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5 Steps To A Successful Home Swap


You can read more about home swap experiences and great home-swap houses.

We recently did our first home swap, staying in the 15th arrondissement in Paris while a French family lived in our Brooklyn home. It saved us a few thousand euros in hotel fees and made the trip affordable for us. Since returning, several friends have asked how we did it. So below I’m outlining how we managed our way through the swap from beginning to end.

The search

There are home exchange websites like HomeExchangeknok.com and lovehomeswap, but my husband wanted a personal connection the first time we tried this.

We went on Facebook and Twitter and reached out to everyone we knew who lived in France or might have friends or relatives there. I asked around at school and among the neighbors. I found our swap through a friend who had been delving into her network to try to find a swap for herself. I used Google, Facebook and LinkedIn to check up on my swapper, we Skyped once to “meet” and emailed a lot to work out details.

The cost

A home swap isn’t entirely free, but keep in mind even a few hundred dollars in incidentals is nothing compared with a big city hotel bill. Here is what we paid out:

  • $50 to FedEx our house keys to Paris. This probably could have been done for less, but i wanted them to get there quickly and I wanted a service my Paris counterpart and I could both easily track.
  • $150 for a deep house cleaning. This is especially essential if you have pets or if the visitors have any allergies.
  • About $25 to replace food staples of theirs that we used.
  • About $100 in cabs. It wasn’t as practical to take the train to and from the airport from our neighborhood as it would have been from a central tourist area.
  • If you use a home swapping website there’s usually an annual fee of $50 to $150 or so.

The Prep

Packing for a 2-week vacation is hectic. Prepping your home for visitors is hectic. Prepping your home for visitors you don’t know and who don’t know your home, while also packing for a 2-week vacation a juggle.

I typed up 6 pages of information. It included everything from what to do with the garbage to how to work the stove and remote controls to what subway lines were closest and where to get the best bagels.

I scheduled the housecleaning for two days before we left.

the exterior of our Paris home swap

The street where we lived in Paris.

And I spent a lot of time putting things away. I put away the pile of coats and shoes by the front door and stashed any items we preferred they not use (like my work laptop). I cleared our stuff from the bathroom sink to make room for theirs. Putting away all the toys— and keeping them away—was a challenge.

The morning we left I changed all the bedding and towels, washed the old ones and put them away. I was folding laundry until we left for the airport.

The Landing

The cabby had to circle a little to find our small street and we fumbled around a dark hallway to figure out which apartment was ours. But all in all, settling into their place was easy thanks to our hosts’ own 6-page house guide.

We quickly saw many advantages to staying in a residential neighborhood in a large city. All the meals we had at local restaurants were less expensive and better quality than what we ate in the tourist areas, and the servers were far friendlier. We had a small park with a playground (above) a few blocks away where we stopped almost daily.

With a refrigerator and stove handy we could shop in the outdoor markets and local stores and bring home wonderful fruit, charcuterie, cheese, wine, vegetables, bread, meat and fresh pasta. We cooked wonderful French meals for ourselves.

When Tiny Traveler came down with a stomach bug one morning I was very happy we weren’t cooped up in a tiny hotel room. We could relax in the living room while she slept in a real bedroom. And we could easily pop out to a grocery or pharmacy for things we needed.

Our host’s teenagers were too old to have toys around but they did leave a box of costumes for TT. She was thrilled to play dress-up while we cooked dinner at night.

you might find the owner's art work in a home swapThe (small) downside is that you are in a person’s home and you do need to take more care than you might in a hotel. For example, our host is an artist whose sculptures were all over the apartment. We lived in fear of knocking one down and steered well clear of them. When TT accidentally splashed a little grape juice on the white couch we went through a lot of Shout wipes in a scramble to get the stain out.

The Departure

Before we left we spent more than an hour cleaning, doing laundry, making beds, putting dishes away, vacuuming, making sure there were no remnants of Play-Doh in their shag rug and so on (they did the same).

This won’t become our sole travel style—sometimes hotels have conveniences you can’t resist. But for big cities like London or Paris, where hotels (and everything else) are very expensive, finding a swap makes a visit much more affordable. We will do it again.




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6 Comments

  1. October 12, 2014 at 7:29 pm — Reply

    I had a friend spend a week at my place and was surprised when the instructions I left for her numbered 4 pages.
    Great idea to send the keys beforehand. I bet that must have given your swappers some comfort. Hope they enjoyed their stay in Brooklyn. Was there anything you would do differently?

    • October 14, 2014 at 10:13 am — Reply

      I thought we would be here the day our swappers arrived in NY so we could meet them and hand them the keys. I realized we wouldn’t be only 10 days before we left (luckily I did realize it). Had i been more on top of this I could have gotten they keys to them by DHL or FedEd or UPS without paying $50. They send theirs by registered mail, which worked out, but the US postal system doesn’t link up with other postal systems that well, so tracking their keys was not as easy. I don’t recommend it.

    • March 16, 2015 at 12:01 pm — Reply

      nothing i would do differently, except sending their sheets and towels to the laundry, paying and leaving the receipt of them to pick up. I saved the info sheet i typed up, so i would have it the next time around as that was time consuming.

  2. October 10, 2014 at 10:28 pm — Reply

    No reason to wait until their older. It does help to have kids old enough that they sleep I twin beds, not toddler beds. You have more flexibility about who you swap with.

  3. October 10, 2014 at 2:34 pm — Reply

    Great idea! Loved reading about how this worked! Will definitely want to try the swap when our kids are older and are better travel companions.

  4. October 10, 2014 at 11:13 am — Reply

    Wow! I did not know that there were services for this , it seems like it saved you a bunch of money though. Very interesting topic.

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