If you're willing to be a little flexible on your travel dates, and potentially even your location, you can most likely stay for FREE on every vacation you take. Yes! Seriously! It's called a vacation home swap (or home exchange).
My husband and I signed up for HomeExchange.com* and are now saving ourselves many thousands of dollars that we would have paid for a 10-day stay in an Airbnb or hotel in gorgeous Newport, Rhode Island. Curious how this is possible? Let me explain how this magical vacation home swap works.
What is a Vacation Home Swap?
Simply put, a vacation home swap allows you to swap (exchange) residences with another member for an agreed upon number of days.
When you use HomeExchange*, the experience feels kind of like a dating website– but for your house.
First, you fill out a profile where you post sexy pics of your abode, and then you describe in detail why someone would want to spend the night, or perhaps several, in your well appointed, tidy-yet-cool digs.
Once the profile is complete, you can search for a house and location you're interested in, almost anywhere in the world! You can send a message to a member who has a house available for the dates and location you're interested in. And likewise, other members will send you messages if they're into your house.
There are also HomeExchange Facebook groups and a whole community you can join if you want to meet “friends of friends” in order to make your swaps even more stress free. This could also be a cool way to discover unique homes in interesting places where you would never have thought to stay!
How Did We Find Our Free Vacation Home Swap in Beautiful Newport, RI?
We didn't start out searching for Newport as our summer destination. A member just messaged us to say that they thought our house was lovely and they would like to do a vacation home swap this summer.
Now, it just so happens that my mother-in-law lives and Rhode Island, and so we were immediately intrigued. Joe and I love trips where we can do a little travel with our family on our own, but also squeeze in some Grandma/Grandpa (or other relatives) time by vacationing near to where someone in our family lives.
I've never been to Newport, but I've heard it's amazing. Apparently it was the Vanderbilt's summer destination in the early 1900's. Joe is originally from Rhode Island and his eyes LIT UP at the idea of staying in the “City by the Sea,” full of lavish mansions and some of the best dining on the East Coast!
The HomeExchange messages we sent back and forth with the Newport family were friendly and detailed. We learned from them that they were looking at our cute little Florida town as a possible retirement destination, which is why they wanted to visit! We were smitten! We quickly moved to book the deal for our first vacation home swap!
From looking at their profile, we were also able to see that this couple has had many previous 5-star exchange reviews. Needless to say, it was really comforting to know that they have all good feedback, and therefore it made it easier for us to trust them.
What If You Can't Find Someone Who Wants to Stay in Your House for the Dates You've Selected?
Not a problem. A cool thing about HomeExchange* is that it's really flexible. You can stay at a Home Exchange house and use “GuestPoints” instead of swapping houses with someone. Here's how that works.
After you set up your profile, your home is given a value of GuestPoints per night for your guests to “pay” when they visit you. HomeExchange gives you 750 GuestPoints as soon as you complete your profile.
Then, you continue to earn points every time you let some stay in your home without doing a reciprocal exchange. The more guests you host, the more GuestPoints you earn!
If someone wants to swap with you and you don't want to swap with them, you can simply use the GuestPoints you've racked up in your account to stay at a house anywhere else you'd prefer! If you don't have quite enough guest points for a particular home, you can buy some extra points.
Why Did We Choose HomeExchange for our Vacation Home Swap?
HomeExchange is the biggest leader in home swap vacations. They have over 400,000 homes in 187 countries. It just seemed liked the safest and best option. (Even though we don't personally know any friends who have used it yet.)
Is There a Membership Fee?
Yes, it's $150 per year, but we figured this would pay for itself after one exchange.
Are There Any Downsides to this Seemingly Perfect Free Home Exchange?
Well, we will let ya know if we return from our relaxing vacation and our house is burned to the ground! Ha ha! If we were unlucky enough to have guests who damaged our home, it would be a major downside to this deal and would certainly cancel out the “free” factor.
BUT, there is a damage deposit required of around $500, so if the damage is less than that, it shouldn't be too much of a problem.
Luckily, we feel confident that the people we've chosen to swap houses with are experienced and respectful and, like I mentioned before, they have all 5-star reviews from members who have previously stayed in their home.
We also know from the pictures that the home we are swapping for is just as nice as ours, and usually people who keep nice houses respect other people's nice houses! (Or at least that's my hope!)
Another downside that's worth mentioning is that once you become a member, you will have to wade through a solid amount of emails from people requesting to stay at your house, before you find a house match you like.
And for some reason, most people ignore your available dates and keep asking you for exchanges when you aren't planing to be away. You still have to take the time to respond to people either way, and this can be pretty time consuming!
The last downside of a vacation home swap would be if you are a person who doesn't like the idea of other people touching and using your stuff, sleeping in your bed, and possibly sitting in their undies on your couch. If this makes you squeamish, then this isn't the deal for you!
Will We Look For Another Vacation Home Swap Soon?
If our first exchange goes well, then absolutely! This whole house swap thing seems like money in the bank! Hopefully we'll be staying for free EVERYWHERE from now on.
Has anyone else had good or bad experiences with HomeExchange* or another ? Let us know in the comments. We'd love to hear about anyone who has done a swap with a family from another country!