Why and How to Do a Home Exchange Vacation

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If you would like the comforts of home while traveling at almost no cost, doing a home exchange may be for you. Whenever I tell people my family has done a few home exchange vacations, they exclaim interest in doing the same. Of course, many would-be exchangers have some trepidation about swapping residences with other travelers. We’ve experienced varying levels of success with our home swaps. To ensure a successful experience, read these 13 tips for a home exchange vacation.

How to Do a Home Exchange

(Photo credit: Canva.com)

1. Start with friends and family.

Exchanging with friends, family, or acquaintances can be less stressful than doing a home swap with a previously unknown family. This is also true if exchanging with friends of friends because your buddies can vouch for the exchangers in question. Plus, swapping homes on your own saves money over using a professional home exchange service.

As a first step, check with people you know about doing a home exchange. You may not know anyone who lives in your destination of choice, but your Uncle Bob might know someone who does. Send out an email to your contacts or do a Facebook update announcing your desire to do an exchange. In my experience, email works better than Facebook but you might want to do both to reach a larger group.

Home exchange view ~ How to do a home exchange

Pond view at a home exchange house where my family stayed for a week (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. Craft an exchange email.

When crafting your home exchange email, be sure to include travel dates, desired locations, and anything enticing about your house and home town. State any major requirements too. If you absolutely can’t exchange with anyone who has stairs or who owns cats, say that. Don’t include a grocery list of perfect vacation home desires. Keep it simple — two short paragraphs maximum. Offer to send photos and additional information to anyone who might be interested in learning more.

Of course, you should contact anyone who lives in your destination of choice, but also include those who live in other locations. Be sure to ask recipients to forward the email to anyone they think might be interested in a home exchange.

Keep the number of email recipients to less than 20 to avoid getting lost in SPAM. You might also want to type email addresses into the BCC box to avoid an annoying “reply all” stream.

Home Exchange tire swing perk ~ How to do a home exchange

Swapping with a family similar to yours comes with perks…like a tire swing for the kids (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

3. Sign up for a home exchange website.

If your attempts to find a home exchange through your network are unfruitful, do not despair. You can always sign up as a member of an exchange site like LoveHomeSwap.com. After enrolling, add a description of your home, apartment, or condominium plus some information about your neighborhood and town. You can also list destinations you are interested in visiting along with potential travel dates. Sign up for two free weeks with Love Home Swap now!

4. Peruse potential exchange homes.

The fun part is next: perusing potential matches. Narrow down your search by travel dates, destination, and/or exchangers interested in visiting your location. I get a kick out of taking a peek into the homes of others. I love imagining myself as the main character in the story of their lives for a brief period of time.

Trampoline at a home exchange house ~ How to Do a Home Exchange

My daughter and niece loved the trampoline at one of our home exchange houses (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. Narrow down choices.

If you find someone who looks like a good match, you will send a message through the site that includes a link to your home’s profile. You should be courteous by replying to every inquiry you receive, even if only to say, “Sorry we can’t exchange…good luck!”

Now comes the not-so-fun part: realizing how difficult it can be to get all of the vacation gods to smile down upon you so a fortuitous exchange can take place. It can be challenging to find vacationers 1) who are interested in your location, 2) who like your house, 3) who can exchange during the same timeframe as you, 4) whose location you like, and 5) whose house you like.

6. Have realistic expectations.

If you live in a popular vacation destination like San Diego, California, you will likely have an easier time finding an appropriate exchange than someone who hails from Des Moines, Iowa. But you never know. There may be someone residing in your ideal destination looking to come to your home town to visit family, attend a wedding, or experience a new slice of the world. If you hail from a less popular destination, you may need to lower your expectations in terms of square footage or proximity to attractions so you can nab an exchange.

