I am always looking for ways to increase our children’s exposure to Spanish – and one of the best ways, of course, is to travel to Spanish-speaking countries. Unfortunately annual trips from the UK to Mexico for a family of four do not come cheap and we are currently averaging a visit every three years. We are lucky to have friend we have visited in Barcelona, Madrid and near Granada.
However this summer we were limited to travelling during the school holidays as our eldest son is now in primary school. We started to look into renting a place in Spain for a holiday and were shocked to see the cost of accommodation during peak season. I quickly started to look into other options. After discounting my first idea of renting a camper van, I stumbled upon a website called homeexchange.com where for a $150 membership fee, you can exchange your home with other families around the world with no additional costs.
The Home Exchange website is pretty straight forward to use, and as we have previously been airbnb hosts it was quick to create a profile. Finding a successful match, however, took a lot of perseverance and I think I must have sent around 200 requests! Finally, the hard work pulled off and we arranged to swap our family home in Bristol with a casa de campo of Fernando and his family of five from Madrid.
Leaving your home to strangers is always a bit nerve racking, but we felt assured by the communication with Fernando, first through Home Exchange and then via Whatsapp. Luckily our Spanish-speaking lodger Michelle would be around to help Fernando and his family settle in. Likewise, Fernando has family in Huesa and they were our point of contact on arrival.
We have just returned from our first home exchange, where we spent around nine days in a lovely house with a pool on the edge of the a small town called Huesa in Jaen, Andalucía. During this time, the family stayed at our home in Bristol, using it as a base to visit attractions across the South of England.
Huesa is a typical pueblo, a world away from busy city life and the tourist beaches. The house had amazing views down over the town, across olive groves and the surrounding mountains. Embracing Spanish culture, we turned our British routines on their heads, and headed our with the children to play around 10pm, when the street, parks and playgrounds are full of life.
The town sits on the edge of the Sierra de Cazorla natural park, and there was a wealth of scenery to take in and walks to explore. Despite visiting in August and with small children, in the height of a heatwave, we were able to get out and see some local sites and scenery early on most days before coming back to the house to lounge around the pool and take long siestas. Fernando’s family also arranged for us to visit the local extra virgin olive oil factory, producing one of the world top olive oils.
Our home exchange to Huesa was a great success and we would recommend it to bilingual families, especially those without family or friends they can visit easily. By exchanging rather than renting a holiday home, you not only make the whole trip more affordable, but by staying in a family home, you have access to children’s books and toys in the minority language, and have more opportunity to connect with the local culture and community.
We hope to do another exchange next summer, and ideally combining it with local kids activities or holiday camps so the children get the maximum chance to interact with their peers.
Have you ever done a home exchange to promote your minority language? I’d love to hear about it!