About Home Exchange

Things and concepts related to home exchange


This chapter goes over a variety of specific topics including concepts, physical items, and details that might come up in a home exchange. Much of this will be irrelevant to your home exchange situation, but I can assure you that everything discussed here has been an issue for us or for other exchangers.

Air Conditioning

This can be an issue for those families doing summer exchanges. Europe, for example, is generally temperate but heat waves seem to be arriving with increasing frequency in July and/or August. Few European houses have air conditioning. When choosing home exchange destinations in Europe during the summer you may want air conditioning or to be in a place where unusual heat will be less of a problem--places close to the coast or high in elevation. Another possibility for beating the heat is to have access to a pool.

In the US air conditioning is common in most homes though may be lacking in cool climate coastal areas. When hot weather arrives in the San Francisco Bay region of California, for example, some un-air-conditioned homes can be miserable.

If you have a problem in a heat wave with a house lacking air conditioning, consider fleeing to the beach or lake and asking the host family for their ideas on how to stay cool.

Don't assume a house has air conditioning unless it is specifically mentioned.

Bedrooms and Bathrooms

Home exchange listings will specify the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but the devil is in the details.

In the US, we take for granted that the master bedroom will have a bathroom attached to it. In British English this is called an en-suite bathroom. In Europe many homes, even larger and newer places lack en-suite bathrooms. In ten European exchanges, we have had en-suite bathrooms four times and only in Britain.

Bathrooms and their fittings and furnishings vary. Often the toilets are in their own room. We once had a bedroom with its own sink and shower, but the toilet was on the other side of the house. Shower heads are often of the telephone handset style; in some cases you can place them on a hook and use them as a normal shower head, in other situations you have to hold them constantly with one hand.

Twice in Europe the home had only one shower and in both cases they were feeble by North American standards. Imagine a watering can with two thirds of the holes blocked. That was the ultimate low flow showerhead. In the other, the flow was better but you were in the tub, didn't have much room, and had to turn on a special in-place gas-heating unit.

Some families may request you take special measures to prevent lime buildup on shower surfaces, for example, by spraying the shower before each use with a special cleanser.

Many European bathrooms will have bidets. They are practically unknown in North America. A detailed description of how to use a bidet is out of the scope of this guide; you can consult Google and type in butt washer.

My wife and I have indulged ourselves, moving up from the double bed of our early married years to a queen and then a king. Our exchange partners have offered us a variety of beds with some being doubles. As a general rule, European beds and bedrooms are smaller than those in North America.


Bicycling is an enjoyable vacation activity. Most home exchange listings will offer bicycles for your use. However, there are many potential problems with bicycles in a home exchange.

The area you are visiting may or may not be bicycle friendly. Certain countries in Western Europe such as the Netherlands or Denmark are bicycle nirvana. Cycle paths are everywhere and drivers are respectful of cyclists. Many trains welcome bikes at no extra charge; sometimes you have to buy a ticket for the bike, and sometimes bikes are forbidden. You need to know the specifics of each country although most of Western Europe is bicycle friendly.

The USA, on the other hand can be unfriendly to cyclists. Some cities, such as Portland, Oregon, are almost European as regards bicycles. In other cities there is little evidence of understanding or tolerance towards cyclists. Roads in the US can be dangerous and the drivers are not always careful about bicyclists. You need to work with your exchange family and/or do research to find out the best places to ride.


Ride safely and carefully. Wear bright clothing and a helmet. Remember to ride on the correct side of the road in the same direction as vehicle traffic. My British wife once had a collision with a fellow cyclist on a tranquil bike path in Holland. There was a guy coming in the opposite direction and she pulled to the left instead of the right.

Bicycles fit people of certain sizes. If your family is short and the family you are trading with is tall you might not fit their bicycles. On many home exchanges I have been obliged to use ladies bicycles because the men's cycles available were too large.

There is a great range of types of bicycles. In an exchange with Denmark we had two city bikes. This is a hybrid between a road bike and a mountain bike. I took one of these bikes on a long distance trail that became rough and broke a wheel. It was unfortunate that family lacked a mountain bike.

On the other hand, the Danish family might expect a bike to have fenders, lights, and a basket or rack for transporting groceries. Most US families don't use their bikes for everyday tasks so they won't have any of these features. Forget about riding at night in a rainstorm to buy milk.

If you want to take the bike when on excursions you will need a bike rack for the car. You will need a way to lock the bike to the rack and the car when you stop for a meal or for some other reason.

