BY AJ TRAGER
When Ken Russell, a London native, spent a summer in San Francisco a little over a decade ago, the experience of exploring the city and spending time with a talented drag queen named Rosie changed his life. During his first trip to the city he rented an apartment south of Market Street that was “gloomy, grim and depressing” and overlooked a high wall at the side of the freeway. He was unsure of his trip and wondered “what on earth he agreed to.”
However, San Francisco had more to offer, and Russell quickly saw the expansive opportunities that lay before him in the Castro District when he walked along Henry Street and landed in an apartment with a “For Sale” sign, where he met Rosie. He spent the rest of the summer with Rosie and has returned year after year. He still keeps his bike at her place.
A few years later, Russell created Home Around the World, a site where home exchangers, guests and hosts could find one another and spend an extended vacation in the home of an LGBT or ally friend. By simultaneously swapping a home with another member, travelers will stay in comfort and enjoy being a tourist whilst living like a resident.
Russell sat down with BTL to discuss the opportunities that await members of Home Away From Home.
What kinds of experiences/benefits are available for members (that they can’t get from hotels, hostels, etc.)?
By joining a club of like-minded people, our members sleep around the world without ever losing the comforts of home. Staying in upmarket hotels and eating in fancy restaurants is great, but on a vacation it can be ruinously expensive and it’s almost always an impersonal experience. And unless you’re just relaxing in a resort, how often do you return from a vacation feeling exhausted?
Hotels encourage their guests to leave their room and be out during the day, which is fine if you have the stamina to schlep around and explore all day long. Personally I’d rather live life at my own pace, sleep late if I choose to, sightsee at my leisure, take new pleasure in shopping for food in supermarkets, meet local people and just enjoy all the comforts a home can offer.
By staying in a home, it’s easy to experience new cultures and really begin to understand what it’s like to live like a local and not travel as a tourist. You’ll not only save a ton of money, but you’ll have far more rewarding experiences. And what you’ll save on expenses means you can have more vacations throughout the year. It’s a win-win!
There are no current members from Michigan. If someone were to sign themselves up and offer their home, what kinds of things would you suggest they include in their page?
Michigan is world renowned for its Midwestern hospitality, natural beauty, vineyards, picturesque beach towns and of course Douglas and Saugatuck, two of the most gay friendly small towns in the country. What’s not to love?
Our listing design ranks amongst the best of any mainstream or LGBT accommodation site and enables members to provide a balance of information about their homes and area. A listing is your advertisement, so it’s worth spending a little time getting it right. Apart from promoting the best of Michigan, it’s also important to upload some images of your home and area. Supply personal information including your holiday likes, preferences and what you’re looking for so our members begin to know more about who might be swapping with them and living in their home. The personal touch is very important to encourage contact from other members.
Why is this home exchange network important for LGBT travelers?
When Home Around the World started, our clientele was the LGBT traveler based on the concept that like attracts like. It seemed only natural to cater for our own community. However, a few years ago I began receiving emails from gay-friendly people disappointed that they might be barred from joining. Thankfully, times were rapidly changing and so it was an easy decision to open the site up to our “LGBT-friendly” friends.
Our members are singles and couples of all ages and backgrounds and they offer a variety of homes from the simple and comfortable to the simply luxurious, and the one thing they have in common is the warm welcome they offer each other.
This might be an unsettling idea for some folks who may be concerned with the security of their things. What are HATW’s policies regarding broken or stolen goods?
It is quite natural to be hesitant about inviting people we don’t know to stay in our homes — just don’t forget your exchange partner no doubt shares your own anxieties! With careful communication, however, the reality of home swapping is quite different.
Swapping your home involves first establishing a friendship based on mutual trust. As your communication develops through emails, photographs and phone calls, strangers soon become friends. Once that friendship and trust has been established, the anxiety truly disappears. It’s like swapping with a member of your own family without all the accompanying stress!
In all the years we’ve been in business, we have never received any reports of damage. We impose no rules or boundaries, except that our members are respectful of other people, their homes and their possessions. And that’s not too much to ask.
Are there any other things that potential users should know about?
Most members are looking for simultaneous swaps but non-simultaneous swaps are also popular. They can provide an ideal way for new members — who might be hesitant about making their first direct swap — to stay with another member first and then return their hospitality at a later, mutually convenient time. The site also provides “The Essential Guide to Home Swapping,” a useful step-by-step guide to assist all our virgin home swappers eager to make their first swap.
Once a member, all home exchangers qualify for an optional free host listing if they would also like to have occasional paying HATW guests in their home. We also advertise vacation rentals as some of our members also own second homes and there are generous discounts on renewals and additional listings.