Home exchange backyard ~ How to do a home exchange

My family’s San Diego home backyard came stocked with built-in barbecue and outdoor toys for children (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

7. Paint a positive, but realistic picture.

Play up the benefits of your home. Do you have a billiard table or a community pool? Is your home within walking distance to shops and restaurants? Might your rural home with nearby hiking trails be a wonderful retreat for a city dweller?

While you want to paint a positive picture of your home and location, do not exaggerate. You want to find someone who will appreciate what your house has to offer instead of drawing in a disgruntled temporary inhabitant of your home.

8. Get to know your exchange family.

After you have signed up with Home Exchange and you have found a house that appears to be a good match, you will want to get to know your exchange family. Email back and forth with the owners asking and answering questions. After dates are agreed upon, set up a time to chat by phone or Skype. If the home exchange family seems put out by your questions, emails, or request for a phone meeting — perhaps this is not the right exchange for you. You should feel a sense of camaraderie and comfort with your home swappers.

Paint a positive but realistic picture of your house for a home exchange ~ How to Do a Home Exchange

I shared this photo of our San Diego side yard with fountain and outdoor table in our HomeExchange.com profile (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

9. Consider exchanging cars and pets.

During one of my family’s home exchanges, we swapped cars and cats in addition to houses. This saved both families a considerable amount of cash on rental car fees and pet-sitting services. We considered exchanging dogs as well but decided scheduling our vacation days around doggy potty breaks might put a damper on our vacations.

Consider exchanging pets during your home exchange vacation

Our home exchange kitty for a week (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

10. Use a contract.

Since our first two home exchanges were informal swaps with friends of family, we didn’t bother to draw up a contract. When exchanging with a previously unknown family, or even with friends, it’s a good idea to go the legal route. This is especially true if swapping cars and pets, too.

Spell out expectations and obligations within your home exchange contract. Examples include household rules (like no eating  in the living room), maintenance expectations (such as watering plants and scooping the kitty litter box), and what either party will do if a household item is damaged (like pay for carpet cleaning in case of a spill). A sample contract is available on HomeExchange.com that you can modify as needed. Exchange signatures on the contract before your vacation via email, text or traditional mail.

11. Hide expensive items.

Even if you’ve built a rapport with your exchangers, put away anything you don’t want to risk being stolen, such as expensive jewelry. You’ll also want to put away any fragile items you don’t want broken. Put important documents and valuables in a hidden lockbox or store them with a trusted friend or relative until you return.

Home exchange vacation tips

A home exchange house in which my family stayed during a vacation to Minnesota (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

12. Expect a few glitches.

Lest you think a home exchange is nothing but cotton candy and carefree days, you should know this type of vacation is not without its downfalls. My family felt quite chummy with our last home exchangers. Living in someone else’s home for a week gives a sense of intimacy and trust. We even drove each other’s cars to the airport and swapped keys in-person since our exchangers were boarding the very same plane that we disembarked. Our children ran around the gate giggling while the adults thanked one another and chatted about our vacation adventures.

A few days later, our new friends emailed to say that we had left behind a few items. They offered to ship them back. I asked them to delete the shipping costs from the check for the extra mileage they owed us when we agreed to let them drive our minivan over 200 miles to Los Angeles from San Diego and back. The response I received was surprisingly sour, alleging that we had not left their gas tank full enough. They insisted we owed them money instead. We wound up calling it even and all ended well. But this serves as a warning about how easily things could go astray in a home exchange situation. This was over a few bucks for mileage, gas, and shipping. What if someone had spilled red wine on a new couch, gotten into a fender bender, or worse?

A home exchange comes with perks...like this backyard lake and row boat!

Home exchanges come with perks…like this backyard lake and row boat! (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

13. Exchange away!

So, would I do it again? Absolutely. The extra room, better sleep, homey conveniences, and huge travel savings outweigh the risks of doing a home exchange for me. Just be sure to cover your bases before your home exchange. Get know your exchange family in advance. Be explicit regarding expectations and consequences in your contract. Prepare your mind for glitches. And, perhaps most importantly, don’t fight any battles that aren’t really worth fighting.

