A: I’ve always had a love for travel, so when the concept of home exchanging was introduced in Estonia in 1998, I jumped at the opportunity. Before then, we had been behind the "Iron Curtain," and getting out was only possible through official invitations and bureaucratic permissions, which were rare. We had only managed brief trips to socialist Germany, and after Estonia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, to Finland – all these through an unbelievable web of bureaucracy. The chance to see the wider world was too enticing to resist, and HomeLink’s exchange seemed very appealing.
A lot of people I knew were quite startled at the idea of us allowing complete strangers into our home. But our home doesn’t house any priceless antiques or such that might warrant any fear. We have a lovely, ordinary home and we respect both our own and others’ spaces. I was confident that HomeLink members would be considerate and kind-hearted people. Over time, other families involved in the exchanges also admitted that their friends and family had initially been somewhat hesitant about letting strangers into their homes.
But everything turned out great. Our first guests were a couple from the US on a world tour during their sabbatical year, followed by an elderly couple from New Zealand. We never did manage to visit their homes in return. But it was an absolute joy to host them, and we enjoyed our interactions immensely.
A: Given the few exchange offers in from Estonia, we receive an abundance of offers. So many that we haven’t been able to accept them all. Our first exchanges were with Italy and we made about ten delightful trips to beautiful Tuscany. Then there were exchanges with southern France, England, Ireland, Spain – multiple times to each of these countries. Germany came later. We’ve also been to Greece, Switzerland, Portugal, St. Petersburg, and Sweden once each. All in all, we’ve probably made over sixty exchanges via HomeLink. And we haven’t been able to respond to every offer.
My travel companions over the years have been my partner, friends, mother, and sister with her family – whoever has had the availability and interest in the chosen time and destination. I have also travelled alone. Traveling with someone is enjoyable, but the experiences from solo journeys have left an even greater impression.
A: Sometimes we’ve had the chance to meet the exchange families in person; at other times we haven’t. In such cases, we’ve found the keys left for us in places like flowerpots, watering cans, key boxes, local corner shops, or with neighbours – a myriad of different ways. We’ve swapped cars and offered our country home for a few days, in addition to our Tallinn apartment, so guests could explore more of Estonia. We’ve looked after exchange families’ cats and watered their indoor plants.
We’ve invited exchange families to have dinner at our home, dined out with them, and had some really memorable and engaging conversations. We’ve even discovered mutual acquaintances – a lady from the Black Forest, Anita, had exchanged homes with an English family in Athens, where we had also stayed, and they reminisced about their time at our place. One of our previous visitors recommended us to a Swedish family, and we subsequently swapped homes with them, among others.
A: To me, home exchanging is a far richer experience than living in a hotel. Staying in someone else’s home, you become part of the everyday life of the country. You greet and chat with the neighbours, shop at the local bakery, dine at neighbourhood restaurants, read the books in their home, and start recognizing and greeting familiar faces around the area. Within a week, the place begins to feel incredibly familiar, like a charming, temporary home in Tuscany, Provence, Cornwall, Connemara, the Black Forest ...
I have countless beautiful memories of the people we have met over the years. And we look forward to visiting many more interesting places around the world. We extend a heartfelt welcome to all HomeLink exchange families!