Home Exchange: Pros & Cons
For years, when friends said they’d just done a home exchange in some exotic place, I’d respond that I’d love to go there but… “I couldn’t have a stranger in my home.” Funny, now I’m the one doing it and getting that response!
Trading homes has both benefits and pitfalls. But the actual pitfalls tend toward practical time and travel issues not a trashed home. At least not if you use common sense.
Affordable Travel. Lodging is usually the major travel expense. Even flights abroad can often be managed by adept timing and search engines. But hotel or apartment stays can add thousands in cost. Even Air B&B is not free!
Living Locally. Whether a free-standing house, apartment, or condo, you settle into an area that becomes your home away from home. The host(ess) leaves information on the area, personal recommendations, and they may even have ensured that you will be welcomed by the neighbors. It’s a treat to try on a new lifestyle for size in a foreign country. That doesn’t happen in a hotel.
International Connections. One of you is likely to be arriving as the other is leaving so sometimes your paths cross. Some exchangees have become friends over the years. Even if you don’t actually “meet” your hosts, you may meet their relatives or neighbors at the location.
Freebie Transportation (Optional). Vehicle exchanges with the home are a choice that can cut out car rental. I don’t do it. (My insurer discourages it and I feel uncomfortable driving someone else’s car anyway.) I did, however, enjoy the free bike in Copenhagen that my hosts left for me; that and the handy bus and metro systems got me everywhere I wanted to go.
Second Home Advantage. Those with second homes are less fussy about exchanging them as a host. They are a major advantage if you are seeking a non-reciprocal exchange with ‘points’ that some services use for barter. They are easier to schedule since the owner doesn’t have to literally exchange for your location at the same time.
Inside Information. Most home exchange hosts (and you can tell from the reviews) are hospitable, provide local maps, and insider tips from the best cafes to local events and personalized information to fit your interests.
Time-Consuming Arrangements. I enjoy the dreaming and exploring the choice of destinations and homes. Good thing because home exchange does involve the nitty-gritty of finding homes that fit your requirements based on size, location, and availability.
Matching Destinations & Schedules. Working people and families fit in travel during vacations or school holidays.) That puts them (and those who exchange with them) at a disadvantage since the schedules have to match. Those with flexible schedules--as host(ess) or guest—have an easier time of it. Even then, a reciprocal exchange requires that you each want to go where the other is; however, home exchange services with ‘point’ systems allow you to use those so you live in their apartment in Paris while they go to New York and the New Yorkers head to Los Angeles.
Pre- and Post Cleaning. You’re saving money and spending time. Setting up your home then coming back to washing sheets and restoring your personal belongings to their rightful home is not as easy as flying off to a hotel or Air BnB where you show up, leave, and return with just your suitcase to empty.
Finally, the Bugaboo: “It’s My Home.” I spent years saying that until I asked myself if material things were more important than the experience of travel. I discovered that chances are nothing horrible will happen if you follow basic rules: Use a reputable home exchange service that verifies the person is who they say they are. Check reviews on the site for the home you plan to visit as well as reviews on how the potential exchangee treated the homes they visited. Email back ‘n forth, then ‘visit’ on Skype or other face-to-face app. It makes a huge difference when you see a smiling face on the other end and realize you like that person and look forward to meeting them! But if you still feel uncomfortable, trust your instincts. Nix it and find another exchange.
Bottom Line: To feel extra confident, store away personal and financial papers, important jewelry, personal computer, or anything else that you don’t want to leave. For me, it meant filling a few boxes that go into a lockable cabinet for the duration. Exchanging your home is just one more option for affordable travel. It's interesting to meet new friends and immerse yourself in a community. Often that extra effort is well worth it.