If a free vacation sounds pretty dang good to you, then a home exchange might just be the travel hack that you've been looking for. While this isn't a method that works for everyone, it is one that still exists and can help many people get a vacation for close to nothing. It does involve a few catches, though - including the fact that someone else will be staying in your home while you stay in theirs. There are many other details involved in a home exchange, and it's not always so cut and dry; some housing swaps work on the basis of one person swapping while another goes elsewhere, or under certain conditions where both parties have mutual accommodations.

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However, a person is comfortable swapping homes, it can be a fun and interesting way to explore a new place without ever having to pay for a hotel or rental. Chances are if you watched the movie The Holiday and thought, "that looks like fun!" then you're in good company. This is how free vacations start.

How It Works

There are three ways in which a home exchange can work. Before any of that can happen, though, interested parties must sign up with a home exchange website. This way, it's easy to find others who are hoping for the same vacation and, hopefully, in the same place that your house is located. Of course, each website will also come with its own rules and guidelines, so it's good to read the fine print. Once that's done, the options are as follows:

  • Hospitality Exchange: This is the least common of the home exchanging and an option that only some travelers are comfortable with. Hospitality exchange is similar to a homestay or renting a room or guest suite on Airbnb. Rather than swapping houses entirely, the owners of both homes agree to allow the other to stay with them as a gesture of hospitality, rather than each party leaving their own homes and going to one another's.
  • Simultaneous Exchange: In contrast, a simultaneous exchange is the most common way of house-swapping. This exchange is the most classic and the one most people think of when it comes to exchanging homes. As the name implies, each party swaps homes for a previously agreed-upon amount of time for a vacation.
  • Non-Simultaneous Exchange: This is also a fairly popular option thanks to its point system. Obviously, it's challenging to find dates that work for two people considering everyone has varying work and home lives. With that being said, the non-simultaneous exchange works out best for those who have unique or random schedules, as it allows you to stay in another person's house without exchanging your own at the same time. What does happen is that when the other party decides to take a vacation, you also must accommodate their dates. To sweeten the pot, some sites have included exchange points where points are accumulated by letting people stay in your home, which you can then use on other home exchanges for yourself in the future. It's essentially a means of paying it forward but everyone gets a vacation out of it at varying times.

How Do You Start Looking For A Vacation Home?

To protect users' privacy, anyone who isn't a member of the home exchange site will need to sign up before they can find specific houses. However, those interested can browse potential cities and towns without signing up for a membership first. The easiest way to go about this is to pick a destination first and then set your sights on finding a house exchange that's right for you. Occasionally, there will be a rolling list of suggestions for people who would like to visit your area from which you can browse. However, this list shouldn't deter you from browsing (and contacting) members in the area of your choosing. Since most house swaps are mutual, it might be a case of someone messaging you first with an interest in visiting your area - which always provides an opportunity to visit a new destination!

Many members will also have bios along with reviews or comments left by others regarding the exchange. This is a great way to determine whether or not you'd be comfortable with someone wanting to stay in your home. However, the best way to get to know someone is still the old-fashioned way - by simply reaching out and having a conversation! Members can also specify what they're comfortable with or not comfortable with; for example, pet-friendly vs. not pet-friendly listings. Therefore, the system is fairly specific.

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