Solo Traveler: Free Lodging, Part I

Solo Traveler: Free Lodging Part I

Column by SHERRY HARDAGE

I have mentioned in previous columns how traveling solo over many months can be rather expensive. And I’ve talked about house sitting as an alternative to paying for expensive hotel rooms. But there is another excellent way for people to travel without paying a dime for lodging.

For those who own homes, the cheapest way to travel abroad is to trade houses with other people.

I’ve had friends express horror at the thought of strangers using their stuff, and possibly stealing or breaking their things. But the flip side of that is when you trade houses with other people, you’ll be in their house, using and possibly breaking their stuff too. Trepidation is justifiably felt on both sides.  

Years ago, my sister who lives in Oregon, arranged for our mother to exchange her house in Santa Fe with a woman in Ashland. It was a nice house, except that my mother is quite fastidious, and the other woman was not. My mother spent at least a day cleaning the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom to her satisfaction and left the rest of the house in its natural state. Fortunately (for her!) the woman who used my mother’s house didn’t mess it up too much.

The lesson our family learned is that you need to make sure your housekeeping values match up well with the exchange family. And it’s important to communicate with the other homeowner, perhaps meet “in person” via Skype, or at least talk quite a bit over the phone. 

It’s also a good idea to swap with similar people. Families with children might not be the best swap-mates for a retired couple with a lot of nice things in their home.

All the good home-swapping websites have an advice section on how to accomplish the swap with the least amount of hassle and hurt feelings. Some home swaps include caring for animals and plants, and in some cases, the car is also exchanged. It all depends on what the two parties agree to do.

I have interviewed people who swap homes regularly. Many of them are couples with elementary and older children. Often they will plan to overlap by a day so the kids can meet each other. It helps children to feel comfortable knowing someone they’ve met will be playing with their toys, and they get a personal introduction to the toys at the swapped house.

If pets are part of the exchange, it’s always a good idea to introduce them to the swap-mates, and to go over any peculiarities of the animals involved.

Home swapping can also work for long-term travelers. A homeowner can arrange for a neighbor or trusted friend to be at the house with keys and information when the guests arrive, and to make sure the place is clean when the swap ends. Homeowners can swap their home sequentially, and travel from one swapped house to another over the course of a prolonged trip.

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Editor’s note: Sherry Hardage lives in Los Alamos and has been traveling solo in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe since she retired from Honeywell in 2009. She is a photographer, writer, and guide who organizes tours of Chiapas, Mexico through her website: www.mexadventures.com

Hardage welcomes comments via email: hardagesa@aol.com

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