We’d visited the United States several times before our first house swap and thought we’d got the lifestyle sussed. I knew they could barely get through doorways with their pizza takeouts, that they were disturbingly nationalistic (‘God bless our troops’ and all that) and that the Midwest was full of rednecks, lonely gas stations and highways leading into the sky.
But that’s nothing to what you can discover when you literally swap lives with someone else. Which is what we did when we exchanged our pint-size home in Hampshire with a ranch on Long Island, New York State. How else would I know that liquor is can’t be bought for love nor money at any point along the Long Island Expressway on Sunday afternoons? Or that it’s the done thing for dogs over there to drink from the loo? Some friends still don’t believe that one, but trust me, it’s true.
It was one of those years when we didn’t have much money but wanted to do a biggish trip. An American work colleague put us in touch with one of her old school friends – this saved us money on using an agency but was pretty brave of my colleague, who was putting herself right in the firing line if anything went pear-shaped on either side of the pond.
We arranged to overlap at the Americans’ end because they were worried we’d be overpowered by their big dogs, but happily we were too overpowered by the sheer size of their home to even notice the two black beasts chomping and spitting at our ankles. You could have fitted four of ours into it, and their walk-in wardrobe was about the size of our entire bedroom.
We had the loan of our hosts’ massive station wagon complete with a doctor-on-call sticker, which meant we could park pretty much anywhere we liked. I had bad feelings about our humble Ford Focus, but even more so about our matrimonial bed, which suddenly seemed very narrow and very lumpy compared with their capacious king-size. We buoyed ourselves up with idea that Americans do everything bigger and (in some cases) better than us – that’s what they’re on the planet for. We also consoled ourselves with the notion that ‘little’ and ‘quaint’ (not to mention ‘old’) were probably part of the package for them.
Thankfully, we were right: they just loved our dinky houses, cars, shops, towns and even beds, and we all agreed we’d definitely do it again.
Find out more about USA family holidays and read our tips for home-swap holidays.