Last year we swapped our flat in London for an apartment in Miami on a private island called Fisher Island, where apparently Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey and Boris Becker have homes. You could say we got the better deal. Anyway, it's coming to the time of year to plan summer holidays, which has got me thinking about home swapping. I wanted to share with you our experience because it was so ace. Check out some of our pics. Scroll down to see how we did it.
To get to the island you had to reach it by private boat. When we got to the jetty for the first time we were pretty intimidated: security is tight and our names were down but we couldn't help feeling like scruffy invaders. The boat was full of bling mobiles!
This was our building's pool. The island was dotted all over with pools, including a huge marble pool at the Vanderbilt Mansion, the island's original main dwelling.
There were private beaches on the island but the nicest beach we found was South Pointe beach on the most southerly tip of Miami Beach. It was usually pretty deserted, with just a few locals walking their dogs. And shallow, pale blue water over white sands. OMG.
A bonus was that we got access to bikes and a car, so we could travel about and see places you might not ordinarily reach as a tourist. We'd been to Miami before and mainly stayed around South Beach which is a bit blah (and a rip off). The benefit of staying in someone's home is that you get great insider tips. Our best tip was Monty's, a bar with a permanent happy hour, including a raw bar where you could order piles of crab legs for hardly any beans.
Plus we got a golf cart to traverse the island. Too much fun.
So, how it worked. Our flat is fairly central in London and we'd let friends borrow it in previous years when we went away, which got us thinking: our mortgage is pretty steep and it's kind've heartbreaking to have to pay big hotel bills on top of that. Surely someone somewhere would be up for doing a swap?
A quick internet search revealed that Craigslist had a ton of options for people wanting to swap for London and other UK towns and cities. Check it out! We were pretty flexible about where we wanted to go so, when I saw the words Private Island Miami, I was up for it.
I took some honest photographs of our flat (we were actually laughing as we did it) and to my surprise the respondent was instantly up for it. They had a small child with another on the way and wanted somewhere chilled out and easy to stay. Just like that, we agreed a date to book our travel tickets and the job was done.
How could we be sure they weren't weirdos? Well, we couldn't, but you get an obvious feel for people straight away. We googled them and their Facebook pages came up; I think my only security check was to email them through Facebook to check they were who they said they were. Our instincts were that these were nice, genuine people. (And they certainly had a lot of questions about where to buy organic produce and nappies, for fraudsters!)
The main hassle was writing out lists of how everything worked: car, heating, boiler, etc. But, especially because our destination was so ace, it was definitely worth it. And it was all COMPLETELY FREE. We only paid our airfares and ended up having an unforgettable experience. It's definitely worth checking out if you're wondering where to go and what to do for your holidays this year, especially if you're on a budget.