How to Prep Your House for a Home Exchange

Those of us who are not filthy rich but still enjoy long-term, international travel, have long relied on home exchanges. Leveraging your home (and car) can offset the otherwise prohibitive expenses of accommodations and transportation abroad. Our most recent home exchange involved a trade of houses and vehicles for two months with a Brazilian family much like our own (two kids under the age of ten).

The first time you prep for a home exchange, the to-do list is daunting. Obviously you'll be investing money and time in basic maintenance and repairs. Over time, it gets easier, and you figure out where that money and time is best spent. Here are ten tips for readying your home for your exchange partners.

Safety - This one should go without saying, but if there is something in your home that will jeopardize the safety of your guests, rectifying that situation should be at the top of the list. This can range from fixing loose boards on decking to cleaning out your dryer vents to removing weapons from the premises. Ask a friend or neighbor who is unfamiliar with your home to do a walk-through and help you identify issues you might be overlooking.  
Insurance - Contact your insurance agent and switch your homeowner's insurance policy to a temporary status that will protect you and your home in the event of damage. Let your agent know of your situation and plans; they should be able to point you in the right direction. 
Vehicles - If you're doing a car exchange along with the home exchange, make sure your vehicle is clean, serviced, and has updated registration and insurance information in the glove box. Call your car insurance company and add your exchange partners' names to your policy for the duration of the swap. If you're not exchanging vehicles, make sure you take the necessary steps to keep your vehicle in good working order upon your return. Here's WikiHow's article on How to Store a Car.  
Declutter - No one wants to be confronted with someone else's clutter. Box up as much as you can, including toiletries that you normally leave out, but that you might not take with you. You don't need to go so far as removing pictures from walls, but your exchange partners should arrive to find plenty of clean, free space to temporarily make their own.  
Clean - Speaking of clean, this one is non-negotiable. Clean sheets on beds, emptied trash cans, and a fridge free of leftovers (though leaving condiments and staples for your guests is always appreciated). If you are not able to get your home in immaculate condition (because you're too busy planning your own trip), find a reputable company who understands the situation and can come in after your departure to get your home looking its best.  
Resources - In the weeks before your exchange, gather as much information as you can about your area. Visit your local tourist office and stock up on all of their free magazines, brochures, and area guides. Add a personal touch by making notes about some of your favorite restaurants, shops, and sights to see. Include other resources like medical facilities, parks, gyms, and libraries. It's a good idea to include web links and to email the information you've compiled to your exchange partners prior to the trip, so that they can do a little research ahead of time. 
Contact Information - Included in the resources you provide should be contact information. Not just your own phone number and email, but the names and numbers of your trusted neighbors, your property manager, and emergency services (9-1-1 is a North American number, not an international one). Your designated property manager doesn't need to be a property manager by profession, but must be someone familiar with your home and responsible enough to handle any issues that may arise.  
Bills - Get as many of your bills enrolled in an electronic bill pay system as possible. Put a hold on your mail delivery, or employ the kindness of a neighbor to handle it while you're away. In every exchange I've completed, utilities remain the responsibility of the homeowner, no matter the length of stay.  
Honesty - Be completely up front with your exchange partners about any quirks your home might have, areas in town to stay away from, or any other concerns you'd have if you were visiting your home and city for the first time. You don't have to apologize for your home, but neither should you make it out to be something that it's not. Likewise, be honest about your own impending stay, how many people will be in the home if you're having guests visit you during the exchange, and for how long.  
Welcome - What can you do to make your exchange partners feel welcome when they arrive at your home? Flowers? Gifts for the kids? A gift card to your favorite restaurant? We arrived in Londrina, Brazil to find that our exchange partners had dinner and a bottle of wine waiting for us. All we had to do was turn on the oven. 
You'll come up with a much longer list of items to be addressed prior to a home exchange, like the transferring of keys (usually via a neighbor when we do a simultaneous exchange), where to store important documents (safety deposit box), how to handle finances while you're gone (letting your credit card companies and banks know of your travel plans, researching the availability of cash machines in your destination city), and visits to a travel doctor (vaccinations, immunizations, and prescriptions), but the above will serve as a starting point and a rough guide for preparing your home. With a little bit of trust and adventurous spirit, you'll find that "home" extends far beyond your front door.

For more on family travel abroad, check out 8 Mistakes of the Would-Be Digital Nomad Family.

Interview with LUCKY BOY Author Cameron Morfit

With a background as a sports writer, notably for Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine, what made you want to tackle a young adult novel? 

I was in a YA kick for a while, reading all the John Green books, and the Giver, and the Hunger Games and Wonder and Eleanor & Park and some other stuff. It seemed like the genre was a cool place to be, and hit themes that adults could relate to, as well. 

Your characters are wildly different, from Max's nearly-mute, little brother Gabe to the transient "Uncle Dewey". Yet they seem to find common ground, coexistence, and familial love. Is that connection what you hope young readers will focus on? 

They all care about each other, and I think that was one reason the story worked. In the beginning Max didn't even have a little brother, and the story cried out: Wait a minute. What/who does this kid care about?

Did these characters and their relationships emerge from your imagination or did you base them on your own off-beat relatives?

I had an Uncle Dewey, although that wasn't his name. He was a Vietnam veteran who was tough, and who had seen and done some awful stuff, but who had a huge heart. He also was a sort of lovable outsider--charmingly out of touch with the trends. I'm thinking here of Dewey looking at the speech therapist drinking a green smoothie and asking, "What is that, a salad in a cup?"  

