Romance and Travel Not Just For Kate and Cameron -- Home Exchange Members Tell Their Real Life Versions of 'The Holiday'

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Have you ever house swapped? Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet have. In Sony's newly released, 'The Holiday' Kate and Cameron play two lovelorn women who agree to swap homes for the holidays, and in doing so, land themselves in new digs with new men. But this isn't just another sweetly crafted Hollywood confection. A growing number of intrepid travelers have taken to house swapping as a cozy alternative to the mini bar and room service tab. And more than one 'swapper' has landed herself in a true-life romance. Many of these travel related trysts began at the The Digsville Home Exchange Club and we have their stories.

Fans of house swapping are looking for something more intimate, something that makes them feel like they're not a tourist, and home exchange does that. You're home, but in a totally new environment

When movie goers sit down this Christmas season to watch Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz in "The Holiday," they might suspect that the tale of two lovelorn women who swap homes for the Christmas holiday -- and in doing so, land themselves in romances with local men -- is a sweet, yet hollywood-crafted confection. But for members of Digsville.com, and a growing number of intrepid travelers, finding true love via house swapping is the stuff of real life.

House swapping? No, this isn't a twist on wife swapping, or some other new fangled swingers club. House swapping (aka home exchange) is an alternative to the traditional house or hotel rental. Instead of paying rent, people use their own property and 'swap' their home with another family in their desired destination. Over the last few years, it has developed a cult-like following among vacationers looking for something different in the way of comfort from the Holiday Inn mini bar.

"Fans of house swapping are looking for something more intimate, something that makes them feel like they're not a tourist, and home exchange does that. You're home, but in a totally new environment," says Helen Bergstein, founder of The Digsville Home Exchange Club (http://www.digsville.com), one of a growing number of vacation sites that cater to people looking to trade room service tabs for a set of house keys. "You feel more comfortable at home, and on some level, that makes it easier to meet people."

Enter Jen H., a 60-year-old former health psychologist who decided on a home exchange vacation to celebrate her retirement. She found a quaint couple with a villa in New Zealand and arranged to swap her townhouse apartment in Suffolk, UK for two weeks during the summer. Unknown to her, she landed within hours of Jack, a home builder who was there touring the local town for a construction project. They missed each other at the airport, but Jack was there to catch her when she stumbled on the observation platform at a local attraction the following day. Jen and Jack "fell' for each other on the spot, and this year, they're planning a home exchange vacation for two.

Another oft-sighted advantage to house swapping is the location. Hotels are likely to be in segregated, commercial neighborhoods, and the chances of hooking up with locals is diminished by the geography. But a house or apartment is as close as you can get to the natives. Take Hagit, who traded her apartment in Tel Aviv for a NYC pad on Union

Square. Hagit didn't have any plans for romance, but it was love at first sight when her neighbor, a handsome young lawyer by the name of Harold, stopped by to welcome her to the building.

But home exchange is not just for retirees, and not just for those looking to meet someone new. The younger set is taking to zip code swapping as a way to cut their travel budget while hanging on to the comforts of a full-fledged vacation home.

"I have a beautiful one-bedroom in Manhattan, but the cost of living in the city makes a real vacation prohibitive. When I looked into home exchange, I realized that by using what I already have, I could eliminate my hotel bill and still stay in a great neighborhood," says Paula, a 28 year old graphic designer who has used Digsville.com over the past two years to travel to such places as far-flung as Barcelona and Tokyo.

For the founder of Digsville, the advantages of home swapping, romantic and otherwise, are no surprise. Mrs. Bergstein is herself a lifetime home swapper, and after using other services for a number of years launched Digsville.com in 1999 after finding other services to be impersonal and restrictive.

"We wanted to create something that had an intimacy with our clients which reflected the home swapping experience." To wit, members can connect one-on-one with each other using an internal email program, and home listings are rated by former swap partners, a feature that makes Digsville.com what Helen calls a full-fledged "community of review."

"By allowing members to interact with each other from the start, people develop a rapport with their exchange partners" Helen says, "and that leads to further connections in their community. By the time you get to your new digs, you have a group of people ready to make friends with you."

In some cases, more than friends.

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Helen Bergstein
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