What, Exactly, Are Home Exchanges and House Swaps?
Home exchanges (also called "home swaps" or "house swaps") are an increasingly popular, Web-sourced mode of luxury travel that's an alternative to luxury hotels. Participants simply live in each other's home during their vacations.
Home exchanges can be found all over the world. But home exchanges are most popular in several countries and regions that are major travel destinations. Some top locales for swappers: the U.S., Canada, UK, France, Australia, and New Zealand. Swapper homes proliferate in vacation areas like beaches, urban downtowns, ski communities, etc. The homes themselves are often spectacular: beach houses, country estates, city townhouses, lakeside chalets, architect-designed showplaces.
The Advantages of Home Exchanges Over Hotel Stays
Home swappers say they like this mode of travel for numerous reasons. The most appealing benefit of home exchanges is their frugal – free or very cheap. But there are other reasons that swaps are a global phenomenon. They allow travelers to live like locals, in actual homes typically set in residential area, not a tourist ghetto.
There are many more reasons that people love swapping. The house that becomes yours for your vacation is usually more spacious and comfortable than a hotel suite, with homey features like kitchens, laundry, closet space, ample tech and entertainment. The home will often offer rich amenities like a home gym, media/tech room, game room, library, pool, hot tub, sauna, cabana, garden, yard, terrace, patio, deck––you name it. If a particular feature is important to you, you can find the house that has it.
How Home Exchanges and Home Swaps Work
Different home exchange and home swap sites may have different procedures, and they may be national, regional, or global. But most home exchanges work the same way. The swap website is a marketplace like Airbnb, listing properties available.
Sometimes the swap is free and sometimes the swap site works like a club, with members paying the site a fee per swap or per month. Regardless, swap sites do not make the matches. It's up to individuals to find, pursue, and arrange their own home exchanges.
This process can be in-depth, which establishes mutual trust. The two parties get to know each other well and establish confidence through emails, phone calls, and so on. Once two parties say "I do," they arrange details such as the number of guests, pet stays, car/garage use, maid service, food and liquor use, etc. Before the swap occurs, each party prepares their home: they repair, clean, organize, free up closet and drawer space, buy new bedsheets, make extra keys, and compose a "house book" of instructions, contacts, menus, and more.
Many exchange partners fall in love with each other's homes, and the swap becomes an annual getaway and the source of a unique friendship.
How Do You Keep Your Stuff Safe in a House Exchange?
How can you trust the people who stay in your home while you stay in theirs? Your insurance is the relationship you've built in the planning process and come to feel like friends. Home-exchange sites also take pains to verify members. Furthermore, the strength of swappers' mutual reviews keeps members on their best behavior, a la Airbnb, Amazon, and ebay.
Many swappers simply create off off-limits zones in their homes via a locked closet or room where personal, fragile, or valuable possessions are stowed during the swap. Such a space is also handy for keeping items moved to make more drawer and closet space for the guests.
For some thoughtful insights on the subject of security, see HomeExchange.com's article, "Is Home Exchange Safe?"
Are Home Exchanges and Home Swaps Right For You?
The answer is probably yes if: you think a free vacation place would awesome; you're tired of the hotel experience and sick of paying hotel bills; you've been disappointed by Airbnb places; you seek new experiences; on vacation, you enjoy living like a local and getting to know the destination; you prefer residential neighborhoods to tourism areas; you wouldn't mind cooking for yourself occasionally on vacation; you think it's cool to experience someone else's home and are OK with taking time to correspond with interested swappers and make the trade happen.
The answer is probably no if: you're uncomfortable with the idea of anyone else living in your home (or you living in theirs); you simply adore hotels (the dead-center location, adventure, the status, the social life, the club floor, the luxury hotel service); to you, a vacation means not carrying your own bags, figuring out house keys, stocking a refrigerator, or making a bed; and you don't want to spend time and money prepping your house for strangers and composing a "house book" for your guests
Is Your Home Suitable for a Swap?
Regarding offering your own home for a swap: it should be well-located and well-maintained, with nice decor and amenities. You must be willing to improve and prettify your place, which is likely to involve repairs, painting, deep-cleaning, tech upgrade, new linens and kitchenware, yard and porch furniture, and possibly more. If you're answerable to a coop board, community association, or the like, home exchanges must be OK by them.