Design People & Places

What The Holiday Gets Right and Wrong About House Swapping

While the premise of the 2006 film starring Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz is based on reality, the two ladies made some mistakes when swapping their homes for the winter holidays.
Deirdre Mundorf Avatar
Rosehill Cottage sits behind a white picket fence with a sign bearing its name.

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Released in 2006, The Holiday is about two women who are fed up with their love lives and are looking for a brief escape from their current situations. Iris (Kate Winslet) and Amanda (Cameron Diaz), stumble upon one another online and decide to swap homes. The next day, Amanda is on her way to Surrey, England, to live in Iris’ picturesque cottage, while Iris travels to sunny Los Angeles to stay in Amanda’s glamorous home. It doesn’t take long before both women meet a new love interest in their respective adopted cities.

While the idea of swapping homes with someone else was first started in the 1950s, the release of The Holiday increased its popularity. The movie got some details right about how exchanging homes with someone else works, but Iris and Amanda also made quite a few mistakes.

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Right: House swapping is a real thing.

Exchanging homes with someone else, as Iris and Amanda did in the film, is indeed a real thing. House swapping makes it possible for someone to vacation in another city—or country—and experience the culture and local customs. Unlike traditional vacations, you don’t have to worry about paying for accommodations. Plus, because you’ll be staying in a fully furnished and equipped home, you likely can cook food instead of relying on restaurants for every meal. In this way, house swapping can be seen as an alternative to Airbnb.

There are a few different house-swapping categories. The first is a simultaneous exchange, what Iris and Amanda did in the film. They each stayed in each other’s homes at the same time. A non-simultaneous exchange also is possible if the two homeowners’ schedules don’t align. This involves the need to find somewhere else to stay when the swapper is in your home instead of staying in each at the same time.

The third option would be a hospitality exchange, where one homeowner hosts a guest while still living in the home. At a later (or earlier) date, the host then travels to the guest’s city and stays in their home while they are present. If you’re looking for a unique way to sell your home, you never know what a home exchange could lead to.

The entrance to a Spanish style home sits at the end of a shaded courtyard.

Wrong: Not doing anything to prep the house before swapping.

In the film, Iris and Amanda came up with the plan to switch houses and literally flew to their new accommodations on the following day. This didn’t leave them any time to prepare their house for their guests. In reality, there are several steps each should take to make sure their home is ready before letting someone else stay in it.

First, make sure that your guest will have some space to unpack their bag. In the movie, Amanda had to stuff some of her things in the closet because Kate Winslet’s Iris hadn’t cleared out some of her belongings to leave space. In addition to ensuring space in bedroom closets or dressers for personal belongings, think about other areas of the home. For example, make sure that the tables are cleared off and that there are a few empty drawers in the kitchen to better accommodate the needs of your guests.

Some other important home preparation tasks include giving it a deep cleaning, making sure the pantry is stocked with staples guests might need, hiding or locking away valuables, and arranging to have your mail held.

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Right: Using a reputable home swap website to facilitate the exchange.

When Amanda is searching for an opportunity to help her escape from her current situation, she stumbles upon Fortunately for her, this is a reputable website for individuals looking to swap their home with someone else. A few additional reputable home exchange websites include PeopleLikeUs, Kindred, and ThirdHome.

The benefit of using one of these reputable sites is that they vet members and houses for you. This adds an additional layer of security and confidence that you will have a pleasurable experience. If anything goes wrong with your stay, the platform organizers can help facilitate a solution.

A Spanish style home sits behind a gated entrance.

Wrong: Not notifying friends and family about the arrangements.

Amanda falls in love with Iris’ brother, Graham (Jude Law) in the film. However, the reason the two meet in the first place highlights one of the mistakes the characters in the film make. Graham shows up late one night at his sister’s house to sleep on her couch after a night out drinking. He pounds on the door to be let in. Except, instead of Iris, who he is expecting, Amanda opens up the door.

This rude interruption to Amanda’s stay could have been avoided if Iris had alerted friends and family who stop by regularly that she would be out of town. Of course, if Iris had actually done this in the movie, Amanda would have never fallen in love with Graham.

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Right: Chatting with the owner of the other home first.

Before swapping homes, Iris and Amanda chatted with one another. They asked each other a few questions about their respective homes and made a tentative plan for their stay. This is key before swapping homes. You want to ask the owner questions about the layout of the home, linens and kitchen tools that are available, the home’s proximity to local attractions, and other activities that you can do in the area. This could also be a good time to ask about procedures for entering the home and how it should be left when you check out.

Wrong: Leaving your pet for your guests to care for.

Several of the scenes from the film show Amanda caring for Iris’ dog. If you’re going to swap homes with someone, you shouldn’t expect them to take care of your pets. Instead, make arrangements for a friend to care for them at their home or to have them boarded while you are gone. You don’t want to inconvenience your guests with the needs of your dog or cat, and you also don’t want to trust a stranger to care for your pet as well as you would.