Is a home swap holiday for you?

If you love to travel, but you’re put off by high accommodation costs, you might want to consider joining the growing community of people worldwide who are opening their homes to total strangers. Home swapping isn’t new, but with the rise of online home-swapping websites, it’s now easier than ever to find someone to exchange with.

How it works

At their simplest home exchanges are an organised swap with another party agreeing to switch their home with yours. Depending on your agreement, you may include the use of personal items as part of the exchange, including swapping cars, internet passwords and sporting equipment.

Generally, the home-swappers will go on holiday at the same time, in a direct exchange. But some also offer non-simultaneous exchanges, where party A will stay in party B’s home or holiday house while they stay elsewhere – then party B will stay in party A’s home at a later date.

Some websites also offer multi-party exchanges, providing greater flexibility than a one-to-one swap.

Why home exchange?

A home exchange is an effective way of slashing travel costs as you effectively get accommodation for free.

But the benefits of house swapping go far beyond your bank account. You’ll enjoy the comfort of feeling right at home while you’re on holiday, with room to spread out and cook – which is not always possible with hotel accommodation. You’ll also have the opportunity to experience life as a local – instead of simply being a tourist in a hotel. Plus, in many cases, you’ll be introduced to family and neighbours; so you can make new friends wherever you go.

Getting started

A simple Google search will uncover plenty of home exchange services operating online. The sign up process for each differs slight, but you usually begin by creating a listing with a description and photos of your home and neighbourhood. An annual listing generally costs a few hundred dollars a year.

Once your profile has been approved, you can start searching – choosing where you want to go and when. You’ll be matched with potential exchange partners in these areas who are interested in visiting your home town, and you can get to know them through email and Skype.

When you’re ready to swap

You’ve found a host and you’ve packed your bags – what next?

It’s important to lay down some ground rules so you’re both clear about your expectations.

You might want to cover:
•  Who will pay for phone calls and internet.
•  How to operate appliances.
•  Where to find the key.
•  How to get to nearby amenities (for example, the supermarket).
•  What to do if anything goes wrong.

You’ll need to clear some space for your visitors to keep their luggage and clothes, and clean thoroughly before they arrive. Make sure your utility bills are up to date, so your guests are not left in the dark.

By its nature, a home exchange requires a degree of trust that the other party will do the right thing (after all, they’re trusting you with their home too). But it still makes sense to pack away important personal items, and give your valuables and important documents to a family member for safekeeping while you’re away.

As with anything you do online, ensure you do your research and use reputable websites to make your arrangements.