Mountain Style: Home Exchange 101

An alternative way to vacation affordably

By Addie Pascal

So you want to go on a trip, but you’re on a budget. Plus, you prefer getting off the beaten path and traveling like a local. Well, now more than ever, there are countless options to consider when booking accommodations, especially if you think outside the four walls of a hotel room.

Enter home exchanges. They’re not a new thing. In fact, budget-savvy travelers have been using this method of securing a place to stay for decades. More recently, people enlist the help of online organizations like homeexchange.com and lovehomeswap.com.

So how does it work? What are the risks involved? Is it really worth the hassle?

We’ll help you suss out the technicalities. Then, you can decide for yourself if exchanging your desirable Teton abode is the key to your next travel adventure.

How do home exchanges work?

First, let’s explore the proper terminology. A simultaneous exchange means swapping houses with another person or family at the same time: They stay in your home while you stay in theirs. Easy peasy. A nonsimultaneous exchange is when you swap houses using a points system (a type of house-swap currency) granted by the exchange service. With this method, the vacations occur at different times. You bank points by swapping out your house and then use the points to stay in a home of your choice. So a family may stay in your home without you ever occupying theirs and vice versa. While convenient, a few home exchangers have noted that the points method takes away the allure of home swapping and reduces the shared interest in caring for one another’s property.

What are the benefits?

Home swapping is typically free, other than a nominal membership fee paid to the online platform of your choice (a fee that is much less than what vacation accommodations would cost). Additionally, swapping with a knowledgeable homeowner can get you plugged into the local community to which you are traveling. Think of it as an “insider’s scoop.” Finally, home exchanges open the door to meeting interesting people—and even new friends—from all over the world.

Is it right for me?

Jackson Hole is an enticing location for travelers, making your Teton home prime real estate on a home swap site. Still, you’ll need to determine whether this route is even a possibility for you. Take into consideration your subdivision ordinances or any regulations your home may fall under. Also, consider how having strangers in your home or being a stranger in someone else’s home affects your comfort level. Do you even have the time to communicate with would-be swappers? Or to prepare your home for a swap while simultaneously making your own travel arrangements?

Okay. So you’ve weighed the pros and cons, and home swapping seems like a good fit. Here are some steps to get started:

  1. Do your research. Choose the best organization for your needs and be sure you understand the process. Learn about the fees associated with a home swap organization. Bear in mind that any fees grant you assistance in the event of an emergency, verified home ownership (no scammers allowed!), a library of reviews from previous swappers, damage protection, and access to thousands of worldwide homes for exchange.
  2. Set clear expectations. Create an accurate online profile. Then provide as much information up front as possible, once you commit to an exchange. That way there are no surprises or hassles. How will your swappers find a key? Who’s responsible for cleaning? Is a car included in the swap? Do you allow pets? Specific house rules—written or typed—can be extremely helpful upon arrival. Some guests may even agree to care for your pets while you’re away.
  3. Add a nice touch. Show your guests the best parts of where you live. Alongside your rules (in a three-ring binder, perhaps), include information about things to do, places to visit, and favorite watering holes. You can even leave a small treat from a local bakery or specialty shop to assure an awesome review, while propping a local business at the same time.

By and large, most people who participate in home exchanges report positive results. Jackson resident and experienced home exchanger Patty McDonald notes, “Ive always found home exchangers to be responsible, thoughtful, considerate, and interesting. My bottom line: Its a great and affordable way to travel and experience other places and cultures in a more home-like setting than a hotel can provide.”