wars bedroom – so we knew it would be perfect for our young kids. It was for an amazing property, one mile from the beach in Encinitas, and it had a huge kitchen, outside bar and a hot tub!! Yes, a HOT TUB?!!!

Instead of getting the usual polite decline message, Emily casually said: “Sure, the dates work for us – let’s swap for Points!” Suddenly, all of my hard work had paid off – we had a deal.

That swap was for one week, and we wanted a minimum of two, so I made sure that my future searches were sorted by “Most Recent” so that I could get the home we wanted as soon as it came onto the market (Love Home Swap is starting a new ‘Hotlist’ feature which will make this simpler in the future).

At the same time, I wanted to make our house stand-out and sort our house out more efficiently, so I added more photos and included a summary of what we were looking for, the year of our intended swap and sell the fact that our house was available for six weeks. I was also pro-active and messaged people that wanted a swap in Hampshire/Berkshire or anywhere outside of London. This all really helped, and we received solid offers from members in Sweden and Spain.

With the pressure off, I was more relaxed looking for our second week in California. I made sure I used my Smart Searches (I need to patent that term) to find the most recent properties, but new homes in one city don’t come onto the site every day.

I waited a couple of weeks but then got impatient and wondered if I could super-charge my Pro-active Smart Searching.

Super-smart searching

The outside kitchen/bar area at our House Swap in La Jolla, California

The outside kitchen/bar area at our House Swap in La Jolla, California

I thought laterally about the whole system. As my “Most Recent” Points swap search seemed to work, but there weren’t many coming on, I took a step back and realised that when most people sign up, they start on the “Standard Swap” before moving to “Points.”

So, I went back to looking for a “Most Recent” Standard swap and began emailing new members with homes in San Diego. I told them about the beauty of a Points swap.

One house came up in the perfect location for us: the posh, central location of La Jolla. The dates were for the week that we had already agreed the Encinitas swap but I thought I’d message them both questions anyway.

Two days later, we had another deal! Again, the house had a play structure, so they were obviously less worried about having two toddlers in the house than most, which definitely worked in our favour. The house was a ten minute walk from the seals at La Jolla Cove in one direction, ten minutes to Windansea Beach in the other and it had an amazing outside eating area/bar/kitchen for entertaining.


San Diego House Swap sorted...time to have some fun!!

San Diego House Swap sorted…time to have some fun!!

We may have made this sound like a lot of work, but it was worth the effort and when you’re doing it yourself – and dreaming of the amazing house you might get – it’s actually quite an exciting process.

Thanks to Love Home Swap, we had two amazing beach-town properties that we could stay in for two weeks in California. And, all for the £240 membership fee – the same price as two nights at hotels during our Route One Road Trip!!

We looked up how much it would cost to rent similar homes in the same parts of San Diego in high season and it was £3,500/$5000 per WEEK!! An amazing saving that made our trip of a lifetime, a reality.

Maybe, now is the time for Holiday Home Swapping to enter the mainstream.

So, how did we get on with the swaps? Did the advertised homes exist? Did our two toddlers ruin the pristine show-homes that we stayed in? We’ll let you know in Part Two of this blog post which includes a VIDEO of our House Swap experience!!

The start of something new – a family travel vlog

Ok, it’s New Year’s Day, the annual date in the calendar where everyone sets ambitious resolutions for the year ahead that they’ll never keep.

Within two weeks, all but one friend is back eating junk food in front of the TV and trying to find a way to cancel the gym membership without having to go in.

This year, I hope to be that one friend that keeps it going. Nope, I’m not going to stop eating and start getting fit (sorry wifey) but I am going to give travel blogging/vlogging a go and hope to keep going past January.

So, hi! I’m Dave. As you might’ve seen from our ‘About Us’ section, I’m a TV producer and university lecturer. I’m used to making reports for TV News (features usually – I’m more of a ‘Mr And Finally’ and Sport, rather than the man stood outside court) but, apart from some corporate work, I’ve never made anything under my own name for the internet.

Why now? Well, like Liam Neeson, I have a particular set of skills. I can shoot, edit, write and produce videos. I think YouTube videos and online content will soon overtake traditional TV as the place to showcase work.

I’m very interested in the future of online video content, so I’ll be partly using this site to feed into the academic research I’ll be doing with my university lecturer hat – mortar board – on (get used to the bad jokes), so that I can pass on what I learn.

Do I want to be the next Zoella? No, I’ve never actually seen her stuff, plus I don’t think people want to hear my views on make-up (is that what she does?).

Those that know me well, know that I like to find a bargain and will spend hours at a computer screen to try to save a few hundred quid. I’m totally that annoying person who’ll have bought the same TV, car or holiday for less than you’ve paid for it – I love a bargain – so I’ll be doing some of the hard work for you, when I can.

Seriously, how can you entertain toddlers on an 11-hour Trans-Atlantic flight?

Seriously, how can you entertain toddlers on an 11-hour Trans-Atlantic flight?

The main reason for me doing this, is that we love to travel as a family and we are always asked about it: How do you survive an 11-hour Trans-Atlantic flight with babies and toddlers? How do you travel around California? Where’s the best place to eat? How does a House Swap work? Where should we actually go in Los Angeles? Seriously, how do you survive an 11-hour Trans-Atlantic flight with babies and toddlers?

It came to me, when my wife said she wanted to ‘do’ Route One (from San Francisco to San Diego) last year. I searched for weeks for the best way to ‘do it’ but no-one had posted a practical article of timings or created a video which was entertaining and informative. So, I borrowed a mate’s DSLR (cheers, Brett), took a GoPro to California last summer and started shooting things as a vlogger for the first time, much to the annoyance of Alicia (Mrs R, you’ll get to know her soon) who was constantly telling me off for slowing everyone down the whole time!

What you’ll see on this site over the next few weeks (definitely), months (hopefully) and years (definitely, hopefully) will have grown from that one subject to many thousands of miles of travelling, filming, editing and exploring the world with my favourite people on the planet.

I’m not planning on producing a video or blog-post every week – it will be quality over quantity – so make sure you follow our Facebook and Twitter pages to make sure you don’t miss out on anything.

Future articles will be much more informative – and less indulgent – but I just wanted to lay it all out there for my first blog-post.

Right, time to get writing and editing. I hope you enjoy watching and reading about our travels and that you’ll let us know if/when you visit the same place as us, to find out if we were able to help you live the Life of Reilly.

Get in touch, if you have any ideas or places you think we should visit!

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