What if when you went on your next vacation, you could take along all the comforts of your own home? Just imagine, private bedrooms for every member of the family, an eat-in kitchen to prepare your own meals, easy access to laundry, a car, and a million other small everyday conveniences. Oh, and did we mention it's free? Of course, there's a catch. A stranger is going to be in your home, sleeping in your sheets, driving your car, and eating off your plates. For those who haven't seen The Holiday, that's the gist of home exchange.
A home exchange is a mutual agreement between two homeowners to swap houses for a set period of time--typically for a vacation. Depending on the exact agreement of the switch, that could also entail swapping cars, pets, and even pals with your vacation home's owners, says The Daily Mail. It can make round-the-world trips shockingly affordable, and allows you to experience a new destination as a true local--exploring someone else's neighborhood, trying out their recommendations, and soaking in the culture.
That said, home exchange isn't for everyone. The idea of a stranger snooping through your medicine cabinet and underwear drawer can be too much for some home owners to handle, and it certainly makes the pre-vacation to-do list lengthy (imagine preparing for guests while also packing for a long trip).
How can you tell if a home exchange is for you?
Making the exchange happen
If all of the above is a-okay, it's time to move on to the "how." Unlike hotel websites, you do not actually purchase a home exchange from a home exchange website. These sites simply help you find the right home exchange, while all of the specifics are up to you and your co-exchanger.
Many of the older home exchange services have been around since before the internet and used to exist as printed catalogues of homes. Today, though, almost all home exchanges are done through websites. HomeExchange.com is the largest, according to FindTheBest, and is very well established, but a review at ApartmentTherapy reveals that a high number of listing won't necessarily yield a successful exchange.
Choosing a home exchange website depends a lot on exactly what you're looking for, says KnowYourTrade.com. For example, there are specialty clubs for luxury homes, which are pricier but also offer services like concierge exchange booking. If money is tight or you're not certain you want to exchange, look for a free club, and if you are concerned about privacy, you should choose a club that's "closed," or accessible to members only. KnowYourTrade.com allows you to see all home exchange clubs at a glance and organize by factors like specialty, price, and member numbers.