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Home Swapping
by Rudy Maxa for Marketplace

How would you like to move into a home in some quaint little Irish village or French or Italian country town and not pay anything for your lodging? You can do it, but as our Savvy Traveler, Rudy Maxa, tells us, there's a catch.

The catch is, you have to let the resident of the home you're occupying live in your place, too. It's called 'house swapping,' and it's a great way to accomplish two things:

Firstly, you'll save money while traveling and, secondly, you may enjoy a more meaningful vacation.
That's because you'll be instantly inserted into a community, as opposed to a hotel. You'll find yourself interacting with the butcher, baker and maybe -- if you're unlucky -- even the plumber. And there are lots of Web sites that are helpful -- more on them in a minute.

But there are some tips you should know. First of all, if you're imagining spending this summer in a popular destination such as Provence, you best get on the case right now. Begin by making two lists. The first should be a list of what you want in a home. Do you absolutely need air conditioning? A view of the water? An in-town location? Try not to compromise on non-negotiable items. Then make another list of all the pluses and minuses of your home. That's so you can give another person a realistic idea of what they'd be getting if they traded with you. If you live in a big city, stress your home's central location. If you're next door to a noisy nightclub, mention that. Be honest if you live near a busy highway. My guess is that if your guests know about your home's drawbacks before arriving, they'll not be disappointed or resentful if your place doesn't exactly rate five stars on Martha Stewart's list.

You'll want inside and outside photos of homes you're considering -- and, of course, so will your perspective guests. Don't be shy about asking blunt questions like, 'What do you see when you look outside the windows of your house?' Or: 'Do you have plenty of hot water?'

Define terms. While you may think 'villa' describes an estate in the bucolic countryside, to many Europeans, 'villa' is a catchall word that can describe both urban and rural homes. 'Rustic' could mean 'falling apart.' 'Enchanting' could mean 'funky,' and 'sleeps six' might not mean three bedrooms.

Ask for the names of other people who have stayed in the homes you're considering. Contact them and ask what they wish had been different about the properties.

Agree on mutual obligations. Will you be responsible for doing laundry before you leave, or is there a housekeeper who will do that? Will the family car be available for use?

Recruit a neighbor to be on stand-by for helping your guest. Your visitors will probably know little about your neighborhood. Consider making a fact-sheet listing favorite local restaurants, stores or sites. Ask if your guests can return the favor.

And, by the way, don't worry about coming home to an empty house -- the stories of robberies or anything else going terribly wrong are few and far between.

For the Savvy Traveler, I'm Rudy Maxa for Marketplace."

Marketplace Resources:
»Go browsing and see if home swapping makes sense for you...








You can read - and hear - more from Rudy and company at SavvyTraveler.org!

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