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House swaps can be an affordableadventurous

Touristclick TexasTravel News

House swaps can be an affordableadventurous..


ext time you go on vacation, how much would you like to pay for lodging? How about nothing?

We aren't teasing. We're talking about home exchanges. Just hand over the keys to your homey hacienda and move into a chalet in the French Alps, an apartment in Manhattan or a bungalow on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Thousands of Americans exchange homes with others in the United States and abroad, and not just to save greenbacks. Many say it's all about "living in," as opposed to "visiting," a destination and experiencing the culture firsthand.

Mary Lou Branson of Fort Worth loves to travel. The retired marriage and family therapist has lived in Scotland and near Naples as a civilian employee of the Navy. In 2005, she listed her two-bedroom Arts and Crafts-style home on, noting her desire to visit the Netherlands during flower season. Soon after, an e-mail popped into her inbox from a man in Laren, outside Amsterdam. Nearly a year later, Ms. Branson was in tulip country.

"Hotels are fine but impersonal," she says. "I explored gardens, ate in local cafes and met some of the neighbors."

Her only nemesis? The German-made washing machine. "The instructions were buried in a stack of papers, but I didn't find them until I had already decided to wash my clothes by hand and hang them on an outdoors clothesline to dry."

Several companies have Web sites on which you can browse photos and descriptions of thousands of homes worldwide. After you find some that are appealing, you pay to list your home (or second home). That allows you to contact other members. The largest of these networks is (1-800-877-8723;, which has 21,000 listings in 100 countries. It charges $99.95 for an annual membership. (The HomeExchange Gold Site with high-end, luxury listings is available for $500 per year.)

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