I swapped my NYC apartment with a friend in the UK in a real-life version of 'The Holiday.' Here's what it was like.
I swapped my New York City apartment with a friend who lives in Scotland around the winter holidays.
It saved money and allowed me to feel more like a local.
I'd absolutely do it again, but I would make sure we were both prepared for unexpected maintenance.
In the 2006 film "The Holiday," a writer from England and a movie-trailer editor from Los Angeles switch homes for the holidays.
In "The Holiday," Iris (Kate Winslet), a heartbroken writer who works in London, and Amanda (Cameron Diaz), a workaholic movie executive in Los Angeles, swap homes for Christmas and New Year's in an attempt to escape their romantic troubles. Iris stays in Amanda's California mansion, and Amanda cozies up in Iris' quaint cottage just outside of London.
Both women form unexpected connections with locals in their new cities, and they find the strength they need to move on from their respective ruts.
The film has become a holiday classic.
When my friend Rho posted on Instagram that they were looking to swap their apartment in Edinburgh, Scotland, for a place to stay in New York City, I immediately reached out.
I live in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City, and I often have friends (or friends of friends) stay there while I'm away. I even have a guest book for people to sign.
I loved the idea of swapping homes with a trusted friend as a way of traveling to a new country.
After exchanging photos of our living spaces and confirming dates that worked for us both, we booked flights and wrote guides to each of our apartments and neighborhoods.
Similar to an Airbnb guest book, we included basics like Wi-Fi logins, trash disposal, and laundry-machine use, as well as locations of the closest grocery stores and guides to local transportation.
My partner and I left for Scotland a few hours after Rho and their husband arrived at my apartment.
We overlapped long enough to sit and catch up for a few minutes before I handed over the keys.
Rho left the keys to their apartment with a nearby friend in Edinburgh.
Rho's friend left the keys for us in a lockbox since we arrived in Edinburgh while she was at work. Our taxi driver kindly waited to make sure we successfully entered the code and opened the lockbox before driving away.
Dragging my luggage through the cobblestone streets of Edinburgh after picking up the keys, I definitely felt a bit like Cameron Diaz's character in "The Holiday."
In the film, Amanda's cab driver drops her off as close as he can get to the rural cottage. She ends up trudging through the snow with her cumbersome suitcases while slipping around in her high heels.
The 10-minute walk to my accommodations wasn't as dramatic, but it did make me nostalgic thinking of the movie.
We let ourselves into the apartment without a hitch and set out to explore our new surroundings.
Edinburgh is an incredibly walkable city. All of the museums and famous attractions were no more than a 20- or 30-minute walk from where we were staying.
The festive atmosphere of Scotland in the wintertime remained even after Christmas and New Year's (known as Hogmanay) had passed.
Glasgow's Christmas market remained up and running when I visited the city the week after New Year's. Across Scotland, festive holiday light displays lit up the streets in the evenings.
Rho's apartment guide book proved useful when trying to figure out how to turn on the heat.
I don't control the heat or hot water in my New York apartment, so it took some time to learn my way around the boiler in Rho's.
However, we couldn't plan for everything. My friend and I both experienced some unexpected issues in our apartments during the swap.
In Edinburgh, a flickering light fixture blew a fuse that required calling an electrician to repair. I was worried I had done something wrong, but Rho assured me that those lights have always been "cantankerous," which made me feel a bit better. The electrician they recommended came the next day and fixed the problem in about 15 minutes.
A little while later, I noticed my New York City building's group chat talking about plumbing issues in various apartments. I let Rho know that there might be a problem with water in the building — in the past, cold weather has caused pipes to burst. All seemed fine until two days before I was scheduled to fly home, when Rho messaged me to let me know that my toilet had, in fact, exploded.
"The good news is that the water that exploded was clean!" they said.
My superintendent was able to provide an immediate short-term fix until a plumber arrived the day after I got home. I still feel bad that they had to deal with that.
Staying in an apartment (or "flat," as people in Scotland would call it) made me feel less like a tourist.
I got a sense of what it's like to live in Scotland through everyday tasks like grocery shopping. I discovered some surprising language differences in the aisles, such as "mince" meaning ground beef and "rocket" referring to arugula.
The arrangement also saved us money we might otherwise have spent on a hotel or Airbnb.
On Airbnb, apartments in Edinburgh cost around $100 to $200 per night, not including taxes and cleaning fees. Hotels are even pricier.
The apartment swap proved mutually beneficial, giving us each a place to stay without spending any additional money. This left more room in my travel budget to book tours and trips to other parts of Scotland like Inverness and the Isle of Skye.
I would absolutely swap apartments with a friend again.
Overall, the arrangement worked out perfectly for both of us. We each had free places to stay in countries we wanted to visit, and it was lovely to reconnect with a friend I hadn't seen in years.
I asked Rho for their thoughts, as well. They told me that it was "extremely grounding" to stay in someone's home while traveling, and helped them feel less anxious about being in a new place.
"It's also just so much better than staying in a hotel or feeling like you don't have an actual home base somewhere," they said.
I couldn't agree more.
If I'm fortunate enough to do this again with another friend, I'll make an extra effort to ensure that we're both as prepared as possible for any potential complications and know who to contact if something needs to be fixed.
I don't think I would feel comfortable swapping apartments with a complete stranger like Iris and Amanda in "The Holiday," but I would definitely do it again with someone I know and trust.
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