Frequent travelers, Couchsurfing members, and those expecting visitors from the airport often need to exchange physical keys for homes and apartments – which can be both cumbersome and awkward when schedules don’t align. Reader and house-swapping traveler Renato has been struggling with this recently and asked me,
What are some good ways to exchange physical keys when you can’t be there in person to do it yourself?
As Renato illustrates,
Just in the last 4 weeks I have been struggling with it 3 times around Europe: sometimes you swap places with someone (great way to travel), other times you invite a friend to stay but you are not at the airport when they arrive, or a Couchsurfer sleeps a few extra hours when you are already out.
I [recently] left a set of keys for a friend in a locker (with a code) in Munich’s train station (a huge box for a single key!) – am looking forward to receiving an envelope from California – and I found a coffee paid at the local bar in Milan (with a set of keys instead of the sugar).
Does any traveler know a better and safer way to sort it out?
It’s been a while since I did a travel unravel but have no doubt in your ability to leave extremely helpful comments. I’m sure many of you know of some good tactics, websites, and traveler services to take care of just this kind of scenario with cost and security in mind. I’ll be expanding upon this topic next week but wanted to get your experiences and advice first so I can be sure to include your best ideas as well.
[photo by: Merida Hideaway (house keys)]
I’ve done several flat-swaps and I also host quite a lot of Couchsurfers. I usually try to meet in person to give the keys. But when I went to Amsterdam, we did a perfectly simultaneous swap and I didn’t get to meet the person. And I had no friend available to give the key for me. So I simply taped the key under my door mat. The security being the secret that you only share with the other person of the key being there for a few hours. It’s safe unless you have people regularly checking under your mat…
The door mat is a good favorite. It would be interesting to go to an apartment complex and see how many mats have keys under them now that I think about it. Could be dangerous research though on second thought 😉
You definitely know the practical questions to ask.
On one of our couchsurfing experiences we were able to leave the keys with security at the front desk of the apartment when we were leaving. At another, we had to get keys off of another couchsurfer which was a little nerve-racking because we weren’t sure if we could get in the apartment or not.
It definitely would be nice to have some type of combination lockbox at the airport or train station.
I can imagine it could be a tight spot, arriving in a new place and missing the key exchange! Thanks for the insight and adding to the conversation.
We have a small keybox that’s screwed on to the wall at the side of the house where it’s less noticable. The keybox has a combination and the house keys are inside.
It’s an idea we got from a holiday cottage we stayed in – useful when the kids forget their housekeys too.
Ooh, I like that. Something you picked up locally or ordered online?
If the train station / bus terminal you’re arriving at offers lockers, those are easily the best. E-mailed instructions, directions to the place in question, etc.
Another idea that I’ve seen work involves a four-digit combination bicycle lock with the house key on it. The trick is – again – the out of sightness for the passers-by.
How does the key stay on the bike lock? (I might be being dense here 😛
Here is a list from HappyHomeSwap.com:
. Meeting your exchange partner at either property
. Leave keys with your doorman/security/front desk
. Leave keys with your neighbour, family member or a friend
. Use a key hider – check this link out for ideas… http://www.selectlocks.com/site/1266378/page/529123
. Leave keys in a locker at a bus or train station
. Post your keys by recorded delivery
Hope this helps!
Thanks for the advice and links!
We’ve also stayed at a winter cabin over a New Year holiday where you pick up and leave the key in a combination lock box located right on the side of the house. Super easy! We never even met the owner. Did the entire transaction over email. This is definitely the best method.
Will definitely look into those more – curious how they’re attached to the house?
Thanks Anil for the great post and the great tips from the readers. I really would like to know more about the combination lock box idea even if I am not 100% sure I can implement it in a condo. Or maybe I can, as it does not need to be at the same address (I guess even safer)…
You’re welcome Renato – I’ll definitely look into the box for you for next week’s post.