Having a large family and a budget hasn’t stopped Scott and Erica Magdalein from traveling the world. In 2019, the travel enthusiasts traveled for 138 days of the year and saved more than $30,000.

The couple accomplished these massive savings using HomeExchange.com, a home swap website that offers unlimited free accommodations with membership. Scott and Erica Magdalein and their three young children— ages 8, 6 and 1— are a self-proclaimed middle class family from Jacksonville, Florida.

Opting for home exchange accommodations, the family saved $30,000 on all aspects of travel from accommodation to transportation to other amenities, down to baby necessities for their 1-year-old daughter like a crib, high chair and stroller.

The family of five discovered HomeExchange in 2018 and made their first exchange in January 2019, when they ventured to Charlestown, South Carolina, and their love of HomeExchange began. Last year, they spent 104 nights traveling Europe, where they visited the United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland, France and Italy. In the U.S., they spent time in Florida, South Carolina, Georgia and Rhode Island.

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Accommodation savings: $20,700

Before discovering HomeExchange, Scott and Erica used Airbnb when traveling. They found that it turned into an expensive way to travel because of the “hidden fees” (cleaning fee, taxes, service fees) which are not included in the initial price you see when enquiring about a booking.

Erica said searching for an Airbnb home was time consuming and there were times when she got to the final stage she realized she couldn't afford the booking and would have to restart her search. When Scott discovered HomeExchange, he learned the annual fee of $150 meant that their travel opportunities for 2019 were endless.

In 2019, the Magdalein family traveled throughout the United States and Europe for 138 days, or 39% of the year (an average HomeExchange member stays in an exchange for 14 nights a year). Each night cost them approximately $1.08. Erica and Scott estimate they saved $20,700 on accommodations, assuming each night they stayed at an Airbnb would cost them $150 on average (“That’s a conservative estimate,” Erica said).

Erica found the home exchanges “more comfortable and livable due to the fact that they are people's primary residences.” For instance, the beds had mattress toppers and the family found extra creature comforts, like extra pillows on the couch and cozy blankets.

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Transportation savings: $5,000

Some HomeExchange members include their cars, motorcycles, boats and bikes when exchanging homes. When looking for a house swap, Erica and Scott opted for homes that included a vehicle, so they didn’t have to splurge on renting vehicles. When they traveled through Europe for three months, they estimated that they saved approximately $5,000 on transportation.


“We wouldn’t be able to afford to travel if we were having to pay that much. We’re a modest, middle class family who doesn’t have a lot of extra funds.”

Food savings: $5,000

The kitchens were fully stocked with essentials like herbs and spices, along with a large variety of cookware. HomeExchange made it easy for the family to travel affordably since the amenities to make a home-cooked meal were all available, so they didn’t have to eat out for every meal. Erica and Scott opted to cook their own meals 90% of the time and to use the cash they saved for experiences and museums.

“HomeExchange does make it possible to cook in the house and save money that way,” Erica said. “We tried to eat as local as we can, and that stuff is cheaper in the supermarkets.”

When they did decide to eat out, the host of the home swap left them recommendations on their personal favorite restaurants and dishes to order. The hosts were also available via WhatsApp to provide last-minute recommendations. Since Erica and Scott had this insider information, they could anticipate the cost of the meal before setting foot in a restaurant and find local, authentic cuisine.  

Entertaining Kids savings: $500

Living in real homes also helped the family save money on renting or buying necessary baby equipment, since the homes were already packed with all they needed.

“The fact that these homes are equipped with baby gear, plus just toys in general...you’re not buying as many souvenirs or silly toys for kids because it’s all brand new toys when they arrive at the home."

Most HomeExchange homes provide entertainment for kids, including a swimming pool, swingset, trampoline, games, toys, books and more. The hosts often provide helpful tips on budget-friendly activities for kids as well. This saves the family from spending as much money on entertainment for their children during their trips.

The kids are just as excited about home exchanges as their parents are. “When it’s time to leave, every single time they say ‘We don’t want to leave yet, this has been our favorite home exchange!'" Erica said. "Every home to them is their favorite home exchange. New toys, new experiences and activities— they absolutely love it.”

Erica and Scott book all their international flights using Google Flights. Google Flights provides the option to search flights by continent, duration and times when it is cheapest to fly. The Magdalein family is flexible with travel dates as their kids are homeschooled and Scott works from home, allowing the family to take full advantage of cheap flights. They like to travel in the off-season as attractions and restaurants tend to be cheaper and less crowded.  

House sitting savings: $500

If HomeExchange members have pets or plants to take care of, they no longer have to pay someone to check on their house and take care of things. Hosting members means someone will already do that for you. Hosting people in their home also allows Scott and Erica to receive Guestpoints, which they can use to stay in more homes.

Erica and Scott also had the priceless bonus of making new friends during their travels with their hosts and their guests. In 2019, they completed 13 home exchanges and have hosted eight times, and they’re planning even more trips than that in 2020 (they already have a trip to South America booked!). Hosting people in their home has been an incentive to keep their house clean and make home and furniture updates, Erica said.

“It gives you peace of mind knowing that your house isn’t sitting empty for three months at a time and you have no idea what’s going on. Knowing that someone is there and taking great care of your place is one of the reasons we love it.”

If you want to follow Erica and Scott’s next adventures home exchanging and get more travel tips to explore the world with your family while keeping your budget under control, subscribe to their YouTube channel “Our Little Family Traveling”.  

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The HomeExchange community has more than 400,000 homes in 187 countries and is looking forward to welcoming you. Sign up for free and start organizing your next vacation with HomeExchange.

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