For an (almost) free vacation, consider house swapping


From the time their boys were age 3, 5 and 7, Michelle Holleman and her husband Tom have vacationed at free lodgings abroad. They pay in an international currency: the use of their Highland Park house in exchange.

After four years of happy house-swapping, they have vacationed in Paris, London and the Netherlands. Need a four-bedroom place on the beach in Antigua? An apartment near Times Square? A loft in Paris? There's a swap for you.

Here's how to get into the game.

Before you begin

Picture strangers eating off your dishes and sleeping in your children's beds while you do the same at their house. Are you ready to let strangers take over your household?

If your answer is yes, start planning months ahead. Many people, especially Europeans who get vacations of four to six weeks, do their planning a year or more ahead.

Your place in Chicago may be worth less in the August heat, but worth more during a big play-off game. For someone who wants a city stay, your small apartment near State Street might swap for a much roomier place on a Wisconsin lake or near a Colorado ski slope.

The good neighbor policy

Your guests should arrive to find a clean house with freshly changed beds. Holleman says guests are more likely to keep a home tidy if it's clean when they arrive.

To avoid abuse or misunderstanding, disable such things as your long distance service and pay-per-view television. However, if you're too worried about theft or breakage, house-swapping may not be for you, says Holleman.

But in the global economy, a house is not just a home. Now it's a blank check for a free vacation.


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