Exchanging Homes for Vacation

By: Martha Matthews

Are you looking for ways to stretch your vacation dollars? How about finding a "kid friendly" place to stay? One way to satisfy both needs is to look into home exchange programs, otherwise known as "home swapping."

Home swapping is just what it implies: you exchange your home with that of another family for vacation. They stay at your home and you stay at theirs.

Home exchange services have been around for a long time. Typically home exchanges were accomplished through listings offered in catalogs. Now, with the increase of consumers using the Internet, numerous services have moved their operations online. Today there are over 20 online home exchange companies. Most companies charge a membership fee ranging from $50 to $115 US per year.

Here is how it works: you register with a service and list a description of your home and the dates you are looking to do an exchange. You then have access to the listings of the other members who you can contact for a swap. Most services leave the negotiation of the trade up to the members.

People from all over the world are looking to trade homes for vacation: people from France, England, Italy, South Africa, Greece, and the Caribbean. Many who are looking to do a trade have children and they want to stay in a "kid friendly" home. The best part is that you can take the vacation of your dreams for a fraction of what it would normally cost due to the absence of high hotel prices.

If this looks like a cost-effective way to spend your next vacation, here are a few guidelines to make your experience a positive one.

1. Take it Slow

Get your feet wet with a more local destination before you plunge into a transatlantic trade. For instance, if you live in San Diego, California, try exchanging homes with someone from Aspen, Colorado.

2. Be in the Know

Take the initiative to communicate with the family whose home you are considering for an exchange. The more you know about them and their home the better your vacation experience will be. Discuss the conditions of your trade in advance to make sure that everyone is in agreement. Don't leave things to chance. They can also make recommendations about the local area that can be invaluable to the quality of your vacation.

3. Get it in Writing

Several of the online services provide a downloadable agreement. While this may not hold up in international trades, it can provide some peace of mind because each party knows what is expected of them.

4. Be Insured

Make sure that your home owners insurance will cover any accidents that may occur in your home.

5. Provide Instructions

Write out specific instructions for your guests: how to use major appliances, when the gardener comes, etc. Provide as much information as possible so that there are no surprises. Consider including names and numbers to local attractions, restaurants, theaters and gymnasiums. You may also want to provide the phone number of a local contact person, preferably a relative or friend, who can assist them in case of an emergency.

6. Tell Your Neighbors

Let your neighbors know what you are doing so they don't call the police because they think someone has broken into your home. Don't laugh. It has happened before.

7. Be Realistic

If you live in small town don't expect to get a lot of people clamoring to exchange homes with you. Your town may be a great place to live and raise a family but you'll have a better chance of swapping with someone from Paris if you live near San Francisco or New York.

8. Stash Your Stuff

Be safe. Put your jewelry, coin collection and other small valuables in a safe deposit box. Send heirloom items such as china and glassware to a nearby family member or a friend.

9. Offering Seconds

If you have a second home, consider offering that home for a swap. Depending on its location, it may be a better bargaining tool than your home.

10. Variety is the Spice of Life

Be open to a variety of destinations and exchange dates. Doing this will insure you more options and make achieving a swap more probable.

So, if you like to save money, and who doesn't, and if you want to visit somewhere you've never been, then home swapping might just be the answer you've been looking for.

Martha Matthews is the Editor of Christian-Homemaking.com, a web site with resources dedicated to Christian Homemaking. In addition to her web site, she also has a popular free monthly newsletter for Christian wives called The Wives of Excellence Newsletter. To subscribe send a blank email to wivesofexcellence-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Visit her website at http://www.christian-homemaking.com.

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