Ballpark estimate: $10 to $50 per month
There’s no place like home. Therefore, if you love travel but hate the sterile feel of staying in a hotel, never mind the high price tag that goes along with it, you may want to explore the concept of home swaps (also called home exchanges). This offers a great way to explore other parts of the country—or the world—on a budget, while experiencing what it’s like to live there in a typical home setting in that region.
The best way to get started with a home swap is to join a reputable service that allows people to list their homes and find others who would like to do an exchange. As the name implies, this works by having people literally “swap” homes for a designated period of time.
The idea for home exchanges dates back to more than half a century. It grew out of a desire for families to be able to travel in an economical way. Today, home exchanges continue to be popular, providing more space than the average hotel room, making it especially appealing for people with children and those who are planning an extended stay. A home exchange also meals you’ll have access to a fully equipped kitchen so you cook in instead of eating in a restaurant three meals a day. This can be better for your budget and for your waistline, too. Some home exchanges include access to the home owner’s car, which can make it easy to get around and explore the area without incurring extra travel costs.
With the popularity of home exchanges going quite strong today, there are multiple services worth considering to help facilitate the best swap for your needs. (At least count there were at least 70 services available.) If you’re wondering how best to weed through the many options, you could start by narrowing in on exchanges focused on people with common interests. For instance, if your religion is an important component of your life, you may be interested in Christian Home Exchange. If you’re over 65, you could sign up with Seniors Home Exchange. Or if you own two homes and luxurious living is part of your DNA, you might try 3rd Home. For more general home exchanges, a few popular ones that frequent home swappers seem to like include Homelink and Intervac. You can also explore on home exchange services that focus on a specific destination, such as Aussie Home Swap if you want to go to Australia.
Things to Consider
When shopping for a home swap service, you’ll want to look at the membership fees (how much, and are they due annually, quarterly, or monthly), as well as how many listings you can post, how many homes are currently listed, and how many of them are in the areas where you want to travel, which is key, as well as what other members say about the service, how members are vetted for safety, and what type of insurance coverage they offer to protect your home from damage or theft. You’ll also need to know as how your personal information will be kept safe on their directory, so you won’t have any security concerns. If you’re looking to do a swap in another country, it can help if the service offers a translation tool so you can communicate with potential swap mates who don’t speak English. This can be an important feature. In addition, you may want to ask if the service allows you to arrange non-simultaneous swaps if your vacation plans don’t completely match with the people whose home you want to use (this works best if you are swapping a second home or part-time residence), but their home will be vacant when you want to stay there. Finally, if you’re a frequent traveler, you’ll also need to find out how many home swaps you can do in a year and if there are any limits on use that you need to know.
To effectively use most home swap services or websites, you’ll need to know up front where you want to travel, the desired timeframe, and what type of living arrangements and amenities you prefer. It also helps to find out how many photos the service allows for each listing. Some have a limit and if it’s too few, you may not be able to show off all of the assets your home has to offer, nor will you be able to get a full feel for any home you are considering.
Questions for Potential Home Swap Partners
Further, when selecting a home where you want to stay in for an exchange, you’ll want to have a list of pertinent questions to ask the owners. These might include whether you can bring kids and pets (if either is applicable for you), whether there is use of a car, what supplies and other items are provided (such as a crib, toys, snorkeling gear, etc.), and what you’ll need to bring. You can also find out if a computer will be available for your use, as well as a laundry facility in the home. Finally, it’s important to clarify up front what type of cleaning will be required when you leave the home, so everyone knows up front what the expectations are.
If you’re concerned about the logistics of inviting strangers into your home and allowing them access to your personal possessions, you’ll want to make sure that you check references in advance and speak with other people who have done home swaps with the person you are considering to be they are recommended. You should also protect anything valuable that can’t easily be replaced by putting it away while you are gone. This can include jewelry, expensive electronics, family heirlooms, and sensitive financial information.
What It Costs
When it comes to the cost of a home exchange, usually people exchange the homes for free and the main costs are for your travel, food, and for the home exchange service membership fee. While there are a few services that take home listings and don’t have any charge, most of the well-known services do have a membership fee.
Depending on the service and the plan you select, the fee may be paid monthly, quarterly, or annually. Many online home exchange companies will offer you a free trial period so you can see what they have to offer before you commit to join. On average, some of the better known home exchange services start their rates at about $10 a month or $100 if you pay for a full year, and can go on up to as high as $50 a month or $500 a year. On the high end, this will likely be for websites that match people in luxury homes. Before you commit to any home swap service, always do your research. Read reviews from other users and make sure they had positive experiences. You should also check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure that there have not been any serious complaints against the service that are unresolved.
Another Swap Option
If you don’t want to do a traditional home swap but still desire to open your home to a traveler and have them do the same, you may want to explore a hospitality exchange. This is an option whereby you would remain at home and serve as a host to an out-of-town (or out-of-country) guest, who would return the favor for you, as well. Some organizations offer no charge for matching travelers, but many others charge fees similar to those you can expect to pay for a home exchange service.