If you’d like to go on holiday but can’t afford the whole caboodle, why not try house-swapping?
Jasmine does it all the time, and it means you only have to fork out for transport and food – accommodation is free! With the price of holidaying abroad going up as Sterling stays low, now is a fantastic time to start planning a weekend (or longer) away.
- What does house swapping involve?
- Long-term house swapping
- Is it expensive?
- How does house-swapping work?
- Security and insurance
- Is house-swapping for you?
- Things don’t always go according to plan
- House swap agencies
What does house swapping involve?
House swaps are exactly what they sound like – you exchange houses or flats with someone for a few days, weeks or even months. They enjoy everything your home has to offer while you enjoy theirs (Yes, it’s exactly what Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz did in 2003 classic The Holiday).
If you organise the whole thing through a reputable company then it shouldn’t cost you a thing. You’ll also have the peace of mind of knowing that whomever you’re swapping with have good references from other people who have swapped with them.
You’ll have to pay for flights/trains and food, of course, but your accommodation is free, saving you a fortune.
Signing up to an agency where you need to pay a fee to become a member offers a certain degree of security, as you’re less likely to get house swappers who might end up messing you around.
It makes sense to put away anything valuable and lock up any important documents, but that should be easy to do.
On the whole people swap at the same time – so you both agree to swap for the first week of July, with each of you arranging for someone to meet the other lot to give them the keys and show them round the house.
Sometimes, though, people do non-simultaneous swaps, particularly if one side has a second home that they’d like to swap. The other side will then arrange to be away in the time when the first group want to stay in their place.
It’s all about talking it through together, working out what works for both sides, and being as flexible as possible.
Long-term house swapping
A lot of older people spend their retirement swapping houses with others around the world. They swap for two or three months at a time, travelling around the world for very little money because they don’t have to pay for accommodation.
Of course, not everyone wants, or is able. to swap for that length of time. But if you are retired, you could quite possibly find other retired people in other parts of the world who want to do what you are doing and who would be happy to swap for months at a time.
IS IT EXPENSIVE?
If you organise your swap through a reputable company no money should pass between you and the person you’re swapping with. So your accommodation is essentially free, saving you hundreds if not thousands of pounds on accommodation bills.
The agencies tend to charge an annual fee (see below) but apart from that and your travel and food costs, it should be totally free.
As you’re staying in someone’s home you’ll also have access to their kitchen. So instead of forking out on restaurants every night you could knock-up a few of your own culinary creations and save yourself a fortune. Of course there’s nothing to stop you eating out as well, but the point is you don’t have to.
In order to jump safely aboard the house swap wagon you’ll need to sign up to a good agency. Really, it’s worth joining one that charges a fee to be a member. This is because people who are willing to pay for a good service are the sort of people you would like to have in your home. Not only does it give you a bit more security, we’ve found that it helps separate the wheat from the chaff (as people who are willing to pay a fee tend to be genuine house swappers, rather than just people who will end up messing you around).
Remember that house swapping doesn’t equal a totally free holiday. You’ll still have to pay for flights and all the other usual holiday costs such as food, entry to museums, etc. But of course the big cost – accommodation – will be free.
In fact you may not even need to pay for car hire. Many people who swap homes also swap their cars. Some even offer use of their boat!
So if you think you can’t afford a holiday this year think again – with home swapping you can do it on a minimal budget.
HOW DOES IT ALL WORK?
Once you’re signed up, you’ll be able to create a ‘listing’ on the agency website, which is basically an advertisement for your home that can include photos, maps and information about your local area.
Make sure that your listing also includes the exact number of people who will be travelling in your exchange party, as well as the dates that you’re happy to go away. Other members can then see if their plans fit in with yours, and whether or not their home could accommodate the number of people in your party.
Once you’ve created your listing it can be viewed by other members. If they like the look of your home they might get in contact and suggest a swap. Likewise, you can browse through all the listings on the site and contact anyone whose home you’d like to go to.
- Sign up to an agency such as one of the ones mentioned below
- Create your listing
- Browse through listings on the site to find your dream home and location
- Contact the owner to request a swap, and start receiving requests from people wanting to swap with you
MY HOME ISN’T THAT FANCY, SO WOULD ANYONE BE INTERESTED?
Yes. You don’t need to live in a ten-bedroom mansion for people to be attracted to your house. In fact you’d be surprised by just how much interest ‘normal’ houses receive, regardless of their size and location.
Everyone is different and there’s a good chance that your home is just what someone’s looking for.
DO WE HAVE TO SWAP HOMES AT THE SAME TIME?
No. Although swaps do usually happen simultaneously it’s completely up to you and your exchange partner to decide whether or not that suits you.
