I love to travel. I also love to save money. When I first moved to Miami, my senior partner introduced me to a way to combine the two: home exchanges. The basic idea is to find someone from where you want to go who wants to go where you are. You can stay in their house while they stay in yours. If you can’t stand the idea of a stranger staying in your home, then this won’t work for you and you can stop reading now. When I mention to people that I do home exchanges, they usually reference The Holiday starring Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz.

There are a number of websites to facilitate home exchanges. I’ve been using HomeExchange.com since 2009. They charge a fee of around $100 a year but will give you a second year free if you don’t find an exchange in one year. Given that lodging will probably cost you at least $100 a night, it doesn’t take very long to make up that fee if you actually exchange. I’ve used the website to set up the vast majority of our exchanges, but I did once do a non-simultaneous exchange with one of my friends from high school.

Is a home exchange safe? I have done 11 exchanges. I have never had a serious problem. I have never had my home damaged. I have never had anything stolen. On one of my recent exchanges, the people in my home broke a Superman pint glass. They actually went on eBay and had a replacement sent to me. I have not had anyone back out of an exchange. With my recent balloon exchange, about 5 months ahead of time, my exchange partner experienced severe damage to his condo from a fire. He immediately contacted me to let me know that this would be his problem and not my problem. He could have easily canceled the exchange. Instead, he used insurance money to rent me a condo so I could still do the trip and not pay a dime for lodging.

There have been a few annoyances. One house I stayed at had a pipe burst while I was there. I lost a day of the trip (fortunately a 14-day trip!) waiting for a plumber to come fix the problem. I treated that house like it was my own; I made sure it was taken care of. Another time, there was confusion as to how to get the keys once I got there. When I finally climbed the gate to get into the yard, the neighbor with the keys appeared and all was good.

I’m a huge fan of home exchanges. After successful simultaneous exchanges to New York city twice, Toulouse, Provence, Argentina, and Switzerland; non-simultaneous exchanges to France, Rome, Colorado, and Martha’s Vineyard, and a multi-party exchange to Colorado, I estimate I’ve saved over $30,000 in lodging expenses. I’ve had locals guiding me. I’ve had space for me and my children. I’ve had a kitchen to cook in (you know I love to cook!) I highly recommend looking into this type of travel. Please contact me if you have any questions about the specifics of home exchanges. There’s also a book out there on the topic that might be helpful.

Check out my next blog post where I explain the different types of home exchanges mentioned above.