One summer my family spent 10 fun-filled days on a 60-acre “gentleman’s farm” in Massachusetts. We paddled on and swam in the 3-acre man-made pond, enjoyed a nearby Atlantic Ocean beach and took outings to a 250-year-old witch’s house in nearby Salem. From there we went to Gloucester to watch the fishing fleet return with its catch.
The cost of our holiday: gas for our car and a few tolls along the way.
Admittedly, we were obligated to take care of a short list of tasks that had been left for us in our temporary dwelling. They entailed refilling a bird feeder on the patio and watering both indoor and outdoor plants as needed.
We were able to have this virtually free vacation trip by taking advantage of a home exchange. That enabled us to trade accommodations with a family who visited our area of the country as we hung out for a while in theirs.
This trading-homes experience is available throughout the year and around the United States and the world. The advantages can extend well beyond the cost savings, which themselves are considerable. For example, given the use of a fully equipped kitchen, we prepared most of our meals rather than eating at restaurants.
Our home away from home was much more comfortable and spacious than hotel accommodations. An added bonus was that neighbors of our host family dropped by to welcome us, offer help if we needed it and invite us to dinner. At the same time, we felt secure with the knowledge that our house would be occupied while we were away. Vandals and thieves wouldn’t be attracted by an empty property.
If the idea of having strangers occupy your house, condo or apartment while you stay in theirs makes you nervous, rest assured. People using your home are likely to take care of it, knowing that you are staying in theirs.
One of the major attractions for us and many home-exchangers is the opportunity to remain in one place long enough to get to know it. We were immersed in the local lifestyle—sampling Boston baked beans, lobster rolls and other Massachusetts meal favorites—and we also appreciated opportunities to meet and mingle with folks we otherwise would not have encountered.
While this prospect was among a number of factors that prompted us to enter the home-exchange derby, benefits take on added importance when traveling abroad. Staying in a house or apartment in another country places you among its residents, and interactions with them can become some of the most meaningful and memorable aspects of your trip.
If you’re interested in a home exchange overseas or elsewhere in the United States, several companies arrange swaps. Following is information about three that provides an introduction to how exchanges work.
Most of the listings available from People Like Us are described as “regular homes that regular people have.” Subscribers chat with other members through the website, and if they wish to initiate a swap, they fill out a booking form. In addition to simultaneous exchanges, alternatives include non-concurrent swaps, one-member travel and staying at someone’s home while they are there.
Intervac was the first home-exchange organization, tracing its roots back to 1953. Members list their property on the platform, then use the site to contact owners about a possible swap and to negotiate terms, times and other details.
Third Home specializes in the luxury market, and residences listed in its portfolio have an average price of $2.4 million. It conducts a rigorous vetting process to limit choices to domiciles of “high quality and desirability.” Typical of this elegance is a beachfront home in Hawaii, a nine-bedroom chateau in France and a 16th-century farmhouse in England where the author A.A. Milne once resided.
When it comes to decision time, it’s important to question your potential host about amenities that are important to you. For example, is there a washing machine and does someone come in to clean? Is there a computer you can use and high-speed internet service?
Some trades include use of a family car. In that case, make sure you have a clear, written understanding about such details as if both vehicles are covered by insurance for the temporary driver.
In addition, it helps to be as flexible as possible when planning a home exchange. The more restrictions you place on where and when you wish to go, the fewer options you’re likely to have.