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Dying to travel but can’t due to your mortgage?  Home exchange might be the answer to all of your travel woes!  Why not swap your house or apartment with like-minded travelers from all over the world? This is how Kerry Ascione and family travels, and the concept has seen them stay, for free, for up to six weeks in incredible homes in Spain, France and England.

Other than getting there, a home swap doesn’t have to cost you any more than staying at home!

What do you love the most about travelling?

It’s not just travel, but cultural travel that I love most.  What I love most about cultural travel is that it makes me feel so alive!

I am one hundred percent engaged and completely content to live in the moment.  It’s really an exhilarating state of “being.”  I can’t say that I live so fully in the moment when I am not on a cultural adventure.  I try to, but it’s almost impossible when you are in a familiar place doing things that are routine.

I’m not sure if it’s because I come from such a young country, the USA, or that I’m simply a hopeless romantic, but I am fascinated by old world countries and their incredible history, architecture, culture and beauty. I love to take myself out of “my element” and put myself in a vastly different and exotic one.  You can read all about the importance of travel in my life in the Preface of my soon to be published book.

Parc Moreau.

On my family’s last three week home exchange in Provence, I fell in love with a tiny park, Parc Moreau. These park visits were simple pleasures; but ones that I really appreciated.

What inspired you to become involved with home exchange?

In all honesty, what inspired me was a lack of money! I was so desperate to find a way to afford cultural travel for my family of four, that I was determined to find that way.  The cost of airfare alone is enough to keep all but the wealthiest families from traveling abroad.

I know very few families that can afford it, and I live in a fairly affluent suburb of New York City.  Most of my friends, if they have travelled abroad, have done it before having children or by traveling without their children.  But I wanted to bring my children along, so they could benefit and we could enjoy it as a family.

So, when I found out about international home exchange, I was “all over it!”

How long have you been involved with home exchange?

Not long enough; I wish I had found out about it ten years earlier.  My family has been involved with international home exchange for six years, not terribly long; yet so far we have completed five incredible home exchanges in three countries, Spain, France and England.

Because of the high cost of airfares, we have chosen to travel every other summer for a longer period of time rather than every year for a shorter one.  We spent six weeks abroad in 2009; six weeks again in 2011; and three weeks this past summer, 2013.  On our last trip, we regretted not staying longer, so we probably will not travel for less than a full month in the future, if not more.  We are very lucky, my husband is a teacher and has the entire month of July and August off, and I can work remotely from anywhere.

I recently figured out that I have received 118 home exchange offers on the last year and a half.  I was only able to accept one of those! It’s wonderful to receive all these wonderful offers, and often difficult to turn them down!

What is home exchange all about?

In an international home exchange, two parties who reside in two different countries actually trade their homes for a designated period of time.  There is absolutely no money exchanged.

It is important to understand that a “home” can be one that you own or rent; but also that “home” does not necessarily mean “house”. It can be an apartment, an RV, a boat, a stationary caravan, a deluxe treehouse, etc…Literally, anything that would interest another person or family is an acceptable “home” for exchange purposes.

These home exchanges can be simultaneous where both parties trade at the same time, or if both parties have second homes, they can agree to a non-simultaneous exchanges, where the parties use one another’s homes at different times.

There is also the possibility of what is called a hospitality exchange, a special kind of non-simultaneous swap, where the parties host each other in their homes and show them around or give them advice, kind of like a B & B host would.  This option would probably be more appealing to individuals and couples.

 What kind of people are involved in the movement?

“I truly believe that international home exchangers make up a remarkable and positive sub-culture in society, an infinitely more trusting subculture, in an otherwise altogether distrusting world.”

The reason more people do not take advantage of this remarkable opportunity, is simply because they either do not know about it or they feel they are unable to trust it.  That is too bad for them. Home exchangers are very open minded and accepting people who really want to embrace all that the world has to offer, and they are not afraid to trust.

