Vacation Like a Local
House swapping in retirement can let you vacation in beautiful locales you might not otherwise be able to afford
Barbara Costello, 72, spent a month this summer on vacation in the South of France. The trip was incredible, especially because she got to go with her husband and several of her adult children and young grandchildren. "It was something I never thought we would be able to afford to do all together," says Costello.
The Costello family could keep the trip's cost down by participating in a house swap. "My daughter Liz owns a home in the Hamptons (beach towns in New York)," explains Costello, the TikTok sensation behind Brunch with Babs. "She decided to rent it out over the summer and listed the home on a rental site. She was contacted directly by a family that lived in the South of France. They asked if she would be interested in doing a home swap instead of renting."
"After the host sent us photos of their big, beautiful home in France, we decided to take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
House swapping had never occurred to them before. "We had rented homes in Florida through sites such as VRBO," Costello says. "But after the host sent us photos of their big, beautiful home in France, we decided to take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
While the idea of home swapping is not new, it has gained in popularity in recent years. The home swapping company Home Exchange reports that requests for exchanges in 2021 were up by 31% compared with 2020 and 39% compared with 2019.
Older adults are a big part of this trend, Jessica Poillucci, public relations representative for Home Exchange, says. "Between 2019 and 2022, the number of users of our service that are at least fifty years old has increased by 47%," she says. "These users are also more active, doing 13% more exchanges as guests and 4% more exchanges as hosts in 2022 compared with 2019."
House Swapping in Retirement
The primary benefit of a home swap over traditional vacation lodgings like staying at a hotel or a home rental is the cost. House swapping allows people to enjoy homes worldwide without having to pay for accommodation, making the overall cost of travel much more affordable.
"If we had gotten hotel rooms for everyone or rented a house big enough for the fifteen of us, it would have been much more expensive than doing the house swap," Costello explains.
Beverly Berryman, 66, lives in Minnesota and traveled all over the world through home swapping. "My husband and I have always liked to travel, and through his job, we were able to travel quite a bit," Berryman says. "But when he left his job, travel became so expensive. I read an article about home exchange as a way to lower your expenses and we decided to try it."
Berryman and her husband began home swapping in 2008 and have not stopped. They did four swaps in 2012 alone, including Iceland, Hawaii, Santa Fe and Washington, D.C.
New Costs to Consider
Not having to pay for lodging means more money for vacation extras. "Since the home was in a residential area, we had to rent cars," explains Costello. "But we still saved enough money to splurge on excursions like renting a boat for a day. I got to swim in the Mediterranean with my grandkids, which was incredible."
Another benefit of house swapping is that you get to experience a place less like a tourist and more like a local.
"We spent much time in the home, cooking meals and swimming in the pool," Costello says. "We shopped at the local market and interacted with people who lived and worked in the area. It was so great to have this type of everyday exposure and immerse ourselves in the culture of this foreign country."
Berryman heartily concurs. "If you stay at the hotel, you go to places that the concierge recommends," she says. "But with home swaps, you can find hidden gems and enjoy places the locals frequent."
Finding a Home Swap
Despite the terminology, travelers do not always have to vacation at the same time in the same home as people on the other side of the home swap.
"We offer two options to members," says Emmanuel Arnaud, CEO of Home Exchange. "One is a classic traditional home exchange that is reciprocal, and the two families exchange homes simultaneously. Our second option is a guest points system. The points system allows members to earn points if they allow someone to stay in their home, but they don't want a reciprocal exchange. These points can be redeemed for another member's home or another date."
Swaps Let You Work Really Remotely
There are also Facebook groups for people looking for home swaps without having to pay an intermediary. Home swaps are available within the United States as well as all over the world.
"With home swaps, you can find hidden gems and enjoy places the locals frequent."
"COVID changed travel a lot," Arnaud says. "People were less inclined to travel internationally. But they also had more opportunity to participate in home swaps since many began working remotely."
This is especially true for people 50 and older, a group he says has been "surprisingly active."
"Home swapping has become a lifestyle," Arnaud says. "Our annual membership allows people to make as many swaps as they want in a year. Older adults have been taking advantage of their flexibility whether they are retired or now work from home."
Berryman and her husband were able to stay in a home in Northern Ireland for five weeks this year. "A longer stay meant we didn't have to be on the go all the time," she says. "We got to live our lives in another place and discover more of the area."
Is House Swapping Right for You?
Here are some things to know when considering house swapping:
- Location: Homes near a beach, ski area or city are very popular for home swaps, as you might expect. But you may still be able to arrange a swap if your house is not close to any such place because some people want to swap for houses in suburbs or smaller towns to be close to a wedding or a newborn grandchild.
- Don't Expect a Hotel: Swaps involve people's real homes, so they are not perfect. There may be glitches, so Arnaud suggests you adjust your expectations.
- Be a Good Host: A house swap is like inviting guests to stay at your home, so leave your place clean and uncluttered. As a gracious gesture, Costello suggests preparing a list of things to do in the area, such as good restaurants or local attractions, as well as the names and numbers of a plumber and other maintenance workers, just in case.
- Be a Good Guest: Follow your host's house rules. If, for example, the homeowner asks you not to smoke, don't smoke. If they ask if you would mind watering plants, politely comply. Should you accidentally break something, inform the host and offer to pay for repair or replacement. When you depart, Arnaud says, show your gratitude by leaving a bottle of wine or a thank you card.
An added bonus of house swapping is the opportunity to make friends in other places. "We have made lifelong friendships with people worldwide through home exchange," Berryman says. "In 2014 we home-swapped with a family in South Africa and have kept in touch, sending holiday cards every year and (connecting) on Facebook. We're talking about returning to South Africa, this time staying with them as guests in their home."