I’m shocked by how much it costs for a family to take a decent vacation today. Plane tickets, food and hotels can run $5,000 or more for a two-week U.S. or international vacation. Cruises aren’t cheap, either. By the time you pay for excursions, beverages, spa treatments and tips, a bargain cruise is not the bargain you thought it was going to be.
As a financial adviser, I’m a bit frugal — OK, cheap — when it comes to planning family vacations. I solved the vacation cost dilemma by exchanging my home near Anna Maria for short periods. This enables my family to afford travel we couldn’t otherwise afford. Swapping homes with another home exchange member, from internet swap sites, and redeeming frequent flyer points can make travel very economical.
“All I have to do is let a stranger sleep in my bed,” I remember thinking to myself as I nervously agreed to exchange my home for a Mediterranean villa outside Aix-en-Provence, France, for the first time in 2005. I thought I was Bill Gates. The home was near Brad and Angelina’s, overlooking Mont Sainte Victoire from the Cezanne painting, with six bedrooms, four baths, and a huge pool. I couldn’t believe my good fortune that the French family was willing to visit Anna Maria Island in August when the temperature was 94.
We’ve exchanged in Manhattan for a $10 million penthouse overlooking Central Park, very “Hannah and her Sisters.”
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Since traveling to the Cote d’Azur, my wife and I have done more than a dozen successful and mutually beneficial home exchanges. We’ve exchanged in Manhattan for a $10 million penthouse overlooking Central Park, very “Hannah and her Sisters.” A few years later my wife Jeannine, a Francophile wannabe, spent three weeks on Rue Victor Hugo, with a view of the Arc de Triomphe at the Champs-Elysees, in a classic Parisian Haussmann apartment built in the 1800s.
We witnessed history firsthand when we were exchanging during Israel’s War with Hamas in 2014. Warning sirens alerted us to make 16 trips to the Israeli’s home bomb shelter when Hamas launched missiles from Gaza. Jeannine and I watched an Iron Dome Battery shoot down Hamas missiles, barely a thousand feet away, from the exchange home’s pool deck — but that’s another story. Last year we experienced Iceland’s rugged beauty and feasted on lamb with rosemary in Kópavogur, Iceland.
I think it is ridiculous paying $30 or more for breakfast when traveling. Jeannine, fortunately, is a great cook and a good sport. With a home exchange, we save money by eating Captain Crunch and cooking our own omelets. Jeannine usually cooks about two meals a day at the exchange home. Often we go out for lunch, which is cheaper than dinner, and it’s easier on my waistline, too.
Friends ask me if I worry about someone taking or wrecking our stuff. Actually, our stuff isn’t that great. We leave a little jewelry with relatives and lock up personal information. None of our exchange partners damaged our home. Once a family from Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, stuck in our house during Tropical Storm Debby, warned us of a badly leaking window.
A lot of people are unwilling to do home exchanges because they worry about their “stuff.” My father died a few years ago, and I remember Ina Baden doing his estate sale. I was humbled to learn that all my Dad’s beloved possessions brought in barely $1,500. So obviously our “stuff” isn’t worth nearly as much as we think.
But what if you don’t have a home on the water on Anna Maria, Longboat Key or Tidy Island? If someone in Denver, for example, has grandchildren in Bradenton, I’m sure there’s an exchange available for almost any home in Manatee County.
Thanks to the internet, you can check a proposed home-exchanger quite easily. Within minutes, someone can check to see if the exchanger really owns a home with the property appraisers or tax collector’s office. I’m sure more than one exchange family has Googled me to see if I’m actually a CPA and a Cetera financial adviser.
My wife likes home-exchanges because it motivates us to clean our house to a higher standard
My wife likes home-exchanges because it motivates us to clean our house to a higher standard. I think our house is the cleanest the minute we leave for a home exchange because all my honey-to-do list items get done to prepare for the exchange. We clean the oven, dust ceiling fans, wash windows, and rent a Rug Doctor. Usually the family who uses our home leaves it as clean, or cleaner, than when we left it. Cleanliness, I’ve found, is an implicit code of honor of home exchangers.
What’s it like letting strangers sleep in your bed? Is it a little bit creepy? Not really, because once we arrive at our exchange family’s home it begins to feel like our own — especially if they have a king bed with 1,000 thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets.
Rental insurance isn’t usually required for exchangers. Your homeowners insurance, usually, covers the other family while in your home, and the other family’s homeowners insurance covers you should you be injured.
Trading autos is often part of home exchanging, too. Not having to pay big car rental bills helps us save even more money.
Home exchanging allows me to experience life as a local. Stepping into someone else’s shoes to buy groceries, for example, is enlightening. I learned from a Sausalito, Calif., home exchange, on a “Sleepless in Seattle” type houseboat, that Safeway stores are equivalent to Publix. And shopping at Manhattan’s Zabar’s isn’t some idyllic New York fantasy from a Nancy Meyers’ movie when schlepping heavy grocery bags for blocks.