My House Is Your House
My House Is Your House
Home exchanges and ‘couch surfing’
are growing, and cheaper, travel alternatives
for those who want to see Israel like a local.
Every summer when she was a little girl, Lior Student and her family swapped their Mediterranean beachside house for an apartment nestled inside the walls of the Jerusalem Old City’s Jewish Quarter.
“To this day — and you have to understand I come from a secular family — that was my first experience with religious kids,” Student said. “I got to know the religious quarter by heart. My parents sent us to buy pitas from the Arabs in the market.”
Student, now 36, grew up in a moshav sandwiched between the coastal cities Netanya and Hadera, and annual apartment swaps were a favorite part of her family’s summer vacations. So when she grew up and moved out on her own, it felt natural to Student to continue in this tradition. And about five years ago, she tried swapping for the first time, using Craigslist.
“Did you see the movie ‘Holiday?’” she asked The Jewish Week, referring to a film where characters played by Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet exchange their England and Los Angeles homes, and Diaz’s character falls in love with a British local played by Jude Law. “That happened to me. I did it with a guy in Paris, and we overlapped for a few days and completely fell in love.”
Aside from the Paris exchange, however, Student was surprised to find little interest in her renovated central Tel Aviv apartment on the various worldwide swap sites she joined. But after finally taking part in a successful trade with a homeowner in Andalusia, Spain, she sought a way to get more Israelis involved in the exchange experience and make more of their homes available to potential visitors to the Jewish state. To do so, she launched a collection of Facebook groups under the umbrella “Israel Home Exchange”; they have since accumulated more than 7,000 members in the past year and a half. Subgroups include Israel-USA exchanges, Israel-Europe exchanges, sublets, exchanges for Israelis within Israel and a kosher home exchange.
“You can get to the oddest places; never would I have found that even on a map,” she said of her own Andalusian swap. “When I got back I just wanted to spread the word. I got to show Israel to people the way I had wanted to. I got to experience their country in a different way. And all of this was for free — it was unbelievable.”
The quick membership growth in her Facebook group testifies to an increased global interest in highly personalized — yet cheaper — forms of travel. Paid sites across the Web, such as HomeExchanges.com have long offered opportunities for members to trade homes nearly anywhere. Within Israel, Craigslist’s Tel Aviv section offers a home swap category, while Hebrew sites Homeless.co.il and Yad2.co.il also offer similar opportunities. But sites that focus solely on Israeli or Jewish home exchanges and hospitality, like the Israel Home Exchange, are few and far between. That is something Student is aiming to change. She feels that a shared love of Israel brings about a mutual trust among the users, even if they decide to make trades outside Israel.
“There’s something about the focus of Israel that makes people more comfortable — they are exchanging with someone with a common interest,” Student said.Share