Travel trends in 2014 show that even luxury travellers are realizing that authentic experiences are more important than fancy hotel amenities or sheets with exceptionally high thread counts!  It’s also finally being recognized  that “snail” paced travel is the most culturally enriching style of travel, not whirlwind blitzes.

What are the benefits of home exchange?

There many incredible benefits, not only the most obvious one, the economic one:

The economic benefit for certain is the most incredible benefit.  The fact that you can exchange homes for free brings rich cultural travel within reach of so many more people, especially families.  I don’t think it has come up yet, but most home exchangers also exchange their cars.  The economic benefits of a home and car exchange, usually amounts to thousands of dollars in savings.  Plus, the longer the exchange, the greater the savings.

This might blow your mind, but my family estimated our savings for our last three week home and car exchange in Provence in the summer of 2013, to be $7,050.  A comparable home rental (four bedroom home, in-ground pool) would have cost a minimum of $1,750 per week and a comparable car rental (Land Rover, 7 passenger) would have cost us a minimum of $600 per week.

The total savings for the home for three weeks was $5,250 and the car $1,800.  If that is not amazing, I don’t know what is! This does not even take into account all the money we saved on food, and other amenities that came with the home like: bicycles, sporting equipment, beach gear, etc…These amenities provide valuable entertainment to the family and save you even more money.

This was our lovely pool for three weeks too! We spent many, many hours playing in and relaxing outside by this pool. See our grape vines?

This was our lovely pool for three weeks too! We spent many, many hours playing in and relaxing outside by this pool. See our grape vines?

Aside from the amazing economic benefits there is something else that is truly remarkable about home exchanges.  It’s the cultural benefits.

Home exchange will transform an otherwise typical tourist vacation into a far more enjoyable and culturally enriching experience.  How?  You get to live in the home of a local.  That local will leave you so much information about their favorite places, restaurants, markets, and upcoming events.  They also usually assign one or more local contacts to help you while you are in their home.  Sometimes, they help you a lot and you get to know them too.  It’s really fantastic.

Home exchange differs from other styles of travel in another really important way that may not be obvious.  It’s a much more relaxed style of travel.  You stay in one place for a much longer period of time.  You have time to immerse yourself in the culture, whether that be relaxing in the home or its’ immediate surroundings (like scooting around the village), enjoying quality time with your family, or day-tripping to famous or off the beaten path places or events.

My daughter, showing off “her attitude” while she scoots around our picturesque village.

My daughter, showing off “her attitude” while she scoots around our picturesque village.

Are there any disadvantages of home exchange?

Heck No!  The only disadvantage, is not taking advantage of it!  Actually, the only thing that I think that some people may construe as a disadvantage would be that you have to put forth some effort to get your house ready for an exchange; it’s not as simple as packing your bags and leaving for a trip to a hotel or a home rental.

The amount of work you need to do depends on how well you maintain your home in general.  We usually have to some de-cluttering, organizing, small repairs, and of course give the whole house a “spring” cleaning.  On the flip side of this, is the fact that home exchange forces you to keep your home in better condition, and that is a good thing.  At least that is how we look at it after we do the work!

Does home exchange limit the destinations you can travel to?

That’s a good question, and an interesting one, because some countries are better represented than others.  The good news is that the home exchange movement is currently experiencing dramatic widespread growth.

I suppose, if you are a world traveller who has already seen much of the world, then maybe you would find available home exchange destinations limiting.  For anyone else, I think you would be completely thrilled by the diversity of destinations you can choose from.   The website I use has over 13,000 listings all over the world; and every home exchange website (there are dozens of them) has for the most part, unique listings; so you can just imagine how many listings are contained within all of those sites.

With that said, after years of searching for suitable exchanges in Italy, so that we could introduce our children to my husband’s native country (and Italian relatives), my family finally gave up and instead rented four different apartments in Rome, Positano, Cinque Terre, and Venice in 2011.  I can tell you this; it was incredibly expensive and took a huge chunk out of our travel budget for several years to come, and while the rental experience was good, it did not come close to providing anywhere near the amenities or cultural richness that our home exchanges have.

