Have you ever thought about traveling, staying in someone else’s house in another part of the world while he or she stays in yours, without any of you needing to pay for it?
You may have seen this in the movie “The Holiday,” where the character of Cameron Diaz who lives in the United States, swaps house with the character of Kate Winslet from England. It looks fun in romantic comedy, but… Does this really exist?
I’m here to prove that yes, it does exist. Just so you know, I’m writing this post from Jamaica, and its the fifth house I’ve swaped in the last six months. Each one were different and amazing. They gave us intense experiences in parts of the world where we always dreamed to live for a while: Paris, French Riviera, Belgium, and Amsterdam. And in a rare way these days: without paying for it. I go to the person’s house and he or she goes to mine. Why pay for accommodations if it is possible to make an exchange that is good for everyone, in a safe way?
I understand it brings many doubts to people who have never heard about it. I’ve gathered here some of the most asked questions followed by my expierence and answers to them.
- Is it really for free?
Yes! Currently, to increase my chances of making the exchange on the dates and places I want, I use two sites: GuestToGuest, which doesn’t charge registration fees, where I have made most of my exchanges and the HomeExchange, which charges an annual fee.
- How does it work?
You choose the site(s), sign up, enter the data and the photos of your house, search in the site the available houses in the places and dates that you wish and then make the exchange request. I recommend as much flexibility as possible to find the best exchange faster. Is recommended to make an exchange with at least three months beforehand and buy the flight tickets only after. Despite having done my exchanges in the European summer of this year with little time in advance and with a determined date, I know it would have been a lot easier to find availability if I had tried months earlier and with more flexibility.
- Do you need to be in the person’s house at the same time that they are in yours?
Nothing is imposed. Everything is done to facilitate exchanges for both people. if it’s better for both that the exchange be made at the same time, perfect! If not, let them be at different times, which is very common, because most of the time, the schedules don’t combine so well. For example: I went to Gerard’s house on the French Riviera in July, because I wanted to enjoy the European summer there. He left the house free for us during this period and went to my house in Brazil in November, which was when he was planning to make a long trip to Brazil and us to Jamaica. This was ideal for both. So we agreed, we formalized the exchange on the site and we both had wonderful experiences!
- Do you just exchange with the person who will lend you the house. Or is there a way to lend the house to someone, which lends to another…?
If you just want to make reciprocal (direct) exchanges, you just have to opt for it. Some people immediately put in the description of the house ad that only accept reciprocal exchanges, by personal preferences. But I dont think that’s a good idea, especially if you use GuestToGuest. This site has a point’s system that guarantees you fair exchanges even if they aren’t direct. You fill in a series of questions about your home that check with your objective factors (size, distance to tourist spots, leisure items, etc.) and you’ll know how many points (called Guest Points or GP) your home is worth. When you host someone by Guest Points, they pay you the equivalent of days multiplied by the daily GP value for which your home was evaluated. As if it were a real rent, but with an online coin. Since the rule of thumb is flexibility, you can change the GP value rated by the site, decrease if you want to attract more people or increase if you want to exchange with a selected people. In the HomeExchange.com, there is the “Balloon”, which is an online credit for exchange, with no set value. The value of the “Balloon” goes according to each exchange, with the will of both parties. I already received a “Balloon” from a person who needed to take an emergency trip and would like to stay in my apartment for five days. I used the same balloon to stay fifteen days with an absurd view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The owner of the Paris apartment loved leaving the apartment with us and used the balloon to go later to Italy. They were great exchanges for all of us… But for me, who was always fascinated by the Eiffel Tower, it was a dream!
- Who swaps homes?
Anyone who wants to! Even though it seems to be an idea for people with a very open mind, most of the people I have changed house with are over 50 years old. In other words, it’s a sign of wisdom!
- Is it for who that can’t afford lodging? Or to whom have mansions?
It’s for everyone!!! The websites don’t restrict social levels. So, it has all kinds of houses, most from middle-class families and many vacation homes. My tip here is to find houses equivalent to yours, to facilitate exchanges and have the best experiences. If you have a beautiful house or apartment and want to seek the best places, I recommend looking at the French Riviera region on the map of the sites mentioned. There are many mansions with sea view for equivalent exchanges. Some put this at the beginning of the announcement and warn that even the costs of employee services are available for the period and would be included in the exchange. But most of the houses are middle class, two or three bedroom apartments, decorated or not (but always furnished), often well located. There are also many simpler houses in the countryside.
