If you'd like to get the most out of your dollar and your trip, Pauline Frommer's Travel Guides are for you. I put a fresh spin on budget travel, showing you how to experience the best for less and how to see it in a more authentic way -- the way the locals do. In this series of monthly tips, you'll find some terrific tips to help you get the most out of every trip. This time around, I share some insight about home exchanges.
A family of four can save from $3,000 to $4,000 for a two-week vacation taking into consideration money that would have been spent on a hotel room, rental car, and three meals a day in restaurants. Equally important, visitors transform the nature of the vacation experience, by staying in places like a houseboat in Sausalito, an underground home in Taos, a beachside cottage in the Caribbean, a winery in Sonoma County, an ancient farmhouse on a Turkish island, an apartment on the Left Bank in Paris...the possibilities are endless (and I found all of these in current online directories of available swaps).
Setting up a Swap
While it can be done informally among friends or friends of friends, most people join a home exchange club which lists (online or in a directory) thousands of potential swappers around the world. You simply contact the people whose home interests you and correspond back and forth until you come up with a plan. The costs for joining these clubs are generally $100-a-year and up. Some of the bigger clubs (and bigger is always better in the world of exchanging) are:
- Intervac Home Exchange (www.intervacus.com)
- The Home Exchange Network (www.homeexchange.com)
- HomeLink International (www.swapnow.com)
- The Invented City (www.invented-city.com)
While most people do simultaneous swaps (i.e., you're in their home while they're in yours), some people use their second or vacation home in the swap. Most swappers also exchange the right to use one another's cars, and many swap pet care. Another bonus of swapping is that families will often swap baby gear and toys, so that they can pack lightly when they travel.
Surprisingly there are very few reported cases of theft or even damage in the world of home exchanges. Most people spend so much time corresponding back and forth with their potential swappees (the average is about four months) that they know their partners pretty well by the time they exchange. If you are worried about this, there are ways to protect yourself in advance of and during a swap:
- Ask a lot of questions before you swap.
- Create a written contract (setting forth your expectations on how your home will be treated, whether or not the car is involved, who will pay for phone bills, if the computer can be used, etc.)
- Lock away any valuables
- Ask friends to check in on your home and tenants during the swap.
This last suggestion leads to one of the hidden bonuses of swapping: exchanging friends. This can be a great way for people to meet locals worldwide.
Getting the Best Swap
- Be flexible with dates and destinations.
- Be proactive in pursuing the swaps that interest you
- Have the luck of living in a great place. While people travel for many reasons other than sightseeing -- e.g., weddings, graduations, etc. -- it's usually possible to set up a swap from anywhere if you're one of those lucky people who has a home in New York City, Paris, London, Orlando, etc.
Find out more about the Pauline Frommer Travel Guide series, read articles by Pauline, and listen to Podcasts on Pauline's page on Frommers.com.