Everything You Need to Know about Home Exchanging

By contributing writer Sara Tetreault.  Sara is a blogger and the creator of the lifestyle blog, Go Gingham Stylishly Frugal Living. She shares about family, food, and all things frugal, fancy, and fun!

How to Do a Home Exchange

My favorite way to travel affordably is to home swap.  After eight home exchanges in eight years (four in the U.S. and four in Europe), I’m ready to go again!

When you home exchange, you get to stay in a home with a kitchen, live like a local in a non-tourist area, and skip having a bill handed to you upon checkout. Free lodging?  Sign me up!

I also love that while you’re traveling, your home is occupied and being cared for during your vacation without having to pay for those services.  Yes — free again!  Home swapping is very frugal, fancy, and fun.  However for most people, it comes with concerns.

Home exchange concerns

When I first brought up the idea of home swapping to my husband, prior to our first home exchange to Paris, he was pretty much against it. He was worried about the treasured items in our home (luckily, we don’t have any) and I had to do some research to convince him that inviting strangers into our home was a good idea.

This is what we’ve found with home swapping: once you communicate by email and perhaps talk on Skype or the telephone with your home exchange partner, they’re no longer strangers — they’re more like friends.

And there’s yet another benefit to traveling: making new friends.

Food, sites, and friends: Home swap to Spain

Food, sites, and friends: Home swap to Spain

Strangers Staying in Your House?  No Problem.

Home exchange concerns usually fall into these four categories and here are some suggestions to consider if you’re on the fence about this method of travel.

Insurance

Check in with your homeowner’s insurance agent (and car insurance agent, if someone will be driving your car).  Our agencies never had a problem, but we did have to pay an additional rider (a fee) for a home exchange in Austria (to use our host’s car). Not every country has the same rules, so be prepared for a possible fee.

Renters

If you rent your place, check with the owner of your home or apartment. Your rental agreement should be a good place to start.

Personal documents

If you would have a better vacation knowing that your bank statements, tax returns, and personal letters were under lock and key, then you should lock them up.  We’ve never had any problems, but most homes we have stayed in have a closet or a drawer or two locked up. It’s very common practice.

When my kids were younger, they worried about their toys being played with, so we tucked those away on a shelf.

Precious things

We’ve never had anything stolen or broken, and our home exchanges have all been positive experiences. However, if you have away priceless artwork and jewelry, you might want to tuck them away.

We once traded homes with a family who had a beautiful home filled with artwork and statues — it would have been impossible for them to put it all away.  We were very careful in their house. If you’re like us and don’t have any of those items, no need to worry.

Living like a local means eating local food.

Living like a local means eating local food.

How Does Home Exchanging Work?

Home Swap How to

When you sign up for a home exchange website, you can view pictures of other people’s homes and they can see the pictures you have uploaded of your home. You’ll see what amenities other people have to offer and they can see what you have.

Frequently-Asked Questions

We’d like to try a home swap for the first time, but we don’t want to pay for a whole year’s membership.  Any ideas?

Many home exchange service providers offer a two-week free trial period. This is a good opportunity to see how a particular website works and how easy it is to contact people.

I like the idea of trying something for two weeks, but we’ve never had luck arranging a home exchange in that short of a time frame. It’s always taken us longer to find someone to trade homes with, and then there’s a little dance that goes along with home swapping — timing? pets? number of bedrooms? car swapping or no car? All of these details take agreeing or not agreeing to and there are emails to be exchanged back and forth.

It helps me to keep in mind that for the price of one night in a hotel room, I can pay for a one-year membership to a home exchange service.  And during the membership period, there’s no limit to the number of exchanges that can be arranged.

Which home exchange services do you recommend?

I am registered with KNOK and INTERVAC and have traded homes with both services.  KNOK’s website offers both better user interface and searching capabilites. It’s like a social networking site for homeswappers. InterVac has been around longer so they have more registered users but the search is clunkier.  Both are good options, and if you’re serious about home swapping, it helps to have two registrations.

Who would want to visit my city?  

Your city as a destination is desirable to someone and you may never know why or when that may be. People travel all the time for different reasons. I just replied to an email this morning from a couple in Vancouver, British Columbia who need to be in our city over the winter holidays for a family gathering and would like to exchange.

Why would someone pick my house?  It’s not cool or unusual.

It’s important to remember that home swappers aren’t looking for a perfect abode — just a place to rest their feet for a little while.  People don’t home swap to stay inside, they home swap to travel and to experience life as a local, and have a free place to stay.

My house is in a perpetual state of remodeling.  Is it OK to list it on a home exchange site?

Unless your home is crumbling into the ground, you’re fine. Obviously, if you’re house is in the middle of a major re-do and under construction, you’re not going to want to leave your home.

I always leave a “House Tricks” manual about our home, in addition to little notes around our house to explain water faucet quirks, doorknobs that fall off easily, and how our stove light is broken and says it’s “on” all the time.

Not one house we’ve ever stayed in has been perfect, and our most recent exchange even had construction on the outside of the building.

Wallenstein Garden, Prague, Czech Republic

Wallenstein Garden, Prague, Czech Republic

Home swapping makes traveling affordable, and it also keeps you out of the well-beaten tourist track.  You get to live like a local and make new friends. Home swapping has allowed our family to travel places we would have never considered or been able to afford if we didn’t have a place to stay for free.

Our next trip? Victoria, British Columbia for spring break.

Sara TetreaultSara Tetreault writes about living the good life on less with thoughtful spending, smart use of resources, and efficient use of time.  By cooking at home, growing vegetables, sewing, and home swapping, she hopes to inspire you with her frugal, fancy, and fun ways.  Sara keeps a home, one husband, two children, and three backyard chickens.  She loves gingham fabric, which is the name of her blog, Go Gingham Stylishly Frugal Living.  You can follow her on Twitter, became a Fan on Facebook, or see her pins on Pinterest.