- But I don’t live in a tourist city, I live far from everything! Will I get an exchange?
Of course! Look for equivalent homes in several countries and you will find many options. Houses in the country towns, in smaller cities, far from sights, allow you to know an even more traditional lifestyle of the country. If you want to visit famous sights, I recommend staying a few days at another option of hosting in the famous city (if you can’t get another exchange there) and then go live your cultural immersion for most of the holidays. Or stay in a nearby town and do a same-day round trip to visit the sights a few days. Oh, and a lot of people give up the comfort they have at home to live other experiences in a totally different place, so it’s worth it to also try to change houses that are cooler and well located than yours: people often give up the extra points and make the direct exchange, without cost, even knowing that they have a house more valued. I already did this, I reduced the value of points of my apartment to make exchanges without leaving other people in debit of points and they also have done with me, allowing me to go to more valued houses. The experience at a different location is worth much more than the standard of the house, so many website travelers are flexible about that.
- Is it safe? Won’t the person break your whole house?
There are options like insurance and deposit, so that the exchanges have all the guarantees that nobody loses out in case something happens. The only website I know that offers this service is GuestToGuest.com. If you want a 100% free exchange, the site allows, as long as this is agreed between the two parties that will make the exchange, but in this case you won’t have the insurance, you’ll be just formalizing the exchange on the site. In my opinion, it is worth choosing to pay for this security, which has cost on average forty euros for a twenty day exchange, according to my experience in very good homes. This amount varies according to the value of the property exchanged and how much its owner asks to be insured. I consider this option one of the positive factors of this site, which gives you total freedom to pay for more security or not paying anything for their service, if you prefer to make the exchange based on total confidence that the person will bear the costs of any problems that may occur (usually without they wanting it). Home Exchange doesn’t work with paid insurance, but you need to pay an annuity to join, which ultimately selects the incoming public.
- But are you not afraid?
At first, I felt myself entering into a big adventure, one that gives a bit of fear, yes. I remember thinking, “Does this apartment with a view to the Eiffel Tower really exist?” But then I went and it was even more wonderful then I could have imagined. And after living the most beautiful experiences of reciprocity and respect for strangers that I would never dream of living, I am no longer afraid. The exchange takes place on the basis of reciprocity. I lend my house, you lend yours. Even if it is by balloon or points, we are all in the same circle of reciprocity. Why would I break your house? On the contrary, we are usually much more careful when we borrow something from someone else! No one wants to go through the embarrassment of saying they broke something or the problem of having to figure it out later, triggering insurance, right? So in practice this is how it happens. In my house, even having received many groups of people in the last six months, nothing has disappeared or been damaged.
- What about my personal objects?
You decide it. In the houses I passed by, people leave everything there. Some empty a part of the closet to give us room to hang our clothes, others not even that. In my case, as I also rent my apartment on AirBnb for short periods between one exchange and another, I chose to leave half of the closet empty and install a simple lock on the others, where I kept the clothes that are not in my suitcase travelling with me. The other objects were made available, such as dishes, books, cosmetics and toys. Nowadays, after so many good experiences, when we just make trades, I don´t lock my closet anymore.
- Is it only for international exchanges?
Of course not! People in the same country can trade with each other. In this case you can make the most economical trip of your life. Often, inside your own state, there is a different place where you would like to stay longer (or just a weekend!) and someone there thinks the same thing as you! You just need to be both on the site to find eachother and match the exchange.
- Do you meet with the person who exchanges home with you?
If you are in the same city at the same day, probably yes. As my exchanges usually happen for different (non-simultaneous) dates, this happens from time to time and is when the exchanges become more special. To meet the Belgian Muslim family and the French lord of the French Riviera, who picked us up and took us to the airport in the exchanges we made with their houses, to have their home presented by them, to see that they had left several pampering and the refrigerator full to greet us, was too special. Being able to reciprocate afterwards, when they went to my house and receiving from them a thousand demonstrations of gratitude was beautiful. Gratitude of both parties at high level, approaching people from so different countries and cultures.
- If it’s so good, why haven’t we done this before, since forever?
