Are you avoiding a vacation because you can't afford a hotel? If so, try house swapping.
You start by joining a home exchange service. Once you've registered, you will find other families in cities you might want to travel to. Then, you can arrange your own home vacation.
Dennis Chobater, owner of 4homex.com (Global Home Exchange) lives in British Columbia. He's been operating his home swap site for about 10 years. "It's easy," Chobater said. "You register ($25 for six months or $49 for one year) and immediately start sending out your vacation inquiries to those looking for availability." Chobater said one of the perks is that you meet people from around the world.
About four years ago, Chobater and his family planned a trip to St. Louis. They wanted a week filled with taking in St. Louis sites such as the Gateway Arch, a steamboat ride on the Mississippi, a visit to some caves and time to visit friends in Columbia, Mo. He was lucky and found a family near the Central West End who participated in his exchange service. They were looking for a trip to British Columbia.
"Everything worked out perfectly," Chobater said. Both families sent e-mails, letters and photos. "We got to know them, and they got to know us. Soon we became e-mail friends and everyone felt comfortable and safe when we did our home swap."
In 10 years, the only complaint Chobater has gotten about a house found on the site was a messy refrigerator.
Preparing your home
Before you consider house swapping, you'll need to make some changes at your residence. Stephanie Turner, president and CEO of Brentwood Travel in St. Louis, offers these tips on preparing your home for your exchange partner.
• Clean your home thoroughly and remove all personal beauty items such as your toothbrushes, hairbrushes and any other personal toiletries.
• Clean out your refrigerator and throw away all opened jars.
• Put out new soaps, shampoo and lotions. Remember to lay out clean bed linens and fresh bath towels, and create a nice scent in your home such as with a bowl of potpourri.
• Lock up your valuables, personal papers, jewelry and family heirlooms. You may want to assign one room or one closet to be off-limits to your exchanger and lock it up. Consider purchasing a safe for your coins, collectibles and valuables.
• Leave a list of contact numbers including your cell phone, police and fire department, and alarm company if you have one.
• Be prepared for some homework. Once you've found a potential home exchanger, you and the exchanger will have to work out all the details.
• Communication will be the key with your home exchanger. Get to know the person by sending family photos and photos of your home.
• Call your home insurance company to verify that vacationing guests are covered for any accidents in the home.
• Create a notebook with information such as area attractions, restaurant menus, emergency contact numbers, babysitter numbers and a list of your utilities.
• Inform your neighbors that you've taken part in a home swap program and guests will be staying in your home. Also, select a family member or friend as your "emergency" contact person.