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Vacationing in a home away from home

Karl Costabel spent a month in London attending the 1989 Wimbledon tennis championships and his lodgings didn't cost him a dime.

No, he wasn't a top-seeded tennis star or even remotely related to the royal family. Costabel found unbelievably prime accommodations in the heart of the action by swapping homes with the bloke who lived there.

"That guy was only too happy to get the hell out of Dodge," Costabel recalls. "It was literally on the street that leads up to the entrance to the club and the line to get in went right past his front door. You don't want to be around when Wimbledon's going on; the traffic's terrible, people are everywhere. It's a good time to be gone."

While the lucky Londoner soaked up the sun at Costabel's Hawaii digs, the military newspaper publisher was watching Boris Becker defeat Stefan Edberg in straight sets, with all the comforts of somebody else's home.

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They made their loft connection through HomeLink International, one of the oldest and largest home swapping services. Costabel had been a HomeLink swapper for 10 years prior to his Wimbledon trip. Now he's the U.S. representative for the international network that claims 12,000 members in its database.

Home-swapping is the ridiculously logical, unbelievably frugal way to see the world, and one that the commission-driven travel industry doesn't want you to know about.

My home is your home
The concept is simple. You live in South Beach and want to ski Vail in January. A freezing Coloradoan wouldn't mind a midwinter break on the beach, so together you agree to trade places, and quite commonly vehicles, for a specified period.

In addition to HomeLink, travelers can check out Intervac, HomeExchange and Vacation Homes Unlimited. All four provide and maintain online databases of thousands of home offerings for nominal annual membership fees of $30 to $70.

HomeLink and Intervac also retain representatives around the world who serve as points of contact in their home country. Intervac offers both home and transport switching. Dedicated sailors can hook up at Yacht Swap.

Swappers save big-time on the costliest aspect of travel: lodging. Two weeks at a ski-on, ski-off chalet in Vail would start at $3,500. Add a rental car at $400 and you've just been snowed for nearly four grand. Similarly, the same two weeks in a beachfront bungalow in South Beach, plus a car, will easily run you $2,500.

But home swappers pay exactly zero for the roof and wheels.

How much has Costabel saved on his dozen exchanges over the years? "It would be a lot of money in my case because I used to stay in nice hotels," he admits. "I was at least a Hyatt guy. You're looking at a couple hundred a night, minimum."

In one year alone, he exchanged for a month each in London, Paris and the south of France. His savings? You do the math.

(continued on next page)
-- Posted: Sept. 3, 2003
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See Also
Theme vacations offer stress-free fun
6 great American shopping vacations
14 ways to stretch your vacation buck
Financial advice glossary
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