Home Swapping: a great way for families to travel

You may have seen or heard lately about a movie called The Holiday in which two women swap houses and end up swapping more than that. Or something, I haven’t actually seen it. But it has become part of the popular culture enough that now there is some frame of reference for house swapping so that when you talk about it people say, “Oh, like in that movie" rather than just staring at you like you're not wearing underwear.

When I was a teenager my family swapped our New York home for an apartment in Paris for a month one summer. Last Fall, I decided I wanted to take a particularly long vacation this year and so I thought of house swapping as a way to be able to take a longer vacation without having the expense of renting a house for a month. As usual frugality was my first motive, but as the experience has developed it has turned out to be just one of the benefits of traveling this way.

We listed our apartment on two sites that offer home exchanges. The first one is homelinkint.org. Homelink is used mainly by Europeans and is good site for finding a swap in Europe. I have found that the Homelink site is not as pleasant to browse for homes because not everyone posts images or as detailed descriptions, but I have also found that the Europeans who have contacted via Homelink are not browsing, but straightforward and ready to make an exchange and I have found the best swaps through this site.

The other site we have used is HomeExchange.com. This is an American site and is very good for finding exchanges in North and South America. It is also a fun site just to browse because most people post lots of pictures and detailed descriptions. Also, you don't have to be a member to search the listings and even contact members.

We signed up for both of these sites in the Fall in anticipation of finding an exchange for this summer. We were surprised to find ourselves within days agreeing to make a swap to Paris for a long weekend in October. Within days of signing up we were contacted by a couple in Paris with a great apartment by the Eiffel Tower who wanted to come to NYC. We had been planning on going to the Poconos for our anniversary (my husband thought this would be funny) but the price of the hotel there was almost as much as the plane to France, so since we didn't have to pay for a hotel in Paris, it was almost the same price to go to Paris instead.

Surprises like this are one of the things that have hooked us on house swapping. Another thing that's really fun about home exchanging is all the window shopping. If you live in New York City you are sure to get many wonderful offers to make exchanges all over the world. Whether you ever plan on traveling to these places or not, it's wonderful to look at the wonderful homes you could stay in and imagine yourself vacationing or living there.

The final thing that makes exchanging such a great way to travel is the dimension it adds to traveling. It is typical, when exchanging homes, that the families will leave information behind about their home and area to help you enjoy your stay. When we went to Paris, the Parisians, typically, left us a detailed map of the neighborhood explaining where we would find the best bread, cheese, wine, outdoor markets and restaurants. We had a wonderful culinary tour, living like the locals in a way we never could have as typical tourists.

When traveling with a family staying in a home is the ideal way to travel. It is much more affordable than hotels for large groups and having a kitchen is really ideal when traveling with children in order to have milk on hand and be able to whip up a scrambled egg for hungry children at a moment's notice. When swapping homes, if you find a home with other children, you can also swap toys which means you can travel fairly light and know that the kids will be entertained with brand new to them toys on the other end.

If traveling to another country you can also take the opportunity to meet the other family and allow your children to interact with them which can be a great experience for everyone.

The biggest concern I hear people express is the idea of having someone else staying in your home with your stuff. Everyone will have their own comfort zone for that. It may mean hiding your jewelry or leaving it with a friend, or possibly putting some items in storage or locking them in a closet. I'm sure that occasionally things get broken or something else may go wrong. This has never concerned me greatly. For the most part, I think people who exchange homes are a trustworthy lot. They know that you are also in their home and there is a sense of mutual trust there, but everyone must find their own comfort level with this.

Home swapping is great for families, and particularly New York area families, because our homes are in such desirable locations so there are many opportunities to go to many different places. Even if you do not have a large home or live in the center of Manhattan you will be able to find exchanges form people who refer to be in the suburbs or have a reason to be in your particular corner of the world.

If you end up giving it a try, please report back and let us know how it went.