Usually when I plan a trip I find inspiration from my list of places I want to visit board that I’ve saved from Pinterest. I enjoy reading travel magazines like Condé Nast Traveller and Afar magazine for more off-the-beaten-track sources. I like to find an interesting landmark, a cool hotel or quirky museum to center around the trip. For example, when we visited Amsterdam last November, I had to check out the amazing Voorlinden museum after seeing it on Instagram. It really was the highlight of our trip to the Netherlands.
The museum liked our photo so much they asked to use it for their brochure!
We love to learn about different cultures from our beloved MAPS book which also inspires our travel wishlist.
Since we moved abroad, I need to be budget conscience (since Antz is now a freelance artist) so I look for ways to fit everything into our small budget. I love the luxury of spending our first night of a trip in a fancy hotel. This way we can order room service and relax since we are usually tired from traveling all day. I also get to take a long, hot shower and take photos of the hotel for my Instagram. Since most hotels I fall in love with tend to be pricey, I find the least expensive day to book (usually early in the week) and I hunt for deals a few months before booking. I also utilize my Chase Sapphire and Amex cards points to upgrade our room or car rental. In the past few years I’ve been taking advantage of house swapping instead of expensive Airbnb rentals. Our first house swap wasn’t a traditional house exchange. We used points we accumulated from Love Home Swap, the largest house exchange website, as a form of currency to rent a 3-bedroom house in Reykjavik, Iceland. The woman we swapped with then can use the points to book another home that is listed on the site. Once you become a member, you are given a set amount of points based on your annual subscription level. There is an option to do traditional swaps which are simultaneous or you can stay at a members home and they stay at your place for a later date. I get about five swap requests per day (Paris is a very popular swap destination) from people all over the world so I have my top 5 swap cities listed on our profile.
I hope this makes sense, you can read more about how to use points on their site. You can read more about the details of our house swap during our 2016 trip to Iceland here.
Now, how do we get into house swapping? Well, it started with testing out renting our LA house on Airbnb for a weekend. We planned a few road trips to Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington during the summer of 2016 and I knew our house would be empty for a few days. Since we were spending a large amount of money to take the train from Portland to Los Angeles, I thought it would be smart to list our house for rent on Airbnb. Antz was pretty apprehensive about having strangers stay in our house but our next door neighbors rented their back house successfully all the time so I was curious to see how it would go. I bought some new sheets and towels from Target so they wouldn’t use our personal bedding and linens. I didn’t think it would rent so soon but it turned out that one of our neighbors down the street were getting married and her Mother found our house listed and booked it so she had somewhere to stay while she was in town for the wedding. It worked out wonderfully knowing it was someone we indirectly knew staying in our house. We rented our place again for the following weekend and grew more comfortable with the idea of strangers staying in our home. We put all our valuables in storage bins in our garage and changed our home alarm code for the renters. Our cat Lola stayed at home the whole time and our renters never saw her (she’s extremely shy around strangers) The income we made for the Airbnb weekends paid for most of our summer trips!
Since things went so well, we started looking at possibly renting our house while we were spending a year abroad in Paris. When we were looking for for a longer term house swap in Paris, I found a home exchange website called Behomm.com. Behomm is a house exchange website based in Spain aimed for creative professionals and the homes are highly vetted. Most of the homes looked straight out of Architectural Digest and I was nervous our Los Angeles house wouldn’t make the cut but luckily we just completed our big renovation. I was looking for a reciprocal house exchange with someone in Paris for our sabbatical year but we ended up only finding a swap for two months. Those two months of swapping were a perfect opportunity to allow us time to go apartment hunting in Paris. It turned out to be lucky for us we didn’t find a swap for the entire year since we ended up making our move to Paris permanent. The process was super easy, you search for the city you are looking to exchange in. There’s even a reciprocal button that shows you people who are looking for a swap in your city. You can view photos of the homes and read the homeowners profile. The site offers language translation because in our case most of the profiles were in French. Next, you message the homeowner on the site and set up the terms of the swap; the dates, the length of time and they agree to the terms. You pay all your own expenses (mortgage, utilities and some swaps even include a car) and they pay their own. Some home exchange sites offer supplemental insurance to cover any damages. The idea is you treat the home with as much respect as you would like someone to treat your own. Since we were moving to Paris for a year for our swap, most of our belongings were already put away in storage. We left our cat Lola at our house which was fine with our swappers.
