Home exchanges are a fantastic and affordable way to travel and see the world. Today’s guest poster and expert home exchanger, Beth Millemann, explains the ins and outs of how to use a home exchange to explore the world while enjoying the comforts of someone else’s home.
I’ve been doing house exchanges for more than 10 years and now, in my mid-50s, it has become my preferred way to travel. My husband, who is in his 60s, our teen son and I have traded our Washington, D.C. house for homes in Europe, Scandinavia, Canada, Central America and the United States. We’ve done 29 exchanges ranging from luxurious oceanfront second homes to comfortable family residences, remote mountain cabins to chic downtown apartments.
House exchanging has taken us to many different places. This summer, we did a home swap to the mid-Oregon coast where we saw hundreds of wild sea lions in the Sea Lion Caves, explored tidepools at Cape Perpetua, visited the wonderful Newport Aquarium, and enjoyed delicious local fish and hand-crafted beer at the Rogue Brewery in Newport. After long days of sightseeing, we retired to “our” house to watch TV, relax on the couch, and enjoy a good night’s sleep. The previous summer, we exchanged our home for a five-story house in downtown Brussels, from which we explored WWI sites and other European destinations. We shopped for groceries in small neighborhood markets, and cooked our breakfasts and dinners at home. The money we saved from restaurant bills was used for museum entrance fees and train trips, while the money we saved from hotel costs helped pay for our airplane tickets.
Home exchanging is a flexible way to travel. Home swaps can happen over long summer vacations, the winter holidays, spring breaks, or even a long weekend. Exchanges can occur simultaneously, where both parties travel to each other’s homes at the same time, or non-simultaneously, where one party exchanges and the other party waits for a future time to do their side of the swap.
If you’re interested in giving house exchanging a try, here are a few insider tips that I’ve learned over the past ten years of exchanging:
• Choose a house swap website that meets your interests and is affordable. House exchanging is an entirely web-based activity, with more than 20 websites offering home swaps. Nearly all of them charge an annual fee that ranges in price from $50 to $500 or more. Some cater only to seniors; others focus exclusively on luxury exchanges; but most are open to anyone, of any age or means, in countries around the world.
• Make sure a website offers homes in areas you’d like to visit. Some websites have more of a U.S. focus, while others are more European. If you’re dying to go to Italy, make sure that the website you’re thinking of joining has lots of listings in Italy. On the other hand, if you’re open to traveling almost anywhere, choosing a site with a wide range of listings makes sense.
• Check to see if basic information is presented in a clear, easy-to-use manner. Websites provide basic information about the home: how many bedrooms, whether there is a yard, if there’s internet available, size of the exchange party, etc. The description should give enough information to let you know if the home fits your needs.
• Clearly describe your own home and neighborhood, and include photos in your listing. Be your home’s cheerleader. Describe its best characteristics and the things there are to see and do in your neighborhood. Once you pay a website’s annual fee, you can fill out a form that allows you to describe your home and surroundings in detail, and to add photos. Once you post your home to the site, you have access to every other listing on the site.
• Prepare your home for an exchange. Remove valuables if you want and store them elsewhere. Clean your home thoroughly, make space in your closets, and leave information about your area for your exchange partner to use.
Out of the nearly 30 home swaps we’ve done, we’ve never had anything stolen or damage to our home. We bring home memories of wonderful travels made possible by temporarily trading places. Home swapping lets you travel the world, one living room at a time.
Have you ever used a home swap arrangement as a way to travel? Tell us about it in the comments!