Free accommodation: try a home exchange
Accommodation is the big culprit when it comes to the single supplement. It’s not easy to find an option that doesn’t offer couples better deals than it offers solo travelers. Home exchanges are the exception. So when I met Nola at a conference in September, (she has exchanged homes 25 times) I invited her to write a post on home exchanges for Solo Traveler. You can read more by Nola on New Take Travel and follow her on Twitter @newtaketravel.
An Exceptional Arrival
The neighbor walked us up the stairs, unlocked the door and handed us the key. He took his leave saying, “Don’t hesitate if you need anything, ok? Enjoy your stay!”
Thanking him, we picked up our luggage and turned the knob. We stepped into a grand foyer: towering ceilings, a staircase rising to who-knows-where, and dramatic alabaster light fixtures above gleaming wood floors. To the right, through 12-foot French doors, was a sitting room.
A little wide-eyed and, if I recall correctly, speechless, we turned left with the unspoken intent of finding the master bedroom to drop our bags. Inside the first door was a welcoming bedroom with a queen-size four-poster bed and bright windows. There, on our right, was a pristine en suite bathroom with custom tile tub. Wow. Fabulous! Suitcases forgotten, we turned back to the hall.
This wasn’t a vacation rental, it was a home exchange.
While we were spending the week in this 5000 square foot home in the middle of San Francisco, California, the owners were staying in our condo in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
This was our tenth home exchange, and we’ve done another fifteen since.
Why Home Exchange?
Home exchanging (also known as home swapping) is trading your home with another traveler. You stay in their home and they stay in yours. Why would you want…?
Because you stay free! It’s the best travel deal going. A decent, centrally located hotel in San Francisco would be hard to find for $120/night. So, conservatively, that seven night exchange saved us $840. At that rate our 25 home exchanges, and 166 free nights to date, mean $20,000 saved.
With each swap you can enjoy the comforts of home. Or, consider it a hotel room: never touch the kitchen or laundry. Instead, dine in restaurants and visit a spa.
Then there’s the solo traveler bonus: no single supplement is ever charged! And it’s always nice to not just have a local connection, but someone handing you the names and numbers of locals should you need them.
How Does it Work?
Home Exchangers usually use members-only exchange websites (typically $120-150/year). They list their home, search for homes in destinations they want to visit, and send and receive offers. It’s not pioneering anymore; one site has 40,000 members worldwide.
Swaps can be any length –a weekend, a week or a year– and nearby or on the other side of the globe.
Who Can Home Exchange?
Most people with a home can exchange. Generally, swappers consider exchange partners to be house-sitters or house guests, but condo and co-op owners, and renters, should check for restrictions.
Beyond that it’s pretty basic: a home must be clean and in good repair. Modest to deluxe, rural and urban, all kinds of homes are swapped. A city dweller might want a farmhouse retreat, and empty-nesters with a family home may welcome a small urban studio.
Two drawbacks come to mind: First is that sometimes you don’t find an exchange where and when you’d like to (so take advantage of opportunities as they appear). Second is adding a ‘home exchange deep clean’ to your pre-trip to-do list. But a cleaning service can help with that and returning to a super-clean home turns a negative into a very welcoming positive.
Six Tips for the Curious
You might be curious but firsts can be daunting. So, check out more home exchange basics including the story of my first exchange. If your interest is piqued, here are six tips to get you started:
- Tempted but unsure? List and see. – Listing your home doesn’t obligate you to swap. List, assess opportunities as they arise, and then decide.
- Choose a Home Exchange Website – Browse at least a couple. Try the features, check what homes are offered in destinations you want to visit, and check what’s included with membership.
- Post a Helpful Listing – Read other listings. What questions do you still have about their home? In your own, answer those questions!
- Post [lots of] Pictures – Include at least one current photo of each room, clean and tidy.
- Search and Send – Don’t wait for offers! Search and then send offers, too. Not everyone responds so don’t be disappointed.
- Make the Rules – Your home, your exchange, your rules. Decide what you’re comfortable with (children? pets? smoking?). Only accept an exchange that works for you. Exchanging should reduce vacation stress, not create it!
The Rest of the Story
We left the master bedroom and continued down the hall. The door at the end was ajar and we walked into…the Master Suite: larger still, tall ceilings, a bay window, refined furnishings, fine art, an enormous walk-in closet, and a luxurious bath with double sinks and deep-jetted tub. We started to laugh and then quickly retraced our steps to the guest room and our luggage. We’ll take the real Master Suite, please!
On return trips to San Francisco we’ve shared lovely evenings with these exchangers, catching up over dinner and (inevitably) talking travel. [Special thanks to them for providing these photos.] They have a standing invitation in our home, too. It seems that by nature exchangers are welcoming, curious about the world and willing to step out of the box. Home swapping is a pretty spectacular way to meet like-minded people.
Home exchanging is what you choose to make of it. Dabble or dive deep, it’s up to you. Either way I’m fully convinced you’d come out ahead with more travel savings, more travel options and maybe even some new friends.
How could home exchanging fit into your travel life? Or does it already?
Nola Beard is a passionate travel speaker, trainer and writer, and founder of New Take Travel, the source for ‘How to Travel Often & Richly Within Your Budget’. She is obsessed with travel, a lover of beautiful hotels and a home exchange aficionado, having completed more than 25 exchanges to date.