Why You Should Try House Swapping For Your Next Holiday

The thought of house swapping and letting strangers into your home strikes fear in most of us. But it’s a simple, cost-effective and flexible way to travel – a ‘free’ alternative to self-catering. It also gives you the feeling of living like a local rather than a tourist. We asked the experts to guide us through the basics…

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How does it work?

It is as simple as it sounds: you swap your home with someone else for a given period – anything from a weekend getaway to a two-week holiday or a longer-term exchange of several months. In the first instance, you need to sign up to a reputable specialist website, such as Love Home Swap, Home Base Holidays, HomeExchange and Guardian Home Exchange. Most offer an annual membership for a small fee which enables you to use the site, list your home and get access to other homes around the world. Whether you’re after a quaint cottage in the UK, a luxury villa in the Caribbean or a duplex in LA, there is a range of options to choose from. Once you’ve set up your profile, you’ll be able to contact hosts in your chosen destination and plan your holiday.

Rancho Mirage in California, USA
Home Exchange Collection

What are the advantages?

The main benefit and the most obvious advantage is financial. “You get a great break and, in the process, you save a lot of money on your holiday costs,” says Célia Pronto, managing director of Love Home Swap. “On average, our members save £2,000* on a seven-night stay by choosing to home swap rather than stay in a holiday rental.” Other than the small membership fee, you will be enjoying free accommodation. “You’ll also enjoy the comforts of staying in a real home and pick up recommendations from your house swap hosts,” adds Mark Sealey, managing partner of Home Base Holidays. In other words, you’ll be living like a local and will get a real feel for the place you visit. 

“Most home-swap hosts enjoy sharing advice on local restaurants and activities (plus what to avoid!) which enables their guests to immerse themselves in another culture or neighbourhood. Home swapping is simply the best way to get to know an area and experience what it’s really like to live in another destination,” Célia tells us. HomeExchange CEO Emmanuel Arnaud adds: “It’s also a more sustainable option than some other lodging options that continue to build new developments for the sake of business and price people out of their cities – house swapping means that you use what is already there.” 

Avignon, France

Where do I start? 

The first step is to choose one of the reputable websites. You then need to set up your home profile. “Make sure to include a good description of your home and local area so that members can get a good feel for your home. It’s important to add photos but they don’t need to be fancy, professional photos, just nice, well-lit images that accurately show your home and outside space. I’d recommend doing a quick tidy-up prior to taking the photos – you don’t want your first impressions to be a messy room or an unmade bed,” advises Mark.

“Good photos definitely help to give other members a clear idea of your home, making it easier for them to imagine themselves staying there,” agrees Emmanuel. “When it comes to setting up your profile and listing your home, a good rule of thumb is that more information is always useful. Think of the things you’d be interested in knowing about potential accommodation and keep in mind that others will be viewing your home through that lens.”

Most sites offer a free two-week trial before you commit to one of the membership packages. “This gives people full access to the site and they can reach out to other home owners to start making holiday plans. Once the trial period is over, they need to take up an annual membership,” explains Célia. 

Marbella, Spain
Home Exchange Collection

How easy is it?

“It’s very easy but does require a bit more planning than booking a hotel. First, you need to give yourself time to search offers and start contacting members to see if they would be interested in a swap with you,” says Mark. Communication is key, adds Célia: “You just need to allow a little bit of time to send and receive messages, and iron out the finer details with whoever you’re swapping with. But the results are absolutely worth the small amount of effort. With our clever search filters, you can browse homes from Italy, France and Canada to over 100 countries beyond, with just a few clicks of the button. Plus, many of our members receive swap requests from locations they hadn’t considered visiting, so they get the chance to explore countries they may not have thought of. The world is at your fingertips, you’ve just got to be open to exploring it!”

Emmanuel reveals: “Some members book their exchanges a year in advance, others book last minute. It really depends on where you’re looking to go and what the availability of homes in the area looks like. As people’s schedules change, so do their calendars so keep your eyes open… You never know what hidden gems you might stumble upon.”

It's a pretty scary prospect having strangers in my house…

“We completely understand the fear of hosting,” says Emmanuel, especially as it’s a new concept for many people. “The important thing to remember is that all of our members are both hosts and guests, meaning our community is truly built on trust. Even so, those who are nervous can try exchanging as a guest first so you can see the process first hand. Célia confirms “treat others how you want to be treated” is the mantra her members live by. “They are all in the same boat. They’re a likeminded community of people who are immensely houseproud and, if you’re going to allow someone into your home, you expect them to treat your place with respect – and that’s what they expect of you,” she adds.

