If you're an avid traveler with a pretty limited budget, this summer may be the perfect time to do a home exchange: trade apartments with someone you meet on the internet in a city you're both wanting to visit. It's an excellent way to save money on vacation and get an authentic, local experience. Sound scary? We've got some tips to help ensure it goes off without a hitch.
1. While you can use Craiglist, we recommend going through an official home swapping website. They usually charge a membership fee anywhere from $45-$110, but it may be worth it for the added peace of mind. Digsville.com, Intervacus.com, HomeExchange.com, and HomeLinkUsa.com are all good places to start.
2. Read user reviews. This is a great way to get a sense of what people's experiences have been, good/reputable swappers, locations, etc.
3. To increase your chances of a successful swap, look to swap with someone in a similar lifestyle or stage of life. If you're a young couple, you're probably more likely to find a good fit at the apartment of another young couple than at the home of an older, retired gentleman.
4. Don't discount your tiny studio or your sprawling suburban home. You never know what people are looking for. Maybe your place is tiny, but you're in an awesome neighborhood. Or you live in a pretty average house in a bland suburb, but you're 10 minutes away from gorgeous mountains that make for terrific day trips. Play up what's good about your area: cool shopping, great food, terrific views. In our case you could live in a hobbit hole, but if you have a washer/dryer, we're so there.
5. Be honest about your home, and ask a lot of questions about their home! Take good photos of your home and describe any quirks thoroughly so there won't be any surprises ("The heater sounds like a dying animal when it turns on at 3 in the morning, so don't be alarmed!"). Openness and honesty on both sides is key to a successful home swap.
6. Don't rush. You're not booking a hotel room. There is more work involved, and it will probably take more time to find a good fit. Start planning a few months in advance.
7. Before you leave for your home, put all your bills, personal documents, and mail into a locker or hide them where they won't be seen. Put password protected locks on all your confidential electronic documents.
8. Inform the neighbors of your plans. It's probably not very welcoming if they think your swap partners are burglars and call the cops on them their first night.
9. Be a good host or hostess! Leave a list of favorite restaurants, cool places to visit, chic shopping stores, upcoming not-to-be-missed events. A housewarming gift, like a bottle of champagne or a restaurant gift certificate, is also a very nice gesture and will score you brownie points. It's also good to provide the phone number of a friendly contact person to assist in an emergency, numbers for local doctors and dentists, instructions for pet and plant care if needed, info about appliances, locks, tv/video equipment or anything else in your home that may need a bit of explaining. This ensures less time spent "figuring things out" and more time spent enjoying your home.
10. Treat the home of your swappers as if it were BETTER than your own. You may not be big on cleaning in your own home, but this is not your home. Treat it with respect and always, always leave it in the same condition you found it in, or even better if possible.
Has anyone done a House Swap? What was your experience? Tell us below!
(Image:The Independent. Originally published 2009-07-07 - CB)