I am a fan of house swaps and I have done it 4 times – in Costa Rica, New York, Paris and most recently in Sicily, Italy. There are loads of great reasons why you should swap homes with another family and some conditions when you should not. One reason, is well it’s really the most eco friendly way of travelling, save from staying super local.
Take this advice from an experienced traveller who loves budget deals and who also loves travelling to exotic destinations.
Home Exchanges Pros and Cons
Staying at a decent hotel in places like Spain, France and Italy will cost you a pretty penny. Think about the places where people want to go.
When you swap a home (plenty of sites offer options like Home Exchange and People Like Us or CouchSurfing) you will save lots of money. There is a sweet spot of where the hassle is worth the exchanges and a sore spot where it is not. Consider the following details when you are swapping and when it might be better to consider just splurging for a private no hassle hotel and enjoy one of many villa holidays in Spain.
Your time invested in finding a place: one summer we wanted to go to Manhattan, NYC for a month. It took me a few weeks to find a place and it ended up sort of being less than the value of our home. The effort was probably not worth the savings. Many people who have homes they want to open to other people today often just rent their homes on AirBnB. They don’t bother exchanging. So it takes a very specific person like you. And it might not be easy finding the right match with a similarly valued home.
Your time cleaning the house: When people come to our house in Tel Aviv it’s important that we remove all our personal items, and professional instruments and then the kids’ toys and most of their books. This means putting all the stuff in a bedroom with a lock, and a few days worth of cleaning and the expense of a cleaning helper. We’ve stayed in places where we barely have a shelf to put our underwear so do this as a courtesy. Do to others as you would like it for yourself.
Hassles when you are away: ever get a call in the middle of the night that your dog has escaped and gone missing for 2 days? It has happened to us when we were doing a house swap. Even though we went into great detail and made sure to give them a personal tour of the house, a door in the side yard was left open and the dog escaped twice.
No control over who the families bring: they might say a family of 4 then show up with an entourage. This means extra stains and strain on your personal space.
Managing times/flights around other people: If you are doing a simultaneous swap (them at yours, you at theirs at the same time) you will need to book flights for about the same days/times. This can be a challenge if neither of you live in urban areas. Consider that you might need to spend some nights in hotels anyway as you transfer through to your destination. I spent $1000 in Rome for 2 days during my last swap to Sicily. This was for a family of 4, but most of the money went to the AirBnB which wasn’t so hot.
Unexpected costs of flights: So you have a home in Istanbul and they have a home in Sevilla. But after you get excited and sell the idea to your husband you find out it’s not exactly in the famous city in Spain, but a 3 hour drive away. So this means you need to rent a car. Another expense. And in some countries like Europe you might be barred from doing so unless you have an international driver’s license. It happened to me. Or, in Costa Rica car rentals cost more per day than a decent hotel. We were at a home there in the middle of nowhere. We had no choice but to rent a car.
When Home Swapping is Totally Worth It
Home swapping is worth it when you travel for more than 2 weeks. Like, let’s say a month. It’s great when you travel with your parents or extended family because you can find large comfortable homes.
But for me giving the cons of house swapping and the hassles cleaning, teaching people about our pets (yes, we have a dog walker also) and how not to kill my plants (they died anyway) it is only 100% worth it when you are going for one month or more. When you travel this way you give yourself time to get to know the place where you are staying, the people’s family and friends around you in the new swap, and you know the time you invested in finding the swap, preparing your home, and the worry was sort of worth it.
I get many requests from New York to all over Europe to swap homes for 3 days or a week. For me — not worth it. Better to rent a family villa, go on a booking site for homes or condos or just shell out some cash for a pampering, non personal stay in a hotel with room service. This was you do everything your way. Hope this helps.