It’s also is helpful to get to know the swappers before the exchange so you feel more relaxed about the whole thing. I have met many kind people in the house exchange community.
The best part for me is since we started doing house swaps, we can afford to take more trips because I don’t end up with a large hotel or Airbnb bill. We also save on meals because we can cook rather than dine out. I even did laundry during our exchange in Iceland when all our clothes were muddy and wet from hiking. I like that you can message the owners prior to swapping to get a feel for them, kinda like a dating app. I was getting hundreds of house swap requests from around the world but we were focused on exchanging in Europe and Japan. You can list the cities you are interested in swapping with or leave it open to all offers on the website.
Christmas 2018, we booked a spontaneous trip to Vienna, Austria when I found a €45 flight! This was the apartment we swapped on Kid & Coe, a home exchange and rental site that is kid-friendly.
The owners lived on the floor above us and they had five kids! Our flat was modern but still has the European charm I adore. Liv is always excited to have her own room to sleep in.
We had our first trip after the pandemic lockdown in July 2020. I had a credit from Kid & Coe for a small job I did for them on social media so I booked a few days at this lovely cottage in the French countryside in Normandie.
We had the whole house to ourselves and the owners were next door in their home, a lovely older couple from England.
So, here are my pros and cons about house swapping:
Pro – Saves tons of money! My annual memberships varies from $99 – $360 which can be one night’s stay at a hotel. I have three active memberships and I have access to house swaps and house rentals all over the world.
Con – It can be tedious work to find the perfect swap. There have been many times I wasn’t able to confirm the swap I wanted because the owner wasn’t available for my proposed dates or they didn’t respond. There is a system in place to urge members to respond in 24 – 48 hour timeline, but some members may no longer use the website so they may not get back to you at all. I have to keep that in mind when I fall in love with a perfect pool house in Provence and I don’t get it!
Pro – You have access to an entire home and that is perfect for longer swaps. We cook, we play board games, we use their backyard or even borrow their bikes. I love hotels but having a home to stay in for a long trip can be so beneficial, especially when traveling with kids. Antz is usually able to work in a more comfortable space than in a cramped hotel room. We also get to feel more like locals during our trips and explore neighborhoods we usually wouldn’t venture in when staying at a hotel. We always leave a guide explaining all the details of our apartment (wi-fi codes, how to use the washing machine, where things are located, etc.) and I have an extensive Google Maps that I send them before the trip that highlights my favorite places in Paris. The same courtesy is usually offered to us as well.
Con – Accidents may happen, trips may need to be rescheduled and life’s inevitable drama. When we swapped during the summer in Barcelona, we returned and discovered our Smeg electric kettle handle was broken. I contacted the swappers and they agreed to pay for the damage and I bought a new one. This is why it’s best to keep your valuables and delicate items stored away. We keep all our breakables and irreplaceable items in our locked closet in storage bins. Olivia was worried about leaving her PC in her room so we put away the keyboard and mouse and put towels over the monitors. She left this friendly note for the swapper’s son.
Pro – Swapping is a social event, we have made lifelong friends with our swappers and most of the people in the community are so friendly and helpful. When we were looking for a swapper in the Netherlands, everyone we reached out to who couldn’t swap with us offered to tell their friends that we wanted to swap and that’s how we ended up finding our swapper. You will get comfortable meeting new people from different countries.
I certainly feel like the pros outweigh the cons but I wanted you to know what issues may arise when swapping.
I would be happy to answer any questions in the comments and I can send referrals to my house swap sites if anyone is interested in joining with a discount.
Love Home Swap (this is the largest network of home swaps, we get the fastest responses here)
Kid & Coe (this is my favorite swap site because it’s geared towards kid-friendly homes but the rental prices are very expensive)
Behomm (I only have 10 invitations so please only request if you are 100% ready to join!)
Here is a youtube guide for joining Behomm
I hope this helps explain how we house swap. If you don’t get a ton of people requesting swaps, don’t get discouraged! I recommend really putting time into the photos you upload on your profile and I like to add photos of nearby attractions and restaurants to help entice viewers. We have gotten so used to keeping our apartment organized and tidy because we have so many swappers during the year.