Everyone knows that saving money on accommodation is one motivating factor of planning a home exchange. However, there are many more free perks that have me convinced home exchanging is the most enjoyable way for our family to travel. Many of them, money cannot buy.

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1. Bike swapping

Renting bikes is possible in most big cities, but it can be a costly addition to your holiday budget. I always ask my exchange partner about bicycles and scooters when arranging an exchange. In Amsterdam, we enjoyed exploring the countryside and charming little villages on bicycles provided by our exchange partners. Because we sought out a family with children of similar ages it made bicycle sizes comparable, too. Exploring an area on foot and by bicycle is the best way to slow down and see the details.

2. Cooking classes

During our home exchange in Milan, we exchanged emails with our host family and when I mentioned admiring the huge, beautiful artichokes at the local market and wanting to learn to cook them. My exchange partner offered me a free Italian cooking class, including a house specialty that had been passed down through the family for generations. The night before we left, we enjoyed a really wonderful evening of cooking together, dinner, and conversation.


3. Pet sitting

This perk may have saved us a lot more money and frustration than I can begin to imagine. For several years my children have begged me for a pet, but moving halfway around the world and traveling regularly does not make pet ownership something that I would jump into lightly. A small and simple pet like a guinea pig has been worthy of consideration, so when we were offered an exchange in Paris that included pet sitting 2 guinea pigs, we were excited. The children loved playing with the animals but realized that caring for them was a lot more work than they imagined. Having a pet on vacation provided the invaluable experience of learning what it is like to have one everyday.

4. Info in a language we understand

Everywhere we have exchanged, our partners have given us lots of valuable local information that we had never run across in our brief research about the respective cities, like how to buy the transit tickets at the tobacco shops in Milan, baby-animal-visiting day at a neighboring farm in Amsterdam, and the multitude of free street performances that are always entertaining at Pompidou in Paris. Even if we had, struggling with translation often limits what kinds of activities we participate in while on vacation. Lucky for us, our partners have always made it so easy for us to ask questions and learn more about the specialties of their countries.

5. Kids’ toys for downtime

When searching for an exchange partner, we try to find families that match our children’s ages and interests. Anytime we have exchanged with families it is always a bonus to have toys and books waiting at the new home. Our kids love trying out new and different toys and books and have learned how to respect and take care of other people’s belongings.

6. Generous tokens of hospitality

Another bonus of exchanges are the sweet welcome and thank you surprises we find waiting for us on both ends. Often there are homemade house specialties, fresh flowers, or small regional treasures waiting at our vacation home as a personal token of welcome and gratitude. My children love finding these when we arrive in a new home and when we get back to our home. These are perks that don’t come from typical travel accommodations.


7. Food

Home exchange saves us both time and frustration when it comes to mealtime. For our family, having a kitchen to prepare breakfast in as soon as our young children wake up is a huge convenience . It also comes in very handy when dealing with the dietary restrictions and challenges that come with “eating out” for every meal.

8. The sharing economy

Sharing in the collaborative consumption movement is an easy way I can feel better about conserving resources. We love to entertain and introduce people to the exciting and beautiful country in which we live, whether hosting friends or hosting exchange partners. These experiences help us to feel more connected to people from all around the world – learning to love and understand other cultures helps us be better global citizens.

9. Authenticity

My home exchanges have always led to a more authentic travel experience; one in which I feel like I am experiencing what it is like to live in a new place, rather than the “canned” tourist experience that comes with more typical accommodations like hotels.

10. Trust

My attitude regarding mankind is that most people are good. In a day and age where we experience crime and fear as a regular part of life, home exchanging has provided opportunities for my trust in strangers to evolve. The mutual risk provides some level of assurance, but at the end of the day it really is all about trust. And with every positive exchange, my faith in the goodness of humanity increases. I echo the comments of Emily K: “Trust usually develops over time with repeated encounters, but when you enter into the house-swapping game it is immediate and quite intense – though brief and not usually repeated. What is interesting is the ease with which we felt able to trust this digitally mediated encounter.”

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