Even though it was a few years back, I get asked all the time still how we managed to stay in Paris for about three weeks and spend almost nothing on lodging. And because I’m not actually sure I ever divulged my secrets, I’m gonna break it down for you here, especially because I’m sure it’s a trick we’ll use again after our kids are a teeny bit older. It was a new way to travel for us, but not entirely outside our comfort zone since we usually use sites like Airbnb or Homeaway to book our travel. But before we talk details of how to stay in Europe on a shoestring, here’s the big picture: we stayed in a lovely apartment in a beautiful part of Paris for almost 3 weeks and paid about $150 total.
The big secret? Home exchange. Specifically, this site (which, yes, is the exact site they use in The Holiday which I just so happen to love). I had been doing some research into cheap lodgings in Europe and came across Home Exchange and kind of thought What the heck? So I registered, which is where the $150 comes in — although at the time I think it was even less than that and the prices have increased over the last couple of years. I took some good photos of our apartment and made a listing, and I started reaching out to some other listings to see if they might want to swap. I kid you not, within a couple of months we had a Parisian apartment lined up. So! Here are my best tips for using Home Exchange (or any other home swap site) and staying abroad on the super cheap. (Side note: this post ain’t sponsored, y’all. I just think if more cool people are swapping apartments it’s better for everyone!)
Make Sure It’s Reputable. I loved that there were so many reviews, checks, and cross-checks of the site and its users. You can verify yourself as a user in a few different ways, and also see that other users are verified and in good standing. It’s a little peace of mind to start off with.
Make a Pretty Profile. If you’re serious about wanting to trade homes for a trip, you want your place to look lovely! Take some beautiful photos; clean the house, make sure it’s bright and light, and take shots that really describe your home. You want to show each room, the amenities, and the details of what will make someone’s stay comfortable. Also include the surrounding area — any attractions, sites, or little bonuses of staying where you are. When you’re filling out the informational part of your profile, be as detailed as you can. And always be honest about what your guests will find when they stay at your place.
Start Looking! On Home Exchange, you can search by date, by destination, and by people who want to exchange in your area (which I find the most helpful). Because then at least you know that you’re looking at a pool of people who might actually want to trade! Start making a wishlist of places you’d like to stay, and reach out to the listings personally with a quick message about the exchange you’re hoping to make.
Be Flexible. It makes a big difference if you have flexibility with your destination and timeframe. As an example, if you specifically want to go to Athens from February 1-10, your pickings might be a little slim. But if you would be open to anywhere in the Mediterranean in the Spring, you’ll have a smorgasbord of places to look at.
Get to Know Your Exchange Partners. Once you find a match for location and date, I’d really recommend talking via Skype or Facetime a few times. We were able to meet our exchange partners this way and it made us feel much more comfortable with the exchange. We did live video tours of each others’ apartments, we got to know each other a bit personally, and it was a chance to see that the exchange would be safe and successful.
Once we got to Paris, it was so cool to have a home base that felt like our own, and to know that we got it for such a song! We also loved hosting our guests in our own place, and seeing their adventures while they were staying. And the money that we saved on lodging freed up some budget to be able to do some other great stuff, like little overnight trips and splurge meals. So now you know all of our secrets! Would you ever trade houses with someone? xoxo
P.S. If you live somewhere other than California, we’re always looking to do travel home swapping! Don’t be afraid to reach out and maybe we can trade some time!