Imagine the experience that could be gained from approaching a foreign city as a local instead of as a tourist. Home exchange programs are one way to make this a reality.
The idea is simple: Through online exchange sites, an adventure seeker from one city can open his or her home and connect with like-minded travelers in different cities. Once an agreement is made, both parties then exchange keys for a given amount of time and enjoy the benefits of local living in each other’s homes.
This may sound innovative, but it is not a new concept. Intervac pioneered the idea of home exchanging in 1953. It utilized a catalog where members could list potential homes for a swap. Today, everything is done online, and more people are utilizing house swapping to travel. Intervac’s online membership has tripled in the past eight years, from 10,000 to 30,000 members.
Other than having a home, apartment or condo to exchange, the majority of home swapping websites require a fee for membership. However, if a fee assures a free place to stay while traveling, the benefits seem to outweigh the costs. Many sites’ fees range from $8 a month to an annual membership fee of $119.
Members on home exchange websites vary between families, small business owners, retirees, professors, doctors and other professionals who share one common interest: traveling. Intervac claims the majority of its members range from the ages of 35 to 60 and typically have children. However, college students should not feel left out. Those looking for an alternative can participate in youth exchange programs, which offers young people the opportunity to feel out different cultures while staying in someone’s home.
Home exchange location options are nearly endless as many websites offer both national and international options.
San Diego Magazine writer, Brook Larios, wrote about her home exchange experience when she swapped her Carmel Valley condo for a humble apartment in The Big Apple. She and her husband planned their vacation during New Years Eve last year to cross one item off their bucket list: watching the ball drop in Times Square. The couple communicated with their exchange partner via phone before the big trip in order to become better acquainted with her and make sure everything was ready. For the most part, their entire trip went well. However, when they arrived home their match didn’t meet their standards of cleanliness.
“Our nonstick ‘green’ pan? Overscrubbed and attracting food to its now-adhesive surface. (Thankfully, we were able to bring all cookware back to homeostasis.) The bathroom was visibly dirty, and they’d used our gas barbecue, despite the fact that our bikes were bound to it with locks. We found barbecue sauce on one bike rail,” Larios wrote.
While many may be afraid to swap homes with a bad match, Tony DiCaprio, president of 1sthomeexchange.com, said, “Nobody is going to fly across the ocean or drive 600 miles to come steal your flat-screen TV. At the same time they’re staying in your home, you are staying in their home.”
It is best for both parties to think positively and treat the other persons’ belongings with the utmost respect. Small issues such as car scratches and wine stains are not unheard of, but can easily be taken care of if a contract or agreement is written beforehand. In the agreement, standards of how the house should be maintained are important to include. After all, the purpose of home exchange is to travel and live like a local, not get wrapped up in the idiosyncrasies of another person’s lifestyle.
Ed Kushins, founder of homeexchange.com, said that in his 19 years in the business, he has never been notified of a theft or malicious damage. Minor issues have occurred, but the problems were handled privately between both parties.
For those who are ready to try something new, home exchange can be an appealingly intimate and cost-effective route. Travelers can explore new cultures by living like locals, making connections that can turn into friendships and experiencing more flexibility and freedom. While offering so much privacy at so little cost, this kind of lodging cannot be beat.