My son and daughter carrying groceries to our “expensive” apartment in Rome; This is the street it was on, Via Balestari just off Campo dei Fiori.

My son and daughter carrying groceries to our “expensive” apartment in Rome; This is the street it was on, Via Balestari just off Campo dei Fiori.

 How do you know you can fully trust a person in your home?

You have to get to know them and trust them before you exchange with them.  In my book, Have Home Will Travel, which will be published in March, I recommend a “No Trust, No Trade” policy and I talk extensively about how to that build trust remotely.  I think this may be the most important part of my book.  I actually provide the entire communication between myself and my last exchange partner and challenge my readers to read it and decide if my home exchange partner was completely trustworthy.  I think they may be surprised by what they decide.

The fact is, I have trusted each of my five home exchange partners fully and none of them have let me down, and most of them have impressed me.  People have been exchanging homes since the 1950’s and it has proven to be incredibly reliable.  It really is amazing.

Have you ever experienced any problems returning home?

No, not a single one.

My only concern when I exchange my home is that my home will live up to, or hopefully exceed, the expectations of my exchange partner.  It is never about any doubt that my exchange partner may cause me problems.

What is the most interesting home exchange you have had?

I would have to say the very first exchange in a tiny village, called La Celada, in the Cordoba Region of Andalucia, Spain was the most interesting.  The remote village was located in the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and the casa itself was located in the middle of an ancient olive tree grove, on the outskirts of a teeny little village.  There were wild peacocks walking among the olive trees.  None of the locals spoke English.

Coming from as densely populated and flat a place as ours in New Jersey, this was incredibly interesting, exotic really, to us!

This is our casa in La Celada in the “middle of the olives”, as they called it.

This is our casa in La Celada in the “middle of the olives”, as they called it.

 What is the most memorable home you have lived in?

We have been very fortunate that each of the five homes we have exchanged for have been memorable!

The most surprising home we found ourselves in was in East Sussex, England.  It was an eight bedroom home on 15 acres with in-ground pool, tennis court, croquet court and horses.  When I told my husband about the home, his response was “are you sure they’ve seen our house.”

We still laugh about that today, but the fact is the offer of exchange came from them to me.

Our very lovely and very free English home exchange. Would this be considered budget travel or luxury travel. I think both!

Our very lovely and very free English home exchange. Would this be considered budget travel or luxury travel. I think both!

 What is your favourite form of accommodation next to home exchange?

I appreciate a nice hotel room or B&B as much as the next person. The problem is that it is incredibly expensive for a family of four (or more) to stay in a nice hotel or B&B for any lengthy time.  Families need to pay for either two rooms or a large family room and that usually translates to double the cost of one double room.  Staying in a really nice hotel is pretty much out of the question for most families.

With that said, hotel rooms and B&B’s are fine for an occasional one to three night stay, and my family does use them for that purpose while traveling on home exchanges; but, for anything longer than three days, a home or apartment rental is my next favourite form of accommodation.

How do people get involved?

It’s so easy.  All you have to do is choose and join a home exchange website, and it’s very cheap.  I pay $64 per year for the one I am on and it’s cheaper if you join for a longer term.

I have used www.homeforexchange.com for all of my home exchanges and have loved using this great site.  However, there are many great websites to choose from.

One brand new home exchange website that I am very excited about is www.travabilityproperties.com – it’s the very first home exchange and home rental site to offer handicapped accessible properties.  The owner of this site really understands the diverse needs of her customers and so I am confident she will be successful.  I personally believe that home exchange would be a fantastic style of travel for handicapped individuals and families with handicapped family members, so I am delighted by this new website.

Most practical piece of advice for those considering home exchange?

Just Do It!  You will not regret it.  You will wish you started sooner, like I do.