Serious cyclists have quality bikes, whereas others may buy mass produced junk at a low price. If you are used to a good quality bike it is annoying to ride a lousy bike. Another problem can be a failure to properly maintain the bikes. On one exchange there were two mass produced low quality cycles. One had a flat tire and the other had brakes that didn't work. Once these problems were fixed they remained poor quality bikes. On another exchange the cycle had a warped rear wheel. We took it out anyway and the steering handle came undone because a bolt was loose. Be sure to verify the condition of bicycles before using them the first time.

Another problem are tire valve systems. In the US they are either Schrader (same as a car tire) or Presta. In Europe they use these two systems but also two other valve systems that you may not understand. They remain a mystery to me and made it difficult to quickly replace or perhaps even inflate a flat tire.

Our family has experience with several bicycle repair shops in Denmark, Sweden, France, and Britain, and has been annoyed at the expense and time required for basic repairs and services. In one situation a shop claimed that the cables and brakes had problems that they could solve for ninety dollars. The cycle was new and they were trying to perform unnecessary work. Be prepared for possible inconvenience due to high prices and long repair times if you have to visit a European bicycle shop.

Basic bicycle accessories in the US include locks (often heavy duty), pumps, and helmets. Our experience in Europe is that helmets are rarely used and theft must not be a problem because locks are light duty (exception: Amsterdam). Sometimes the keys to the locks get misplaced. There may not be a good quality pump at the home.

In California and certain other states it is mandatory for those under eighteen years of age to wear a helmet while bicycling.

You must make sure the bicycles fit the size of your family, understand their type and quality level, and ask about helmets, locks, racks, and pumps. You should request that the bicycles be serviced if there is any question about their being in good condition.

I have solved the bicycle problem with two extreme solutions. I have bought hybrid bikes and bicycle car racks in France and England, where they are stored with friends near London and Paris. I can pick these bikes up if needed. I also have twice brought a mountain bike to Europe from the USA. This is inconvenient. Renting appropriate cycles might be a good solution.

Cameras and Digital Photography

Fluency with digital photography is beneficial in home exchange. Having beautiful photos of your home and family on a home exchange website and available to send to those you wish to trade with is necessary.

You will probably want a digital camera while on your home exchange vacation. Be sure to have lots of memory card capacity or have a laptop on vacation so you can download the photos to it using a card reader. Alternatively you could do this with the computer at your exchange home, but then you need to burn a CD or e-mail the files to get them home. Don't forget to erase your photos from their computer.

If you have a proprietary battery buy one or two extra and charge them up before you leave home. Most camera battery chargers/adapters can run on both the European and North American electricity system, be sure to verify this by looking on the unit itself. You will still need the right plug adapter. See the entry below on Electrical Systems and Plug Adapters.

Cars, Car Insurance, and Driving

If you are in a large city a car may be unnecessary or inconvenient. Normally, however, the car is the most important property item in a home exchange after the house itself.

Trading a car with an exchange family is not always attractive. They may use the car much more than you. Each mile driven decreases a car's value. Exchange families should understand how many miles the car will be driven. There might be an agreement allowing a particular number of miles with a charge for extra miles.

If you are going to Europe it is likely that the car will have a stick shift instead of an automatic transmission. You should not assume a car in Europe will have air conditioning though these days it is becoming common. North American drivers may find driving in Europe more difficult than at home due to narrow roads and different road systems, for example roundabouts. European drivers will appreciate North American roads though they may find the traffic goes too fast. Europeans will marvel at the poor state of maintenance on important roads in the United States.

Many cars in Europe now use diesel fuel. Be sure you know what kind of fuel the car takes before filling it up.

Sometimes you will have a choice of a larger or smaller car. A large car is more comfortable and carries more luggage and people. It also eats more gas and is harder to drive safely on narrow roads or in parking garages.

Verify that you and the people who will drive in your family are insured to drive the car. Understand the deductibles and limits of the insurance. Your home exchange family may have to pay extra to specifically insure you to drive their car (for example in the UK). They should request a copy of your driving license. If you can provide proof of your good driving record (perhaps from your own insurance company) this may help them insure you and/or get a lower premium. Depending upon insurance laws in your country you may be at risk when they drive your car. Be sure the exchangers are insured and consider increasing the amount of your coverage.

Driving on the Other Side of the Road. You may think driving on the other side of the road is difficult and dangerous. It actually is easy if you follow several guidelines. You must have a car with the steering wheel on the correct side of the car. When you pull onto the road if you notice the centerline is next to the other side of the car and you are next to the side of the road you quickly realize that you have a problem. Oncoming traffic in your lane is another reminder of the correct side of the road. It is dangerous to drive a British right hand drive car in continental Europe and should be avoided. Likewise, don't visit Britain with a European left hand drive car.

Other-side-of-the-road accidents tend to happen if you are tired, drunk, confused, or if you are in a situation where there is no clear centerline and side of the road--such as in a parking lot or a narrow one lane road. Take extra care in these situations.

