Miscellaneous / Travelling Tips

How social media can find you a holiday

Updated Friday, 26 May 2017

One mother’s journey to find a house swop on Facebook – the ins and outs, pros and cons

We recently found someone with whom we are swopping houses. Or, as she puts it, swopping lives. Because when you move into someone else’s home, use their car, feed their cat, flick through their photo albums on a rainy day, stock their fridge with your food, and sleep in their beds, then you’ve practically taken on their lives, haven’t you?

I’m not a fan of Facebook. I intensely dislike the compulsion I act under to check FB at least three times a morning to see who is saying what. I cringe when I get friend requests from people I have gratefully forgotten in twenty years and, even if I had fleetingly entertained a thought about them, certainly wouldn’t re-befriend, and I really must untick the tick box that allows FB to flood my inbox with countless updates on who just said what on someone else’s profile, simply because on a whim I thought what they said last Tuesday was funny, and liked it.

Love it or hate it, FB is here to stay. For a while at least. Which is why I decided to test out its capacity to work for me for a change, and to see if it was all it is cut out to be.

My aim: to find a house swop in the Lowveld so that we could travel there for the three weeks of the June/July school holidays. Why? Well, I’m a travel writer and staying in different places is what I do. But also because we’ve not been to Mpumalanga and it seemed like a really good idea. And we were going for long enough that staying in accommodation in the Lowveld was not an option.

To up my chances of finding the right person, because I never doubted for a moment that someone with a similar lifestyle and the burning urge to experience Cape Town during winter was out there, I placed a classifieds advert in a local paper called the Lowvelder, which cost me about R120. The consultant I corresponded with via email, however, stuck the advert where she thought it should best go – in the ‘houses for sale’ section.

Remarkably, I did get one response from this advert. But it did not amount to much. Gumtree, the other logical website on which to advertise, doesn’t have a Lowveld section, and letting my ‘friends’ on FB know about my need might have produced a couple of ‘likes’ but nothing concrete.

With only about a month to go before the holiday started, I decide to give FB adverts a whirl. I set up a new page on FB on which I place a description of the house, the dates I need a house swop, the location I want, and pictures of the house and garden so that whoever responds to the advert can see at a glance what they are getting out of the deal.

Choosing which section to put the page in had me going for a while, but I finally selected travel/leisure. Once the page was up and I’d posted my first wall post and lots of info and photos, I pursued the button advert by clicking on ‘promote with an advert’ (FB makes it very easy for you).

This is where FaceBook distinguishes itself. You can select exactly to which age group, gender, and geographical area (right down to the cities or towns you are considering, so I could choose White River, Nelpsruit, Barberton) you want your advert to reveal itself. It is no good wasting time advertising a house swop to 18 year olds, whose parents would no doubt be delighted at the prospect of going to Cape Town because their teenager likes the idea. You could advertise to the 3,664,600 people in South Africa, age 18 and older, who are not already friends of your page, but you’re paying per click, so you don’t want to waste them.

You can also then set your campaign budget, all in dollars or pounds, or whatever currency other than Rands you want to work in. I set a low daily budget and a maximum bid per click that was a lot lower than the suggested bid (you don’t need to feel intimidated by the suggested bid, as it is usually higher than you actually end up paying), chose the schedule of the campaign (the start and finish dates) and put in my credit card details. Done.

Of course, of the 17, 340 people to whom I finally end up displaying my advert, only a small percentage are ‘active’ users. But we were pleasantly surprised at the number of times the advert was displayed every day. And we ended up paying less than our bid per click. It cost me around R145 a week to place the advert, and we ran it for 2 weeks. At the end of it I had 40 friends (interestingly I keep getting friends even though the advert has long since stopped), but I’d found my house swop!

You soon work out who is serious or not. There were a lot of comments like ‘Pity it’s for three weeks, or I’d jump at it’ that when pushed – ‘I’m sure we could find a couple of house swops each for a week, are you still game? Send details’ – did not return a response. But *Susan was enthusiastic right from the start and quickly sent me pictures and details. She was booking her flights within the week.

I’ve yet to go on holiday. That starts tomorrow. But I can tell you, holiday aside, that finding a house swop on FaceBook is a great way to do it. There are international websites on which you can advertise your home. Your intention then is to go overseas and get overseas visitors to stay in your house. And they cost you roughly R350 to place your details. FB cost us less than R300. And we had control over who saw the advert and when it was displayed.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

If a house-swap is not your thing, browse the South Africa Accommodation pages on SA-Venues.com. Everything from luxury hotels, guest houses and self catering accommodation is available at both reasonable and luxury rates. Whether you are planning a luxury vacation to South Africa or backpacking from region to region, South Africa offers a range of accommodation options to suit every budget and travelling style.

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