What I Use: Home Swap 2017

Posted on August 5, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Cloud, Hardware, Mobile, Paul, Windows 10 with 23 Comments

What I Use: Home Swap 2017

For the second year in a row, our annual home swap has taken us down an unexpected path. But we’re in Barcelona this year, and that’s always good news.

As you probably know, my family has been swapping homes each summer for over a decade, almost always in Europe. Most summers, this was a three-week trip, and it’s usually scheduled for the first three weeks of August. In 2015, when we visited Lyon, with a side-trip to Venice. And then last year, my wife, daughter, and I visited Paris, but only for two weeks thanks to a convoluted schedule; for that trip, my son opted to stay home to be with his friends before he headed off to college.

This year, we had resolved to go back to a normal three-week schedule, but when a family from Barcelona offered a two-week swap, we accepted. We love the city, after all, and figured we could simply spend a few more days on a side-trip somewhere else—Lisbon was my choice—after the swap as an irregularly-timed side trip.

Life had other plans. As I explained in The Thurrotts are moving to Pennsylvania, we suddenly went from thinking about moving a few years down the road to moving this summer. And the Barcelona trip was in the way.

After examining our options, however, we had to keep the trip: We had already booked our airfare, which was expensive, and so had the other family. So we agreed to stick to our contractual arrangement, and sell the house around the trip. Long story short, we’ll be closing—and moving—as soon as we get home. (Premium members can find out more about this schedule in Paul’s Tech Makeover: A Logistical Nightmare.)

Put even more simply, I’m in Barcelona right now. This is what I brought, and what I’m using.

Wonderful octopus

Home swapping. [We use the Intervac service to arrange our home swaps each summer](What I Use: Intervac) and we have consistently had great luck. In fact, we have met several friends thanks to these swaps, and with us moving soon, we’ll be asking around to see if anyone wants a repeat in a different part of the US in the future.

The real reason you go to Barcelona: Jamon Iberico

The home. We’re staying in a great three bedroom apartment (on the second floor, as we’d say it in the US, but on the first floor to Europe; it’s the floor above 0, or the ground floor) near the Barcelona Beach. We have AC here, which is crucial, as the summers here can be very hot. And we have quick access to the areas we want to visit. (We’ve been to Barcelona three times so far.)

The Pixel XL’s less-than-stellar panorama capabilities

Internet. High-speed Internet is key to our home swaps, and we always inquire about this requirement. Normal people tend to be unclear about such things, and this was no exception. But the woman here seemed to think that her connection was “30 something.” It is, in fact, 300 Mbps up and 300 Mbps down, which is incredible. But that is only over Ethernet. With their out-of-date Wi-Fi, it’s closer to 15-20 Mbps, depending on where you are in the house. Still quite acceptable.

Family selfie, no stick required

I work from here. This seems to confuse people, but these home swaps are not a vacation, at least not for me: I still work each day. (This is one reason why Internet access is so crucial.) That said, I usually sit in front of the PC less than I do at home: I work for a few hours in the morning, head out and see the city until mid-afternoon, and then work some more in the late afternoon when the US is finally waking up. I try to reduce my podcast load when I’m away, but I record podcasts while on a home swap as well.

Barcelona Cathedral

PCs. I was only going to bring one PC this year, but when the opportunity to test Windows 10 S again came up, I decided to bring two and split my time between them. My primary PC on this trip is a Microsoft Surface Book with Performance Base, thanks to its perfect keyboard and screen. The other PC is a new Surface Pro running Windows 10 S.


Phones. As has been the case for each trip this year, my primary phone here is the Google Pixel XL, thanks to its superior camera and inexpensive Project Fi connectivity. (I did bring my iPhone 7 Plus just in case, but I’m not using it.) When I’m in Europe, I use the Pixel with a bulky Mophie Juice Pack, which dramatically increases the battery life. And it lets me share my connection all day long with my wife and kids.

Padron peppers

Tablets. I brought the 10.5-inch iPad Pro just in case any iOS 11-related releases occur while I’m away, but I’ve been using my iPad mini 4 more regularly, as I do at home, for reading (news in the morning, periodicals, and books via Kindle) and the occasional video.

Human tower

Gadgets. Looking over What I Use: Must-Have Gadgets for Any Trip from last summer, I see that little has changed. And I travel with the same basic set of tools I always do: The Rick Steves Velocé Shoulder Bag for carry-on, the excellent Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones(which are getting old and frayed and will need to be replaced soon), the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse, a variety of cables and chargers, and a gadget bag that I carry in my luggage that includes a mini travel surge protector, various other cables and power supplies, Ethernet and other USB adapters (I had to switch back to old fashioned dongles because Surface), and the same basic list of items you can see in that post.