You will often find yourself getting in the passenger side of the car because you have forgotten that the steering wheel is on the other side of the car. This is embarrassing and can lead to disastrous results. A friend once did this and released the hand brake. The car started rolling down the hill and crashed into the garage door as she had no way to control it being in the passenger seat instead of the driver seat. Never release the hand brake unless your hands are on the steering wheel and your foot is on the brake.

My wife and I have a dysfunctional habit when in Europe. She puts the hand brake in the on position and puts the car in neutral when parking. I tend not to use the hand brake but always put the car in drive. If she gets in after I have used the car it spurts ahead unexpectedly when she turns the ignition. If I get in after her, the car responds sluggishly until the hand brake is released. A better solution is to put the brake on and the car in drive when parking and to reverse the procedure when starting.

Driving Laws and Habits. You need to understand the basics of driving in the country you are visiting. Ask your host to explain these to you. Some differences (by no means a complete list) include the following.

Drunk driving laws range from one or two drinks being ok to almost zero tolerance (Sweden, for example). Speed limits vary and some are enforced more strictly than others. England and Wales can have hidden speed cameras while in France they are always well signed in advance and shown on road maps or Via Michelin Internet driving maps.

In most European countries the inside lane of a four lane or wider road is reserved for passing and it is forbidden to pass someone by using the outside lane. This is not the case in the US. You will find idiots driving slowly in the fast lane and dangerous drivers weaving in and out of traffic freely.

In most of Europe the dangers of narrow country and city roads are well understood. You drive slowly and carefully ready for any hazard to pop up such as a cyclist, a cow, or a car parked in the middle of the road. North Americans are used to wider roads with fewer hazards and tend to drive faster than is safe on small roads in Europe.

In Europe you could discover roads that may not be wide enough for two cars to safely pass. It is best to drive conservatively in these situations. You will also encounter highways turned into one-lane roads by parked cars. On some roads and streets in Europe it is ok to park even if this will block a lane of traffic. Although it may be legal to block one lane of traffic you should never park in such a way that your car and the other cars already there block both lanes of traffic.

In some European countries (for example, the Netherlands) a car hitting a cyclist is always considered at fault regardless of the circumstances. This is not true in the US. In European countries such as Britain and the Netherlands you might encounter a road with bicycle lanes on both sides but only one lane for a car that is used by vehicles going in both directions. The idea is that the cars can encroach on the bicycle lane to avoid oncoming traffic if no bicyclist is there.

British and Scandinavian drivers tend to be capable and courteous. French drivers are not as wild as they used to be due to stricter laws and enforcement. They all will expect you to drive well and use your turn signals when turning, pulling off or on, or changing lanes.

In some European countries, for example France and Italy, there are roadside controls and checkpoints, and in some cases the police are carrying sub machine guns. If they wave you to pull over and stop, you should comply. They may ask to see the insurance and ownership papers of the car, your identity papers, and may ask questions. They may test you for drunk driving for no reason. Such controls are rare in the US where police may have drunk driving checkpoints but need permission or reasonable cause to test you.

Most Freeway intersections and exits in North America are symmetrical; you can get off and get back on easily. Some interchanges in Europe are asymmetrical; you may not be able to get on or off as you planned. Study the maps in advance.

France is notorious for trying to complete a year's worth of road repairs in July and August, when you are visiting the country on your home exchange. You will see signs saying Route Barrée and/or Déviation, meaning the road is closed and there is a detour. In Netherlands they will sometimes shut down an entire road for a day or two or longer to make repairs. The usual practice in North America is to keep the road open while it is being repaired (though traffic flow may be slow).

You will need to know how to drive a roundabout in Europe. The general rule is the cars already in the roundabout have the right of way. A tricky aspect of a multi lane roundabout is getting in the correct lane and exiting safely. British roundabouts are signed ahead of time and sometimes will have the route numbers and directions on the lanes so you can choose the correct one.

In Europe road signs feature destination cities more prominently than route numbers--the opposite is often true in the US.

Accidents. If in doubt take minor damage to avoid a major accident. We once were on a narrow and windy road in England. A huge bus came around the corner and clearly was encroaching on our lane. We scraped the hedgerow with the car and probably scratched the body work but avoided the bus. When I called our exchange partner to apologize for poor driving he entirely understood. He explained that his wife had crashed into the bus on the same corner! He did not mind the minor scratches on the car which were normal for that part of the country.

I have had two minor accidents during thirty-four weeks of home exchanging. To put them in perspective no one was injured and there was a little damage to my car only. Each cost less than four hundred dollars to fix, or about what it would run to rent a car for a week. Both were company cars and had to be repaired to pristine condition.

