This year for a spring vacation I planned a home exchange to Orcas Island, just off the coast of Washington. I’m not super excited by beach-focused island vacations. But the San Juan islands are different. There are beaches, but there are also miles of park land for hiking, calm waters for boating, whale watching, and interesting farms to tour. There are also a surprising number of breweries, wineries, and distilleries, along with some really good restaurants. Island life is calm. Orcas Island isn’t very populated so beautiful nature is everywhere.
The San Juan islands are a popular vacation destination in the summer. Being a bit averse to tourist crowds, I planned a visit for mid-Spring. The boat at Anacortes is just a two hour drive from the Seattle airport. And the ferries take cars to the major islands several times a day. The cost is quite reasonable ($47), considering that the return trip is free, as are walk on rides between the islands (without a car).
Finding the home exchange
I didn’t originally plan on Orcas Island. I was willing to stay on any of the four major islands that can be accessed by car ferry. So I sent out a bunch of home swap requests. I found potential exchange partners on two networks: Love Home Swap and HomeExchange. I was willing to do a simultaneous exchange or spend points, and both these networks offer points-based swaps. Fortunately a couple who lives on Orcas Island agreed to host us in their second home, which they rent out on Airbnb. Both homes sit on 5 acres of land, nestled into the forest, with views of the water and mountains.
This was a stay for points, using the bulk of my remaining points on LoveHomeSwap, which is great since I’m planning to quit this network at the end of the year. Just a few days before we left I got a request on this same network to host someone for a few days. He was on a home exchange nearby and wanted to spend a few days in my city. I’ll write more about this in another post.
Advantages and disadvantages of points stays in Airbnb rental homes
I could not find a simultaneous swap to the San Juan islands. Odds were against me since I had fixed the dates, and the islands are not very populated. So in this case, points worked out nicely. And because the home we stayed in is rented on Airbnb, it was easy for the host to offer it for home exchanges when it isn’t booked as a rental. As long as the host keeps their calendar up to date, this works nicely for swap availability searching.
Our swap hosts were really great about communication, providing information about the house and the island, and responding quickly to questions both before and during the exchange. They are “superhosts” on Airbnb and clearly have that system down to a science. And for an Airbnb, this house was well stocked with games, books and DVDs.
But this definitely wasn’t like staying in someone’s primary home. The kitchen was stocked with a lot of cooking gadgets and a full array of pots, pans, knives and the like. In addition the hosts left coffee and tea and a few quick breakfast items. But it definitely wasn’t equipped for any serious cooking. About half of the nights we stayed I prepared dinner at home. I had to buy olive oil, and found myself struggling to season vegetables with the options on hand. I always enjoy cooking in home exchange houses because I can find oils, vinegars, spices and other sauces that I like to cook with. By the end of our stay I was just opting to eat dinner out rather than find meals I could cook without buying lots of basic ingredients. Fortunately there are some excellent restaurants on Orcas.
On the positive side: the closet was empty, with hangers and a bureau for our use. Something that obviously isn’t the norm in a home exchange. Hosts usually leave a few hangers and maybe an empty drawer. But it’s their home and so they are also using these things for their own clothes. And our hosts put a lot of thought into preparing the home. There was wood for the fireplace (both indoors and out), labels on all the cabinets identifying the contents, lots of extra towels, and even robes and toiletries for our use.
Overall this was a great home exchange using points. And I highly recommend the San Juan Islands to other travelers.