Content and Editorial Director
Have you fantasized about living as a local in a small Italian town? Or moving into a charming beachfront cottage? With home swapping, you can do just that — at least temporarily. The key? Using a house-swapping platform.
Companies that facilitate house swapping have hundreds of thousands of members all around the world, each of whom are looking to trade lives, if only for a week or two. This can mean a great vacation for a fraction of the price, without leaving your house empty while you’re away.
WHAT IS HOME SWAPPING?
There are essentially three types of home exchanges. The most common arrangement is a "simultaneous exchange,” in which you stay in your exchange-partner's home while they stay in yours. You can also opt for a “non-simultaneous exchange” where you stay at the other person’s home and they stay at yours another time. So owners aren’t displaced, this often works best with second homes or vacation homes. Some home-exchange sites also offer a system where you can earn points by allowing other members to stay in your home when you aren’t there, and then use your points to stay in other members’ homes. Finally, in a “hospitality exchange,” you can stay as a guest in a swapper's home while they are also in residence.
HOW TO HOME SWAP
Ready to start swapping? First, you’ll have to pick the right home-exchange company. There are many house-swap companies to choose from, where you can browse potential homes, get in touch with other members and make all your arrangements. Most of these organizations charge a membership fee, but many have a free trial period so you can check out the kind of places that are available before you commit. A good place to start is HomeExchange, which boasts 450,000 homes in 159 countries. HomeLink is another good bet, and has been around since 1953. Another to consider is Love Home Swap, which offers traditional swaps and points swaps.
Once you’ve chosen a company, you’ll need to create a profile for your property. You’ll want to present your home in an informative and appealing way, while also being honest. Include information about your home’s location, describing your neighborhood and including local attractions and those that can be reached in a day trip. Describe what makes your home and area so special. Let people know what appliances you have, whether the property is kid-friendly, if pets are allowed and whether guests will have access to your car. And perhaps most importantly, include a wide range of attractive photos. Provide snaps of the exterior, yard, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen and dining space, as well as views from your home. Photos of your neighborhood and nearby attractions can also be included.
Once your listing is live, you’ll be able to reach out to potential swappers. Be sure to read their listings carefully before inquiring, checking their availability calendar, location and neighborhood details. Then, write a polite home-swap request. Keep your message personable yet concise. Address them by name, and let them know when you’re looking to travel, who will be staying in their home and why you’d like to stay in their place in particular. Then sell your own home by letting them know what it has to offer. Calling out any previous swap experience you might have can be very helpful.
Keep in mind that flexibility is key. Your chances of swap success will be much higher if you have some latitude with your dates. If so, let potential swappers know which dates you’re interested in, but convey that your travel dates are flexible. Be open location-wise, too. You might just discover a gorgeous little abode in a corner of the world you’d never have dreamed of visiting otherwise.
HOW TO BE A GREAT GUEST AND HOST
Agree on everything beforehand. Spell everything out before your trip, erring on the side of too much information. Double-check that you’ve left instructions for things like where to find the key, how to open the door and operating the appliances. Will someone need to water the plants or put the trash out on a certain day? Is it okay to borrow each other’s bikes? Do you need to wash the laundry before you leave, or will you both get cleaners? Think about any weird little quirks your house has and put them all in one handy document, preferably sending it on to your guests beforehand. Discuss all of these details long before you hop on a plane and everyone will be much happier.
Make your guests feel welcomed. Leave them a nice bottle of wine, stock essentials like toilet paper and coffee, and make a bit of space for them. You don’t need to empty your closets, but try to make a little room so they can unpack and hang up their clothes. And if you have anything lying around you wouldn’t want your mom to see, make sure to put it away.
Set and follow house rules. Often hosts will have a set of house rules to follow, such as limiting noise after a certain hour, not allowing pets or smoking (or smoking pets), prohibiting parties and extra guests, etc. Make sure to share your house rules with guests, and get clear on any rules your host has.
Keep it clean. Before guests arrive, make sure to give your house a good scrub, put out fresh towels and make up the beds with clean linens. And before you leave your host’s home, ensure it’s spic and span. Some swappers agree to both hire professional cleaners for their homes before the other arrives, and after they leave, which is a nice guarantee of the same level of cleanliness.
Show your gratitude. Leave a small gift or note to say thank you to your hosts. It could be something local from your home region, or it could be something that you got for your host while visiting. At the very least, leave a nice thank you note. Hearing about your positive experience will be a lovely thing for your host to return home to.
Do a final walk-through. Before you close the door, take a moment to look around. Did you empty the trash? Have you put the keys back in the agreed-upon location? Did you pack your phone charger? It only takes a few minutes but can save big headaches later.
The joy of home swapping is that it’s nothing like a traditional hotel experience. Initially, you might be a bit nervous about handing over the keys to your place to strangers. But if you open yourself up to something new, you can unlock a whole world of travel possibilities.
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