One was on a narrow road in Wales. When I pulled too far to the side of the road to pass another vehicle, the tire hit a sharp rock and blew out. The car then fell on the rock damaging the body work. Lesson learned: Look where you are driving.

The other accident was in a parking garage in England. The ramps up and down were narrow and I scraped a bumper on the wall with the front corner of the car. Lesson learned: Avoid parking garages in Britain unless you have a small car.


Most home exchange agencies encourage their members to talk about the size and ages of the exchange group. Some go further and have specific information on the age of each family member. Since it makes sense to trade with like families it is important to thoroughly describe any children on the exchange. If this isn't done in the check-off part of the listing bring it up in the essay section.

Small children are a special category. Any home receiving small children should be child proofed and should have children's car seats, cribs, high chair, toys, and annoying Barney videos.

Older children such as teenagers may be considered adults. Those between small children and teenagers form their own unique group. Before trading with anyone you need to understand the details of their children. You want to accommodate them properly and have the right infrastructure to amuse them (trampoline, bikes, soccer ball, videos, video and/or computer games, broadband Internet access, etc.)

Each home exchange agency has its own tools to allow you to express your love or loathing for children. The better search functions allow you to search for families with or without children. Many couples without children state in their home exchange listings that children are allowed. My recommendation is that if you have children you only trade with other families with children.

Computers and Internet Connections

We have been unpleasantly surprised at the number of computer and Internet problems encountered in our exchange homes. The computer died in one case and in another situation it deserved to be put out of its misery when it slipped into a coma. You should ask specifically about computers and the quality of the Internet connection.

Many families now travel with laptops and will be delighted to find an exchange home with a wireless network. You need to know the access code to connect to the network. A laptop is handy for the kids playing games, e-mail, and downloading and processing digital photos. Another advantage of your own laptop is you have a keyboard you know how to use.

There should be clear rules about whether or not you can load software onto another family's computer. Anyone with computers at home should be careful that they have the latest security software against viruses and have a secure firewall. If you have a wireless network, security should be set so only authorized users can access the network. You shouldn't have anything on your home computers that you don't want your exchange family to see. If possible keep financial and identity information away from home computers.

It is a good idea to set up a user name for home exchange guests with the operating system. This is an effective way to provide computer access to your exchange guests at the same time that protect your computer.

The key locations on computer keyboards vary in different countries. You can reset them to your own keyboard using the operating system software but the keyboard will still show the foreign setup on the keys. It usually isn't that hard to get used to the foreign keyboard setup. Always ask how to make the @ sign--it can be tricky.

An old fashioned way to protect computers from mischief is to turn them off when not in use.

Exchange families need to understand what, if anything, is the per- minute charge of using the Internet connection. The ideal solution is an always on, unlimited use flat fee broadband connection as this provides the best service and doesn't interfere with the telephone.

The Internet is a valuable tool on a home exchange vacation. You can check the weather forecast, get news, research tourism ideas, check e-mail, and stay in touch with the exchange family and others. The kids can waste endless amounts of time on You Tube and My Space.


Home exchange is cheaper than traditional vacations but is rarely cheaper than staying at home.

The cost of listing with a home exchange agency ranges from nothing to five hundred dollars per year with $100 per year being average for the industry leaders. You need to add the cost of flying or driving to the exchange. Your expenses on the exchange will depend on how luxuriously you live. It is easy to spend on restaurants, admissions, souvenirs, and gasoline.

If you are going from a strong currency area, such as Europe, to a country with a weak currency, such as the United States, you may find that most day to day purchases are cheaper than in your home country. If you go from the US to Europe you will find yourself shocked at the weakness of the dollar and the price of gasoline. Cheese and wine are cheaper in France than the USA, but other products tend to be more expensive.

There are hidden costs to a home exchange. You may get free use of a car, but your exchange family is putting miles on your car. They may drive more than you do. Our car's value is depreciated a few hundred dollars on each and every exchange. There may be noticeable wear and tear on your car or other possessions. This is usually negligible but occasionally real damage will be done. An expensive computer monitor failed at our home during an exchange; it wasn't clear if it was normal wear or tear or abuse so we paid to replace it. You have already heard of our car accidents in England.

There is also the risk that an exchange will collapse at the last moment after you have already bought expensive non-refundable airline tickets. In this case you lose money spent on the tickets or spend what you would have on a traditional vacation with hotel or house rental expenses, etc. This doesn't happen often but you need to have a plan and funds to deal with this contingency.


Although most home exchange agencies these days are Internet only, a few still offer a printed directory. In the early days of Home Exchange, directories were published so members could review home exchange listings and find each other. With the Internet, directories are obsolete, archaic, and outmoded, but Homelink and Intervac still publish them, probably because they have loyal members living in the Stone Age that demand it. There are a few good reasons for directories and many reasons why they are a huge negative.

