Home Exchange GuideHome Exhchange - is it worth a second look?
By Chris and Hannah Alford
What is home exchange?
Home exchange is a simple idea; you find an exchange partner in your own or another country and then you swap your home for theirs for an agreed period of time. An exchange is often for one or two weeks, to cover vacation time, but some exchanges can last a lot longer if it suits both parties. You probably won’t meet your hosts (unless you want to arrange it so that you do) because you will be travelling to their home as they are on their way to yours.
Is it a simple swap?
A home exchange isn’t just about having a place to stay, the exchange can include cars, bikes, sports equipment- anything you like really. You don’t have to worry about packing towels or bedding, it’s all there for you because you are staying in a home. Your hosts usually leave plenty of information to help you get the most out of the local area, from recommendations of where to eat to hidden hikes or festivals only locals would know about. There’s a refreshing generosity about home exchanging; you’re likely to arrive to a welcome card or bottle of wine and will get the feeling the hosts you may never meet care about making your vacation a success.
How do you arrange it?
You find a home exchange partner via one of the many home exchange websites. You pay a minimal fee to become a member and from there you create your ‘profile’ on the site i.e. who you are, what your home is like, what your area can offer. It’s a bit like internet dating, except you are trying to find a suitable holiday match! You decide where you’d like to go and what sort of home you would like to stay in. You can use filters on the websites to narrow down your search, and when you have found a few you like the look of you can send them a message to see if they might be interested in a swap. If you prefer the element of surprise you can always wait and see what offers are made to you- and then find yourself vacationing in somewhere you never would have imagined a few weeks or months later!
Who is home exchange for?
Traditionally home exchangers were retired couples with more freedom to travel or young families looking for a cost effective way to take a summer break. Now, home exchanging appeals to a much broader range of people. Home exchangers tend to love to travel and are prepared to trust strangers to treat their home with the same degree of care and respect that they would treat someone else’s. Home exchanging doesn’t work well if you are very precious about everything in your home being kept in its exact place, or if the thought of your home being used by other people is likely to cause you stress. If you can move past the ‘strangers in my bed’ element and focus on ‘wow, look where I will go, for free!’ then you will get a lot more from it.
What are the benefits?
The most obvious benefit is the financial savings. When you cut out hotel and rental costs you have a lot more cash to spend on enjoying holiday treats and activities. You may even choose to go further afield than you normally would. There are hidden savings as well, such as not needing to eat out as often because you have your own kitchen to make lunches or a garden to BBQ in, or avoiding car parking or hire fees. Also, any extras like using the phone or electricity are in effect covered by the bills you are paying back home.
Another benefit is that you can find yourself in places well and truly away from the usual tourist traps, so you see a very different side, perhaps of a country you have been to before, or somewhere you have always dreamed of visiting.
What are the down sides?
It can be quite time consuming to arrange an exchange. You can easily find yourself losing hours trawling through the site, getting inspired about holiday destinations and considering the possibilities, before you’ve even come up with any listings to contact!
Home exchanging with a family
With children, home exchanging can be a simpler yet richer holiday option. If you exchange with another family your kids can get excited about a new bedroom full of cool stuff they don’t have, and no doubt your guest’s kids will feel the same! Whatever their age you’ll need different information from a family point of view. The host parents will be able to point you in the direction of all the local activities they’ve spent years researching. So whether you borrow their camping gear and canoe and head into the wilderness for the weekend, or learn where the best skate parks and sports clubs are, it’s this unique angle you won’t find with any other type of holiday.