How to Travel for Free with Home Exchange

FIRECracker
Follow me
World’s best sunset from the shores of Zadar, Croatia where we experienced our first home exchange

TV show guest: “Back in my day, we didn’t have video games. The only toys we had were chalk that we used to draw on a sidewalk”

Eric (*incredulous*): “You had chalk?”

Me (*even more incredulous*): “You had a SIDEWALK?”

I never expected to find my country bumpkin doppelganger in Miami, but that’s exactly what happened when I met my Airbnb host several years ago.

A flight attendant who grew up in southern Kentucky, Eric had a surprisingly similar childhood to mine, despite being born on the opposite side of the world. We spent many nights, laughing, drinking, and chatting until 3 am in the morning. We even met his family and made plans to travel together.  

Those were the good old days of Airbnb. Back when it was someone’s home, and hosts treated you like family.  Since then, it’s gotten super commercialized, and Airbnbs are ghost hotels rather than homes because no one actually lives there.

I never thought I’d have that kind of personalized experience again, until recently.

Enter HomeExchange.

Started by teachers, with the predicament of having long-ass vacations that stretch out over the summer, they wanted a way to travel without blowing all their hard-earned money on hotels.

The concept is simple. You stay in someone else’s home, they stay in yours. No money changes hands, and you become part of a thriving community of open-minded travellers who want to make friends instead of money. The only cost to you is the $175 USD yearly membership fee, used to pay for insurance, server resources, and staff to maintain the platform.

What I love about the HomeExchange platform is their GuestPoints system. Even if you can’t find a one-to-one exchange, GuestPoints let you do non-simultaneous swaps.

For example: Say you live in L.A and want to travel to Switzerland (the only place more expensive), but your Switzerland host wants to go to Paris (where foie gras will still cost less than a burger back home). Simply give them GuestPoints instead. Your Switzerland host can spend the points to stay in a Parisian home and you can you earn GuestGoints by letting someone from New York stay in your L.A home.

To find out who wants to travel to your area, simply use the “Reverse Search” feature.

So, how do you decide how many GuestPoints per night your place is worth? Generally, it scales according to its size, rather than location. So, for a 1 bedroom, you’d most likely list for 80-120 points per night, and a 2 bedroom 150-200 points per night. From what I’ve seen, guests don’t generally jack up the points just because they live in a desirable city. They might add some more points for extra amenities like a pool or gym, but generally it’s reasonable and not driven by greed.

The points can’t be redeemed for cash. They are simply used as a mechanism for non-simultanenous exchanges.

HomeExchange has also adopted the best parts of Airbnb, which are its rating systems and the insurance policy, so you can see how well a guest is rated before letting them stay in your home. The platform is also very easy and fun to use.

In addition, there’s also added peace of mind in the form of a damage deposit. Once you finalize an exchange, you automatically authorize a $500 USD deposit on your credit card, and after you check-out, the host releases the authorization.

And if that’s not enough, just like Airbnb, HomeExchange has insurance to cover up to $1,000,000 of damages beyond the $500 USD.

So far, the customer service at HomeExchange has impressed me more than Airbnb’s. Over the years, Airbnb service has gone downhill because they’re way too big now and everything feels outsourced.  Because HomeExchange is a smaller platform (450,000 homes in 159 countries versus Airbnb’s 5.6 million homes in 220 countries), they can provide a more engaged experience and service.

I’ve also found that guests on HomeExchange aren’t as entitled since their stay is free, so they tend to take good care of the place and clean up after themselves as a thank you.

Plus, since you are staying in their home or using points to stay in someone else’s, there’s this reciprocity factor where both parties are incentivized to take care of each other’s places. It’s pretty common to hear stories of AirBnb guests trashing a host’s place, but extremely rare for that to happen on HomeExchange.

The best part, in my opinion, of HomeExchange is the personal touch.

When we met our host, Boris, in Croatia to get the keys, he took us out for coffee and we had a nice hour-long chat, bonding over our shared engineering backgrounds. He generously offered to lend us 2 bikes for exploring his city, free of charge.

When we arrive in his apartment in Zadar, he left us 3 bottles of home-made liqueur with a heart-warming note describing what each is made of and to help ourselves.

He then introduced me to his neighbour remotely via WhatsApp. When I mentioned I was looking for a rental car, but they were all so expensive, his neighbour offered to loan us a rental car (since his friend works there) and to drive us to and from the airport to pick it up! Wow.