Since a directory is printed, you can relax with it like a good book and read in front of the fire while a cat, small dog, or miscellaneous rodent curls up on your lap. It can also function as a paperweight or as a coffee-table book.

Home exchange directories also make sense for small programs established by other organizations. For example, there is an organization in England that helps families that are either expecting children or that have young children. They publish a home exchange guide with a few hundred listings as a service to these members. With this small group of families in an organization the directory is more economical than a web site.

Finally one can imagine a home exchanger without the Internet that uses a directory to find an exchange. Actually that is unimaginable these days. Negotiating and communicating with this Neanderthal would take more time and patience than most of us possess. And once you agreed to an exchange with this Luddite you could look forward to your vacation without an Internet connection.

There are many negatives to a directory. The two major services that use them, Homelink and Intervac, were designed around directories. As a result their web-based information systems provide less information than home exchange services built from the ground up to use the Internet, such as Homexchange.com.

Directories will have old and incorrect information the day they are published while the Internet is always up to date (assuming the members keep their listings current.) As a member of Intervac and Homelink, we received inquiries from folks that looked in the directory--long after we had changed the web listing to reflect the fact that an exchange had already been arranged. This is a waste of everybody's time.

The Directory is expensive to publish and some agencies, for example Homelink in Britain, require that you buy one. As a result, belonging to Homelink in Britain is more than twice as expensive as belonging to Homeexchange.com.

A great advantage of the Internet versus the Directory is the search tools. In the directory there might be thousands of listings for France, perhaps arranged by region. The Internet will allow you to choose a region, say Brittany, then narrow the search to listings that offer a car with the home exchange, families that have children, a home that will hold at least five people, non-smokers, and those who want to go to New York. The same kind of search process using a directory will take vastly longer and you will need to take notes.

Double Exchange

This occurs when two families living near each other try to exchange with two other families living near each other. Intervac offers this as an exchange option.

Electrical Systems and Plug Adapters

You can run many small electrical items on both European and North American electrical systems, for example some razors, laptops, and camera/camcorder battery chargers/adapters. Items labeled ``110-240 volts'' and ``50-60Hz'' should work in most countries. Assuming your items pass this test you can use your electrical device but you will need a plug adapter that will fit the plug of whatever country you are visiting. This is not as easy as it seems as the two examples below illustrate.

We had a plug adapter for France but it did not have a ground, while the laptop brick did have a ground prong. We could not find the correct plug adapter while in France. The work around, which might be dangerous, was to use an American extension cord; we plugged the brick into the cord and then the normal plug of the cord into the plug adapter. To keep us from being sued please don't try this at home or abroad.

We had the extension cord because it was needed for a Cannon camera battery charger. The Canon charger has two prongs sticking out of a flat piece of plastic. The typical plug adapter has the holes recessed so the prongs of the Canon charger will not fit because of the flat bit of plastic. You should buy the plug adapter for the country you are going to visit before you leave and make sure it fits any electrical device you use on the trip.

Experienced Exchangers

Most home exchange services will show the number of previous home exchanges claimed by the listing family and/or they will have a check-off box that says Experienced Exchangers. This is useful information because a record of previous home exchanges shows the family understands the system and process. Three of our exchanges were with families new to the home exchange system; the rest have been with home exchange veterans. If you are new to home exchange it might be beneficial to exchange with a veteran family as they can help you understand the system. My opinion is that negotiations are quicker with experienced families.

Hospitality Exchange

This is an exchange where your family visits another family and stays in their house while the host family more or less entertains you. At some later date they get their revenge by returning the visit. Some altruistic families will even offer to host other families without demanding reciprocity. Homeexchange.com, Intervac, Homelink and the First Home Exchange Alliance offer this as an exchange option. Homelink and Homeexchange.com have approximately 10% of their members choosing this as an option of interest. These are the two best agencies to choose if you are specifically interested in hospitality exchange as they have the highest percentage and highest absolute number of members requesting hospitality exchange.

Hospitality exchange is more feasible for singles or couples as opposed to families with children. Many couples or singles will have a guest bedroom that can accommodate a single or couple. They may not have the room and/or the inclination to host a family with children. We once had an older couple in Australia offer to host our family of five; I can only assume they wanted to be reminded of how difficult their life was when their own children were younger and at home.

Hospitality exchanges on average are shorter than regular home exchanges. You don't want to abuse your host's hospitality. There is little wasted time getting to know the place because your hosts quickly orient you. You may use the host home as base and take day or longer trips to other places.

