Today’s Guest Post is by Marta who blogs at Learning Escapes and Mama Loves Rome. Marta travels with her family (husband, son and daughter) and she tells us they do ‘cultural travels with kids’ and these include all experiences that have some form of learning value for both the children and the adults. They take frequent city breaks in Europe and usually take longer holidays in the summer in Europe or the US. Apart from her blogs, Marta can also be found on Instagram, Facebook , Twitter and Pinterest.
Would you leave your house in the hands of a complete stranger, if this meant you could stay almost anywhere in the world for free? It might seem an extreme proposition, but this is pretty much what happens when you travel with home swaps: you stay in someone’s home and, in exchange, they stay at yours. It is an exciting and budget friendly way to travel: however, a home is a very private space and opening it up can cause concerns.
We have been travelling as a family with home swaps for years and have gone through all the phases: curiosity, excitement, fear, and now we are enthusiastic supporters of the system. We find it not just economical but also a fantastic opportunity to travel in an authentic and more sustainable way. If you are thinking of getting into home swapping for your next trip, these are our best tips to get started.
What is home swapping?
Home swapping is a system that allows two parties (individuals, families etc) to exchange hospitality so that, for an agreed time, they live in each other’s home. The swap is usually simultaneous, you stay in my house at the same time I stay in yours, but it can also happen on a different schedule, should people have a second home or know they will be away for a certain number of days, for instance camping or visiting family.
The swap does not involve money: the people exchanging only swap hospitality which means you don’t have nightly fees to cover when traveling. With home swapping, a night or a month in someone’s place cost (or not cost!) the same amount. Not bad!
How do you find people to swap with?
There are several ways to find like-minded people interested in swapping with your area, but some are safer than others. One is to simply put it out there onto Facebook travel groups and see if there are any takers for your home at a certain time. This is something that I have seen on social media several times but it is not a system I recommend. If you make personal agreements with people you have only met via internet and with no backup, you have very little to stand on should things go wrong. As much as the system is based on trust, it is safer to have in place some guarantees that make this trust easier to give and receive.
Home exchange provider
A safer way to arrange a swap is by joining a home exchange provider. There are several companies on the market offering home swapping services and they all operate largely in the same way: you list your property on their database and then search for properties that are interested in your area and have characteristics suitable for you. These sites operate a little like a match making engine: you create a profile and they have many search filters to show you people who might be interested in swapping with you. Once you find someone, you can contact them via an internal messaging system and make your arrangement.
As well as a ‘match making’ service, these companies also operate as a back up in case things go wrong. The most established ones have an internal contracting system so that you agree your exchange in writing and deposit the agreement with them. What is on offer depends on the company you join but usually the guarantees cover emergency situations such as the swapper suddenly cancelling (I which case they will help finding another place in the same area), something that doesn’t happen often but might.
Some of the companies charge a membership fee, usually around 100 dollars per year for unlimited exchanges and some companies are free. Some good ones we have tries ourselves are Homelink and Peole Like Us, respectively a very well established company and a new one, that is quickly becoming very popular thanks to an enthusiastic creator and a truly warms and welcoming crowd of swappers. You will find many others with a simple google search for ‘home swapping’ or ‘home exchange provider’.
Is there any risk connected to home swapping?
If I was to tell you that there is no risk whatsoever to swapping, I will be lying. Ultimately, you are leaving your house to someone you only know though phone calls and emails, so some risks are there. They may break something in your house for instance or cancel last minute leaving you stranded.
However, this happens a lot less than you may think. As mentioned above, good companies have systems in place to minimize risk and the fact that the exchange is reciprocal means both parties have skin in the game, something that helps immensely to build trust.
Even more than that, home swappers tend to be a specific type of person: every time I have been in touch with home swappers (and we have been doing this for years) I have found people who are generous, welcoming, open minded and respectful. They find pleasure in hosting as much as being guests and treat their guests with attentions such as insider tips on their area, contact of babysitters and friends – many even leave cooked meals for your first night! They are not people who wreck your house and usually are immensely grateful for the opportunity to stay.
Tips for success
To best way to make sure your potential host/guest is the right type of person for you is: communicate, communicate, communicate. Ask questions, as many as you need, and state clearly what is and isn’t acceptable in your home. The clearer the expectations, the fewer the risks.
Also, always talk to your insurance provided to make sure they know you are having guests. Make it easy for yourself and your guest to trust each other.
So is home swapping for you?
Home swapping is not for everyone and you will probably have a gut feeling about it: some people are really drawn to the system and some are not, which is ok! If you are curious, you can tip your toes in without having to commit too much: many home swapping sites have free trials that allow you to see who is and how it works before paying. It is a great way to get started: maybe your next holiday destination is already there waiting for you!