Spring break is over. Kids are back in school. Routines return. But soon enough, your thoughts will turn to summer vacation. Where will you go? What will you do? You may look at your tiny tax refund and and think that you can't afford a "real" vacation, what with hotel fees and the cost of eating out, not to mention air travel expenses.
But suppose I told you that you can afford a vacation. You can even travel abroad. Simply swap your home and enjoy free lodging almost anywhere in the world.
It's called home exchange.
The Home Exchange Experience
My family and I have completed 12 exchanges in 12 years. We've lived in homes across the globe, all the way from Hong Kong to Cape Cod. Our children, now in college, have grown up with this fabulous form of accommodation. It has allowed us to see the world.
What originally attracted us to the home swap concept was the undeniable financial benefit. But what keeps us coming back, year after year, is the chance to live in a new city authentically. We experience the region like residents: We eat in a kitchen, gather around the fireplace in the living room and ride through the community on bicycles from the garage. We're part of a neighborhood not a business district.
Home exchanging has been around since the 1950s, and there are close to 70 home swap organizations throughout the world. A few of the top agencies include: www.homeexchange.com, www.homelink.org and www.lovehomeswap.com. Soon to launch is www.casahop.com.
The average annual fee to join a home exchange organization is about $100, although some are free. Most home swap websites permit you to look around their site at no charge. You'll be amazed at the quality of the homes available: thatched cottages, seaside homes and modern flats. You could even live in a windmill!I find that www.homeexchange.com is one of the easier sites to navigate, so I hopped on. By using the "Advanced Search" option, I discovered where a few of their 42,000 members from 146 countries want to travel:
- 1,285 want to exchange in NYC
- 848 want to exchange in London
- 585 want to exchange in Paris
- 414 want to exchange in Berlin
- 133 want to exchange in Los Angeles
- 94 want to exchange in Hong Kong
- 82 want to exchange in Miami
- 72 want to exchange in Chicago
Vehicle Exchange Option
When you home exchange, you also have the option of swapping cars. Home swap partners work out the details themselves. My family has exchanged our Volvo for a Volkswagen in Germany, a Fiat in Italy and a Mercedes in Hong Kong. Before each trip we checked with our insurance agent and made sure that our policy covered "visiting drivers."
So, let's see. No lodging expenses. No car rental fees. And since you'll be living in a home, you can cook your own meals. No $15 pancakes! All that remains is the cost of transportation.
Airline Mile Tips From The Points Guy
Enter Brian Kelly, the airline point expert. Kelly, aka, The Points Guy says, "It amazes me how often only one adult in a family accrues the lion's share of credit card points and the other is simply an additional cardholder. That's a slow way to rack up points! Instead, tag team, so that both rake in huge sign-up bonuses."
There are many credit card deals out there right now, with a variety of offers, so your best bet is to visit www.thepointsguy.com and check out the "Beginner's Guide." Additionally, Kelly describes the benefits of nine Airline Rewards Cards, including annual fees, APR and bonus miles.
A round trip coach seat from North America to Europe can be redeemed for about 50,000 frequent flyer miles. Some credit card companies offer a 30,000 sign-up bonus when you spend as little as $500 over the first three months. (With the price of gas right now, you could hit that amount in no time!) But remember, you'll still need to pay taxes on each ticket, even if redeeming miles.
As with anything in life, planning ahead means better selection. So if you hope to exchange your home this summer and use airline miles, start today. Bon voyage!
Follow Shelley Miller on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HomeExchangeKey