Family Travel: How To Do A Home Swap Vacation
By Shelley Miller
Your family can enjoy a two-week vacation in a flat in Rome, a townhouse in Boston or a cottage in England for free. How? A home exchange.
The concept is simple: You live in someone’s home while they live in yours. Most people exchange for 2-3 weeks, but others swap for a few months. You and your home exchange partner will decide when to swap and for how long.
My family has done 13 swaps over the past 12 years for our home in San Diego. It allowed our children, now in their 20s, to see the world without their parents having to do strange financial acrobatics. Plus, you discover a lot about a country’s culture when you live smack dab in the middle of it, in someone’s home away, from tourist central. And ultimately you discover more about yourself and your family, too. Our family bonded on these trips in a way I don’t think would have happened on a traditional vacation.
Here’s what we learned over the years about how to do it right:
Select a Home Exchange Agency
There are more than 70 home swap companies around the world; approximately 30 are based in The U.S., the remaining 40 are sprinkled around the globe. The largest has 43,000 members in 147 countries. Another was established in 1953 and has 14,000 members in 78 countries. One agency is specifically for Christians while another assists the Jewish community. There’s even a home exchange company that works with teachers going on sabbatical. Home exchange membership fees range from free to $500 annually. (You can find a list of my favorite agencies on HomeExchangeExpert.com.)
The best way to secure a home exchange is to be flexible about your destination and the exact travel dates. Maybe you’ll get an offer from Norway (Those Norwegians love to travel!). Perhaps an e-mail will arrive from France. Or Canada. You never know who will want to visit your city and why. Usually families with kids will travel in the summer because of school holidays. But once my family exchanged with a family in Ireland during spring break. We also booked a home swap in Hong Kong over the winter holiday season.
Start The Process Early
If you want to do a home swap vacation in July, start the process in January or even earlier. (I just received an e-mail asking if we’d like to exchange with someone in Lyon, France one year from now.) Finding the right home swap partner could take as little as two weeks, however the average time is one to two months. For one swap I usually send out about ten requests. Once you’ve gotten a reply there is a period of getting to know each other before you agree to the swap.
Look For a Home With Kids In It
If you exchange with families who have kids roughly the same age as your, there will be toys! Often there are bicycles! Race car sets! Board games! Doll houses! Drums! Puppets! (Did I mention toys?). Aside from the free accommodations, toys are the best benefit of home swapping. (Though having a fully stocked kitchen is pretty awesome, too, as is having more than one bathroom!)
When considering a home swap look closely at the photos posted by the owner. Is the home tidy? Are toys picked up? Is the grass mowed? Can you see yourself living there? If the photos match your standards, read the member’s profile, which will include ages of children, professions of adults, and details about the home.
If the home seems to be what you’re looking for and where, send the owner an email. Tell them a bit about your family, home and city. Be friendly yet cordial. If the prospect responds, consider, is the tone of the e-mail pleasant? Do they ask appropriate questions about your home and your travel dates? Does it feel right?
If so, you begin what I call the “getting-to-know-you dance.” There will be several more e-mails, maybe a Skype call and finally, you’ll just know that you’re ready to swap.
Be Ready for Success
While there are no guarantees in life, I have only good reports about our home swaps, both heading out and returning home. No one stole our TV or broke our windows. ur exchange partners took care of our house and we took care of theirs.
Want to Know More?
Have questions about Home Swaps? Ask them below and Shelley will answer them.
Shelley Miller and her husband and two children lived in Europe from April to August 2000, exchanging homes with five different families in England, Ireland, Germany, France and Italy. Shelley writes articles and leads workshops on home swap vacations. You can read her blog and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.