Lucky Boy opens with Max detailing the predictability of another school year, though he soon finds his life filled with one unexpected event after another. Without giving any secrets away, did you have a clear image of what would disrupt Max's routine when you began the book or did some of the plot come as a surprise to you, as well?

The whole thing came as a surprise to me. I am not an outliner, although it sounds great. There was one plot twist that, I believe, made the whole thing work, and I remember feeling quite moved when I stumbled upon it. But really it all came from just forcing myself to write. The key, for me, is to do it regardless of feeling like I don't really know what I'm doing. It really is like building a boat as you're sailing it. 

Coming of age is hard. Wicked hard. Did you have any reservations about reliving it through Max?

No, I had no reservations, because there are universal truths there. We all struggle, we've all gone through middle school, and we've all felt like the middle child.  

What were your biggest challenges in the writing process? In the publishing process?

The biggest struggle in the writing process for me has been to understand my strengths and weaknesses. I know, for example, that if I don't check myself I can be too glib and write from the brain and not the heart. At some point the story has to connect emotionally. People want to feel something. As for the publishing process, the biggest challenge has been to cut through the noise and create more than a niche space for Lucky Boy in the marketplace. 

What's next? 

A friend and I are talking about turning Lucky Boy into a screenplay. I'm also working on my next novel, which also features a bit of golf but which won't be YA. Still very early in the process, but it'll definitely have some fun characters. I've had some requests to do another book with Uncle Dewey, maybe getting into where he goes after Lucky Boy, or even getting into his past. I could see doing that, too.  

Cameron Morfit is a Senior Writer for the Sports Illustrated Golf Group who has covered the PGA Tour since 1997. His work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Fortune, TV Guide, Golf Magazine, Golf Digest, the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times and other publications. He has been interviewed on NPR and CNN, and is a regular presence in the pages of SI and Golf Magazine, and on, where his work also includes video essays.
         After beginning his college career at UC Berkeley, Morfit graduated from the University of Colorado-Boulder in 1992 with a degree in journalism and an emphasis on broadcast production. His favorite books include Where’d you go, Bernadette, The Art of Fielding, The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Leftovers, and All the Light We Cannot See.
         He began his journalism career at a weekly newspaper in Georgia, transitioned to a daily in Idaho Falls, Idaho; moved to New York to immerse himself in magazines; and now lives in Boise, Idaho, with his wife and 12-year-old daughter.

         Lucky Boy is his first novel.  

Vagabonding with Kids

Mexico, Australia, Brazil, Alaska - we're all over the place. As a result, most of my activity these days takes place over at Vagabonding with Kids. Please check it out. You'll find blogs on our travels, what it's like to be a digital nomad, homeschooling overseas, and information about my upcoming Vagabonding with Kids book series. I hope to see you there!

NaNoWriMo Tips from Grammarly

Are you rocking your daily word count in pursuit of a working draft this month? If so, keep going - you're halfway there! When writing and reviewing your work, here are some friendly reminders to keep in mind from Grammarly. Because no matter how much you love your masterpiece, chances are you have one of these lurking in your pretty prose.

These might seem basic, but even veteran writers would do well to remind themselves of these from time to time. And these five mistakes are also why it's good to have another pair of eyes on your work.

I'm guilty of #1 and 5, while my husband is notorious for #2. He randomly Capitalizes Things for no apparent Reason. Whatever your weaknesses may be, make sure you don't edit your work as quickly as you wrote it. NaNoWriMo is great for getting a draft down on paper, but when it's time to review, slow down and keep the following in mind...

Five Mistakes To Avoid in Your NaNoWriMo Novel Infographic

Angry Devil Mom

My first-grader brought home a stack of completed school work last week. I look forward to this. Most of the papers make their way to the recycling bin when she's not looking, but every now and then there's treasure in there, some adorable little drawing or story that I'll keep forever. 

I found a series of papers on which she was given a word to illustrate. Here's the first:

I think it's pretty good. It communicates her absolute terror regarding water, which she unfortunately inherited from me. She also has my morbid inclinations, because she could have drawn herself helping with chores around the house or how a step stool helps her reach the sink, but she apparently wanted the stakes a little higher.

If you asked me to draw a picture to communicate the word "very", I wouldn't have the slightest idea where to start. That's no easy task. Ivy went with the above, because it's very green. 

And then we have this little gem. 

If I had to communicate the word "now", I might lean toward something that communicates time, like a clock or calendar. But not Ivy. No, when it comes to the word "now", this is her first impression. That's her on the left. Little, blond, sad, and crying. And that's me on the right. Angry, devil mom pointing at the floor and demanding "Now!"

Most of the time, we are happy and harmonious. But my patience has its limits. There are times when I lose it. It's not something I'm ashamed of, but the above picture is a good reminder to be aware of it, to remember that I have influence over how my kids see me, over how I make them feel. I'll try to remember that the next time my temper flares, because the idea of "now" should not be a scary one. And while I'm certainly no angel, that doesn't mean I have to be the devil. 


Want to feel better about yourself as a parent?

Which Literary Monster Are You?

This is the time of year when you're dying to know which literary monster you are. Never fear. The good folks at Grammarly will help you figure it out. I'm the werewolf. Of course. Now it's your turn. Take the test, get your evil on, and let me know which literary monster you are.