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14 comments

  • Willie Olson May 15, 2014, 4:55 am

    I have been thinking about home-exchanges possibilities for our old home for quite sometime now, but I was worried of some very important things to consider about letting someone stay on your most beloved house especially letting strangers in. This article just melts away my worries. I now have the confidence to lean on that right now.

    Reply
  • Emma December 10, 2013, 6:47 am

    Hi everyone,
    Congratulations for you blog. I’m from Barcelona and I’ve done some home swaps with http://www.mytwinplace.com. I recommend you this experience! You can find really beautiful houses and discover a lot of “no tourist” places. I’ve stayed in Paris and Praga and I’m looking to go to Berlin next summer.

    Reply
  • Insure Wise March 6, 2013, 2:56 pm

    A home swap huh? sounds like a very interesting idea. But I would be worried bout my stuff getting messed with. Despite you having said you’ve had nothing broken or taken it still worries me.
    Insure Wise´s last post ..Get Ready to Safely ‘Spring Forward’

    Reply
    • Sara Tetreault March 6, 2013, 3:27 pm

      Well, home swapping is not for everyone and you definitely need to be okay with that as a possibility. Things do get broken and we have broken items (accidentally, of course) at a few of the homes we’ve stayed in.
      For me, trading off the possibility of my things getting broken with me getting to travel is one I’m willing to make.
      Good luck!
      Sara Tetreault´s last post ..Website and Blog Tips

      Reply
  • Samantha @ Digital Zen February 28, 2013, 11:34 am

    I love this idea! I wonder if you’ve heard of or tried Airbnb. It seems to be gaining popularity. It’s not a swap, but an opportunity to rent out your house or room to others, or vice versa.
    Samantha @ Digital Zen´s last post ..The Easiest Way to Follow Your Favorite Blogs

    Reply
    • Sara Tetreault February 28, 2013, 6:06 pm

      Hi Sam,
      I have heard Airbnb but I have not tried it out. With a family, the home swap seems to work out the best for us. I would be willing to try it at another point in time.
      Sara Tetreault´s last post ..Gingham Style Defined

      Reply
    • Sara Tetreault March 6, 2013, 3:24 pm

      Samantha,
      I wanted to update you – I am trying out Airbnb in June! I’m speaking at BlogHer Food in Austin and decided to try a more affordable option to the conference hotel. The place I’m staying in is a garden apartment that’s within walking distance of the hotel. I can’t wait and I’m thrilled to be paying a LOT less money for a spot to sleep and I have a kitchen!
      Sara Tetreault´s last post ..Website and Blog Tips

      Reply
      • Samantha @ Digital Zen March 6, 2013, 4:20 pm

        Sounds good – have a terrific time! I look forward to hearing about the conference when you get back. I’m sure the Airbnb lodging will be perfect.

        Reply
  • Julie February 27, 2013, 10:55 pm

    As an avid traveler without a lot of resources, I absolutely love the house swap concept – though my husband definitely qualifies as skeptical. A few questions 1) Do you arrange for house cleaning? 2) what about pets? 3) is there any sort of security deposit?

    I look forward to your comments – maybe one day soon we’ll take the house swapping plunge!

    Reply
    • Sara Tetreault February 28, 2013, 5:57 pm

      Hi Julie ~
      Those darn husbands! Mine was skeptical, too, but right now is hi-lighting a map for our 9th home exchange at the end of this month. They do come around.
      To answer your questions:
      1. No, I don’t arrange for house cleaning. Our house has always been cleaner when we arrived home than when we left it! Or maybe it’s just cleaned differently. Regardless, the understanding and agreement states that both parties should try to have the house(s) left in the same condition as when they arrived. For clean sheets, we discuss with our partners.
      2. Pets are listed on exchange service. My husband is very allergic to cats so those houses are out for us. We have backyard chickens which sometimes people want to take care of and other times don’t. It really depends. I don’t want to care for pets while I’m on vacation but for some folks, that is really enjoyable. It’s all part of the “home exchange dance” and finding the right partner.
      3. No security deposit. In your exchange agreement, you do agree to making sure that if you cancel, you’ll make arrangements for your partner. I’ve heard from several folks who say illnesses have forced them to have to reschedule trips and that it hasn’t been a problem. Home exchangers tend to go with the flow.
      All I can say is go for it on home swapping if you love to travel and you’re not the “stay in a hotel in a tourist area” type of traveler. With the savings, you can travel twice as often.
      Glad you asked, Julie. Happy travels!
      Sara Tetreault´s last post ..Budgeting and How to Track Expenses Part 2

      Reply
      • Julie March 2, 2013, 10:51 pm

        Sara,
        Thank you for the detailed response! I love the concept and hope I can strong arm – ah hem, I mean convince – my husband to give it a shot one of these days. It’s the only way I can see our young family making it overseas anytime soon, and I would much rather see a new place through the lens of a local vs. a tourist. I was lucky to travel frequently with my parents when I was little and think it’s so valuable for kids to learn to enjoy and appreciate other cultures at an early age – what a great way to get out there and experience the world!
        Wish me luck :)
        Julie

        Reply
        • Julie March 2, 2013, 11:05 pm

          On a totally different topic, can you share how you get your comment to mention and link to your most recent blog post? I’m relatively new to this whole blogging thing and am still learning.

          Many thanks!
          Julie

          Reply
          • Sara Tetreault March 2, 2013, 11:18 pm

            Julie,
            I do wish you luck!
            I have signed up for WP plug-in called “comment luv” and you can leave a comment and if someone else (like Amy, here) uses it also, it links my post. It really helps build community.
            All the best, Julie!

            Reply

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