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Want to use my Fort Lauderdale home for a few weeks? OK, provided you've got a place for me to crash in Manhattan. House-swapping may well be the single best way to both save vacation money and enhance your next travel experience.

The single most expensive part of any vacation is almost invariably the hotel, especially when your travel plans include places like San Francisco, London, New York, Tokyo or Paris. And adding to the pain of the expense is the fact that while you’re paying big, you’re ending up in a comparatively tiny space with far fewer amenities than you have at home.

But there’s a simple solution to this expensive dilemma. If you’re the adventurous type, and have a home in a location other people might like to visit, you can very well reduce your lodging cost to zero.

It’s called ‘house-swapping’ and it’s a really cool idea. But rather than just tell you, let me show you. Check out the following short news story for a glimpse into the life of two house-swappers.

So, as you can see, house-swapping works for this couple. And if you search for online articles from others who have tried it, you’ll find they’re hardly alone.

House swapping isn’t a new concept. In fact, it’s been around for at least 50 years, but the Internet has made it easier for interested parties to hook up. Here are some sites you can check out that facilitate house-swapping:

  • Craigslist: The only free site that I could find.
  • Intervac: Specializes in overseas vs. domestic: $99.99/yr.
  • Home Exchange: Guarantees you’ll find a swap partner, or they give you another year free. Three month membership: $47.85 Annual: $119.40
  • Homelink: They say they update their database daily to ensure only current members are listed: $115/yr.
  • Digsville: Extra year free if you can’t arrange a swap: $44.95/yr.

Upsides and Downsides

The most obvious upside of house swapping is that you can save thousands of dollars on hotel bills. You can also save hundreds preparing meals at “home” vs. eating out. And while you’re saving all that money, you’ll also probably be enjoying a lot more space and other amenities than a hotel could offer.

A more subtle but perhaps just as important benefit to house swapping is that it allows you to step into the life of a native. You’ll shop where they shop, meet their neighbors, visit their neighborhood watering holes. That can be a lot more interesting than a bus tour followed by a trip to the lobby bar.

An obvious potential problem with house-swapping is having strangers in your home without you there. In fact, if you’re like me, at first blush that makes the whole idea seem completely out of the question. But consider two things: The first is the fact you are, after all, swapping. Sure, they’re in your house, but you’re in theirs, too. The second is that, as I said in my news story, this is more like a dating service. In other words, you’ll get to know these people before you swap.

Think of it this way: When you first thought of internet dating, that also sounded out of the question. Fortunately, it loses its creepiness as you realize you’re not really using the internet to date, you’re using it to get to know someone to decide if you want to date. It’s the same idea with house-swapping. You won’t ever have strangers in your house, because by the time they get there, they won’t be strangers.

Another potential problem is that people who live in resort areas and/or big cities will obviously have the best luck with house swapping, especially with folks overseas, but if you don’t, that doesn’t mean you’re totally out of the game. Remember that people go places for an infinite variety of reasons. If I live in London and want to attend my University of Arizona class reunion, I need a place in Tucson, not Los Angeles. Maybe I live in Paris and have always wanted to see the Rock and Roll Museum in Cleveland. Maybe I live in Hawaii but my grandmother lives in Tennessee.

Bottom line? If the idea of living all over the world for free sounds intriguing, read more about it. I have, and I really think I’m ready to give it a try. I’ve got a decent waterfront house in Fort Lauderdale, and I really think I could advance my career with a month or two in Manhattan. Interested?

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

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