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My husband and I love to travel, and when we had kids—now ages five and eight—we vowed to pass that love onto them, too. We wanted to foster a love of exploration and curiosity by showing them different places, cultures, food and more. 

But traveling with young kids is no joke—even a three-day weekend requires a full truckload of strollers, pack-n-plays, toys and snacks. Our adventurous spirit in travel felt squelched by the needs of our children.

Enter: home-swapping. There are numerous sites that do home exchanges, but I went with a new one called People Like Us. It was created by Drew Seitam who wanted to connect a diverse community of people who love to travel and who are looking to learn from other travelers. The premise is like most other home-exchange sites: you list your home and you browse other homes and see if there is anyone who would be interested in an exchange. One difference with this site is that its Facebook page is very active, and it welcomes questions and conversations beyond just home exchange.

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Here are some tips and general information to make home exchange for your next family vacation fun and safe: 

Why You Should Consider Home Exchange 

  • It is essentially free! There is usually a fee to join the home exchange community—it’s $95/year to join People Like Us—but some allow a trial to start. Home swappers don’t exchange money, although it is usually understood that if something gets broken or items are used, they are replaced or you leave cash behind.  
  • You get more of a local experience because the homes tend to be in neighborhoods and you get recommendations from the host. Our last host gave us a coupon card that gave us discounts to numerous local restaurants.
  • You pack fewer items because most of the houses come with essentials. And if you are exchanging with another family, they usually have toys and books, along with other kid essentials. Last spring, my family went to Maui and exchanged homes with a family there. The host had boogie boards, snorkel gear and a beach umbrella and chairs that we borrowed. Score! 
  • You make friends with fellow travelers. While you usually you don’t meet the people you exchange with—since they’re at your house while you are at theirs—you can still create wonderful friendships. Our host in Vancouver, B.C., called us when we had the wildfires last summer to make sure we were all right.

How to Have a Successful Home Exchange 

  • Have good communication. One host asked us not to use the barbecue for insurance reasons. We ask our guests to strip the beds and linens before they leave. Clear requests help set expectations and avoid conflict. 

  • Be flexible. With hotels or short-term rentals, I can decide exactly where I want to stay and when. A home exchange requires some flexibility, both in location and in dates,  because you are working with another person’s availability. We ended up going to Hawaii a week before our spring break, and then we stayed a few extra days in a hotel after the exchange. It was still totally worth it!

  • Leave a House Manual. You don’t realize how many eccentricities are in your home, until you envision someone else there without you! I have a house manual explaining what can and cannot go into the dishwasher, how to work our entertainment system and what goes in compost and recycling. Sometimes people are coming from a different country, so I want to make sure they feel at home and understand how things work. 

  • Lock it Up. There will be personal items that you will not want accessible to your guests, so it’s best to keep your kids’ favorite Lego structures and important documents locked away.

  • Be realistic. I had a request to exchange with a family in Venice, Italy, (Yes!) but as we were working out dates, it became evident that she was not flexible, and we would come back home one day before the school year started. I had to be realistic that as much as a trip to Venice would be dreamy, the transition back would not. 

Even with the evident risks and work, I have loved my experiences with home exchange. It has opened up a whole new world of travel for us! 

Vikki Rubens
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