And then when we went back to Zagreb to give the keys back to my host, we took his family out for lunch and had another wonderful chat about travel.

Our next home exchange was in Zagreb. The host was already on vacation and wasn’t there to meet us, but left handy instructions about their home and helpful restaurants and entertainment recommendations. They told us about Bolt, the Uber of Croatia, which saved us money and helped us get cheap taxis when Uber wasn’t available. They even left us a full fridge of craft beer and told us to help ourselves! I’ve never had that happen on AirBnb.

One of the many cans of delicious local craft beer provided by our host

Plus, I saved a whopping $2200 for 22 nights in two HomeExchanges! Given the $175 USD yearly membership, my cost averaged out to only $7.95 USD per night! And any additional HomeExchanges I do for the rest of the year will be completely free.

Living room of our bright and airy HomeExchange in Zagreb, Croatia
Well-stocked kitchen with all the spices and condiments you need

HomeExchange feels like what Airbnb used to be 10 years ago, and I’m so happy I discovered it. Plus, you can even swap cars too, which is super useful, given how hard it is to find rental cars.

Now, as with everything in life, nothing is perfect, so here are a few cons to HomeExchange:

Cleaning

Since no money is being exchanged, you’ll have to clean the place before you leave. Now, I know some readers will think “yeah, but I don’t want to clean on my vacation”. Which is fine, but considering that you’re paying nothing to stay here, a little bit of cleaning isn’t a bit deal. Plus, if you’re doing long term slow travel, it isn’t a vacation and you generally clean your own home on a regular basis anyway, it’s not that different. However, if you’d rather just pay the money and not worry about cleaning, stick with AirBnb and hotels.

When I left my Zadar home exchange, I washed the bedding and towels before I left. For the Zagreb home exchange, my host told me to remove the bedding and just leave it on a pile on the bed. So, be sure to ask your host what they would like you to do when you check-out.

Effort

The biggest disadvantage is the effort required to secure a home exchange. To find an exchange where your hosts’ travel dates align with yours, you’re going to have to send a lot of messages. In our case, it took around 10-15 requests to secure one exchange. With AirBnb, you simply just send one request, pay, and you’re done.  

That being said, you can increase your chances of securing an exchange by filtering the search criteria to find secondary/vacation homes, so that you don’t have to worry about the host needing their primary place to live in during your travel dates.

The way I see it, it’s a bit like travel hacking where you can get points to fly for free but it does require some effort to sign up for the right credit cards, keep track of the points, and spend time calling banks when they don’t credit your points correctly.  It requires effort but is worth it in the end.

Fewer Choices

Since HomeExchange is a smaller platform than Airbnb, you’ll have less homes to choose from, but there’s still a big pool of 450,000 homes in 159 countries.

Because of the limitations of HomeExchange, you’ll still need to use AirBnb from time to time. Despite its flaws, AirBnb is still the best platform when it comes to flexibility and convenience.

If you have a specific location in mind, a fixed schedule, and you don’t want the hassle of messaging people in the community and trying to make friends, AirBnb is the better choice.

But for those with more flexible travel dates and locations, HomeExchange is a better option.

You’ll get a much more personal experience. Plus, your stay will be in someone’s actual home and you’ll have a full kitchen with all the utensils and condiments.

It’s best to use HomeExchange for expensive big cities because the guest points don’t increase to reflect the desirability of the location. It mostly just scales according to size and amenities.

Use Airbnb for less expensive places, like Thailand or Mexico, because Airbnb nightly costs are cheap there anyways. Kind of like how you want to save your frequent flyer points for expensive long haul flights and pay with cash for cheap, domestic flights.

If you want to travel for free using HomeExchange, first time users can use my referral link to get 1250 guest points just for signing up, completing, and publishing your home profile (simply leave the “sponsor code” field on the sign-up page blank. As long as you use my referral link above, you’ll get your sign up points). You could get an additional 250 Guest Points after you activate your membership and pay the yearly fee. This adds up to 1500 guest points, which is approximately 15 nights of free accommodation! The best thing is, you don’t have to pay for the membership until you successfully find a match and finalize it. After that, all subsequent exchanges are free for the rest of the year.

