I confess, I have a new online addiction. While some have fallen prey to time zappers like Facebook, Twitter or Wordscraper, I can get lost for hours on home exchange websites.
For a travel junkie like me, sniffing around various house-swapping possibilities around the world is like wanderlust crack. Pick a country, any country, and I can find a home that just might be open to exchanging with me. So many times have I popped into my husband`s office with a “how ’bout two weeks in Tokyo?” or a “I think I’ve found a good one in Rome” that he’s threatening to cut me off cold turkey.
But it’s not just my own initiative feeding this addiction. With my home`s profile listed on a few exchange websites I have people approaching me all the time with tempting offers from places I haven`t even considered. What might have been a pipe dream in the past becomes a potential reality because eliminating the accommodation expenses opens up a lot of destinations that were previously off-budget for our family.
It`s all very exciting but a bit overwhelming and intimidating, especially for those unfamiliar with the house-swapping game. With several successful exchanges under my belt and a few in the works, I feel I can share some of my tips, wisdom, experiences for those just starting out:
1. Sign up on several sites
If you’re really serious about house swapping, register on two or three sites. You’ll get access to a larger sampling of what’s out there and will increase your odds of someone initiating an exchange dialogue with you.
2. Start early
The more lead time you have to play with, the better. A lot of exchangers sew up their holiday plans months (even years) in advance, so you increase your chances of landing a good one if you think ahead.
3. Don’t assume you’re too late
That being said, there are some people who can`t forecast too far in the future so it`s never to late to send out feelers. It can`t hurt to ask someone about a potential exchange – the worst they can say is “no thanks”, but you might just get a last minute bite.
4. Be open to non-simultaneous exchanges
Not all house swaps are of the concurrent you-stay-in-mine-while-I-stay-in-yours variety. Some people have a second home up for exchange, or have other places to stay when an exchanger comes to their home. Possibilities open up if both parties’ travel dates don’t have to mesh.
5. Kid compatibility
If you’re family travelers, try to find someone with similar age and number of kids to exchange with. Having toys, books, bikes, bunk beds, scooters, Playstations and the like at your disposal makes for a turnkey accommodation experience and lessens the load of things you need to bring to entertain your kids. With kid compatibility, hosts can make family-friendly suggestions on where to go, what to see, restaurants to eat at, nearby parks etc., things people in a different life stage might not be up on.
6. Always respond
I happen to live in a sought-after spot so my listing receives quite a lot of enquiries from around the world – most of which are not in an area or time frame that we can pursue. I love opening up my inbox and dreaming about some of the offers that come my way before politely declining them. Always have the courtesy of answering someone back as each “no” takes them closer to a “yes”. Leaving people hanging is just rude.
7. You are not alone
Know that your potential exchangers are probably approaching several other homes at the same time. It’s a numbers game – people send out a batch of enquiries, a trickle come back as “maybes“, then the process of really communicating, eliminating and selecting begins. It`s not a done deal until a firm mutual commitment is made (usually in the form of a signed “contract”), so you can in good conscience keep your options open and continue searching up until that point. Don’t cut other potential exchangers loose or buy your tickets too early in the process.
8. Be patient, honest and hopeful
It takes a lot of communication, luck and serendipity to have all the factors and details align – locations, schedules, time frames, personalities, specific needs (pet sitting, non-smoking, car exchange etc). You may have to compromise your wish list a bit, but don’t necessarily settle on the first nibble that comes your way. You’ll probably have a few near hits and misses before you finally hone in on a “the one”.
9. Expect some wear and tear
Exchange agreements should have some clause in there about property damage, with both parties agreeing to repair or replace any items that are broken. Most exchangers are decent enough to honor this code, plus your home insurance policy also provides a bit of piece of mind on this front. However, you should probably expect a little minor wear and tear from a visitor. We had the odd broken cup and a few ripped books and broken toys (to be expected with kids), but nothing that would make me think twice about doing this again. As a common sense caveat, remove anything particularly valuable or sentimental from you home so there are no major disappointments should mishaps occur.
10. Play virtual tour guide
One of the great benefits of home exchange is forming friendships with the people you swap with. There`s no better source of local information about your destination than a resident native, so be sure to give – and get – the inside scoop on what there is to see and do in the area.