We have re-launched www.matchinghouses.com, the world's first disability-specific house swap website for disabled people to go on holiday. What's more the site is free to join! You can upload pictures of your house, fill in the online questionnaire about your property, and then swap – near of far – for free!
The house swap idea is not a new one – people have been swapping their properties for many years, using it as an opportunity to travel to places they'd never thought of going. You get to stay in someone else's property while they get to stay in yours, and it's much more relaxing than staying in a hotel.
However no-one had thought of this specifically for disabled people. And yet it makes so much sense – my house, which is accessible for me as a wheelchair user, will probably also be accessible to you, if you're also a wheelchair user. No longer do you have to rely on a travel agent, or a hotel, to get it right. On this site it is one disabled person talking to another about exactly what they need.
The site was conceived, designed and is run by a disabled person. We have a sophisticated database system, which matches your property with other, similar properties on the database across the world. You decide where you want to go, make contact with the home owner, and arrange the dates and exact details for your swap. It's that simple!
Before you leave your property you write a list of places you like to go, where they welcome disabled people and where you have a good time, and leave it for your visitor. When they arrive not only do they have an accessible property to stay in, but they also have a list of local knowledge about the places to visit.
This gives the visitor a real experience of the place they are visiting. Of course if there are visitor attractions nearby you will want to go and visit them. In fact you might decide to go to a certain place because there are things there that you want to see. But you also get to see what it is like to live there, in a 'regular' neighbourhood, away from the tourist traffic.
Over 250,000 people swapped properties across the world last year. This is a really popular way to holiday. It's cheap – the place where you're going to stay is free to stay in. For many people, particularly if they are travelling as a family, this can save them many thousands of pounds. And we have redesigned matchinghouses.com to include families with disabled children – a group of people who often can't afford to go on holiday.
Many disabled people get adventurous with their holidays, and travel from one country to another, or one continent to another. However for many disabled people this long distance travel is just not possible. Matchinghouses.com works for all disabled people – there will be properties nearby, in your own country, or overseas. There will be properties in towns and cities, by the sea, or in the countryside.
Joining matchinghouses.com is simple. There's a form to sign to accept our terms and conditions, then you login your house details, including photos to show the property in its best light. And that's it! You can then send messages to any of the properties in which you're interested, and get swapping.
This is still the very early stage of the new site, so we are currently populating the property database. We need people to sign up, so we're starting the new life of the site with a free registration process. At some point we do plan to charge a very small fee, but for the moment it's free! You will be able to swap as many times as you want, so you could spend lots of time travelling to new places. It's a bargain!
Here are some top tips for home swappers –
- Put up lots of pictures of your property onto matchinghouses.com. Nothing attracts people to want to swap with you like a few good photographs. Include pictures of the outside of the property, as well as a few to show any adaptations you have made which make it particularly accessible for you;
- Include some written information about any attractions, towns, or places of interest that are nearby. Imagine that you are a visitor to the area, and look at things from an outsider's point of view. The more you can 'sell' your property to a visitor the more likely you will be to have plenty of swappers asking to come and stay;
- Be as flexible as possible about where you want to go and when. By going to places that you hadn't thought of going you can really enjoy some new experiences;
- When you have made contact with a possible swapper ask them plenty of questions. We all know what it is like to arrive at a destination and for it to not quite meet our access needs. We think we have designed our matchinghouses.com property questions really well, so the houses should be well matched. But there will always be things worth clarifying, for your own peace of mind if nothing else;
- Before you leave your property leave a little welcome for your visitors. This might be a bottle of wine, some chocolates, a welcome note, together with a list of places that are nearby. This can really help them to feel settled and welcome. One of your neighbours might pop in to say hello and to welcome them to the neighbourhood;
- When you are on holiday treat the house you are staying in as if it were your own. Leave it good and tidy for when they return. Perhaps take pictures on your phone when you arrive, so you know how to leave it when you depart;
- And why not leave a note when you leave, letting your host know that you had a good time, and anything locally that you really enjoyed.
At the end of the day this is an opportunity to go to new places, see new things, and meet new people. One person used matchinghouses.com to swap their property in London for a week in Paris. They have become good friends, and now they do the same swap every year. It's become like a home from home for them!