(full disclosure: I may get a small commission if you sign up. As always, we never recommend products on this site that we don’t already use and love )

PROTIP: Change the “any type of exchange” drop down to “Guest Point Exchange” in order to narrow your search down if you want to use your Guest Points but are only finding hosts who want to do reciprocal exchange. And if you’re new to the platform and don’t have any reviews as a host or guest, send hosts a nice message and link to your Airbnb reviews to show them that you are trustworthy and will take good care of their home.

https://www.homeexchange.com/?ae=229

What do you think? Have you ever used HomeExchange? Would you use it?


Hi there. Thanks for stopping by. We use affiliate links to keep this site free, so if you believe in what we're trying to do here, consider supporting us by clicking! Thx ;)

Multi-currency Travel Card: Get a multi-currency debit card when travelling to minimize forex fees! Read our review here, or Click here to get your first $500 exchanged for free!

Travel the World: Get covid-19 coverage for only $42 USD/month with SafetyWing Nomad Insurance

Travel for Free with Home Exchange: Read Our Review or Click here to get started.

54 thoughts on “How to Travel for Free with Home Exchange”

  1. Sounds like a great idea. But I thought you don’t have a home, so how does the exchange work in that case? How do you provide the reciprocity?

    1. I didn’t (we were living out of Airbnbs), but recently got a long term rental since we had to stay in Toronto during the pandemic to help out with family.

  2. Thanks for this, we’ll definitely try it. Have you ever used TrustedHousesittrs? We are just finishing our first sit, looking after a cat called Tyler for 2 weeks in Ottawa and it been great

    1. Yes, Housesitting is also a great idea. That’s another platform we were thinking of trying.

  3. thanks for the tips … we have done house swaps for years .. to europe from canada … the tricky bit is getting same dates etc … never worry about our place because we are staying in theirs .. we did it via craigslist

    1. Oh interesting. Didn’t realize home swaps were done on craiglist as well. How do you deal with insurance and filter out scammers?

  4. About 23 years ago, my husband and I used HomeExchange for a three-week trip to Europe. This was BEFORE they were online (no chalk or sidewalks either), and received two big, fat catalogues during the year of all the listings. The catalogues were fun and we would pour over them looking at the pics and descriptions. Because he did not want “strangers” 😒 in our home we had to look for the “RO” only designations, meaning rental offers. We had three of the most wonderful lodgings of our lives in Dublin, London and Paris. Incredibly cheap with hosts that were just amazing. The Paris apartment was in the 3rd with an incredible view.

    Don’t miss this special opportunity.

    1. Oh wow, that’s hardcore. We have it easy these days that we can use online platforms. I’m always in awe of people who were travellers before all the conveniences of today, like smart phones and internet.

  5. Interesting. I’ll check with the missus to see if she’ll go for this service.
    I don’t get exactly how the swap is done. So the other people need to be on vacation at the same time you are? That seems like a tough match. I’ll check it out more. Thanks.

    1. Nope. You don’t need to change simultaneously. You can use GuestPoints. Just look for “GuestPoint exchange” instead of “reciprocal” exchange in the filters.

      You can find guests with secondary homes so that they don’t have to have the exact same vacation schedule as you. You stay in their secondary home, give them points and then they can use it whenever they want. You can then earn more points when you’re gone, by letting a different set of people stay in your place while you travel or visit family.

  6. Same question as others…I thought you had to offer a home to exchange to be on the site? My husband and I are interested in exploring this option when we put down roots next year but we are currently nomadic so no home to offer….so no home exchange possible.

    1. You do. So while you’re nomadic, you can’t do this (we weren’t able to, before the pandemic). But we’ve since gotten a long term rental since we had to stay in Toronto to help out with family during the pandemic.

  7. This sounds really interesting. I especially love that it is based on reciprocity and since no money changes hands, I guess you don’t need a license and there are no taxes. Sounds even better now :D. I will definitely check this out. Thanks for the tip!

  8. There are many home exchange sites out there. Look around to find the one that fits you best. I’m a member of ‘People Like Us’. It is such a terrific group of caring people with a very active and fun FB page. In 1 week I’m going to Croatia on a home exchange, staying on Korcula Island for two weeks!

    1. Thanks for sharing! I’ve tried HomeExchange, People Like Us, and LoveHomeSwap. HomeExchange gave me the most options and the most requests to swap so I stuck with that one.

    2. Are you staying at Tanja’s house by chance?! We are also PLU members, and while we didn’t stay with her, she met us last summer in Korcula with her husband for a coffee. They are wonderful! We loved the area, enjoy!

