Would you be interested in taking a vacation if your lodging were free? Well, we were, and our friend Sara over at Go Gingham, diva of stylishly frugal living, had been singing the praises of home exchanges for a long while, so we decided to give it a try. After our trip to Arizona for spring break, we’re in! Arizona was our first home exchange experience, and if they are all as terrific as this one was, we may never stay in a hotel again.
Last fall, we decided to look for a home exchange to cut back on expenses for our summer trip to Belize. We researched several home exchange websites, and settled on two: HomeExchange.com and HomeForExchange.com. You don’t need to join more than one, but we figured that two would give us a better chance of scoring an exchange in Belize. There are other home exchange groups out there as well, but we liked the search features of these two best. Both of these sites allow you to search for homes without being a member, but you can’t contact anyone unless you are a member.
Once you’ve chosen a company and paid your annual membership fee — HomeForExchange.com is currently $64 and HomeExchange.com is $120 (less with a 20% off coupon available on Retail Me Not) — you can upload a description and photos of your home for others to see and begin searching in earnest for the perfect vacation spot. Keep in mind, the perfect vacation spot may be one you didn’t even know you wanted to visit!
If you find a spot that looks interesting, you click the contact button, send a little note saying when you’d like to exchange, and start the conversation. We found that about 30-50% of the people respond to the requests, and many of the replies will be “no thank you”. But you WILL get some yes replies if you keep after it and have an open mind. We never got a summer exchange in Belize, but did get one for spring break! Getting an exchange offer for Phoenix allowed us to save a lot of money on that trip, leaving more money for Belize hotels! Just last month we made about 40 requests for a warm, sunny place for next spring break, and we got 4 offers — two in Mexico, one in Arizona, and one in Key Largo! So we’re hoping to go snorkeling in Key Largo next spring break!
Both this spring break exchange and next spring’s are going to be non-simultaneous exchanges, one of three options for home exchanging. The people whose homes we’ll be in will come to our house at a different time, and we’ll each have to find someplace else to be during the exchange at our house. If you have some flexibility, or are lucky enough to have a second home, non-simultaneous exchanges can be a great option since your schedules don’t have to mesh perfectly. A traditional exchange is when you stay in one another’s houses at the same time. Brian, the guy whose condo we stayed at in Arizona, is doing a simultaneous swap with an Austrian family for the next few weeks, in fact! This means your vacation periods have to match exactly. Some people also offer a hosted option, where the owners are still in their home and you share a part of it with them. Car exchange is another budget-saving option that some exchangers choose to take advantage of (we did!).
Now that we’ve had a successful swap, we’re really excited about the possibilities for the future. Home exchanging offers the chance to live like a local and save a lot of money on lodging and on food, leaving more money for fun. It’s a win-win proposition. With exchange offers from Italy, France, Australia, Hungary, Canada, and many places in the US, who knows where we might end up enjoying a week or a weekend. We’ll keep you posted!
P.S. Saturday & Sunday, April 19 & 20, 2014, every US National Park unit will have free admission! Stretch your travel budget and enjoy our amazing parks!