Last year we discovered traveling via home exchanging, which is a brilliant way to travel, especially since the cost of hotels and Airbnb’s have crept closer together than ever. It’s not for everyone, just like anything in life, but for us the pluses outweigh the minuses by a long mile.
PLUSES OF TRAVELING VIA HOME EXCHANGING
- It’s a very immersive way to travel. You literally settle down in someone else’s life – their window view, their favorite bakery, their local takeout joint. It’s astonishingly different than staying at a hotel downtown with only glimpses of local life, and to me – very seductive.
- It’s incredibly satisfying if you have voyeuristic tendencies – you lift someone else’s coffee cup to your lips while standing on their sun drenched deck, and you feel like you could have had a very different sort of life a few decisions away. For me, imagining many parallel lives is incredibly freeing – I love to imagine alternate universes in which I’m not just living the life I have, but the life I could have had – a life on a farm or acreage, a life in heels in the city, a life I can only imagine. When you’re in someone else’s house you can insert yourself into this new reality very easily. Plus, homes have an endless variety and charm – some places have pools, others have gardens, some are sleek apartments, and none of this resembles a hotel in any way.
- It’s very educational – we always come home with great ideas on better living. Ideas big and small can follow you home, from a more efficient way to arrange the coffee station, to trying new appliances – do we need a Roomba? (No), do we need an induction stove? (Yes).
- The cost savings – this is the obvious one, but if you replace the cost of lodging with no cost of lodging, you can put that money toward all your activities in your new location. Plus with a full house at your disposal, you can cook some of your meals, and groceries are usually a similar price in most destinations.
- If you have kids, they get to play with new toys. My daughter has entertained herself for hours at every house we’ve stayed in, joyfully exploring new books, toys and play spaces.
- Most car insurances allow for lending your car, and if you can arrange a vehicle swap with your hosts, it can be an amazing savings as well, especially in the years of vehicle scarcity.
MINUSES OF TRAVELING VIA HOME EXCHANGING
- It’s a fair amount of work. Have you ever sold a house and had to get it decluttered and clean enough to look like a show home? You’ll have to do that just to list your house. The one advantage is you can do it one small section at a time. Move all kitchen clutter off the counters, snap a few photos in a good light, and put it all back. Whew.
- Preparing for an actual exchange is also work. Most people go on a serious cleaning spree, especially during covid, taking extra care to declutter (again), deep clean, and even prepare fresh items for guests to use – a new set of towels or pillows, or at least pillow cases. As one experienced exchanger put it – “it’s SO much work to prepare your house, that every time I exchange, I wonder if it’s worth it, and this thought persists right up until I arrive at the my new destination.” Indeed.
- Preparing a house manual – you need to tell your guests of the idiosyncrasies of your house – the faucet that needs extra tightening, the fireplace that doesn’t turn on, the extra switch to turn on garage lights. People may be from very far away places, and not know the basics of caring for cast iron, or how exactly your thermostat or smart TV work. You need to advise your guests of house rules, such as no shoes in the house, or no smoking, or how to maintain your house plants. You need to document days of trash collection, and what can be recycled. Further, you need to extend that manual to your neighborhood and city and tell people of your favorite spots to eat, parks, caveats about amenities, etc. It’s not a small amount of work to prepare all that.
- Right before leaving for your trip it’s another flurry of last minute cleaning – moving all excess personal items into a locked closet, garage bin, or even an entire locked room. Leaving morning coffee cups in the dishwasher. Ensuring bathrooms are given a quick last minute wipe down. Ensuring keys are somewhere safe. So much cleaning and organizing. On the upside, you will likely spruce up common areas, AND complete most handyman projects you’ve been putting off.
- It’s not for everyone. Some people are naturally predisposed to feel like their home is their sanctuary, and they cannot fathom swapping their inner sanctums with strangers. You have to know yourself.
Bottom line – if you see your possessions as simply that – stuff you possess, and not as an extension of your identity, then you will likely greatly enjoy a home swap. The trips can be amazing, and life changing. The heavy lift of cleaning, organizing and home repairs benefits you too, and it’s great to come home to a clean house. For us, the ability to spend lodging money on experiences and food are 100 percent worth it, and we are thrilled to be able to arrange more home swaps in the future. Which home exchange site? We personally fell in love with the feel and community of People Like Us. There are larger sites out there, but the engagement is hit and miss, and they have a more transactional approach with points and trades. This site is run by a developer that works remotely, and there is a super active, engaged and helpful FB Group. We’ve seen an astonishing response rate to queries, very nice people, and a powerful ability to filter and search on all manner of exchanges, from longer term stays to stays with pets only. There is a nominal membership fee, and the very first exchange will easily pay for itself.
*** photo of the sky at a house exchange in Dallas ***