Trading spaces isn't just a show on basic cable anymore. It's a way to live life like a local on your travels absolutely for free—so long as you let the local borrow your life (and home) in return.
You want to see London; a Londoner wants to stay in your hometown... why not just trade homes for a week or two? That's the simple idea behind home swapping.
You get to stay for free in a genuine home or apartment abroad, and all you have to do to get it is be willing to let someone else shack up in your house while you're gone. It's just like Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz in "The Holiday" (note: there's no guarantee you'll find Jude Law just waiting to kiss you when you get there).
The only catches are:
- First, you have to find someone in the place you want to visit who wants to stay in your neck of the woods. That means folks who live in New York, Florida, and California have a serious advantage in finding swappers, as these are our most popular destinations for visiting Europeans. (On the other hand, I've heard of folks swapping their Winnebago in Oregon for a villa in Tuscany, just because the Italian wanted to have the RV experience in America.)
- You have to agree to take this vacation at the same time.
- You're opening your home to a stranger, and you won't even be around to keep an eye on the family silver.
Folks who take advantage of this vacation method regularly just get used to browsing for places that interest them—not setting their hearts on just one spot, then hoping to find a fellow swapper in it inclined to trade—and being flexible with their vacation time.
As for the trust issue, well, the other swappers are letting you use their home, so you just have to have faith in human nature—and the fact that most home swapping is done through an agency, so any bad eggs are going to be rooted out pretty darn quickly.
Besides, this is actually an added bonus: you essentially get a free house-sitter who will water the plants, take in the mail, and feed the cat while you are gone.
- Homeexchange.com - The outfit the characters in "The Holiday" used is one of the biggest, with more than 65,000 listings worldwide, including 2,000 in England (800+ in London)—though I have noticed that includes some regular rentals, not swaps. Membership: $150 per year.Partner
- invented-city.com - This web-only service has the cheapest membership rates out there, listing a taggaring 1,071 in Great Britain, of which 234 in London. Membership: $25 for three months, $35 for six months, $59 per year.
- Homelink.org - Listing more than 900 home swaps in the U.K., including 116 in London. Membership: $95 for one year, $152 for two years.
- intervac-homeexchange.com - Intervac is one of the older ones (founded in 1953), with a focus on Europe, listing 323 in the U.K., of which 64 in London. Membership: $99 per year.
Also in Lodging options:
- British Bed and Breakfasts★★★
- Apartments (rental flats)★★★
- Farm stays and agritourism★★★
- Aparthotels in Britain★★☆
- Castle hotels★★☆
- Cottages & villa rentals★★☆
- Hostels in the U.K.★☆☆
- University dorms in the U.K.★☆☆
- Stay for free| Free