House-sitting Wanted or Offered

Home exchange services such as Intervac and Homelink allow their members to search for house-sitters or to volunteer to be house-sitters. The advantage of a house-sitter is that your home is occupied and they can be expected to do simple duties such as looking after a pet, picking up the mail, watering plants, etc. A search of the Homelink data base showed that the number of members volunteering to house sit exceeded the demand by seven to one.

Long-Term Home Exchange

Many home exchange services consider this a category worth highlighting and offering as a search characteristic. Homelink defines a long-term exchange to be six weeks while Intervac says it is more than three months. You will find folks who want to exchange for three months, six months, or even a year. There are different motivations. In some cases retired couples want to spend time in a different country to get to know it, perhaps to consider buying a retirement or second home there. Occasionally you will find a family with children at home that is wealthy enough to take a sabbatical. They may want to immerse their children or themselves in another culture or language. Perhaps they are taking a special course or on a temporary job assignment.

In a long-term exchange you need to be sure your insurance will cover your home and the car. You might also need to consider what happens if for some reason half way through the exchange circumstances change for one of the participants and they need to go home early. You need a good support network at home to keep an eye on the home and take care of any repair, maintenance, or upkeep needs.

Maybe Next Year

When you write to a potential home exchange partner they may respond saying that they have already made a commitment but that you are wonderful folks and they would love to consider trading with you in the future. You should not take such offers seriously. Life circumstances can change over the course of a year. You could certainly write to such a family again in a year to gauge their interest, but don't count on their being available and willing.

Once you have secured an exchange you should modify your Internet listing to reflect this fact, assuming that you are not looking for additional exchanges. Some of the services will allow you to extinguish your listing. Others will have an icon such as a red light or packed bags to make it clear you are no longer available. Alternatively you can simply change the dates showing when you are available. Even though you do this you may still receive e-mails from people who have not read your listing carefully or somehow think you made a mistake with the date. For example in October 2004 we agreed to an exchange in 2005. For those services that allowed us to do so we changed our listing to advertise for summer 2006. We still received inquiries from families that either did not realize the listing said 2006 or did not believe it. This is why you will see listings that say ``We have an exchange arranged for 2007 and are now considering offers for 2008.''

Multiple Exchanges

Many families with children will only do one home exchange a year, usually during the summer vacation. Retirees are free to exchange anytime and may do so frequently. A multiple exchange occurs when two or more exchanges take place consecutively. This can happen when a family is traveling a long way and wants to make the most of their airfare investment. It is more common with couples than families.

We traded with a Swedish family that did three consecutive home exchanges in the US. There were several issues that came up.

The Swedish family was already in the US when we did our exchange. This allowed them to visit us before our departure. They had a great support network at home in Sweden. They had friends pick us up and return us to the airport. When the microwave died her parents took care of it. They had a maid to clean the place up between families and give an explanatory tour and orientation.

The US family in the home before us kindly wrote us a letter and remained in contact by e-mail with us so we could benefit from their experience. They also had left tourist information for us.

Our family did back-to-back exchanges in 2006. Both of the families we traded with had to understand and accept this as they were affected by it. Fortunately the first family did a great job of preparing the place for the second family. They kindly gave them advice about how to deal with the myriad peculiarities of our place.

A risk with Multiple Exchanges is that if something goes wrong or missing it is not clear who is to blame. In the Swedish case it was up to the maid to make sure everything was in order. In our case we had a faith-based system and hoped there wouldn't be a serious problem.

Non-Simultaneous Exchange

This occurs when you trade homes with another family but at different times. Normally for this to work you are trading your second home although other ways to make it work can be imagined. For example, you might trade your primary home while you are on vacation at your second home or a hotel. Homelink offers this as an exchange option; other providers highlight second home exchange opportunities which is code for non-simultaneous.

For families with school age children a non-simultaneous exchange might be a way to solve the problem of vacations being limited by school holidays in the place you want to visit.

A potential problem with this type of exchange is that sometimes one family will provide a home to be used and then have trouble getting the second family to agree to an available time for the other side of the exchange. In the worst case one family will provide their home and the other family will use it and never reciprocate.


If you want to make sure your pets are well cared for while you are away, put them to a kennel or friend or relative. An alternative for dog owners would be to trade with a family that loved and understood dogs as pets. If you plan on leaving them with your home exchange family you need their explicit agreement to care for them. As a general rule cats often stay with a home but dogs are exiled.

A problem with home exchange and pets is that many visiting families will take short or long excursions and will not be available to take care of the animals. You should clearly explain how to feed and care for your beasts and warn the family of any bad habits or special needs.


Some families in rural France will go on vacation and just leave their pets outside knowing the creatures will find a kind person to feed them. We made lots of animal friends during an exchange in France. We also noted that our French cat seemed to gain weight when left outside during our overnight excursions.

