The space of a whole home is also a plus when, after two years of restrictions, many of us are using travel as a way to reconnect with family and friends, often under one roof. Home swapping lenses itself well to that. “You have more space, and the opportunity to stay in a real home-away-from-home, where everyone can be together,” says Célia Pronto, managing director for Love Home Swap. “It makes for a compelling proposition.”
As with Airbnbs, there’s a comfort in having your own space—especially since home exchange stays tend to be longer than standard vacation rentals, often closer to one or two weeks according to Arnaud. This has a unique appeal to people that are no longer tied to an office or the standard holiday calendar.
“For many years, Airbnb has been the great disruptor but now it is becoming the ‘disruptee,’” says Jenny Southan, founder of travel forecasting agency Globetrender. “The rise of home swapping circumvents the need to rent homes, and it is ideal for people who can be flexible.”
The value is also hard to argue with. Members of home swapping platforms usually pay an annual or monthly membership to list their homes and search for potential exchanges, although signing up is often free or part of a free trial. The subscription is highly cost-effective: Love Home Swap starts at around $10 per month, HomeExchange is $175 a year (they both also have a point system that lets you earn points when another member stays in your home and you don’t stay at theirs, which you can then use to travel when it’s best for you). Last fall, the latter also softly launched a luxury, invite-based offshoot, HomeExchange Collection, for owners of ‘exceptional’ homes. The annual fee: $1,000.
Other websites run equally reasonable price plans: Holiday Swap is $100 a year, Home Link International, the oldest exchange group (it started in 1953) is $140 with a free second year.
That gets you unlimited swaps and, if you travel often—which most home swappers tend to do, Pronto says—can save you thousands of dollars on each vacation. “Besides our fees, no other money ever changes hands between homeowners,” Pronto says. “It’s a straight-up exchange, and I think that’s also very appealing for our users, old and new.”
For most, though, the biggest draw might be the sense of community that comes with home swapping, and the chance to experience a new place like a local. For Debbie Kelley, a fundraiser for University of California Berkeley, those two aspects have been the main reason she’s been doing home swaps since 2006 on HomeExchange—and why others are embracing them, too.
“My family and I must have done at least 40 swaps over the past 16 years, from Ireland to Chile to California’s wine country. Each trip has truly been one-of-a-kind,” she says. “We’ve forged long-lasting friendships with the people we’ve traded with, and explored every destination as if we lived there, often thanks to our hosts’ recommendations, from their favorite bakery and restaurants to their go-to beach. And I have done the same for them. It’s so much more personal than any other way of traveling.”
Indeed, it’s quite common for people who exchange homes to share much more than just their properties. “We regularly hear of members offering their bikes, kids’ toys, gym memberships or even their cars to their guests during a swap,” says Arnaud. “Many create closed Facebook groups to stay in touch. There’s a genuine openness, and a desire to make people feel welcome—and to reciprocate that hospitality.”
Arnaud himself has often had swappers leave him gifts after a stay in his Paris home. “Once, a family from Madrid even left a book for my children, with a note saying it was from their kids, as a thank you for letting them borrow their toys. That’s the kind of relationship people form.”
And, as we ease out of the pandemic, it might just be what travelers are after.