Long before I saw the movie The Holiday, I thought the idea to do an apartment swap was brilliant. Granted, I hadn’t known anyone who had done it, but there was something so whimsical about picking up from where you live and pretty much, well almost, trading lives with another person. And when the person lives in a foreign country, to me, that seemed even more divine. I’m a big fan of picking up and fleeing town.
At this very moment, I’m sitting in a flat in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. I’ve been here for a few hours, and this would be my third apartment swap in as many years. Yes, it may be easily 20 degrees colder here, I won’t have hours of Family Guy to distract me this evening while I try to get back on normal time again after my jet lag, but I’m in fucking Paris. Paris. Just as my apartment swap gal said to me yesterday when we met, “I’m in bloody New York!” See? We’re both stoked.
While I would never profess to be an expert when it comes to anything in life, doing the apartment swap thing a few times has taught me some things. First of all, never entirely trust anyone; and secondly, a leap of faith is always a good idea when your life needs to be spiced up.
1. Believe in Craigslist. Yes, Craigslist has, for some, ended in a disaster. But there are actually decent and real people on there trying to find a job, a place to live or do an apartment swap. I’m on there, so that has to say something, right?
While there are sites that cater to the apartment swapping crowd, it’s honestly far cheaper and easier to go the Craigslist route. However, this also means you need to be aware of anything that’s suspicious. So this is where you turn on your extra aware mode so you can weed out creepers.
2. Email is your BFF. Finding an apartment swap won’t be immediate. Not everyone is on the time schedule as you, so it will take a few tries to find a match. You also want to make sure that you have a back and forth via email that is comfortable. If something, anything at all, seems off, just move on to the next possible candidate.
3. Ask a lot of questions. Why is this person interested in doing a swap? What do they do for a living? Have they ever been to the city where you live? Do they have any bad, gross, nasty habits they’d be willing to share? While you don’t want to discriminate, you want to have a good idea of the person on the other end of the email chain. It’s not just about the safety of your home and belongings, but the sanity of your neighbors, too.
4. Exchange photos. Once you think you’re comfortable with your apartment swap buddy, exchange photos of each of your flats. If you’re swapping with someone in another country, understand that the living situation may be completely different from what you’re used to, so don’t throw in the towel just because someone doesn’t have a full-length couch or the shower looks a little bizarre.
5. Google stalk. Seriously; this is actually where Google stalking is OK. If you can’t find a record of this person out there somewhere in the world — especially after they’ve told you things about themselves — then be ready to ask more questions. The world is full of fakers, so this is your chance to play detective.
6. Skype. This is an absolute! You must Skype before you agree upon anything! See the person on the computer screen in front of you and make sure those photos they sent of their place look like the place from which they’re Skyping! Have them give you a Skype tour and vice versa!
7. Make an agreement. While I’ve never put anything in writing with anyone when doing a swap, we have always agreed on “rough” dates. So, decide on a ballpark of dates when it comes to arriving and leaving, and be flexible. If you’re really concerned that you’ll have someone move in and never leave your apartment, then draw up a simple contract.
8. Meet in person. Again this is an absolute must! Even if it means crashing on a friend’s couch for a night or two before you leave town, you should always meet the person with whom you’re doing the swap in person. How could you not want to anyway? There’s a sense of security, even if you’re still hesitant, when you meet that person in the flesh and hand over a copy of the key to your apartment. Leaving the key with a friend or doorman will just leave you feeling like you forgot something in the whole transaction, because you would have.
9. Remember your manners. When you do meet your “swapper” be kind, remember your manners and be really clear with instructions on how everything works in your home. Even if things seem pretty straight forward to you, someone else may have to have every step of how to even open your fridge spelled out, so be patient and courteous.
10. And JUMP! As I said, doing an apartment swap with a stranger does require a leap of faith, but isn’t it exciting, too? Isn’t life about doing things that scare you a bit sometimes? Yes, you will second guess yourself, you’ll have reservations, you’ll wonder if you cleaned the apartment well enough before you left and exactly how many threesomes your bed might see, but that’s part of the experience. And last I checked, we were all here for the experience.
So pack up your bags, store your really important things with a good friend while you’re gone to be on the safe side, and off you go.
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” – Anaïs Nin