What is home exchange?
In a typical home exchange, you’d let someone stay in your home and you’d get to stay in his home. This way, both of you get to live in each other’s homes for free.
What’s so great about home exchange?
It erases accommodation expenses, which can often take up a big chunk of your travel budget. Depending on your agreement with your exchange partner, you may also get the use of a vehicle, which would reduce your local transportation expenses as well.
You’ll also get the local experience in a new, strange place — you’ll stay in a local home, shop in local groceries and have local neighbors.
What’s the catch?
- Time investment
The process of getting a firm home exchange agreement could be long and frustrating.
- Limited choices
You’ll have to be flexible about where you go. You’re more likely to get a home exchange deal if you’re open to several possible holiday destinations.
- Stranger danger
You’ll be leaving your home in the care of strangers. Sure, you can get to know your home exchange partners beforehand, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll take good care of your home.
- Inconsistent standards
The house on the other end of the deal may not be up to your cleanliness standards. But then again, some hotels can be downright dirty, too, and you actually have to pay to endure those rooms.
How do I ensure a good home exchange?
As it is with anything else, there are always some people who abuse the system and/or don’t respect the etiquette. They make up a small portion of the home exchange pool, though, so there is little chance of you coming across these people.
Alte Cocker, whom I interviewed for about her experience of going through more than 50 exchanges, doesn’t screen her exchange partners much. And in all her years of doing home exchange, she has only had two unpleasant experiences. (Read the interview for the full story.)
According to John Mensinger of Home Exchange University, though, the way she does home exchange is not typical. Most people approach the process with more caution. All of John’s 19 home swaps have gone smoothly and he says the key is research.
Here are some things John does before an exchange:
- Research the location
“For example, [Alte Cocker] complained about lack of air conditioning in Toulouse, France during the summer. Toulouse is a great city but I would never do an exchange there during the summer—the climate is too hot. I know this from researching their weather.”
- Communicate with potential exchange partners over emails
“Ostensibly the reason is to know more about the home, but you also get a sense of the character and personality of your potential exchange partners.”
- Google potential exchange partners
For example, one of John’s past potential exchange partners “was a doctor specialized in infectious diseases. He was married to a lawyer who was also a classical musician. I listened to a radio interview with the doctor and visited the website of the law firm where the lady worked. I used Google Streetview to walk around their neighborhood.”
- Meet up with exchange partners beforehand, if possible.
“In 19 exchanges we have met the folks immediately before the exchange 18 times.”
- Build relationships with potential partners
“We are not just looking for a house and location. We are looking for a quality family to be our partner. All of our partner families have been acceptable, three have become dear friends and we remain in friendly communication with most of them.”
Who is home exchange for?
It’s for those who have a home to swap, obviously. Home exchange is not the way to go if you’re a full-time nomad with all your worldly possessions neatly tucked into a backpack — go with house-sitting instead if this is you.
Home exchange works best if you travel during peak travel seasons. There are more homes listed for exchange, say, in the summer when school is out.
A home exchange generally lasts between two and four weeks. If you want to stay longer, you’ll have to plan a series of back-to-back home exchanges with several people. It’s not impossible to do, but it’s logistically challenging.
Okay, I’m convinced. How do I start?
You’ll have to join at least one home exchange community, which usually charges about $100 each for one year of membership. This might seem like a big investment, but think about how much a hotel charges for just one night. You’ll save a lot of money on your next trip if you successfully make a deal with another home swapper.
Some of the best home exchange websites:
Wanna learn more about free accommodation?
Home exchange is not the only way to stay for free when you travel. If you want more information on the different kinds of free accommodation and how to get these gigs, check out this e-book: How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World. It’s quite an exhaustive resource on the subject!
Images: 1. Mark Moz (CC BY 2.0 License); 2. (Free License).