Home Exchanges can be a great way to baby step back into travel on your own terms – away from crowds, in luxury style, with your own space. You can swap your city condo for a sailboat, or your peaceful mountain cabin for something on the shores of crystal blue waters.
House swapping has been around since the 1950’s when school teachers were looking for cost effective ways to spend their summers traveling. There are loads of benefits to traveling this way. And don’t worry, it’s got nothing to do with a time share. It’s not for everyone though. You’re handing the keys to your home over to a stranger, right? Though they’ve been vetted by the exchange company, it’s not without risk, though it’s really not so different than AirBnb.
How does it work? Do your research and decide which company is the best fit for you. Browse their inventory. Does your home fit the typical class of the others offered? Keep in mind that depending on your travel style (luxury, budget, outdoors, couch surfer, work exchange, cultural networking, etc.) different companies will cater to your goals. Check what’s included in your membership, some offer lounge passes at airports and some offer the ability to list more than one home. Make sure that the places you like to travel are well represented in the inventory. You might want email customer service and ask some questions. Did they respond professionally in a timely manner? Were the questions answered to your satisfaction?
Once you’ve decided, Sign Up. Plump up your pillows, clear the clutter and take lots of photos of your home. Make it pretty. Talk about why it’s special. Is it in the middle of the woods where bears and rare birds are known to come? Is it walking distance to wineries? Do you have a chicken coop that provides fresh eggs? Is it convenient to a major shopping destination or historical area? Don’t assume that just because it’s not in the middle of Time’s Square it won’t be someone’s choice for a fantastic getaway. One person’s Paris is another person’s Peoria.
The Nitty Gritty: There are basically two types of swaps- 1. direct and ‘same for same’ i.e., you stay in my house and I’ll stay in yours, or 2. via a points bank. If you want more flexibility and choice, the points bank seems the way to go. Here’s how that works: The swap company will review your offering and assign your property a point value depending on amenities, size, location, etc., say 250 per night. Every time someone stays at your place, you’ll receive 250 points per night in your bank. You’ll also begin with a number of points gifted to you upon joining. These points are your currency for exchanging. When someone selects your home, they’ll pay you in points which you can then use as you like. Confused? Consider this example; you’d like to swap to Dublin, but the owner of your hopeful swap house there has already been to your city. You can pay the Dubliner in points, which they can use for their dream trip to Maui. Make sense? If you’re planning something longer, you can stay a week at one home, and another week at different home- there’s a loads of flexibility to cater to whatever itinerary you’d like.
Browse the inventory. Where do you want to go? The Grand Canyon? Auckland? Reykjavik? Find houses and reach out via the messaging function of your site to begin negotiations. The calendar will show when swaps are available and when they aren’t. Before you leave of course, you’ll want to store any precious or particularly valuable items. The spirit of home share is a ‘do as you will have done unto you’ mentality, so there is an overriding respect for other’s homes. Most people are lovely and will take care of your things as they would their own, but …..
Why house swap? Insurance is provided by the site (check specifics), listings are curated and vetted, a bartering economy leads to more opportunities, you can live like a local AND a tourist, and inventories are vast. For people with second homes, this is one way of leveraging it that allows you to travel more often for less money. Talk about an investment property, hey?
Places to start:
- lovehomeswap The world’s largest home exchange site, in business since 2011. Homes are listed in over 160 countries, and three tiers of membership, from US$130-$215 annually, are offered. Homes are heavily reviewed. Free two week trial. Swap directly or using points.
- homeexchange 400,000 homes available on six continents. Travelers can search by category to make selections easier to winnow down, for example, Pet Friendly, Handicapable Holidays, Winter Sun and Senior Travel. Currency and language converter on the website. Annual membership is US$150. Swap directly or using points.
- homelink An established clientele takes advantage of the 65 years of experience held by this site. 30 day free trial. Offers ‘local area’ swaps (i.e., within US only, or within AU and NZ only *think travel bubbles here) for US$69 or internationally for US$99 Does not offer points, direct swaps only.
- homeexchange50plus 50 is the new 30! (Truth be told, I’m not all THAT far away from it myself.) This is a great option for people who have more than the usual flexibility and time i.e., retirees. There’s no worry over having to consider school holidays, and perhaps a bit of extra expendable income. Destinations are worldwide, though it’s a [much] smaller pool of options. One, two or three year memberships from US$60 annually. Does not offer points, direct swaps only.
- thirdhome This is the luxest of the luxe versions. 12,000 homes across the world, all of which are individually inspected to ensure they meet the high standard of quality in furnishings and location. Median value of homes in the portfolio are US$2.3M. There is no membership fee, swaps incur a fee from US$495 in addition to the usage of ‘keys’ aka points.
Questions to ask yourself
- Am I comfortable having strangers living in my home? Laying on my bed? Lounging on my sofa?
- Will my insurance cover me if there are damages, destruction or loss? Who will pay the deductable / excess? What exactly does the exchange companies insurance cover?
- What do I need to store away i.e, valuables or highly sentimental items.
- Will I allow access to my computer?
- Will I allow usage of my vehicle?
- Is there an emergency contact nearby who can assist in the event of an issue with plumbing, lock out, and the like?
A Disclaimer: In the spirit of CYA, please note that I am not endorsing any of these outfits. Please read all of the fine print as you would with anything that concerns signing a contract of any type, handing your house keys over to strangers or relying on your insurance company to cover you for minor to major damages or loss. We are not personally home exchangers… yet(?)
What do you think, fellow traveler? Would you consider a home exchange? Is this a concept with which you were familiar or is this new to you?