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Save on Travel With Home Exchange Programs

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Save on Travel With Home ExchangesIf cost is preventing you from taking a vacation this year, there may be an option you haven’t considered.

Home exchange, also known as “home swapping” has become increasingly popular over the last few years and offers an affordable alternative for weekend getaways and long-term stays.

Wendy Wegner looks into this growing trend.

In the midst of a struggling economy, home exchange offers significant savings whether you’re traveling alone or with a family. With moderate hotel rooms costing anywhere from $150 to $250 a night, free accommodations through a home exchange makes a vacation much more feasible.

The great room of a homestay house In addition, it gives you the ability to prepare your vacation meals at home instead of relying on costly restaurants in tourist destinations.

Does the idea of opening your home to a stranger (and vice versa) give you the creeps? Megan DeWitt, a high school counselor from Orange County, California, signed up with HomeExchange.com just a few months ago and is already planning a trip this summer. “I think a lot of people are intimidated to travel by themselves,” she says. “Now I’m not afraid of it. I’ve realized I would go anywhere doing a home exchange.”

Bud Whitney, a member of Homelink USA since 2001, has exchanged his home nine times. “Meeting neighbors and becoming part of a community, even for a short time, is much more interesting than staying in a hotel,” he says.

More ways to save on accommodations: Couch-Surfing for Grownups.

While exchange opportunities are available year round, planning at least three months in advance is a good rule of thumb if you want the greatest variety of homes and destinations to choose from.

Entrance to a luxury homestay propertyExclusive Exchanges is a site that works specifically with luxury homeowners and renters. Margaret Carr, the company’s founder, launched the site 2007, and now hosts more than 2,000 members in more than 85 countries. Membership fees don’t cost an arm and a leg either: one year of access is $159, with an option of an additional $40 per year for concierge services that can coordinate anything from spa appointments to golf reservations.

LuxeHomesSwap is a similar service that focuses on higher-end properties, from swanky London flats to Moroccan villas, also with an annual fee of $159.

You can even save on high-end travel with our Luxury Travel section.

Another advantage of vacationing in a swapped home is the ability to stay in a location for a longer period of time. Since hotel or vacation home fees have been eliminated, this option can be particularly helpful for large families.

A family homestay - Home Exchange options“If I’m going to put my children on a plane from the east coast to Hawaii, I’m not going to go for a week,” says Carr. “It’s too long a plane ride for such a short trip.”

In 1992, Ed Kushins started HomeExchange.com after his own positive experience with an exchange. Initially only having a few hundred listings, his Web site now hosts more than 36,000 listings worldwide.

Some of the latest trends Kushins has noticed are weekend getaways, short regional exchanges, and increased travel with children. “Except for getting there, a vacation anywhere in the world really doesn’t have to cost any more than staying at home,” he says. In addition, many people choose to exchange their cars as well, relieving yet another expense.

Learn more: Grateful Traveler: A Home Stay to Remember.

Most home exchangers say that safety is not an issue. References can be provided and many sites have a member feedback sharing option. When homes are swapped, there is a mutual respect that people have for each other, which is often equated with online dating.

Home interior - Home Exchange Programs“Just like with anyone, use your intuition and common sense,” says DeWitt. “You have enough time to talk to the person, and there’s a level of trust built in.”

Jessica Rohm, a member of Exclusive Exchanges since 2009, says that home exchange has literally opened up a world of travel opportunities that she and her husband would never have considered. Avid travelers and adventurers, they found themselves in the depths of the recession with extensive hotel bills costing nearly $5,000 for a long weekend. While their primary residence is in New York, they also have a second home in Santa Fe, New Mexico that they rarely visit. The ability to exchange that home was a perfect way to leverage an unused asset while gaining free accommodations in the vacation spot of their choice.

Learn more: Homestay Vacation Guide & What To Expect.

An added bonus for Exclusive Exchange members is the company’s upcoming partnership with IVHE (International Vacation Home Exchange), a Web site that offers a credit system based on the potential rental value of a property. For example, $10,000 a week equals 100 credits that can be redeemed at a member’s discretion.

Homestay etiquette & Home Exchange ProgramsSuzie Magnus, managing director and founder of IVHE says that her system is particularly useful for members with second homes and eliminates the guilt that comes with vacationing at a location other than your own property. “Turn your one vacation home into 200,” she says.

Oftentimes, high-demand destinations such as New York and Paris (particularly during peak seasons) can be difficult to come by. “If you want surety, join a vacation home,” says Carr. “But if you have an open mind and you’re willing to explore new places, home exchange is a great opportunity … Once you’ve tried it, you’re really kind of hooked.”

Here’s a roundup of exchange Web sites worth considering:

By Wendy Wegner for PeterGreenberg.com. Photos by Jessica Rahm. Visit Wendy on the Web at www.wendywegner.com.

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