Between the all the Facebook posts and Instagram photos of friends sipping wine in France and traversing the hills of Ireland, it’s normal to feel left out if you want to see the world but simply don’t have thousands of dollars lying around to do so. For those who want to travel and don’t have an extra arm or leg to throw into a big trip, home exchange programs offer a much more affordable solution.
The concept of home swapping isn’t really new: You decide on a destination and duration of time for which you want to travel, and then swap houses with another homeowner looking to travel to your hometown. Though people have been home swapping for a while, now there are a variety of swapping services to choose from, with new businesses entering the scene and giving homeowners more flexible options.
You can now enroll in services outside of the traditional simultaneous home swap. For example, some swapping services offer options for non-simultaneous home swaps (swapping with a homeowner for differing dates), hospitality exchange (offering up extra space in your home while you are there in exchange for the same in another person's home), and swap points (earn points for letting travelers stay in your home, and then redeem those points to stay in any of the other homes in that program when you are ready).
With such a variety of choices, it seems like home swapping could be the ideal way to travel if you want to save money. Just think: With home swapping, you don’t have to pay for lodging (though most of these sites charge an annual fee below $200), and many home swaps include vehicle swaps as well. That means no spending extra money on car rentals, either! What’s more, house swaps allows travelers to use a kitchen instead of eating out or paying for every meal, saving you even more cash in the long run.
Maybe you’re a bit skeptical about letting strangers stay in your home or staying in someone's home yourself — totally understandable. However, many who have tried home swapping claim that the service has changed their lives and allowed them to have experiences beyond their wildest dreams. Speaking to the LA Times, Virginia and Al Zeidman from Indian Wells, CA say, “It has given us travel experiences that most of our friends have never considered. Since 1998, we have had 15 exchanges in Italy, France, Spain, Austria, Germany, England, and the U.S. During these home exchanges, we have been treated to many attractions that would not have been possible without the help of the local friends and relatives of our exchange hosts. We have had a private tour of the German parliament in Berlin, a tour of Buckingham Palace, and one of parliament in London. In Salamanca, Spain, we spent several days seeing local sights, including the university where Christopher Columbus studied, and then we were treated to a lovely meal prepared in the home of our host's parents. In Vienna, we were included in opening night of the opera house, an event held annually for local residents."
Many who participate in home swapping programs emphasize the connections that they build with the communities they swap in. Just like Viginia and Al, home swappers are able to feel like they are really a part of the culture in each destination, building connections with neighbors and communities as a whole; an experience that would simply be impossibe with an expensive resort vacation. "These events and more hold special memories for us, but the people are what becomes the highlight of each trip. We are pleased to have developed lasting friendships with many lovely people throughout Europe. This we owe to living in the neighborhoods, shopping in their communities, and becoming a part of their cities, if only for a few weeks," the couple said, also revealing that they estimate a savings of more than $2,000 per exchange.
But with so many swapping sites out there now, how do you choose the right one? Well, that depends what your needs are. If you're looking to travel anywhere in the world, the two largest home swap networks are GuestToGuest.com and HomeExchange.com. You can join GuestToGuest for free and then participate in exchanges through their guest point system. With HomeExchange, you pay a yearly fee of $150, and all your stays are free. For a more thorough breakdown of all the home exchange services to choose from, check out this guide from Share Traveler.