      1. We are! We’ve been planning this trip for about 3 years, bit covid… Now it’s finally happening. Dubrovnik-korcula-split-plitvice-zagreb.

        1. If you’re only in Croatia for 2 wks and staying on Kor ULA I would recommend you knock Zagreb off your list on this trip. You’ve already got a lot of places there and Plitvice is far away enough from the others but it is so drop dead grogeous that you can’t miss it! Considering taking a motor coach “tour” up there; leaving the driving to someone else; just make sure you check to see that you get a maximum number of hours at the park b/c it’s huge and hard to get to everything. Have a great time! We love it all in Croatia; family and been 3 times for long trips!

  9. Very Interesting! I still in High school and I love to read your blog. I would love to know that if there is a plateforme where college or university student could house sit or live with home owners for services (home owners give room and student take care of some home work for the home owner) for a long time? That would be great to know. Thank you

  10. If you are renting long term is sub-letting your place to someone else something your landlord is ok with?

    1. My landlord is fine with subletting. Also, this is not subletting since no money is changing hands. This is the same as letting your friends stay over. But you need to check your lease agreement.

  11. We’ve become big fans of People Like Us Home Exchange (they also have a large and friendly FB group). We’ve already had two families stay in our home and will be spending 6 weeks this summer in Budapest, Vienna and Munich – almost entirely via PLU home exchanging.

    I’m already planning for Summer of 2023.

    1. Nice! I tried that platform but for some reason it didn’t work out for me as well as Home Exchange. Glad it worked out for you though!

  12. A friend from primary school did this with his family. They were teacher’s in Australia and swapped houses and jobs with a family from Canada for the year.

    Great experience for the whole family and it only cost them their flights. This was about 25 years ago.

  13. This sounds like something reserved for the benefit of home owners though. A fine line to dance staying within your tenancy terms doing this, with your landlord’s ok

    1. It depends on your lease agreement. Some allow subletting. Personally, I won’t never rent a long term place that doesn’t allow subletting. Though, this isn’t even subletting, it’s the same as letting your friend stay over. Landlords can’t prevent you from inviting friends over. But it’s a good idea to always check your rental agreement.

      1. You’re still deriving an economic benefit from it though, so it’s quite different from just a friend staying over. In Korea and Japan for example, this arrangement would actually be subjected to gift taxes, in theory. But yes, definitely an interesting opportunity while it’s still under the radar.

  14. This is very interesting. I just signed up, and gonna explore it a bit, see if I can find anything for upcoming winter.

  15. Does anyone have any idea whether this (or other) platforms can accommodate leaving your pet(s) at home and the home exchangers take care of them while you’re gone (and you, vice versa for them)? I know Trusted Housesitters and some others are “like” that, but I like this format of exchanging being in people’s houses for accountability plus new friendships & connections.

  16. I can confidently state that everyone would benefit from reading about where they are going and everything else. For example, I was aware that traveling with children necessitated the use of a special hotel and so on. As a result, I’m pleased I read about hotels for families here tripbirdie.com so I could figure out where to go and how much it would cost. If you’re planning a trip, this is a great resource.

  17. trying to sign up using your referral

    on the sign up page .there is a box .. have you been sponsored ?

    if are you a sponsor ( referral ) ? if so what is your code .. thanks

  18. I remember wanting to fly to Venice and really wanted to find the best solution for it to fly inexpensive business class and luckily I did. I easily found business class flights to Venice and now I am very happy to fly there every month just for a vacation. See for yourself and go on a trip too, it is always a vacation and new emotions. I hope that it was useful to you.

  19. trying to sign up using your referral

    on the sign up page .there is a box .. have you been sponsored ?

    if are you a sponsor ( referral ) ? if so what is your code .. thanks

        1. Hi Brenda,

          If you use my affiliate link (https://www.homeexchange.com/?ae=229) you don’t need to enter a sponsor code (just leave it blank). The 1250 points will be applied piecemeal (+450 for signing up, +100 for verification, +350 for profile completion and +350 for home completion) after you sign up.

  20. Just found your blog post courtesy of Alan Donegan’s Facebook. This looks awesome. We have signed up! Do people generally like exchanging GP or is it more popular to arrange a simultaneous exchange?

    1. You could do it either way. Personally, I use GP more since it’s hard to have the travel dates match up exactly with simultaneous exchange.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Social Media Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com