indulging · travel

Home Exchange Holidays

Home Swap

My favorite way to travel is to home swap and after 8 home exchanges in 8 years (4 in the U.S. and 4 in Europe), I’m ready to go again! When you home exchange, you get to stay in a home with a kitchen, live like a local in a non-tourist area, and skip having a bill handed to you upon checkout. Free at checkout? Yes, please, sign me up!

I also love that while you’re traveling, your home is occupied and being cared for during your vacation and you didn’t have to pay for those services either. Yes – free again! Home swapping is very frugal, fancy, and fun but for most people, it comes with concerns.

Here are the home exchange concerns I hear most often:

Home Exchange concerns

When I first brought up the idea of home swapping to my husband, prior to our first home exchange to Paris, he was pretty much against it. He had concerns about the treasured items in our home (luckily, we don’t have any) and I had to do some research to convince him that inviting strangers into our home was a good idea. This is what we’ve found with home swapping:  once you communicate by email and perhaps talk on Skype or the telephone with your home exchange partner, they’re no longer strangers but they’re more like friends.

That’s another benefit to traveling: making new friends.

Home exchange concerns usually fall into these four categories and here are some suggestions to consider if you’re on the fence about this method of travel.

food and people of spain
Food, sites, and new friends from our Spain 2012 trip.
  1. Insurance: check in with your home owner’s insurance agent and car insurance, if someone will be driving your car. These have been no problem with our agencies but we did have to pay an additional rider (a fee) for a home exchange in Austria (to use their car). Not every country has the same rules so be prepared for a possible fee.
  2. Personal documents: bank statements, tax returns and personal letters should be put away. It’s best to not leave these items out.  We’ve never had any problems but we just put these in a locked closet or the basement. When my kids were younger, they worried about their toys being played with so we tucked those away on a shelf.
  3. Household items: put away priceless artwork and jewelry. If you’re like us and don’t have any of those items, then you’ll be set. We traded homes with a family who had a beautiful home filled with artwork and statues everywhere – it would have been impossible for them to put it all away. We were very careful in their home.
  4. Renter: If you’re a renter, check with the owner of your home or apartment. Your rental agreement should be a good place to start.
Home Swap to Spain
Home swapping means you get a kitchen – live and cook like a local – yes, we cooked those sardines but not the fish head!

Here are a few questions I’ve received recently from readers about home swapping:

We’d like to try a home swap for the first time, but can’t seem to find a free place to start….any ideas?

Many home exchange service providers offer a 2-week trial period. This is a good opportunity to see how a particular website works and how easy it is to contact people.

I like the idea of trying something for 2-weeks but we’ve never had luck arranging a home exchange in a 2-week time period. It’s always taken us longer to find someone to trade homes with and then there’s a “dance” that goes along with home swapping – timing? pets? number of bedrooms? car swapping or no car? All of these details take agreeing or not agreeing to and there are emails back and forth.

It helps me to keep in mind that for the price of 1-night in a hotel room, I can pay for a 1-year membership to a home exchange service. There’s no limit to the number of exchanges that can be arranged either, during the 1-year membership.

We’re worried about our financial and private documents that will be left at our house. What do you suggest we do with these?

If you’re worried about your financial and private documents, lock your documents in a file drawer or a closet. We’ve never had anything stolen or broken and our home exchanges have all been positive experiences.

If you would have a better vacation knowing that your personal information and bank account numbers were under lock and key, then you should lock them up.

Most homes we have stayed in have a closet or a drawer or two locked up. It’s very common practice.

Home Swap How to

Who would want to visit my city?

Your city as a destination is desirable to someone and you may never know why or when that may be. People travel all the time for different reasons. I just replied to an email this morning from a couple in Vancouver, British Columbia who need to be in our city over the winter holidays for a family gathering and are trying to arrange an exchange.

My house is in a somewhat perpetual state of remodeling and I have hesitated to move forward with home swapping because it’s a work in progress. My home is nice, but not cool or unusual. Who would want to stay in my house?

Unless your home is crumbling into the ground, you’re fine. Obviously, if you’re house is in the middle of a major re-do and under construction, you’re not going to want to leave your home. Every single home we’ve stayed in (4 home exchanges in the U.S. and 4 home exchanges in Europe) has had what we call “House Tricks” and our most recent exchange even had construction happening on the outside of the building. People don’t home swap to stay inside, they home swap to travel and to experience life as a local, and have a free place to stay.

Go Gingham: Home Exchange vacation
Wallenstein Garden, Prague, Czech Republic

While I leave out our “House Tricks” manual about our home, I also leave notes around our house to say how things work. Water faucet quirks, doorknobs that fall off easily, and how our stove light is broken and says it’s “on” all the time are all places that I leave an extra note to our exchange partners. Not one house we’ve ever stayed in has been perfect.

Home swappers aren’t looking for a perfect home – just a place to call home – for a time.

When you sign up for a home exchange website, you can view pictures of other people’s homes and they can see your pictures of your home, that you’ve uploaded. You’ll see what amenities other people have to offer and they can see what you have.

Home swapping makes traveling affordable, you get to live like a local, and make new friends. Home swapping has allowed our family to travel places we would have never considered or been able to afford if we didn’t have a place to stay for free.

If you’d like me to speak to your group or organization about home swapping or traveling with children, please check here.

Have you ever done a home exchange? Would you consider doing one?

Go Gingham related links:

Our San Francisco home exchange –Part I, Part II and
Part III
Our first home exchange is here
Travel packing tips with a PDF chart are here
Home swapping – 3 different methods and how to prepare your home for one
Save money on your next trip: before and during
Vacation rules from our last trip – yes, my teens gave me rules!
Home from our home exchange to Spain – with lots of photos

Helpful links:

6 thoughts on “Home Exchange Holidays

  1. I have been reading a lot about home swapping lately. At first I was concerned about having a person in my home that I don’t know while I am gone but now the idea is starting to grow on me. Thanks for your opinion on this subject. You’re post has given me a different way of looking at this idea.


    1. Pam, I’m so glad. Sometimes we all need a bit of encouragement! It’s really such a wonderful experience that as soon as you do it once, you’ll be sold. Good luck! Thanks for leaving a comment.


    1. Jessica, thanks for this link. While I imagine bad experiences do occur in these situations, my basic premise is that people are good and trustworthy. I don’t want to make decisions based on one person’s bad experiences and try to see the positive side of life. My glass is always half full! Thanks for the link, Jessica!


  2. Sara, I just had to comment on what you said to Jessica. I have to agree about the glass being always half full idea. As long as you look at life that way you are more likely to see others the same way. A positive look at life sure makes a difference.


    1. Thanks, Pam! Attitude can be everything. Also, with a home exchange, you’re in your exchange partner’s home while they’re in yours – that’s very different than renting someone’s home. I’d say treating others how you’d like to be treated applies here as well. 🙂


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