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 HomeExchange.com,
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 HomeExchange.com
(1-800-877-8723; www.homeexchange.com), 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.)