The World of Home Exchange


Here’s another reason to thank a teacher: It was teachers and other academics who pioneered exchanging homes in an organized way in the 1950s. Because they had the summers off they had plenty of time to travel but typically needed to do it less expensively.

Because home exchange offers so many compelling benefits – free accommodations, opportunities to spend more time on vacation, often a car to use, all the comforts of a home instead of a hotel room, a chance to live like a local and an opportunity to make new friends around the world – over the years this movement attracted many other groups of people who perhaps had more time than money or who simply preferred the advantages of living in a comfortable home instead of an expensive hotel room. Some people who are concerned about the safety and security of their homes while they are away have found more peace of mind knowing that someone is there who can water the plants, feed the cat, and spot a leaky toilet before it becomes an expensive water bill.
When home exchanging first began in the 1950s, annual catalogs were published, sometimes with quarterly or semi-annual updates of the catalogs with new listings. Each listing could only include a postage-stamp-size photo of a home or apartment and numerous coded entry items were used to describe such things as the type of home, amenities, and activities available in the area.

At that time if you were looking for an exchange you would need to refer to a sheet which could tell you that a particular code such as “c” means an apartment, another code such as “a”could indicate a house, and there were other codes for all the other things about the exchange house. When you found an exchange house you were interested in you would have to write a letter and wait for a response. That whole process took days to arrange. It also required a lot of letter writing or phone calling to get to know your potential exchangers.
Nowadays, home exchange sites operate on the Internet. You can see a lot of pictures and descriptions of potential exchange homes, correspond with them quickly using email, and easily discuss home exchange questions and get to know your potential exchange partners quite well prior to the exchange. There are dozens of home exchange websites and hundreds of thousands of people who exchange homes all over the world and it is becoming increasingly popular.

We ourselves began exchanging homes using a catalog in the years just before the internet became widely used for home exchange. After our retirement we continued doing home exchanges, but by that time home exchange sites were on the Internet, and in the past twenty years we have done over 70 exchanges in many different countries. We never dreamed we would be able to travel as much as we have and to stay in so many wonderful homes and apartments in places all over the world.

Not all home exchanges are the same. The usual exchange is a simultaneous exchange in which one couple or family stays in the home of another family at the same time. Another type is a non-simultaneous home exchange in which each party–an individual, couple, family or several good friends–stays at different times, even different years, in the other’s home. This works particularly well for families who have a second home because they can stay in one or the other while the visiting family is visiting. But this can also work for families who will be away from their home on a cruise or other vacation. While they are away, the visiting family can come and stay in their home and they will receive a credit for a future stay in their home. Still another kind of home exchange is a hospitality exchange, in which one family hosts another for their visit and then the hosting family becomes the visiting exchanger at some other time.

You may wonder how safe home exchanging is. The overwhelming reports of home exchangers over the years has been extremely positive, but of course there are risks to know about and understand how to deal with and some everyday things will inevitably go wrong in the course of your exchanges, ranging from a broken glass to auto accidents. However most of these are not much different than the things that go wrong in everyday life and all of them can be managed effectively as long as you are reasonably adaptable.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about home exchanging is that it is all based on trust. Fortunately, the community of home exchangers has proven itself to be a community of people who are both trusting and trustworthy. While your home will be in the hands of relative strangers, so is theirs. It is a different psychology than renting a place to stay and the most common attitude of home exchangers is that they want to leave the exchange home in as good or better shape as they found it. Typically a home exchanger will leave a welcoming note, a bottle of wine and perhaps a meal for their home exchange partner. Frequently, a friend or neighbor will be available to help you with any problems. It is also common for exchangers to leave a modest house gift when they leave their exchange home.

Of course it is prudent to get to know your exchange partners as well as you can prior to the exchange. This is quite easy to do using the Internet and as you go through the process of negotiating an exchange you can decide whether you want to continue the negotiation with a particular exchange partner or not. Possible issues are whether children will be included in the exchange, whether smoking is permitted, whether there will be pets to care for and any other issue either party may have. Although only one person may be involved in the conversations, it is important that that person be able to represent all the members of the family so there are no misunderstandings or disagreements about the arrangements.

As long-time exchangers, we have found our experiences to be rewarding in many ways: We have been able to go more places, stay longer, enjoy various amenities such as swimming pools, locations in the center of Paris and London, by the sea and in the mountains, and make many new friends. We have picked up many ideas for our own home from exchangers by seeing how they do things; we have been able to spend enough time in a place to really immerse ourselves in the local culture and even study the language; and we have been inspired to make improvements in our own homes by viewing them as they would appear to exchangers.

How Does the Process Work?

In a nutshell, the way home exchange works now is that you (1) subscribe to one of the home exchange websites; (2) prepare your listing; (3) search for desirable prospects in your area of interest and develop a list of favorites ; (4) plan your itinerary and communicate with prospective exchangers to work out the details of an exchange; (5) plan your trip; (6) prepare your home for the exchange; and (7) travel to your exchange home.

A detailed discussion of each of these steps, with advice based on our experience, is provided in our book.