How to Complete Your First Home Exchange in 7 Easy Steps

Think you can’t go somewhere expensive for vacation? Well, think again my friends. A major trend these days is the idea of participating in a home exchange instead of paying for accommodation.

After six years of traveling through Southeast Asia, we finally took our first home exchange, and I’m a little pissed we waited so long, seriously, I mean it.

When Mark and I moved to Penang, we knew we would be able to travel affordably within the region, and we have. We’ve lounged on the beaches in Thailand, driven around Bali and even wrote a book on retiring there for International Living, surfed in Sri Lanka, eaten smoked bats in Laos, narrowly avoided being hit by scooters crossing the streets in Vietnam and seen the ancient worlds of Angkor Wat Cambodia. All of that has been on our own dime and relatively affordable.

The Bayon Temple - My favorite temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia

The Bayon Temple – My favorite temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia

But we’ve been craving something different. Something outside of Asia. However, affordability plays a significant role in travel. And honestly, after living in Malaysia, where everything is dirt cheap, going anywhere where the dollar is strong is super challenging.  Even going back to Chicago kills us, where two martinis cost as much as an expensive dinner for two in Penang. And you know how we love our martinis.

Martinis at Hugo's Frog Bar, Chicago

Our fave martini spot, Hugo’s Frog Bar

So, my quest for travel and exploration without taking out a mortgage to pay for it was fueled by me being cheap, and I’m totally ok with that.  For our first home exchange, I started researching home exchange; it’s one of the largest and most reputable sites out there.

As with most things travel, I got completely obsessed. The possibilities are limitless, a week in a villa in Tuscany, sure why not, three weeks in Vancouver? Sure can. A few days in Paris, yup.  Admittedly I got completely off track and was dreaming up holidays to places I’d never even heard of before.

I was overwhelmed with travel options and giddy as a teenage girl who just saw John Stamos for the first time.

John Stamos, teenage heartthrob

John Stamos, teenage heartthrob

I wanted to travel to the furthest corners of the world because I could. There were so many options that I couldn’t make up my mind; I wanted to go everywhere … that is when I entered my dreaded analysis paralysis state. It’s one of my most common states when the world is my oyster.

After Mark reigned me back in, I started planning. To help you avoid travel analysis paralysis, here are the 7 easy steps to set up your first home exchange.

Step 1-Sign up and set it up

If you use this link, we will both get extra guest points (which I explain further down).

When we signed up the site was $130 per year, but the rate has gone up to $150, still less than you would pay for a long weekend away in any hotel, pretty much anywhere in the world. Or one night in a nice hotel in Chicago.

Set up a profile about you and your home.

Take some time to write a little about you. People need to get to know you from your profile. After all, they are letting you into their home, so you want to let people know you are trustworthy.

Take clear and bright pictures of every room, the more, the better. Make your home look like a model, put the laundry away, close the toilet; you want people to like your home and want to swap, so make it attractive. And remember, just because you live in Paris, doesn’t mean you should show pictures of the Eiffel Tower. We know that’s in Paris, what we don’t know is what your home looks like.

Step 2-Time to start planning

Spend some time checking out the site and find your dream place to stay. Message the host with your travel plans/hopes/dreams. Avoid the dreaded analysis paralysis; it will get you nowhere, take it from me.

There are three types of exchanges:

  • Reciprocal: You go to their home the exact same time they go to yours.
  • Non-reciprocal: You go at different times, for example, I go to Greece from May 1-15, you go to Penang from Sept 5-20. These are often done when the homes being exchanged are second homes, but not always.
  • Guest points: Points allow you to do an exchange with someone that doesn’t wish to go to your home, so you give them points per night instead of exchanging houses. For example, we had people from Mexico come and stay at our home, but since we aren’t planning to go there any time soon, we asked for Guest Points. They “paid” us a nightly amount that Home Exchange recommends.

Greek island home

Our Greek island home exchange

Step 3-Get to know your exchangers.

Once you have secured your exchange through the site, get to know your hosts a bit. Ask about their favorite things in their town, recommendations they can give you, and vice versa. See if they need help finding transport to your place, or if they will need a SIM card for their phone. This isn’t an essential step to the exchange process, but it’s an excellent way to get to know someone that is coming to your home.

Step 4-Clean up and make some room.

Clean your home and take out or lock away anything you wouldn’t want to be damaged or used; like a computer, family heirlooms, or sex toys 😊.  Make space for your guests. They need a place to put their clothes and toiletries; it’s not a hotel, they are living at your home, so make them feel welcome.

Step 5-Make an information booklet.

Write about the to-dos/not-to-dos/how-to-dos, in your home.  You may know where to take out the garbage, but they won’t, so be specific. Go through every room and explain the details.

For us, it was essential to explain how to turn on the water heater before showering. We don’t have hot water on tap as we do in the US, we have to flip a switch and wait 10 minutes for it to heat up. Unless you’re from Asia, you probably haven’t dealt with that before, so it is important to explain those sorts of thing to them.

Give them the Wifi codes so they can connect to your internet. Help them make your home theirs while they are staying there.

In that booklet, write about the area, where to eat, best bars, coolest national landmark, whatever makes your home and neighborhood the best.

Also, give a few contact numbers of your friends just in case they have any questions or concerns and can’t reach you.

Step 6-Enlist a friend.

Get a friend or someone you trust to help in between exchanges so there will be someone to open the doors, give them the keys, and collect the keys when they leave.  Or if you have a secure place where they can get your keys, even better.

Step 7-Pack your suitcase and go!

Now that you’ve found your dream exchange, go and enjoy yourself. With all the money you’ve saved, plan an incredible excursion, take a tour, rent a sailboat whatever your heart desires. And if your anything like me, you’ll be planning your next exchange while you’re still on your first.

The beaches of Portugal anyone?

Algarve, Portugal beaches

Algarve, Portugal, our next home exchange – unless I change my mind.

By the way, I am in no way an affiliate of Home Exchange, nor have I stayed in the places I linked to in this article. They are to show you the kind of opportunities that are available through the site. You must do your research to find your ideal swap, but with so much on offer, it would be difficult not to find your dream place.

Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions. I’m here to help.

Happy travels!


  1. Sherry Booker

    Sounds amazing! We’ll have to check this out! Thanks Kirsten!!
    Oh, and YES to Portugal!!! Looks gorgeous!!

    • Kirsten Raccuia

      Sherry! You have the best situation. Four months in the US, 8 months off. I love that ratio! See you soon in Penang!



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