Learn additional tips for saving money on vacation with kids now!

Do you have any tips or questions about how to do a home exchange? Let us know in the comments below!

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. Hello!
    I came across your article and thought I’d share an incident with you. A friend of mine exchanged his home with a french family and not only did they exchange their house but also their fridge! He filled his fridge with spanish food and the french family filled their fridge with french food!
    I’ve never swapped my home but after hearing this story I’m thinking to myself, “why not?” 🙂

  2. http://Colleen%20Lanin,%20The%20Travel%20Mama says

    Anji – How fun! I’ve never done a foreign home exchange but I would totally be up for it. Thanks for sharing!

  3. http://Stacie%20@%20Divine%20Lifestyle says

    That’s a really neat idea! I might do it one day. I’d have to get used to the idea of a total stranger living in my home when I’m not there, though.

  4. http://Jen%20Rattie says

    That’s a really interesting idea. I think it would help make a trip so much more memorable. Love it!

    • http://Colleen%20Lanin,%20The%20Travel%20Mama says

      Jen – You really feel like you’re “living” somewhere instead of just visiting during a home exchange, too!

  5. http://Catherine%20Sargent says

    This is an interesting idea and something I would consider doing. The tricky part will be convincing my husband to let someone stay at our house even if it is family.

    • http://Colleen%20Lanin,%20The%20Travel%20Mama says

      Catherine – Yes, that part can feel a bit daunting. But you will be staying in their home as well, so everyone typically feels a need to treat the other’s home as you’d want your home treated.

  6. http://Pam%20Wattenbarger says

    I love the idea of a home exchange. This is a great idea for people who want to travel.

  7. http://felicia says

    This is such a cool idea. It makes me a tad nervous, but a great idea.

    • http://Colleen%20Lanin,%20The%20Travel%20Mama says

      It’s funny how a home exchange makes so many travelers nervous but so many people are doing AirBnB for their homes! I wonder why that is??

  8. http://Crystal says

    I’ve never tried this, but it sounds like a great way to save money when traveling. Plus, staying at a house would be much more comfortable.

    • http://Colleen%20Lanin,%20The%20Travel%20Mama says

      I love having the extra space that a home exchange affords…all for almost no cost!

  9. http://Kristin says

    This sounds great! I would love to try this one day. This totally reminds me of the movie The Holiday with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, their swap went very well, hopefully mine will too!

    • http://Colleen%20Lanin,%20The%20Travel%20Mama says

      Ha! My home exchanges have never led to a new romance, but I suppose they could for single peeps!

  10. http://Toni%20|%20BoulderLocavore.com says

    That is a great idea! I’ve been hearing about this before but I never tried it. It sounds like a great idea to save money while traveling!

    • http://Colleen%20Lanin,%20The%20Travel%20Mama says

      So glad I could share this fun and affordable travel method with you. I hope you’ll give it a try!

  11. http://Kiwi says

    Wow this is really interesting. I never thought of a Home Exchange experience before. It sounds really fun and resourceful but it would definitely have to be with people I trust. Once I get a home I wanna look into this. One day!

  12. http://Amanda%20Love says

    I’ve never tried exchanging homes with someone before, and I’ve never thought about it as well. I think it’s a great idea to exchange with people you know first. Research also goes a long way!

  13. http://Rosey says

    I didn’t even know there was such a good thing. What a potentially great way to save money too!

  14. http://Tonya says

    These are great tips and important points to keep in mind. I’ve thought often of participating in a home exchange. Unfortunately, my neck of the woods isn’t known for pulling in tourists.

  15. http://Chrystal%20|%20Nevermore%20Lane says

    I think a home exchange would be a lot of fun. You would get to travel to a new place while helping someone else in the process.

  16. http://Joyce%20Brewer says

    I think this is becoming more popular as families move and relocate. Great resources!

  17. http://Flyingkids says

    This sounds exciting! A must-try for families.:)

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