We researched a ton of home exchange sites and settled on three: Love Home Swap, Home Exchange, and Guest to Guest. Each has their benefits and drawbacks and each draws people from different areas of the world. The more listings you have access to the better your chance of finding swaps. Once you've settled on a platform or two your next step is to set up your listing!
Here's how to have an amazing listing: clean your house (no need to stash absolutely everything; having some toys visible may be a selling point!) and take accurate pictures in good light. I would use an iPhone 7 or later or a DSLR camera. A home in a mediocre location will become a hot commodity with professional pictures. Next, think of your favorite things about your home and write a short paragraph about them. Be honest! One of the worst things you can do as a swapper is set people up for a castle when really you have a cottage. Most swappers are not in it for luxury, but to see how locals really live. Instead, talk about the charm of your home and how close it is to your favorite restaurant or activity. Try to succinctly communicate the vibe of your area and why you like it.
Now that you've got your listing set up, it’s time to take the leap and start contacting people. Home swapping is like dating. If you don’t take initiative, nothing’s ever going to happen. You can scope out the listings you like and message them. Or you can cast your net wide by contacting multiple listings at once. I craft a short personal message with a little information about my family, the reason for my trip, and what I like about their region. Message houses outside the city center. Message everyone! I don’t generally look at the listings in-depth unless they answer in the affirmative. I would estimate it takes an average of 15-20 messages to find a match. Ask about seasons (i.e. would you like to swap sometime in the summer versus July 1-7). When someone responds positively, don’t confirm right away. Start a conversation. Just like dating, communication is key. Talk about everything. Move on if you can’t agree on something or you get a bad feeling. Continue this until you’ve found the right match. After you’ve found your dream swap, don’t forget to “break up” with all the other people you’ve messaged! Tell them you’ve found an exchange but thank them for their interest. Another parallel to dating: have fun! Be patient and keep trying until something works out. The worst they’re going to say is no.
After you've found a swap, it’s time to get ready to host your guests. This is the “work” part of home swapping but it gets easier every time you do it. Follow this checklist and make sure you don't leave everything for the night before.
Things to do once to ensure smooth swapping: 1) Install outdoor security cameras and a security system you can control from your phone. This is optional, but it’s really nice to see the right people as they come and go. 2) Purchase guest-only sheets, towels, shampoo/conditioner, and a key lockbox. 3) Type up a comprehensive guide of your home and area. Include your WiFi password, pet/plant instructions, nearby grocery stores, and your favorite things to do in the area.
One month out: 1) Purge all unused stuff/clutter and take to Goodwill. 2) Finish up all ongoing DIY projects. You don’t have to have everything perfect, but nobody wants to stay in a half-painted room. 3) Prep yard (pull weeds, check sprinkler system etc).
One week before: 1) Tell neighbors about upcoming swap. Our neighbors love meeting the people from different places. It’s also nice to have a trusted set of eyes on your house. 2) Deep clean your home or hire a cleaner to do it. 3) Work on eating through the perishable food in your fridge. I am excellent at this item.
One day before: 1) Put all underwear and personal items you don’t want guests using in a box. We use the same box we keep the guest linens in to make coming home easy. Lock it up or give it to a neighbor/family member. 2) Clear out 1-2 drawers per expected guest and make a bit of closet space. No need to empty every drawer or closet. Tip: combine drawers after removing what you’re packing for your trip. 3) Clear out one shelf in the fridge and one shelf in the bathroom.
Day of: 1) Pick up the house one last time. 2) Put guest sheets on the bed. Set out towels, shampoo/conditioner, your home guide, and (optional) a small food gift to welcome them to your home. 3) Place key in lockbox or in your predetermined location. Some swappers mail their guests a key or welcome them in person.
Once you've left your house the fun really begins! When you arrive at your exchange, crawl around at your child’s height and move anything breakable. Text your hosts when you get there and when you check out. It’s ok to contact them occasionally if you have any questions. However, do not contact them every hour for obvious stuff (look for the blow dryer a few places before asking). Keep in mind that not everyone lives exactly as you and that’s part of the fun of swapping!
When you’re getting ready to leave, replace anything you ate that they didn’t specifically say you could eat or leave a bit of cash to cover the cost. Practice LNT or leave no trace by sweeping, washing dishes, emptying trash, and generally picking up. No need to scrub everything down, but make sure it looks welcoming when they get home from their trip.
Lastly, we always look for a small gift and write a short thank you note. You learn a bit about people staying in their home. We try to use this knowledge to choose a gift that will be meaningful to them. Our very first home swap guest left us a succulent. She could tell I love succulents because I have them everywhere! I keep it by my kitchen sink so I can see it as I perform my daily tasks of motherhood. It reminds me that we don’t have to have unlimited money, quit our 9-5 jobs, or leave our child to take a dream vacation. The world is open to us through home exchanging!
For more budget-friendly travel advice or to see our home swapping adventures, follow me on Instagram: @get_globetrotting . If you're interested in a personalized kid-friendly trip itinerary, contact me through my website www.getglobetrotting.com . Happy swapping!