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Home Swap

    If you'd like to stay in one place for a longish time, but the thought of hotel and restaurant bills is daunting, consider a home swap. It means more room than a hotel at a fraction of the cost, not to mention reducing restaurant meals to a choice, not a necessity.
    To do a home-swap, your family needs to be comfortable with the idea of strangers being in your home while you're away. However, if you store away valuables, it may actually be a comfort to know that your house is not standing empty with a "rob me!" sign on it while you're away. 
      A home swap might be as simple as having family or friends who would like to swap house, townhouse, apartment with you for a few days – or a whole summer vacation. You can include vehicles (cars, trucks, bikes, boats) or not.
    What if you don't happen to have a good personal contact? Not to worry, there are several home swapping agencies online. As with anything else, do your homework before deciding if this is an option for you and which type of service to use. Some will charge a "match-maker" type fee. Some require that you list your home, others offer home rentals in addition to home-swaps. Even private-party home rentals are more economical than a hotel for a longish stay, but of course, without the hotel amenities like maid service.
  Home swapping agencies
Home Exchange guarantees you'll find a home exchange: if you don't find a home exchange partner during your first year, your second year is free! They list over 120 countries, from Anguilla to Zambia (including places like Australia, Ireland, St. Maartens, too).
Home Base Holidays has been around since 1985. A great family-oriented site that not only arranges home swaps for a reasonable fee, but also provides an excellent newsletter. One suggestion from the site:  "Exchange with a family with children of a similar age to your own – your children will have a whole new set of toys, books and videos; extra perks include local babysitters and playmates for your children."
  General Tips
Make sure both sides know what the swap consists of: be honest in describing your home. Include a real estate type description about rooms, yards and neighborhood type, as well as how far it is to town or attractions such as a beach, river, amusement park, museums, etc. 
Be flexible in working out a schedule.
Clean your home thoroughly before leaving home; clean the swap-home thoroughly, before leaving it.
Lock away valuables.
Post a list of emergency numbers (Fire, police, ambulance, neighbor, friend, relative and let those people know they're on the list).
Post a list of maintenance issues: (trash collection day, plant watering schedule, how to run the washer/dryer/dish washer etc.)
Put your mail on hold for you at the post office.
Leave a nice "welcome" meal in the kitchen.
If you're doing a vehicle swap, clean it inside and out, leave a full tank of gas and leave the swap vehicle the same way.
  Testimonials
  There’s nothing like hearing it from someone who’s done it. Here are two “testimonials” from Home Base Holiday subscribers.
 

A subscriber in England, “Jo,” wrote about her swaps in the U.S.:
We were a little hesitant as our exchange partner was a bachelor (would he tolerate children?) and he was exchanging his second home with our primary one. We did the usual swapping of photographs and chats on the phone: We asked where we could get certain items to save us from lugging them. "No problem.” He is a rabbi and asked his congregation: we had a cot, a car-seat, a pushchair, a playpen and a bag of toys - magic! (Jo's suggestion for new exchangers - Ask as many questions as you can. Do not leave any stone unturned.)

“Jo’s” second trip was in Florida:
It was a fabulous exchange with a couple who had two sons. Their home was beautiful and it included a swimming pool, Jacuzzi and the use of a small motorboat. They arranged for a friend to come to us and take us fishing: we caught our own dinner and grilled it as the sun set over the back garden.

  "Tom" of  Ireland describes his family’s first exchange to Austin, Texas: Communication by e-mail and phone reassured us that we were dealing with responsible people who shared our priorities and interests.  The children enjoyed getting to know each other via e-mail, planning theme park visits, comparing toys and games, favourite things to do locally and preferred restaurants. The sense of anticipation was enhanced by exchange of photos and books about local activities, and organising flight arrangements.…we swam in creeks with turtles and catfish (while buzzards hovered overhead!), ate BBQ, rode all the nearby roller coasters, shopped at Outlet Stores, listened to Tex-Mex music and the Austin Symphony Orchestra, won the prize for "Most Patriotically Dressed" at our local July 4th Street Party (definitely a rigged vote by hospitable neighbours!), and of course visited the Alamo. The home in which we stayed was large, well equipped, and very suitable for our four children, especially as we were enrolled at the nearby swimming pool.
  You probably shouldn’t expect swimming pools and motor boats when exchanging with someone in London or Buenos Aires. But in fact, you’ll find everything from simple apartments to country estates to houseboats! All kinds of families and family homes can be found on these sites. The underlying theme in most home swap experiences? Besides the house itself, having a “ghost/host” can really enrich the travel experience, from great local insider tips, to arranging for special needs, to just making one another comfortable with the idea of handing over the keys to the front door.
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