Mark agrees it can be quite daunting planning your first house swap. “However, it’s incredibly rare that we get feedback problems. It helps to get to know your swap partners via Zoom in the lead up to your travel dates and continue to communicate with them,” he advises. The best piece of advice is to get in writing what you’ve both agreed to do.

Tinghir, Morocco
Devon, UK

Do I need to make any changes to my home? 

Some people will pull out all the stops – leaving welcome gifts, for example – but how much you do is really up to you. “It’s important to clean and declutter prior to a swap so that your home is welcoming for your guests’ arrival, and make sure you provide plenty of clean towels and bedding,” says Mark. Huge changes are not necessary, explains Célia, though “it’s always polite to clear a bit of space so your guests can unpack their bags. That might mean leaving a few coat hangers spare in your wardrobe and making sure there’s a clear shelf or two in the fridge so they’ve got somewhere to store their groceries.” At the end of the day, you can’t be too precious and small breakages are inevitable. If you have things you are specifically worried about, just lock them away.

I live in a small one-bed apartment – do most people want a larger house? 

No problem, says Célia: “A small one-bed apartment is fine, as everyone is after something different. Some people want to stay in a one-bed apartment in a city location, while others want to stay in a countryside villa. That’s the great thing about Love Home Swap – there’s something for everyone.” Mark agrees: “Most people are simply looking for a nice home in a destination of interest. The last two years, with Covid, we saw a big increase in people looking for staycation swaps. Now, swaps overseas are really picking up, especially within Europe, and New Zealand and Australia later in the year.”

Bastimentos, Panama

Is it possible to swap a place in London for a beach house in a holiday destination?

“People are as keen to visit the city as they are to get out of it! While a beach holiday may seem like a dream to some, a weekend in London is ideal for others,” says Célia. Mark confirms London is always a popular destination.

What are my options if the owners of the house I want don’t want to swap with me? 

Mark tells us Home Base Holidays only offer traditional home swapping, though members who own a second home or holiday home can agree to arrange a non-simultaneous swap on different dates. But on some sites, including Love Home Swap and HomeExchange, you can use a points system, which is like a virtual currency. Célia explains: “You earn points for hosting and can spend these at a later date on a trip to a location of your choice without the need to align plans – this offers members the ultimate flexibility and is particularly useful if you own a second home.”

Oslo, Norway

Will my house insurance cover a swap?

We always recommend speaking with your home insurance provider to confirm your insurance covers home swapping,” advises Célia. Most insurance providers will be happy to agree cover. If you do have any difficulties, “There are a number of very reasonably priced top-up insurance options specifically for home swapping,” adds Mark. Whereas HomeExchange offers guarantees to ensure successful exchanges for their members – including damage cover up to $1,000,000, theft protection and cancellation protection – they are very rarely called upon. “We just want to make sure our members feel safe and protected even if the need to use these guarantees is unlikely,” explains Emmanuel.

Can I ask my exchange to look after my pet?

“Absolutely!” says Célia. “Our members often take part in a bit of a life swap too, sharing their cars, bikes, surf boards and gym memberships. They water each other’s gardens and look after and feed the pets. That said, we’ve also seen a rise in the number of our members who want to travel with their pets, and we’re happy to say that many of our members are willing to host each other’s dogs too.”

Valais, Switzerland

I’m after something ultra-luxe…

Earlier this summer, HomeExchange launched HomeExchangeCollection to cater for growing requests from members for a more luxe experience. “We noticed members who had luxury expectations were not satisfied – they had a low response rate and could not easily find suitable houses,” head of collection Jennifer Klodnicki tells us. That’s why it created this new arm, which so far includes 300 homes in over 35 countries – the most popular being the US, France, Spain, Italy and the UK. Each home is carefully selected by the HomeExchange Collection team, who focus on design, location and amenities.

Ready to take the plunge? Here are the basic must-dos…

There are no hard and fast rules, but Mark recommends the following:

  • Make sure your home is clean and welcoming for your guests’ arrival 
  • Provide clean towels and bedding
  • Put together a welcome pack for your guests. Include details about your home, instructions, local recommendations and any emergency numbers
  • Agree what to do at the end of the swap (e.g., what to do with bedding/towels, where to leave the keys etc)
  • And finally, make sure you treat the property you are staying in with respect, and leave it as you found it 

* Price comparison between average cost of renting a property for 1 week for 4 guests in July 2022, versus the cost of a Love Home Swap membership and any booking fees for a Points Swap. Ten cities were included in the calculation, and were compared to properties on Airbnb, Booking.com and VRBO. 

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