Affordable Travel Guide to Housing Exchanges

Swapping Homes and Lifestyles Around the Globe

Housing Exchanges

Growing in popularity, but still not the first choice of most travelers, housing exchanges are a unique way to stay when you venture across you own city or half way around the world. The basics are that one traveler or group of travelers lives in the private home of another tourist or group, but the swap is not usually direct. For example, you may want to stay in a Paris townhouse, while the people in the Paris townhouse want to stay at a Nevada ranch, and the people at the Nevada ranch house, want to stay in your Tribeca loft.

Because the exchange is rarely direct (you take my place and I’ll take yours), although that does happen sometimes, there are pools assembled for members who want to swap their homes for places to stay, year round and across the globe. Most involve a membership fee (some charge a flat fee per annum; others have a monthly fee of roughly $10.00), but often, if not mostly, there is no charge for the accommodations themselves. Accommodations come and go as people free up their homes when they go away themselves, so it’s an ever-changing collection of options.

Reputable Housing Exchange Clubs

Here are a few links to housing exchange companies that provide this service:

How to choose the right housing exchange club for you? Look for one that has been in business for a number of years, but even if they have, do your research to ensure they are stable. Perhaps chat with other people who are members. Even better, try to track down people who were members, but quit. Most of these clubs service roughly 150 countries, and some claim they have consistent listings of nearly 50,000 residential properties.

Are Housing Exchanges for Everyone?

No, definitely not. Sure, the membership fees are reasonable and the accommodations are usually free, but there will be none of the amenities associated with hotel stays. You’ll have to make your own meals, clean the house, and tote your own luggage; it’s a lot like life at home, and for some people, that’s just not a vacation. But if you don’t mind doing the chores, the fee for your accommodations is right!

Besides price, the big bonuses for most people who are fans of housing exchange accommodations are:

  • living like a local, not a tourist (which can be good or bad, depending on where you get your house)
  • being able to control your own schedule (for example, no set sitting time for breakfast)
  • often there is the ability to book long-term stays so you can really immerse yourself in a specific location and culture
  • the ability to really get to know a place before you decide to move there permanently

The big plus is obviously the low cost of accommodations. But there can be a downside, and savvy travelers need to weigh the good and bad points fairly.

Here are the hazards you might encounter:

  • the house is not as described or pictured on a listing
  • the house is situated in a dangerous neighborhood or poor location
  • you are liable for breakage or theft during the time you stay on the premises
  • visitors to your home might not treat it with the respect you do (do not leave valuables in your home!)
  • are you comfortable with having strangers, even if you do connect on-line through the housing exchange club, sleep (and do whatever else…) in your bed?

People who want to see the world on a shoestring, and own (never ever join a housing exchange club if you rent your house; that would almost certainly break the terms of your lease or rental agreement!) their own homes, nice places in good locations, may find this to be an ideal form of accommodations. It’s not the travel lifestyle that most vacationers and business travelers want, but the success of these clubs would indicate that it’s a growing preference for a select group of people.

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