Going on vacation can be an expensive prospect. You either have to book a hotel, which can be both costly and cramped, or look for short-term housing on sites like VRBO and Airbnb and hope that it's not too expensive.
But what if there were a better way to secure lodging in the course of your travels? If you're willing to swap homes with a stranger, things could work out well for both of you.
How does a house exchange work?
A house exchange, as the name implies, is an arrangement where you swap homes with someone else. Say you're from New York City and are looking to spend two weeks in Miami. If there's someone from Miami who wants to visit New York City at the same time, the two of you can do a house swap. That way, you'll each get to experience a new city and save money on lodging in the process.
You can also do what's known as a hosted exchange, or hospitality exchange, where you let someone stay in your home while you're also home and then stay in that person's home another time while they're at home. This option works well once you've found someone to swap homes with, only your travel dates don't align.
How to find a house exchange
You can find a house exchange by word of mouth -- simply telling your friends you're looking to visit a certain city or area of the globe and asking if anyone knows someone looking to do a little house swapping. But a better bet may be to use a home exchange service that can help facilitate a house swap. Homestay, for example, connects travelers in more than 160 countries. HomeSwapper is another site worth checking out if you're looking to visit the U.K. Some home exchange services are free, while others charge a membership fee.
Once you've chosen a site to list your property on, you'll need to describe what your home looks like and what its setup entails. If you live someplace with a setup that isn't safe for children, make that clear. And also, be honest about yourself and your situation. Are you traveling alone, or will you be bringing guests with you? Do you smoke? These are important pieces of information to share if you're looking to do a mutual exchange.
Do I need to own property of my own to participate in a home exchange?
When you own your own home, you have the right to let any guest stay on your property. But when you're a tenant, you may need to obtain consent from your landlord to participate in a house-swapping arrangement. Similarly, if you own a home that's part of a housing association, you may need to obtain permission before moving forward with a home exchange.
What are the benefits of a house exchange?
There are several good reasons to participate in a property exchange. For one thing, doing so could save you quite a bit of money in the course of your travels. Swapping homes with someone else could also mean getting access to that person's car, depending on the nature of your arrangement. That's another way to spend less money in the course of your travels -- not having to rent transportation or pay for ride shares to get around town.
Furthermore, swapping homes with someone else will show you what it's really like to live in that city. And if you swap homes with someone who lives in an apartment building, you may get to know some of the other tenants, who might take you under their wings and show you around town.
Also, there's something to be said about getting to utilize a fellow traveler's property versus being crammed into a hotel room. If you're planning to travel for months at a time, a house exchange may seem like a far more pleasant solution.
Finally, if you do a house swap, the person you trade homes with may be able to offer you insight on things to do at your destination and ways to enjoy your trip more frugally once you're there. That person may also be willing to put you in touch with some of his or her friends so you have company if you're traveling alone or simply like meeting new people.
What are the drawbacks of a house exchange?
Though there are plenty of good reasons to participate in a house exchange, there are a few negatives you should consider as well. First of all, when you do a house swap, you're effectively signing up to have a complete stranger live in your home. Whether you own your own property or not, that could be unsettling.
Granted, you will get a chance to communicate with your house-swapping partner before moving forward with your arrangement, but for the most part, you'll still be trusting someone you don't know to treat your home with respect.
And that leads to the next thing you ought to be leery of: property damage. When you let someone stay in your home, you never know what sort of damage might occur, accidental or not. As a counterpoint, the person staying at your home is also trusting you to use his or her home, so it's in everyone's best interest to be careful, but it may be a concern of yours nonetheless.
Using a reputable house exchange service can help in this regard, though. That way, you can see whether there are any black marks on a member's record before agreeing to swap with that person. If you're going to do a house exchange, it could also pay to call your homeowners insurance company and make sure any ensuing damage would be covered.
Finally, arranging a house exchange takes time. You need to find a site to list your home on, browse through different property options, talk to potential swapping partners, and hash out the logistics of exchanging homes with somebody else. By comparison, booking a hotel room takes a lot less time. You simply figure out what your budget looks like, decide what area of town you'd like to stay in, and use a travel site to quickly narrow down your options.
Is a house exchange right for you?
If you like the idea of living in someone's home during your travels and don't mind the idea of a virtual stranger living in yours, then a house exchange could be a very cost-effective way to explore someplace new. Just make sure you understand the repercussions involved in a house exchange, as well as the time commitment it'll likely take to arrange one in the first place.