At PointClickHome.com, we love the pampering of a five-star hotel but to really experience a place, we'd prefer to live there . . . free of charge. House-swapping has been a travel option since the 1950s but in light of the current economic situation, it has become an increasingly savvy way to see the world. It's the ultimate chance for cultural immersion, a private escape, and refreshing accommodations with the comforts of home.Cost Savings and Comfort
Though most sites charge around $100 for a year's membership, beyond that, your accommodations are gratis, and the overall vacation savings can be huge. Having a kitchen at your disposal means you'll be able to cook at home and eat out when you want. Many swappers exchange vehicles to avoid car rental fees. Plus, there's the benefit of comfort. "If you have kids, you want to get off the plane and immediately be someplace that has a kitchen. If the flight loses your bags, you won't have to run around in a panic. You'll still have access to the basics," says Sally Austen, a longtime house-swapper.Becoming a House-Swapper
Safety and Reliability
"We encourage people to post referrals," Kushins says. "When you see that [someone] has done five exchanges, and you can see references, you'll have no sense of apprehension."
Some sites even offer online agreements that both parties sign, to make sure things go smoothly. You can download one at HomeExchange.com. HomeLink-USA.com even has cancellation insurance for $25 extra per year, which provides partial compensation should your exchange partner cancel at the last minute.Resources
Ready to go? Here is our guide to some of the top home-exchange sites on the web:
Offering 27,000 listings, unlimited photo uploads, an easy-to-use search, and info-packed profile pages, this is definitely one of the most user-friendly. Some of its coolest features? You can save listings you like into a folder to help you organize your potential properties and easily manage communication with exchangers through their email system-like sending a general inquiry e-mail to up 25 of your favorite listers at once.
Cost: $100 per year. HomeExchange.com
Around since 1953, this site boasts a small percentage of U.S. members (about 17 percent) and 13,500 listings, which lessens the competition if you're looking to travel abroad. It also offers a more formal online exchange agreement that users can easily electronically sign.
Cost: $110 per year. HomeLink-usa.com
Also a tried-and-true choice, Intervac started in 1953 as an informal association between teaching groups in Switzerland and Sweden , and they pride themselves on their large number of European listings, about 80 percent of its 20,000 listings. Intervac also has 25 organizers in the most popular destinations across the world to help if you need assistance choosing a property or run into any difficulties once you're there.
Cost: $95 per year for U.S. and international homes; $65 for just U.S homes. Intervac.comGot that travel bug? See a sampling of some of our favorite house-swaps in some of the hottest travel destinations around the globe.
Tell us where you'd love to go on a house-swap vacation!