But really, the most important advice is that you should never exchange with anyone that you have not taken the time to get to know and then fully trust.  I think the reason many people fear home exchange is that they are under the misconception that home exchangers exchange their home with just anybody.

Why should anyone try home exchange?

It’s the best thing I have ever done for myself and my family.  I am not one to spoil my kids with things, because I see the potential for harm in that; but, I am so proud of myself for finding a way to give my kids the gift of cultural travel.  I really do believe their lives will be better for these experiences.  I know that our family has been enriched by the incredible quality time we spend together on these cultural adventures and that the memories of these trips will last us a lifetime.

My mother, who travels with us, will tell you the same thing. On a static, limited retirement income, she would never have been able to travel in Europe the way she has if it wasn’t for our international home exchanges.

Home Exchange Opportunity in France

A French family, who resides in the Rhone-Alps region of France, is in the process of arranging as many home exchanges as they can as part of a year- long, RTW trip.  They have already arranged five exchanges in, two in Brazil, two in Argentina , and one in China.  Their first stop is to be my area, the New York tri-state area, in July 2014; so they made me an offer.

Unfortunately because of the timing, I could not accept it.  What they offered my family was two to three weeks in their home in exchange for staying in my home for only one week.  If anyone is interested in arranging a home exchange with them, please see the post on my site, “An Interesting Home Exchange Offer.”  The family has provided a comment with a link to their home exchange listing.

Kerry Ascione has coined herself the Trusting Traveler because she believes so strongly in the enormous potential and benefits associated with Peer to Peer Travel Sharing.  She is a passionate international home exchanger and family traveller who has made it her business and her mission to share all the information, guidance, and motivation she feels families need to begin to enjoy a life rich in culture and travel

If you find international home exchange intriguing, visit Kerry’s website or look to find her on twitter at @trustingtravel.  She is happy to answer specific questions.

    14 Comments

  1. I was always wondering if it’s not too risky to give your home to someone you don’t really know. I think personally I’d still have some mental barrier to do this, but it’s amazing there are people who do this together with their families and still have a lot of fun! :)

    • Definitely involves a lot of trust – although you’re in their home as well so the trust has to go both ways. It’s pretty amazing knowing that you can just pack up and switch homes with someone on the other side of the world!!

  2. Great interview! It seems like there are different ways to do home exchange. I interviewed a lady who did 50+ home exchanges — she wasn’t choosy, so she ended up with not-so-perfect partners sometimes, but she says it’s all still worth the free accommodation. There are others who take a more cautious approach and miss out on some opportunities, but they rarely have a bad experience.

    • Sounds like a really ideal way to travel if you have a home to exchange – 50+ exchanges is just amazing – I need to start this once we “settle down”!!

  3. I’ll trade you some beach front public lands for a week at your home;-)

    • If I can take a tent I’m golden :D

  4. WOW, I had no idea that people did so many. Once my house is finished I think I like the sound of this! Thanks for sharing.

    • Definitely! Who knew buying a house could open up so many travel opportunities!

  5. I do want to do this eventually. I’d actually like to do something much longer term, maybe a few months. My only problem is having a house in the suburbs instead of the heart of the city.

    • You never know though – I’m sure many people would be interested in a home in the suburbs – just because you’re not in the heart of the city doesn’t mean you’re not close. It’s a more authentic experience of life in that country as well :)

      Only one way to find out! Best of luck :)

  6. Love this article. I’ve been recently turned on to the idea of housesitting and am planning on using it for the trip to Paris/London I have planned for 2016. Thanks for writing this up!

    • Thanks Julia! Glad we could offer some information to help – have a wonderful trip; house-sitting is a fantastic way to travel!

  7. Home Exchange is such a great idea, why pay to stay in a hotel or rent somewhere when you can stay free via swapping homes?
    It’s a tutorial for newcomers who are not familiar with the home exchange or house swap yet.Right?

    • Absolutely James. Yes, this is aimed at being an introduction to home exchange / house swap for those who might not have heard of it before :)

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