Some of us were born with a travel bug – a strong desire to experience foreign lands and exotic cultures. But then… life gets in the way. Vacations turn into stay-cations, and finances are poured into daily living rather than living large. Luckily, the renaissance of the sharing economy has delivered a cost-effective way to start knocking adventurous destinations off your bucket list.
The phenomenon is house swapping, and it’s a lot easier than you might think. Services like HomeExchange.com, Lovehomeswap.com, and Homelink-usa.org have created conduits that connect home-owners globally, while offering easy-to-use tools to support the exchange process, including important questions to ask and sample home exchange agreements.
Jean and John Fogle of Marblehead, Massachusetts started listing their home in 2006, and have since exchanged eight times. Some of their guests have come to the Boston area for an event, such as a wedding, while others use the Fogles’ house as a home base to explore New England. As self-admitted Francophiles, four of the Fogles’ exchanges have been to France, while others have been to London, Switzerland, and most recently Guatemala. “For each trip,” John explains, “we’ve been approached by a homeowner who’s read our listing and wants to do an exchange.” This allowed the couple to spend three to four weeks in places they never would have imagined, and gave them the opportunity to become more than just tourists. By having a home in another country, the couple has been able to plan day trips, explore local cuisine in restaurants as well as experience the grocery store to cook in their “home away from home.” They’ve gotten to know neighbors and communities on a deeper level. “We’re still in touch with many interesting people,” Jean adds, describing new Facebook friends, occasional meet-ups with those they’ve encountered when traveling and annual holiday card exchanges with acquaintances.
“I saw my mother struggle with early onset Alzheimer’s and I decided life is short and I wanted to live it to the fullest.”
Jeri Terell and her husband, Bruce, of San Luis Obispo, California, began exchanging homes in 2013. Jeri retired early to take care of her aging parents. “I saw my mother struggle with early onset Alzheimer’s and I decided life is short and I wanted to live it to the fullest.” Jeri and her husband started using Airbnb, until their son told them about HomeExchange.com. They’ve since swapped houses 24 times visiting destinations in the United States (Cape Cod, Disneyland, Washington, DC, Seattle, and more) as well as the UK, France (three times), and the Netherlands. “We most recently returned from an exchange in Hawaii for three weeks. While there, our twins celebrated their birthdays in Maui with their spouses and our grandchildren!” She adds, “There were ten of us. We never would have done that without HomeExchange.”
It is, in fact, rare to find a negative home swapping experience in any review. “There’s a level of trust you don’t experience in a currency-based exchange,” explains Alexandra Origet du Cluzeau, Head of Public Relations at GuesttoGuest and HomeExchange. “Every guest is a host and every host is a guest, so each exchange is based on how you would like to be treated, and how you would treat a guest.”
Jeri Terell concurs. “Our very first exchange was on Cape Cod and we got in late at night. It was wonderful that our host provided some fresh fruit, muffins and coffee for our first morning in their home. Now, we do that for all our guests,” she says.
“They want adventure but don’t have an unlimited budget so they’ve gotten very creative on how they want to see the world”
The home swap experience is so positive that HomeExchange.com reports about 80 percent of their customers will exchange houses again after their first time. “A large percentage of our customers are active, semi-retired or retired people who have an appetite for travel. They want adventure but don’t have an unlimited budget so they’ve gotten very creative on how they want to see the world,” says Origet du Cluzeau.
And yet, the home swap market has not exploded in the way Airbnb has over the past few years. HomeExchange and its sister company GuesttoGuest together offer over 450,000 homes across the globe, in comparison to Airbnb’s estimated 4 million rentals worldwide. “It’s not for everyone,” John Fogle admits. “some people don’t like the idea of a stranger sitting on their sofa, or sleeping in their bed,” he says.
“It’s perfect for us,” Terell reveals. “We have a heart for hospitality and love hosting guests. We get the sense that those we’ve exchanged homes with feel the same way.”
Origet du Cluzeau describes the experience of a first time customer. “Initially, many people feel they need to empty their closets and hide their valuables, but then they enter their host’s house and see the fine china and silver are still displayed and maybe there is even some wine left for the guests or a bowl of change for parking.”
Jean Fogle adds, “We straighten up the house, and usually just clean out the top drawer of a dresser and make some room in the closet.”
The level of trust is so deep that many exchanges include car use and pet care. “We have chickens,” Terell says, “and our guests enjoy taking care of them and getting fresh eggs!” Terell believes any level of risk she and her husband have assumed has been clearly outweighed by experience. “I didn’t think I’d ever travel like this,” she explains, “and if I got home and saw a little spot of red wine on the carpet, it would have been totally worth it!”
To participate in a home trade, customers pay an annual fee to one of the services that provide the communication forum. HomeExchange, for example, charges $150 per year. John Fogle recommends presenting your home and town in the best possible light. Being a photography enthusiast, John took lovely pictures of their home and private back yard. “It’s a nice house on a quiet cul-de-sac, and we live in a historic town on the ocean that’s close to Boston and many New England destinations.”
Terell took the same approach. “We have a modest house on a hillside with a lovely view of the ocean, and we live in a quiet suburban community. Most guests want to have a home base and then satellite out to see the nearby towns and cities,” she says. “That’s definitely what we like to do when we travel. We love to stay in a small town and make day trips. This allows us to live like locals and still take in all the sights.”
One thing is certain: exchanging homes has changed the lives of these travelers for the better. John Fogle, a former theater director, has become passionate about photography and produced coffee-table albums documenting the people and places from his adventures. Jean, an accomplished artist, has crafted beautiful journals, featuring memories and sketches of her favorite travel moments. They readily admit that travel has enhanced their world-view and creativity.
Jeri Terell and her husband have traveled with friends and family, checking many destinations off their bucket list. “When you travel and experience different cultures,” she says,” you open your heart and mind to actually better understand the world…and yourself.” Referencing her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s, she adds, “I may only have so many years left, and I want to know I’ve lived every moment to its fullest.”
The Terell’s home is booked for exchanges through 2018, and they’re looking forward to getting to Denmark and England to explore their ancestry in 2019. The Fogles are excited to knock Portugal and Copenhagen off of their bucket list in the coming years.
About the Writer
Joyce Alla (Bucket age – 33) is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Parents Magazine, Family Fun Magazine, Boston Globe Magazine and other publications. Joyce has added house swapping to her bucket list; destinations include Thailand, Morocco, and Costa Rica. She’s currently working on her first novel. Joyce can be reached at email@example.com.