We also had a case where an animal-loving family befriended a cute stray kitten while staying at our house. This beast now ranks number one as the most useless gift ever left us by one of our exchange families.

Nicole Feist of Home Exchange Travels has written extensively in her blog on the details of pets, especially house cats.

If you aren't used to a particular kind of animal don't agree to take care of one in an exchange.

Recreational Vehicle/Motor Home/Caravan

Three of the leading agencies allow you to specify the availability of these amenities. Homelink and Homeexchange.com allow you to search for offers with them. A problem for Homeexchange.com is that their non-North American members often define a recreational vehicle as a normal car or 4x4. Intervac's non-British-English-speaking customers may wonder what the heck is a Caravan. Homelink's use of the word Motor Home is perhaps the most clear.


An inherent limitation of references is that those listing them are usually careful to only put down folks that will provide positive reports. There still is a place for references in evaluating potential home exchange partners.

If you list your home on Homelink, you can check off the box ``References Available.'' This might inspire a small amount of additional confidence in your character amongst some that read your listing.

When we begin negotiations with home exchange partners we send them an information file on our family, home, and region. It includes the names and e-mail addresses of all our previous home exchange partners (they have all agreed I could use them as references). It is rare for these previous exchangers to be contacted, but by listing ten exchangers we provide additional confidence in our complete exchange package.

This summer (2008) we are going to Stockholm. When we were negotiating I asked our potential partner if our previous exchange family in Stockholm could call him and have a discussion. He agreed. Peter did a great job selling him on our family and home. I can remember being contacted twice over the years by folks I didn't know asking us to comment on previous exchange partners. I provided both with positive but honest reports and they agreed to the exchanges.

Second Home

An advantage of a second home is it can be traded for use of a property at a later date; this is called a non-simultaneous exchange.

Homeexchange.com, Homeforexchange.com, and the First Home Exchange Alliance flag exchange listings of second homes. With Homelink and Intervac you can offer the use of a second home as a feature. When a home exchange listing claims availability of a second home as a feature it can either mean the home being offered is a second home or that the family will let you use their second home as part of an exchange with their main residence. One of our friends enjoyed an exchange with a family in London that included a week in their cottage in Northumberland.

With all of the above agencies you can search for exchanges involving second homes only or use of second home as an available feature. With First Home Exchange Alliance and Homelink you can also search for non-simultaneous exchanges. Second homes usually are smaller than primary homes and may not be as well equipped or attractive. A car is less likely to be included in a second home exchange.

Second homes tend to be concentrated in vacation areas. Places with a high percentage of second homes as a percentage of exchange opportunities include Brazil 61%, Mexico, 61%, Italy 48%, Spain 46%, Florida 46%, Portugal 43%, South Africa 31%, and Switzerland 29%.


Some home exchange agencies allow their listing members to identify themselves as seniors or retired. This makes sense as Seniors should trade with other Seniors. You can choose to limit your search to these listings with some agencies.

Swimming Pools
swimming pool

A swimming pool is an attractive feature, particularly during the summer in warm weather areas. After we put in a pool we noticed that we received more and better home exchange offers. Besides being an attractive amenity, a pool may provide a halo effect--your home and family may be perceived as more affluent and upscale.

Host families need to have a way to maintain their pool while they are gone. The pool must also have safety features, particularly if any guest families include children that don't swim. These days some pools have covers to keep wayward children from falling in. These covers work only if pool owners or their guests close them when the pool is unsupervised. My personal view is that with a pool we will not trade with any family that includes non swimmers.

Homeexchange.com and Homelink will allow you to search for homes that have swimming pools.


Some countries, for example most US States, have sales taxes that are added to the price of purchased items. These taxes can be higher in certain cities or counties. The price advertised or shown is before tax. The tax may be applied to all items or only some. In Europe taxes tend to be included in prices though for certain expenditures such as rental cars might be shown separately.

In most European countries you can get a rebate of the Value Added Tax (VAT) on items you buy for export. You will need to fill out forms and spend hundreds of Euros to make this worthwhile.

Different countries and states have different taxes. If you are exchanging near a border ask about these differences. For example, Oregon has no sales tax while in California the sales tax is at least 7%. Alcohol and Cigarette taxes vary also. Swedes returning home from the continent will always fill the car with wine and liquor bought in low tax countries. The British will make special trips across the channel for the sole purpose of buying cheap beer and wine. Gas taxes vary also; the cost for Diesel or GPL may be much lower in one country than in another.

Telephones, Including Cell Phones

Telephones work differently in other countries, and you want to make sure you understand how to use the phone in your exchange home. Likewise you want to make sure the other family can use your phone. Know the number to get an international line (often 00 or 011). In Europe numbers will start with a 0, but you don't dial the 0 if you are calling that number from another country.

