A couple years ago, we had the amazing opportunity to travel for 10 weeks during parental leave for our 4th baby. It was the first time Dan had ever had paternity leave, and we were thrilled to use it for travel. We knew it would be fairly costly, though, so we started looking into doing a family home exchange.
How Long For A Home Exchange for Families
When we started looking into a home exchange with kids, we knew we’d need to stay for a decent amount of time for it to make sense. We were planning to travel around to different cities and countries for the first 6 weeks or so, and would be changing locations every few days. So we knew that would make a home exchange difficult. In order for us to find another family willing to trade homes, we expected we would need a week at the minimum.
But we knew we wanted to spend about a month in Paris to explore more deeply. So we started looking into options for a Paris home exchange.
How to Find a Family Home Exchange
While there are several house swap websites that provide home exchange services, HomeExchange.com is one of the very biggest. When you’re looking for a travel trade match, having a lot of people on a platform is good for being able to locate a good match.
Back when we were looking, asynchronous stays were not allowed for holiday house swaps. That is, we had to find another family that wanted to visit where we lived at the exact same time we wanted to visit where they lived. Now, you can earn points to use in exchange for stays without needing to worry about matching up exactly with another person. Instead, it could be someone who just happens to be traveling, but not necessarily to your exact destination.
Since we had that additional constraint, we started looking for families who were interested in coming to the US with whom we could do a Paris house swap. Fortunately, we live in a terrific area near one of the best cities for tourists. That was definitely helpful as there are plenty of people interested in visiting San Francisco!
That said, even if you don’t live near a big city, consider what you could offer and to whom. Live on a rural farm? Might not be as appealing to someone who raises sheep in New Zealand, but it might be extremely appealing to someone who has spent their entire life in a high rise in Hong Kong. Figure out what makes your place special and share it in your profile, which will help attract more people interested in exchanging with you.
Choosing A Home Exchange for a Family
After we looked through several options, we managed to find a family that was interested in visiting the Bay Area at the same time we wanted to visit Paris. We were delighted!
So we reached out, and they were interested in the exchange. We set up a couple of video calls, both with the whole families and with just the grown ups, to get to know each other and iron out details. It was really nice getting to know the family a bit beforehand and knowing with whom we were exchanging.
Expectations of the Home Exchange
Home Exchange expectations vary greatly by host and circumstance. Sometimes a car is included in the exchange, and sometimes it’s not. Some hosts will encourage you to use any available food, while some prefer you to purchase your own.
Ours was a mix – our hosts offered use of their car, but we didn’t ever need to take them up on it since we used public transportation everywhere. They did use ours a couple of times without any issues. We also each left the other family some ingredients for a first meal upon arrival, as well as some snacks and treats. It was a lovely gesture and definitely made things feel more homey.
Finally, we each took care of the places like our own. We did our own dishes and laundry and did our best to keep the place tidy. And they did the same for us! Our house was in perfect conditions upon our return, which really put our minds at ease.
Whatever you decide, the MOST important factor is to keep everything in writing in one common language. It’s so much easier if you can refer back to what was previously decided!
Benefits of A Home Exchange for Families
There are a number of benefits and reasons why we chose a home exchange over a traditional hotel or home rental:
Lowering Travel Costs Through A Family House Swap
Cost is the biggest factor that pushed us toward trying home exchange. Because HomeExchange is essentially FREE! There is a $150/year fee to be on the platform and make and respond to requests. Still, that’s about the price of about one hotel room night. It certainly really helps with travel costs, especially when traveling with a large family.
Extra Room with a Home Exchange
The great thing about a home exchange is it’s often a home that is more spacious than a hotel room or even a rental apartment. We had more than enough room for our family, and there was even a basement where my parents could stay when they came to visit for 10 days. Our host family was so gracious and warmly welcomed my parents to stay as long as they wanted and it was so great being able to stay all together.
Simplicity From A Home Swap
Anther option we often do is renting our house on Airbnb while we travel, and using that money towards our accommodations costs for a family. While that is also effective, it feels like WAY more work than the home exchange was. When renting our home, we need to host a bunch of different groups, coordinate cleaners in between each, and have the uncertainty of whether we will have someone the whole time.
By contrast, Home Exchange felt so easy. There was only one family who we had come to trust, and we didn’t really need to coordinate anything for them during that time.
While home rental sites obviously have host guarantees and protections, nothing is surefire. And it isn’t with a home exchange, either. Still, there’s a certain level of trust that comes from communicating and chatting beforehand, and from knowing that the other party is taking care of your home, too.
Knowing that the person who is welcoming you to their home is also residing in your home does something to increase trust. It also really increases the desire to be a good guest who takes really good care of the home and is very respectful.
Local Resources & Amenities
While hotels and home rentals sometimes have a kitchen and other supplies, they’re rarely as well-stocked as a lived-in home. We felt like we had absolutely everything we needed in our home exchange home! All the kitchen supplies, linens, toys, books, and more. It was delightful. They even kindly borrowed a pack ‘n play and high chair from some friends for our baby!
We also had access to local resources. Since it was a family home, it wasn’t at all in a touristy area, so we got a really local feel. Our hosts also put us in touch with several of their friends, with whom we met up and had dinner, and who came over and told us a bit about the city. It was so nice having some of those inside connections.
Downsides of A Home Exchange
Of course, a home exchange isn’t always perfect. There can be some downsides, too! The biggest one in my mind is it can be tricky finding someone whose schedule matches your own. This has really been alleviated with the asynchronous exchanges, though.
There’s also not the same monetary guarantee as with hosting your home for a fee. While we experienced a level of friendship and trust, I’m sure there are instances where that isn’t the case, and it would be trickier to get something replaced or reimbursed if there were any issues.
Another one of the cons of a home exchange is you’ll obviously have people living in your home, and you’ll be living in someone else’s home. This could feel strange, especially if you’re used to hotels. You won’t know for sure the cleaning protocols and everything, so a family house swap could feel unusual, especially if you’re unaccustomed to home stays.
Our Family Home Exchange Experience
Doing a home exchange with kids worked out terrifically for our family. We’re still in touch with the family with whom we exchanged, and it worked really well to exchange with another family with kids. We each were able to provide family-friendly accommodations that suited the other really well.
There were only a couple of very minor issues (a finicky oven, confusion over a pet beta fish that got sorted out). Of course, the question of is home exchange worth it will vary for each person. But overall, it was absolutely a fantastic choice for our family that we would repeat in a heartbeat.
Have you ever considered doing a home exchange? I’d love to hear your home exchange questions or experiences!