I had never personally met anyone who had made a home exchange before making my first one. Although more than hundreds of thousands of people are registered in these sites, worldwide, this is still very few to the world population. In Brazil, then, compared to the population, the number is minimal. Few people know it exists. Travel bloggers need to invest in what gives them money, which at the moment is the advertising of hotels and tour packages that include hotel accommodation. So the existence of this form of lodging doesn’t reach people’s ears. I started to tell about my experiences with exchanges precisely for this reason: those are information that I didn’t find on other blogs when I needed them, and that generate a lot of doubts. I believe in the idea as a form of shared saving that will grow very fast, which has turned my life into a traveler’s life and I stand up for that. The more people want to change houses, the more options we all have to get good exchanges for the dates we want! And more people will be travelling! I love the idea of helping more people to travel more.
- Do house exchanges replace hotels?
No! You won’t get breakfast ready, cleaning or room service, help to call a cab or any kind of hotel service. There are people who dont give up these services when they travel and we know very well the value they have. It is also not as simple as booking a hotel, which usually has a vacancy and makes the reservation at the same time. As no exchange is made without the owner of the house see who is asking to stay there and expressly accept, through the formalization of the site, this process may take a few days. This should also be seen from your side as someone who will receive someone in your house: analyze the profile of the person, schedule a meeting by Skype and “know” the person before, it is part of the process and gives you security to know who will be taking care of your beloved property, while you take care of theirs (in direct exchanges) or someone else’s (indirect exchanges).
Therefore, I prefer to make exchanges of houses for longer trips, for at least 15 days. Among the trips, in the cities where I stay less, I opt for hotels. On this thirty days trip to Jamaica, for example, I stayed in one hotel for three days in the first city, I’m now staying twenty five days in the exchange house in the city where there are more attractions and a beautiful beach and then I’ll stay another two days in hotel in a third city that I want to meet. So, in addition to traveling for much longer, there is budget left to stay in much cooler hotels if you wish. But nothing prevents you from making exchanges for shorter periods as well. I made an exchange for five days in Orlando next month, which is the period I wanted to stay in this city. In Europe, direct exchanges for weekends on trips that can be made by car are common.
15. How did you get to know the home exchange sites?
On the Internet! I have always been interested in start-ups of shared economy, and researching the most innovative in the world. I have used AirBnb for many of my travels for over five years. And when I found GuestToGuest and Home Exchange and saw how big they were outside, my immediate desire was to test. I still kept that desire for a few years until I took courage, when I saw that it was a solution to living on the road, and we started using it as soon as we got to work online. And then my only regret was not having done it before, many years ago, on vacation. I would have known even more of this world!
16. I only travel once a year, on vacation. I don’t do home office and I won’t live traveling. Can I exchange my house, too?
Of course! You are part of the majority of subscribers to the site. The exchange is a great solution for those who want to spend living traveling without paying for lodging, and who has this possibility uses a lot, like me. But it doesn’t prevent anyone who wants to change homes only on vacation to do so. What is already excellent! Being able to spend every day of every vacation of life traveling without spending with lodging or spending only in a few days, to fit cities near the exchange on the trip is an excellent idea, one that is worth carrying forward soon. You can make a reciprocal and simultaneous exchange (the person goes to your house at the same time that you go to their house) or you can receive the Guest Points in the GuestToGuest or Balloons in the HomeExchange, which works as credits for you to host someone going to someone else’s house.
17. And the condominium, will allow it?
Some condominiums ban everything that is not expressly authorized in the Convention. But I always talk to people over the phone or video calls before making the exchange, I see that the person exists, and that the people on the sites are real. Often the person himself requests this meeting before formalizing the exchange, because that is what the site itself recommends to be done. For me, at this moment they become my friends. So, I only inform the condominium of the names of my friends (usually foreigners because of the trades I prefer) to whom I have lent my apartment on the days when I’ll be traveling and inform that they will occupy my place of residence, being able to attend the common area on my behalf. Simple as that! So, there is now reason for prohibition.
- I don’t own a house! What now?
You can also exchange your home if you are renting an apartment or if you divide your house with family or relatives. The site only requires that the owner of the place to authorize it to destine it for this purpose. In practice, it would be like the owner of the place to allow you to receive some foreign friends while you are at their home or elsewhere in the world. You can do it not only with your rent apartment, but with the home of your parents or relatives when traveling if they agree. It’s a great opportunity to invite everyone for a family trip. The person who manages and gets the exchange will have that extra job and the one with the nice property may be the person who will leave the house ready to receive the guests, but everyone will travel together. Children and parents. Nephews and uncles. Grandparents and grandchildren. Friends. The possibilities to bring people together on trips with the exchange of houses are endless!
Do you remember anyone who would be up for this experience?
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