The Rise of Home Exchanges: All You Need to Know

June 4, 2024

The concept of home swapping first originated in the 1950s and was aimed at families who wanted to avoid paying for hotel bedrooms for all of their family members. So, the first home swaps that were for homes with multiple bedrooms so families could take an annual vacation without breaking the bank. Back in those early days, home swaps were also used by teachers attending conferences abroad. Many forms of home swapping have emerged since then, for retirees, families and even remote workers who can swap homes when travelling.

Couchsurfing

In 2004 a unique form of homestay emerged with Couchsurfing. The clue is in the name! People could open their homes to others to sleep on their couches. It has been extraordinarily successful with 12 million members all over the world. Its essence is about community and cultural immersion rather than free accommodation (although you must think that that must play a part as well). The main point with Couchsurfing is that your host stays in their home while you sleep on their sofa. If you are up for this type of cultural experience at no cost (although a token gift to your host would be appreciated) then Couchsurfing might be for you. It is not technically a home swap, but it's proven to be a very popular way of staying in other people's homes for free.

All good things must come to an end though. Many of the early members of Couchsurfing were a bit miffed when the company was sold, as much of it was built on their heroic volunteering efforts to build the community.

Airbnb

Since its beginning in 2008, Airbnb has normalised staying in other people's homes. In fact, people pay a lot of money to stay in other people's homes with Airbnb. In many destinations, landlords choose to offer their properties on Airbnb for short-term rentals instead of renting to local people on a long-term basis. Understandably there is a negative backlash against Airbnb in an increasing number of destinations all over the world, with some locations even introducing legislation to curtail Airbnb.

Let us look at some other forms of homestays that are more palatable to travellers and which do not affect local people and local property prices.

Trusted House Sitters

In 2010 Trusted House Sitters set up facilitating pet sitters and homeowners to come together. Homeowners benefit as their pets get to remain at home with a pet sitter. Pet sitters benefit as they get to travel with free accommodation in return. The main downside for pet sitters is that whilst the accommodation is free, there can be significant responsibility minding other peoples’ pets. Be sure to read the pet profile carefully as some homes have multiple pets, some have large pets, and some have pets requiring medication. Even with only one easy-to-care-for pet, you are not completely free to stay away from the home for any length of time. Traditional home exchanges are still popular with families for vacations.

Swapoffi

Since COVID and the explosion of remote work, a new form of home swapping has come about. Swapoffi is a home swap community for remote workers and digital nomads, many of whom travel for a lifestyle or for months at a time. Unlike traditional home swappers, remote workers value a home office and robust Wi-Fi over multiple bedrooms. Co-founder Sandra says “I love to scuba dive and as soon as I was able to work remotely, I had a dream of travelling whilst working. The cost of accommodation put an end to my dream life, so that is why I set up Swapoffi with some former colleagues. The Swapoffi members swap accommodation with each other instead of paying for accommodation. If you can work from home, why not work from someone else's home? Swapoffi is free to join at the moment, as they build their community (they have homes in over 30 countries already).

As you can see there is some form of home swapping for everyone: retirees, families and remote workers. Home swapping is not just all about free accommodation though. There is an increased focus nowadays on sustainable travel with many large brands trying to be responsible and showing their green credentials whenever possible. Home swapping is truly a green form of travelling. You might be staying in someone's house that would be empty if you were not staying in it. Additionally, home swappers do not feed into the demand for tourist-specific accommodation.

Another reason to join a home-swapping community that suits you is the sense of community. You will find like-minded people who share your values of travelling and home-swapping at the very least. Sandra from Swapoffi pointed out that in their swap community, remote workers can enjoy getting to know each other as they face lifestyle challenges unique to them. “Our members have so much to chat about from visas to travel destinations and tracking spreadsheets.”

 

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