Three years ago, Dean Trevelino, the owner of a public relations firm in Georgia, was searching for a way to travel around the world while still putting his second home in Alys Beach, Florida, to good use.
"It [the Florida home] is great and you love it when you're there, but you kind of step back after a few years and realize that you're not taking advantage of travel as much around the globe," Trevelino explained. "And so I started looking for ways we could travel and leverage the property, leverage our assets."
That's when he came across Love Home Swap, a home exchange club with over 65,000 properties in 160 countries that lets members swap homes with other members. Trevelino says it was exactly what he was looking for.
Love Home Swap features properties that span the globe: Kenya, Sweden, Australia, Mexico, and Montana are just a few of the locales where you can find a home. Many houses are in cities and towns you've most likely never heard of before, which only adds to the adventure of swapping.
Users can search for homes based on location, size, amenities, and more. If you're not sure where you want to travel, you can search for general options like a "city pad" "by the sea" or "mountain view." You can also search properties that are family friendly or good for groups.
Love Home Swap charges its members an annual fee to join and swap, but that's the only fee members pay to stay at a home. Memberships start from $20 per month and allow users to have access to unlimited rentals, as long as they reciprocate the swap.
While Trevelino was first discovering the home exchange site, Amanda Starling, a stay-at-home mom with two teenage daughters from Georgia, read about the exchange site in a Conde Nast Traveler article. She said it sounded like "a good adventure" and "a fantastic and different way to travel."
Both Trevelino and Starling signed up for Love Home Swap, and decided to swap homes at the end of 2010.
It was Trevelino's first swap. It wasn't what Love Home Swap refers to as a simultaneous swap, when the swap happens at the same time. Starling and her family stayed in Trevelino's beach home in the summer, and Trevelino stayed in Starling's lake home in the winter. They each stayed for three nights.
Starling knew that she wanted to find a beach home in Florida, so she started her search by using the map provided on Love Home Swap's website. She came across Trevelino's beach home, and decided it was ideal for her vacation. She requested a swap, which sends a messsage to that homeowner.
Trevelino replied that he was interested in swapping with Starling and after messaging a few times on the site, the two swappers had worked out times and dates for their vacations.
The two homes are relatively different from one another. Trevelino describes his beach home as "a Bermuda style, sustainable, modern courtyard home with gulf views." It's in Alys Beach, a town in Florida's Panama City Beach. Starling's lake home, on the other hand, is located in La Follette, Tennessee an hour outside of Knoxville on Norris Lake. The neighborhood is complete with a golf course and an airstrip.
The swap, like all of the other swaps Trevelino and Starling have done through Love Home Swap, was successful.
"Staying in Dean's home was magnificent," Starling said. "My children still sigh when they talk about it. It was beautifully designed and decorated, but beyond that, it was just so much more comfortable being in a home. We didn't have to eat out every night. We could just experience a nice quiet family evening preparing and enjoying a meal together. And there were plenty of areas where you could get away and have some private time."
And although Trevelino wasn't necessarily planning a mountain lake vacation, Starling says it gave him the opportunity for an impromptu Christmas getaway with his family. Trevelino described Starling's home as "a great sense of escape into the mountains" in his review on Love Home Swap.
Since signing up for the site in 2010, Starling has completed eight home swaps and has a ninth set up in Paris for July. She's been to Chicago, Rancho Santa Fe in California, Los Angeles, Florida, and Georgia. Trevelino has done five swaps and has been to Italy, Cabo San Lucas, St. Germaine in France, Knoxville, and North Carolina.
For Starling, it's the sense of community she feels through swapping that makes it a worthwhile experience.
"You don't feel like a tourist; you feel like you're coming home at the end of the day after sightseeing," Starling said. "And just the space especially if you take kids a hotel room can be confining and you want to feel like you have a place just to relax a little bit. And I love meeting the people. I feel like everybody I've swapped with is a friend."
People who swap homes tend to love the experience and say that it's one of the cheapest ways to travel, as it's much more cost effective than staying at a hotel.
Once members have signed up, they can swap with whomever they want (as long as both parties agree to the swap). And if the swap doesn't happen simultaneously, members earn points when someone stays at their home, which they can then use at a later date to stay at that person's (or someone else's) home.
As Trevelino pointed out, "Essentially, you're swapping for free."
"There's a major cost benefit, particularly when you look at the homes on Love Home Swap," Trevelino said. "It gives you the ability to spend more of your resources really enjoying your time there, than being worried about the cost to rent and to go on guided hikes and eat at great restaurants and things like that."
Besides Love Home Swap, there are multiple other swapping sites such as HomeExchange, Intervac, HomeLink, and Knok.
Swappers usually communicate through Love Home Swap and then via email or over the phone. An in person meeting usually only happens on the off chance that one swapper arrives at the home of another as the other swapper is leaving.
Starling says that communication with the homeowner provides insider information on things like where to eat, what to see, and what to do.
"Mostly, they're the kind of friendships that are just nice to know they are there," Starling said. "It's neat to think that I could contact any of my previous swaps and say 'Hey! You want to do it again?' Or if I happen to be in their area and needed information or suggestions, I could give them a call."
And for those who are worried about security, Starling says that's not really an issue.
"You have to remember they're letting you into their home too, so you've both got equal stake in the matter," Starling said.
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