Luxury Home Exchanges & House Swaps: Frugal, Fun Way to Travel

Home exchanges are unique and free (or nearly). Would you like them?

Home exchange house swap in Provence
••• Homechichome offers this exchange property in Gordes, France, in the lavender-planted hills of Provence. © Homechichome.com.

What 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.

Luxury home exchanges are an alternative to luxury hotels. Participants simply live in each other's home during their vacations.

Homes offered for exchange are situated all over the world, in classic vacation destinations like Paris and New York City, as well as in resort areas like Maui and Provence.

The homes themselves are often quite 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 because:
• First and foremost, home exchanges are frugal, saving swappers the cost of staying in hotels
• Home exchanges permit travelers to live like locals, in actual homes
• Homes are often situated in residential areas, not tourist ghettos
• Homes are typically more spacious and comfortable than hotel suites
• They usually offer homey features like kitchens, laundry, ample closet space, high-tech entertainment options, wi-fi, etc.
• Swap homes often feature deluxe amenities like a workout area, media room, game room, library, pool, hot tub, cabana, garden or yard, terrace, patio, deck, etc.

Where Are the Exchange Homes Located?

Home exchanges can be found all over the world.

But home exchanges are most popular in several countries that happen to be major travel destinations:
• U.S., Canada. U.K., France, Australia, New Zealand
• Exchange homes are usually in vacation areas like beaches, urban downtowns, ski communities, etc.

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 this way:
• The site is a marketplace like Airbnb, listing properties available to swap (rather than rent)
• Sometimes the swap is free and sometimes members pay a fee per swap or per month
• The site does not act as a matchmaker; it is up to its members to find, pursue, and arrange their home exchange
• The two parties get to know each other well and establish trust through emails, phone calls, and so on; this establishes warmth and trust
• The two parties 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

How Do You Keep Your Stuff Safe in a House Exchange?

There would seem to be a risk built into home exchanges: how can you trust the people who stay in your home while you stay in theirs? Some answers from Tony DiCaprio, who runs the luxury home exchange sites HomeChicHome.com and its more moderate counterpart, 1stHomeExchange.com
• The solution is trust based on the relationship you've built
• You and your home exchange partners get to know each other very well in the planning process and come to feel like friends
• SaysDiCaprio: In my sites' thousands of home exchanges, we've never had a single issue with theft or serious damage
• Many home-swappers have a locked closet or room where personal, fragile, or valuable possessions are stowed during the swap (along with clothes moved to make drer and closet space for the guests)
• Many exchange partners to fall in love with each other's homes, and the swap becomes an annual getaway

Are Home Exchanges and Home Swaps Right For You?

The answer is probably yes if:
• You can afford hotel bills, but you wouldn't mind not paying them
• You approach life with a sense of adventure and welcome new experiences
• You like living like a local wherever you go, staying in and getting to know a destination
• You prefer staying in residential neighborhoods rather than tourism areas
• You'd wouldn't mind cooking for yourself occasionally on vacation
• You find hotel suites cold, or you're tired of hotel vacations
• You don't mind the idea of living in someone else's home and love the idea of having "a home away from home" someplace beautiful, exotic, or thrilling
• You own a well-located, well-maintained luxury home suitable for swapping with another luxury home owner
• You're OK with taking time to correspond with interested swappers and make the trade happen

The answer is probably no, a luxury home exchange is not right for you if:  
• You're a private person, and uncomfortable with the idea of anyone else living in your home (or you living in theirs)
• You simply adore hotels: the adventure, the status, the social life, the club floor, the luxury hotel service
• You always delegate your vacation planning to a travel agent, and don't want to do any vacation research
• To you, a vacation means not carrying your own bags, figuring out house keys, stocking a refrigerator, or making a bed
• You prefer to stay dead-center in your destination's tourism center, and not in a residential district
• You wouldn't want to do any work at all "staging" your home for your swapper, and spending time putting together a "house book" for your guests
• You don't want to fend for yourself where you stay, from lugging your own bags to stocking your fridge when you travel

Where to Find Out More About Home Exchanges and House Swaps

• Read about a leading luxury home exchange site that is completely free to use, HomeChicHome.com, and its free newsletter about home exchanges
• See a slideshow of 12 pretty amazing homes available for exchange from LoveHomeSwap.com
• Find out the whys, hows, and wheres of home exchanges in Camago.com
• Take Camago.com's quiz, Are You Ready to House Swap?
• On one Web page, all the new ways to think "vacation" -- outside the hotel-room box