Michelle and Tom Holleman longed to take their three children to Paris, but like many families, the Highland Park couple found hotel costs to be a major obstacle.
“You can’t all be in one room. And if you’re overseas, you want to stay for more than just a few days,” Michelle says.
A vacation home exchange—literally swapping homes with a family that lives in a destination you’d like to visit while they stay simultaneously in your home—is emerging as an attractive alternative for families like the Hollemans.
“We exchanged with a family in Paris whose circumstances were similar to ours so we had the space we needed,” Michelle recalls.
There are a growing number of online vacation home exchanges, including Craigslist, Homelink, Geenee, Global Home Exchange and JewettStreet. Most require a nominal fee to join and view listings.
Wilmette resident Eileen Noren listed her house on Homelink and got responses from people around the world. After considerable back-and-forth via e-mail to nail down travel dates, Noren’s family spent two weeks in Ireland while the other family stayed at her home.
“They created a scavenger hunt for our daughters, and we left a file of destinations and directions for them,” Noren says.
Plan Your Swap
To plan your own vacation home swap, keep these tips in mind:
- Plan ahead. Europeans tend to schedule their vacations 10-12 months in advance, so if you’re hoping to swap on the Continent, keep timing in mind.
- Location, location, location. Make sure that the home you’re considering is in a central location to top tourist sites.
- Communication is key. Give yourself plenty of time to e-mail or talk with your exchange family. Be clear on travel dates, expectations, access to transportation, etc.
- Be flexible and tolerant. You want to experience a different culture, so remember that their lifestyle may literally be foreign to you and your family.
- Be prepared but don’t sweat the small stuff. You don’t need to buy new towels and sheets for your visiting family. You do need to provide critical information: emergency numbers, info on house mechanicals, etc.
What about the safety of your home and possessions? Michelle Holleman, who’s readying for her family’s sixth exchange, says not to worry.
“No one is coming to my house to steal my TV,” she jokes. “Everybody’s very respectful. Our house has been well-taken care of.”