Home exchange has become one of my new passions. The idea is to work with someone in another part of your country or the world to exchange homes for vacation, saving you the money for lodging, allowing you to stay in an environment that immerses you into the culture or neighborhood and gives you complete self catering options (ie a full kitchen) so you can cook your own food. This works best if you have a vacation or rental home, allowing you to do non-simultaneous exchanges.
The standard question that I get is, “How do you know that they will take care of your house?” The cool thing about home exchange is that both parties have to trust that each other will respect each other’s home. You can always work up some sort of agreement but up to this point trust and insurance are what I have relied on and it has worked well.
We have done two home exchanges, one in Kenya and one in South Africa. Both experiences were absolutely amazing. In both cases the family was loaning out their guest house so we got to know the families and have become close friends with both families. I have planned my third home exchange with someone in Argentina this next spring. So far this has been a similar experience, amazing. If you have ever been camping you get the feel how home exchangers are, welcoming to new people and experiences.
There are two really good sites for home exchange, www.homeexchange.com and www.ihen.com. In both instances you pay a nominal fee annually to be part of their program. You post pictures on their site of the home you are open to exchange. Then you can start searching for your next vacation spot, emailing the owner and asking for an exchange or sit back and wait to see who contacts you. I like homeexchange.com because it has a reverse search so you can search for people who are looking for your location.
Of course the more popular your location the more hits you are going to get, California, New York and Florida are the most popular in the US. There can also be exchange opportunities within your own state, maybe you have a beach house and would like to exchange on a regular basis with someone who has a mountain house.