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Traveling on a budget? Try swapping homes
 

You're hankering for a break from the daily grind and are dreaming of a week away. Your heart says Tuscan wine tour, but your budget screams local resort.

With a little flexibility and a big leap of faith, you might just get in that trip to Chianti country.

Home swapping, a concept that originated in Europe, is catching on fast in the United States as the Internet makes it easier to find other families across the globe that are looking to trade houses for a short vacation. Such arrangements, of course, eliminate the biggest portion of your travel budget -- accommodations -- making virtually any destination affordable. On an average trip abroad, says Pauline Frommer, author of the "Pauline Frommer's" travel guide series, home exchanges can save travelers several thousand dollars.

"Home swapping is becoming more common because it's so affordable," she says, noting the cost of hotels at many tourist destinations was up more than 20 percent in 2006 over 2005. "Not only do you get free lodging, but you also get a fully equipped kitchen so you save on meals if you decide to cook, and many people also exchange cars, so that eliminates the transportation expense, too."

Home swapping: at a glance
For a nominal fee, Internet swapping clubs, enable homeowners to list their property with pictures and detailed information about the amenities, neighborhood and location.
Members can then search for other listed properties in the countries they'd like to visit or search potential partners.
Home exchanges can include single family houses, condominiums or apartments, but they're not limited to those properties.

For a nominal fee of around $50 a year, Internet swapping clubs, including HomeExchange.com, Intervac and 4homex.com, enable homeowners to list their property with pictures and detailed information about the amenities, neighborhood and location. Some, such as The Vacation Exchange Network, specialize in second homes or vacation properties -- which can eliminate the need to do a direct swap with another family at the same time.

Members can then search for other listed properties in the countries they'd like to visit or search potential partners who wish to visit their locations. Typically, members are free to swap as often as they like.

Home exchanges can include single family houses, condominiums or apartments, but they're not limited to those properties. Ed Kushins, president of HomeExchange.com in Hermosa Beach, Calif., notes one couple swapped their home for a 40-foot yacht for a week, while another member traded his villa in Italy for a recreational vehicle in Oregon because he wanted to tour the United States by car. Ski chalets, cabins and even castles are all fair game.

While those who live near major cities or tourist destinations have the best luck exchanging properties, it's also possible to swap homes if you live in more remote locales. A potential home exchange partner may wish to be near loved ones, kids in college or a family member in the area or plan to travel to that area on business, says Kushins.

Live like a native
Beyond the cost savings, those who participate in home swapping say the biggest benefit is the opportunity to live like a local, practice forgotten language skills and immerse themselves in another culture.

"It's all about the comfort of staying in a home instead of a hotel and gaining a cultural experience instead of traveling like a tourist," says Kushins, noting most of his 15,000 members in 110 countries can afford to travel in style but choose to home swap for the experience. "They get to shop in local markets and see things they'd never have seen if they stayed at a hotel."

Patrick Morris wouldn't have it any other way. The IT consultant in San Francisco has been home swapping for years, most recently trading properties with members in Provence, France, and Hawaii, plus a long weekend trip at a luxury golf course home complete with a hot tub on Pebble Beach in California.

-- Updated: June 21, 2007
 
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