One of the best ways to have a memorable vacation — and save a ton of cash on lodging — is a home swap.
I’ve written several articles on how I’ve turned my homes into a profit-producing tourist rental, but I’ve never divulged my secrets on how to switch homes with fellow travelers with no money exchanged.
The first time I swapped accommodations was Independence Day weekend a few years ago. A lady contacted me through my rental listing on Airbnb with a proposal: She and her family would take my place, and in exchange, we could choose a holiday stay at one of her timeshares across the country. The lady had a lot of timeshares.
Because I didn’t want to travel far from home (driving to a semi-local destination saved me cash on flights to a more exotic locale), I chose a deluxe suite at a Wyndham property in Atlantic City. The extra dough in my pocket meant more money to gamble, and since the swap was equitable regarding space (two bedrooms), I was able to invite a couple of friends to enjoy the free weekend with me.
Of course, opening your home — and leaving strangers unattended — can be worrisome. Will they set the place on fire, steal your stuff, go through your naughty bits? All of it could happen. But to reduce risk and squelch those fears, consider these handy tips meant to ensure a smooth swap.
1. Draw up a contract
Personally, I’ve never drawn up a contract for a swap, mainly because I vet my guests in advance and I consider myself a good judge of character (I can even identify a weirdo over the phone), but it never hurts to have a legally binding agreement in case something goes awry. I’m pretty easygoing, so if guests accidentally break an item I generally overlook it; things happen, and nine times out of 10 the guest will offer to pay for it. But you may feel differently. You may expect the guest to pay for any damage, even if it’s a broken drinking glass. If that’s the case, put it on paper. If you don’t, you won’t have the authority to demand restitution.
2. Coordinate the dates and keys
The whole purpose of a swap is to exchange properties simultaneously — each party is in the other party’s respective property at the same time (unless you’ve worked it out otherwise). That can be tricky, though, especially if you’re each traveling to the respective properties at the same time. If you have friendly neighbors who can hand off keys, it’s ideal; that way you can give them a set for the guests and a set to hold onto in case of an emergency while you’re gone, i.e., the guests get locked out. If you don’t have neighbors willing to help out, you can send keys to guests in the mail or leave them in an inconspicuous spot on your property, like in an empty birdhouse or under furniture in the backyard. Personally, I have keypads on my doors, and I leave the door unlocked (nice neighborhood, so I’m not afraid of a daytime break-in) or keep it locked until guests arrive, at which time I unlock and disarm the house via an app on my phone. I offer keys that the guests can use to come and go, so I don’t have to provide them the code.
3. Prepare detailed rules and instructions
I have three primary rules when guests stay in my home while I’m not there: Don’t get locked up; don’t get locked out; don’t burn the place down.
There are rules, expectations, and specific instructions I convey to my guests to prevent any mishaps. Before I depart, I leave a list of how to work appliances, where to find essentials, and what to do with recyclables, etc. It’s probably the most important aspect of a smooth swap. To create the list, go room to room and think about what others should know about whatever’s in it. Write it down and be descriptive; a comprehensive list results in fewer calls from guests asking where the iron is or how the dishwasher works. Also, feel free to mention that you prefer the lights to be turned off in unoccupied rooms, the air conditioner shut off when it’s not necessary, and any other energy and money-saving practices.
4. Respect the property
This step will be easier to accomplish if the owner has left a detailed list of rules and instructions — the concept of “respecting” one’s place differs dramatically — but hopefully common sense will prevail. It’s never okay to throw a party; invade someone else’s privacy; or otherwise do anything to, with or in the owner’s property for which you haven’t received express permission. If you think you’re doing something wrong, you probably are. Bottom line: Do unto others as you want them to do unto you. If you don’t, prepare to be sued.
5. Leave the place as you found it
At the timeshare in Atlantic City, a cleaning person whipped the place back into shape after we left. Even still, we did our part before departing. We didn’t scrub the toilets, but we made sure dirty towels were in a neat pile, dishes washed and put away, the fridge emptied of our food (and clean!), floors swept, and counters sanitized. It’s common courtesy to leave the property the way you found it, or at least in the best condition you can without getting on your hands and knees. No one expects you to clean like a professional (although some swappers may, so find that out before you arrive), but you should do your part to make sure that when the owners return home, they don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary. Just like you, they want to relax upon return. A tidy home facilitates that — leaving an impression on the owner, and keeps the proverbial door open for future swaps.
Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Find more of his money-saving travel tips on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @thenominalnomad.