The Home Swap. A grand experiment in international travel.

By Brad Beckstrom

The proposition I made to my wife was pretty simple: “If you could spend two weeks in Europe every summer, would you be interested?” Of course I got an enthusiastic “yes”, until I brought up home exchange. Home exchange is just what it sounds like. It’s a website with over 65,000 homes in 150 countries. You list your home on home exchange, include all the countries you’d like to visit, and wait for opportunities to appear in your inbox to swap homes in places like Spain, and Italy, Brazil, and all over the world.

It’s vastly different than Airbnb as you are not paying a stranger to stay in their home. With Home Exchange, you are simply staying in their home while they stay in yours: a true exchange. The network is large enough to match up eager travelers from around the world who want to visit your town. Larger homes tend to attract like-minded families, while tiny apartments attract singles and couples. What they have in common is a sense of adventure and openness to meeting new people and trying new things.

As I started to browse through some homes along the Amalfi coast in Italy, or the Le Marais neighborhood in Paris, I started to realize our home is just not ready to attract the type of visitors we would like to exchange homes with for a two week trip. At this point, I am no more near ready to do this than I would be to start renting a room out on Airbnb. There is so much to do before I would even post some photos or create a profile. Sure, our house is in a great neighborhood less than 4 miles from DC, but it’s a big step to make it ready for some long-term visitors.

That is, unless I look at this as an opportunity. The great thing about the opportunity is at the end of the project, my reward is two weeks abroad. Not just this year, but nearly every year. That’s something worth working towards.  It’s also a grand experiment in the sharing economy.  So far we have truly enjoyed our experiences using Airbnb and saved tons of money using UBER and Lyft all over the world.

I was a bit discouraged when I started looking at some beautiful spotless homes in Italy and France, but then I looked up some US properties, even some in our neighborhood. I could spot the familiar clutter that didn’t seem to deter these folks from listing their homes. If we can just get our home somewhere between good and great that would be a start. I’ve always been adept with frequent flyer miles but found that hotels drain them too quickly, especially after you’ve coughed up enough miles for 4 transatlantic tickets. Doing a once a year home swap would be a perfect solution. Adding 14 nights of free accommodations to free airfare can really put some punch behind your travel plans. The great thing is we don’t have to accept any offers for a home swap if we aren’t interested.

Where to start? I don’t know about you but if I’m going to be spending Saturdays replacing toilet seats and cleaning out junk drawers, then I need some damn motivation. I found it in a few articles about people’s experience using home exchange. Since I started seriously considering this, I’ve also stumbled across a few other sites like with over 100,000 global listings and rave reviews on social media.

I’m going to give myself plenty of time to get this done. Here’s a few steps we’ll be taking, so when we decide to accept that home swap offer from the Amalfi Coast we will be ready.

  1. Check out the website and others experience with home exchange. Look at some alternative sites as well.
  2. Declutter and simplify. Several rooms in our house are in great shape but others are disasters. Instead of just putting a whole room on a list, we’re approaching this one drawer or cabinet at a time.
  3. A fresh coat of paint can do wonders. This can be tackled one room at a time. The biggest job will be outdoor paint, but it’s something that’s been needed for a while.
  4. Freshen up the bathrooms all around including some new toilet seats and fixtures.
  5. Start putting together a great series of wide-angle photos, not just of our house, but of the neighborhood and wonderful parks and trails right at our back door.
  6. Make sure our homeowners insurance is up to date and includes enough liability coverage.
  7. Create a secure owners closet for valuables. Basically just a quality lock on a large closet.
  8. Put together a home binder with instructions on all of our crazy appliances. They can’t be more complex than some of the things we’ve come across overseas.
  9. Put together a neighborhood guide and home information about with everything someone would need to know while visiting Washington, DC.
  10. Think about something that will set your property apart. For us we have three bikes people could use on some of the longest best-kept bike trails in the country.
  11. Add the places you’d most like to go to your profile, but be open to as many destinations as possible. If you find a larger place invite some friends and family along for the fun.

That’s a start. Who knows, I could get through most of this and still not get the type of home swap offers we’d be looking for. We won’t know unless we start the process. In the end, most of the items on my list above needed doing anyway. Now that I know a large Italian family may be invading our home, I’ll have some extra motivation.

The Frug

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