Luggage. I’m using the same Rick Steves Ravenna Rolling Case for my luggage, which I always carry-on and never check. (My whole family carries on; we travel light.) We didn’t have a direct flight this year, as you can’t fly direct to Barcelona from Boston. But it worked out great.

AV gear. I normally bring some small assortment of gear that will let us beam movies or other content from a PC or device to the TV. (Chromecast, Miracast, HDMI cable, and so on.) This year, because of the move, all that stuff is already in Pennsylvania, so we didn’t bring anything like that. But it’s worked out fine: We’re only here two weeks and don’t have a lot of group video time anyway. And my son has been pushing videos from his PC to the TV by unplugging an HDMI-based device in the home.

Home swap cat

VPN. One issue when traveling to Europe is that websites (like Google) will often cough up the local version instead of the US version I want. And services like Netflix will do the same, though the quality and availability of these services have gotten a lot better overseas in recent years. This year, I tried two VPN services, ExpressVPN and IPVanish, to see whether I could thwart Netflix’s VPN blocking silliness. ExpressVPN did the trick. And both services work fine for everything else. They’re inexpensive too.

Usually, I’d be pretty excited to be in Europe, and I’m still very happy to be here. But the move is looming over us, and I just want this to be over with so we can get on with it. And once we do arrive in Pennsylvania, we’ll have a lot of work to do fixing up the new house and getting settled. But I’m ready.


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Comments (23)

23 responses to “What I Use: Home Swap 2017”

  1. Polycrastinator

    With how cheap routers are, have you ever just replaced your host family's one? Might be worth doing.

    • wright_is

      In reply to Polycrastinator:

      That is what I thought, although the router is often provided through the ISP and automatically gets its connection information from the ISP when it is connected, so it often needs to be the same or a compatible make. Our ISPs generally use AVM Fritz!Box router (combined modem and router), which include all the telephony (VOIP) services and are automatically set up. The high end versions are very good, but generally cost 200 - 400€.

      (We have a mid-range one, which includes 802.11n, DECT (for cordless telephones), 2 analogue ports for corded telephones, 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports, built in telephone exchange and voicemail. The high end versions include a mix of features, including 802.11ac, ISDN 0 port (for connection ISDN telephones or telephone exchanges). You need to know what features are required and you need to know how to set up the router, if it isn't compatible with the pull-down from the ISP. That means have admin access to the router, and your ISP account and password, which I would generally not give a visiting family.

      It would be possible to put in a Wi-Fi access point, but, again, you'd want to disable the original Wi-Fi, which you probably can't do.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to Polycrastinator:

      I used to bring one, wish I had in this case. But we were so rushed with the move, etc. I didn't really plan this properly. I have made specific recommendations to previous home swap families about updating certain equipment, and will do so in this case. it's such an easy fix.

  2. Travis

    Paul, Brad Sams looks alot like your son. I thought it was Brad until I read the caption.

  3. DoggoEducating

    Damn, it's like good old America, where segregation between rich and poor is still a thing, i like it.

    Also, VPN is a must have feature not only in travels but whenever you use WIFI, check

    https://www.bestvpnrating.com/ for more.

    And yes, Netflix doesn't work outside USA.

  4. Albatross

    Hi Paul. I had a week in Barcelona the end of June this year. Many of your photos are familiar. It's a beautiful city. I was struck by the lack of insects there. Also , on a possibly related note, none of the windows have screens. Enjoy!

  5. Maximus Primus

    Delicious pics! Man, I really want to try this someday. Btw, I also used ExpressVPN when I was visiting China last year. It was a lifesaver.

  6. wright_is

    Google and most other (non-media streaming) sites offer you the choice. The first time you use them in a new country, they will try and route you to the local version, but you can usually select the appropriate version of the site - I use both Google.com and Google.de, for example.

    When on holiday, I've never taken any streaming equipment. We have watched local TV or no TV at all - it is after all supposed to be a holiday. What we do take with us are "Gesellschaftsspiele" (company games or board/card games), which are great out on the patio or balcony in the evening with nibbles and wine.

    In foreign countries, we generally use the TV for weather and news (you can usually get an English (or in my wife's case, German) news channel over the satellite, which most places seem to have.

  7. Bats

    So Paul is home swapping, huh? That means while he is living in someone's house, where is the other family living? In an empty house in Dedham?

  8. jchampeau

    Does the cat meow in spanish?

  9. JHawkZZ

    Thanks Paul! Always appreciate the info on what you use. I have two HooToo USB 3.0 hubs thanks to your articles. Also, nice family picture! You guys all look great!

  10. derylmccarty

    Geez, Paulo. Who can concentrate on your electronic, iOS or VPN rambling when your food pics are out of this world. Arghhhh!!

  11. Diogo Castro

    Hi Paul, you already went to Lisbon, right? Why don't you try Porto? It's a very interesting city.


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