An adventurous solo traveller inspired by the hit rom-com The Holiday says she has saved up to £20,000 on holidays in two years by swapping her one-bed Parisian flat for stunning homes across the globe.
Re-watching the iconic Christmas movie during a Covid lockdown in 2020, consultancy manager Habiba Ben Othman felt inspired to home-swap and solo-travel – just like the film’s female leads, played by Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz.
Swapping her one-bed flat in Paris initially for homes across the south of France in July 2020, Habiba has gone on to stay in properties around the world for free – including the UK, Hungary, Italy, Sweden and Brazil.
Having completed 15 countries in the last two years, the 34-year-old – who is single and currently house-swapping in Malta – has no plans to stop.
She said: “My bucket list is to basically to travel everywhere, which is exactly what I’m now doing.
PA Real Life)
“Home swapping has changed my life because now travel is now a huge part of it.
“I can work remotely all over the world in beautiful countries and see the world in a different way.”
Habiba’s first introduction into house-swapping was as a teenager watching The Holiday one Christmas – but it was only more recently that she realised it could be a reality.
She said: “I remember watching it and thinking it was so romantic and adventurous and the two main characters were women who travelled alone, just like me.
“I do like travelling with friends, but I prefer to travel alone because it is easier to plan and budget and I’m really lucky my work is very flexible so I can work wherever I want.”
Finding the website, Love Home Swap, Habiba decided to bite the bullet in July, first with a few properties around France.
She said: “My first few homes were cottages and luxury properties in the south of France, which were absolutely amazing.
“The website was full of like-minded people who were really easy-going and welcoming, so I did the same and started accepting people to mine too.”
Then, in August 2020, Habiba travelled to the UK, to live in homes across England, Scotland and Ireland.
She said: “I started with London and then Edinburgh and then travelled more around Scotland.
“One of my favourite adventures was last April, when I went on a road trip around the north coast of Scotland in a rented car.”
PA Real Life)
She added: “I stayed in a wooden cottage in the Highlands, that was like something out of a fairy-tale.
“There were deer passing the window and by night I could hear the owls as I sat by the fireplace.
“I felt like I was actually in The Holiday.”
One of Habiba’s other favourite stops was Stockholm, Sweden.
“It was magical there – the city was so vibrant and welcoming,” she said.
“Throughout the summer they had different festivals so every night there would be music in the streets and new people to meet and history to learn.”
Habiba added: “When I travel, I like to live like a local and really immerse myself into the local life and get the real experience.
“Plus, house swapping is more comfortable and you get a real home with character and decoration and a kitchen and TV you just wouldn’t get with a hotel.”
Habiba has made friends while travelling too.
She said: “I love getting to meet new people wherever I go.
“One time, I swapped homes with a girl in Rome and she took me out to dinner to meet all her friends and that was amazing – they were so warm and welcoming.
“She is coming to my place for Christmas this year, which is lovely.”
PA Real Life)
Crucially, house-swapping is helping Habiba to save thousands every year.
She said: “I used to use hotels or Airbnb or bed and breakfasts, depending on what I could afford.
“If you want to get a nice hotel or Airbnb nearby the town, then you can end up spending a lot.”
Habiba added: “If you swap your home with the owners of the one you are visiting, it is completely free.
“But even if you go somewhere you are not simultaneously swapping with, you only pay an £80 fixed fee – which would be for a whole 10-day stay, for example.
“I have basically saved between five and 10k each year by house swapping, rather than using hotels or Airbnb.”
Habiba is already planning her next house swap for Christmas.
“I have lots of friends in the UK now, so I will be going to London for Christmas and new year – and then for Hogmanay, I will be in Edinburgh, which will be really exciting,” she said.
She hopes to encourage other women to take the plunge too.
“I really want to advise other women to step out of their comfort zone and give it a go,” she said.
“Start with a short trip and you will quickly discover it is so, so worth it.”
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