Be sure that the exchange partners who use your telephone at home can call their country at a reasonable price. Verify the cost to call home on their phone. With normal international calling plans talk is cheap. Alternatively you could use phone cards though these are slightly less convenient than normal calling.

Understand how messages can be left and retrieved. In the US most homes have an answering machine that takes messages. In the UK many people use a service provided by the telephone company. You have to dial a special code to get your messages. If you fail to get your messages you may hear strange sounds on the phone and/or your dial up Internet service may not work.

Plan on taking calls and messages for the family in whose home you are staying. Usually the callers won't ask you to take a message. If the home has two lines, you could have one line reserved for your use with the other line hooked up to an answering machine for the other family.

Cell phones are another alternative. In a same country exchange or between many countries in Europe you can keep you own cell phone and perhaps use it instead of the phone in the home. Cell phones are handy in a family exchange; they allow me to bicycle off anywhere and subsequently call for help to my wife when exhausted. Once in France we became separated in a hypermarché and had to use the cell phones to be reunited.

When exchanging between North America and Europe, you may decide to trade cell phones because of the different technical standards and/or high tolls for transatlantic calls. If you travel frequently to a continent with different technical standards you can buy a cheap phone for that continent and use a pay-as-you-go service. In most countries you do this by purchasing the service and inserting the correct SIM card into your phone. The pay as you go services tend to be an economical choice in Europe, but are more expensive and less flexible in the US.

Televisions and Stereo Systems

You will encounter many variations in the availability and quality of television in home exchange situations. It is a good idea to understand specifically what is available if this is important.

If you are unlucky you will have an old color TV with only four or five channels. If you are fortunate there will be a widescreen HDTV with satellite service. I really appreciated the latter when watching the Euro 2004 soccer tournament. In England I was channel surfing and happened to encounter a fashion channel featuring ladies swimsuits. It was pleasantly shocking to discover that many of the swimsuits left little to the imagination, which was useful since I don't have much imagination at seven in the morning. European TV generally will show more sex and nudity than North American TV, but the USA is the world leader when it comes to television blood, gore and gratuitous violence. Soft pornography movies may play on normal European TV channels, usually after eleven pm or midnight. Our fourteen year old son had a TV in his room on a home exchange and when he would stagger out of the room at ten am I had to wonder if he had been improving his cultural understanding of France with late night television. (After reading this paragraph the French family informed me that only the TV in the master bedroom with satellite service could get questionable fare. Pity I was asleep every night before eleven pm.)

The variety of special devices used to get satellite or cable TV can be confusing. An orientation of the home should include how to use the TV/\-Satellite/\-Cable Box. It should be covered in the manual about your home and if you have any problems you should call the other family to get it straightened out. I recommend you leave equipment manuals for the TV, DVD Player, and Satellite System by the TV and request that the exchange family do likewise.

Transcontinental Exchange

One advantage of home exchanging is it's economical. Taking a family across the ocean, especially at peak season is expensive. Many families, particularly in Europe, will claim in their home exchange listing that they are willing to go anywhere when in fact they will only consider European exchanges. If you are a North American or Australian looking for an exchange in Europe you will find that those interested in trading with you will usually be specific about listing your continent and/or country as a destination.

Vacation Rentals

This has nothing to do with home exchange at all. Who wants to rent when you can exchange? Many home exchange agencies allow their listing members to offer a home either for exchange or rent, or for rent only. You might occasionally suggest an exchange with another family and have them respond by saying they don't want an exchange but would love to rent their place to you. One friend asked about trading for a luxury home in the Caribbean and was told that it wasn't possible during peak season and that the normal rental was twelve thousand dollars per week.

Youth Exchange or Hospitality

This is trading one of your children with one from another family or simply offering to host a child so they can get to know your region and/or country. Both Homelink and Intervac offer this as an exchange option. This might appeal if you think Junior would benefit from six weeks in Transylvania.

Weekend Exchange

This is exchanging your home for as short a period as a weekend but normally for a long weekend. Most leading agencies offer this as an exchange option. I personally find this hard to imagine as it takes a lot of time to arrange and complete a home exchange. The tasks required include finding the exchange, checking it out, negotiating it, getting to know the place, and cleaning it up. Weekend exchangers must be efficient at minimizing the time required for these arrangements in order to make it worthwhile. Probably most weekend exchanges are within the same country. I have read of cases where exchangers might agree to several weekend exchanges with the same partner over the course of a year. This would make the process more time efficient. Nicole Feist of Home Exchange Travels has lots of experience with short exchanges including weekend exchanges. Visit her blog for more information.