I am backstage at the Michael Van Der Ham fashion show in London, in an ancient-looking building on the Thames. In the midst of the crush of models, dressers, other photographers and frantic hair and makeup teams, I am trying to get a great "beauty" photo for my client, a top fashion magazine. A makeup artist I know from New York, hands buried in a hunk of hair extensions, asks, "Are you going to Milan, too? Where are you staying?" So I tell her the truth—in an apartment with a Milanese couple.
"Oh, how do you know them?"
I don't. I found them on the Internet.
While I’m getting paid for my work in London, Paris, and Milan—where I am photographing runway shows, backstage, events, and designer portraits—I’m actually traveling on my own dime. And so, in my desire to make this trip creatively and financially successful, I took a radical departure from the fashion flock, and booked the entire “circuit” on a combination of frequent flier miles and budget-friendly travel sites.
Finding accommodations in London would not be easy, but I heard about LuxeHomeSwap.com, which sells itself as being a real-life version of the popular chick flick The Holiday. But would anyone really let me stay in his or her beautiful, chic apartment—for FREE? Would I really be able to trade 3 or 4 nights in my adorable but small Brooklyn apartment for an 8-night stay in a 2-bedroom in central London or Paris? And would Jude Law be waiting to seduce me when I got there?? I had to find out.
I was eventually “matched” with a gent named Guy, whose Bayswater two bedroom had everything I needed—a place to crash, a decent location, wi-fi, and hot water.
Per my host's emailed suggestion, I popped into town on the Paddington Express (15 minutes!). When I arrived, he picked me up, in a BMW! This WAS starting to seem more like The Holiday and less, as I had feared, like Turistas.
Guy showed me around his two-bedroom, ground-floor apartment, and I realized it had a lot more than the basics—it has a garden, a spacious living room, and a big, soft bed for the few hours of sleep I would get a night.
I found out Guy had never "swapped" before, and I could tell he was nervous. He gave me some old towels (ones he clearly planned to burn when I left). He pointed out the TV, the heating and hot water, the water filter, and the Internet connection. And, he left me taxi and assurances information should anything go wrong.
It was late when I arrived, so Guy gave me a list of local places where I could still get a bite, and left me to get oriented in my adorable temporary home. I walked out into the misty night, past the garden, and onto the lower roadway where a series of bars and restaurants still buzzed with late-night energy. I felt like I lived in London. I ambled into a dark cute place called Tiny Robot (78 Westbourne Grove) and was greeted by the 20-something hipster. He sat down next to me, asked me about my work, my travels, and Fashion Week—and even offered up the restaurant's free wi-fi during the day! It’s menu read: “If you like your lunch Italian, your brunch American, your dinner relaxed, and your cocktails icy cold, you'll love Tiny Robot." What’s not to love?
I ordered a healthy dinner of sliders and “chips” then returned “home,” enjoying the walk up a pretty, quiet London street to “my” apartment, unlocked the door, undressed in the living room, and got into what would be “my” bed for the next 5 nights.