If you do decide to swap at different times you’ll obviously need to be in a position to move out when your guests arrive, which isn’t a problem if you’ve got a second home. If, like most of us, you haven’t, then try to arrange a stay with friends or family.
SECURITY AND INSURANCE
Opening your doors to a relative stranger is obviously a big deal, and seeing as you’re not going to be there to keep a beady eye on them you have to be confident that your home is in safe hands. Follow these simple steps to help avoid problems:
- Check with your insurance company that your home will still be covered should anything get broken or damaged during the swap. From what we’ve been told you shouldn’t have any problems, as your exchange partners are classed as being your guests – but double check just to be sure
- The same goes for car swaps – if you’re intending to include your car in the swap then make sure that your insurance company (and theirs) are well aware of what’s going on
- Develop a sense of trust with the person that you’re swapping with. Ask questions about their home and the area they live in, and find out what their expectations are of yours. Breaking down these barriers will leave you both feeling a lot more comfortable when it comes to swapping homes
- For peace of mind that your exchange partners aren’t the house swappers from hell, ask to see any referrals that they might have from past swaps
- Make sure that you and your exchange partner both complete a contract, which includes both the terms of the swap (e.g. what condition the house should be left it, whether or not the car is included in the deal) and all of your contact details. This way there can be no confusion regarding the terms of the arrangement. House swap agencies will provide you with a template contract for this, so it’s really easy
IS HOUSE-SWAPPING FOR YOU?
For a family house swap, it’s important that every one must be happy with the idea of complete strangers sleeping in their beds, fiddling with the TV and PC, and using the cooking pots. They might also use your car, care for your pets, or water the plants and the garden. You need to make sure everyone is comfortable with this.
Yes, you are taking a risk. But the nightmare vision of a trashed home when you return hardly happens. Of course, it does make sense to lock away heirlooms or valuable/sentimental items. You should leave plenty of instructions about how to work things, as well as contact details for neighbours who can help if there are problems. All those common sense things are very important.
Thanks to the internet you can get in touch with several house-swap agencies and hook up with families around the world very quickly. The agencies let you see their lists, but you have to do the leg work. Don’t forget you will have plenty of opportunity via email and photos to find out about your opposite family before committing yourself to the swap.
Can you swap with a family?
Families are an obvious choice for swapping, because it costs a lot to put a family up in a hotel. Also children don’t like the restrictions of hotels, they much prefer to chill out in one place. You can possibly also afford to travel further if you are saving on accommodation.
Because home swappers tend to stay longer, they have a greater chance of improving their languages. They’re also more likely to forge proper friendships with the swap family after mutual trust has been built.
It makes sense to swap in countries where hotel accommodation costs a lot. India and the Far East are not expensive places to stay, for example, so you might choose to stay in a hotel or serviced apartment. In the US, Australia and Europe, house-swapping makes a lot of sense cost-wise.
If you feel a bit nervous about the whole idea you could try a British swap first. There are masses of swaps in the South East and in London, but they do exist all over the country. When feeling a bit braver you could try an English speaking country. Swaps with the US are often relatively straightforward.
THINGS DON’T ALWAYS GO ACCORDING TO PLAN
Nobody, least of all the swapping agencies, would say that getting the perfect swap was easy. Things do go wrong, for example:
- machines break down (like the washing machine flooding or the freezer packing up)
- important items are moved/get lost
- the bath overflows
- the visitor loses the car keys
- the visitor fills your diesel car tank with petrol
- the house could be burgled, if the swapper wasn’t careful locking up
- one or all of the swappers has to fly home at short notice
It could all happen, but usually it doesn’t.
House swap agencies
Make sure you sign up to a decent house swapping agency. Here are our picks:
Jasmine’s agency of choice. There are over 65,000 listings in 150 different countries. An annual sign-up fee of $150.00 offers 12 months, with a 14-day free trial.
This site has listings across the world. Fees range from £6 – £10 per month, depending on the level of membership.
Listings worldwide. A year’s membership costs £49 and they also offer a two week free trial.
This isn’t a house-swap agency but members often do swap with each other. The handy element here is that as all the members have babies. This means you don’t have to travel with all the baby equipment (cot, steriliser etc). You can work out with each other what baby equipment to leave for each other.
- If you think that your home might be wrecked, the other family is probably thinking the same thing!
- People do have different levels of domestic cleanliness. Make sure you link up with someone who is as pernickety/laid back as yourself
- It is important to be that you are looking at a fresh listings of swappers, because some agencies don’t update that fast
- Look for references from people who have done swaps before – they know what they’re talking about