How to travel comfortably without spending a dime on accommodation


Brian Lindblom and Nancy Dobson in front of their home in Ottawa. They recently exchanged their house with a couple in Quebec. They’ve discovered that home swapping is a great way to travel the world for less.James Park/The Globe and Mail

When I join Brian Lindblom and Nancy Dobson on the phone, they’re relaxing in the living room, talking to each other in the familiar way of a longtime couple. They had a full day in Quebec: strolling downtown, before heading home to prepare dinner. But they are not at home – they are with Jean-Christian Auclair and Lyne Des Groseilliers, while Auclair and Des Groseilliers have stayed at home in Ottawa.

They are all members of HomeLink, a global organization where members can swap homes, allowing for an intimate travel experience. More personal than a hotel, but without the cost of an Airbnb, Lindblom says home swapping makes the vacation experience more relaxing. “We don’t feel rushed, like we have to go to a museum or do [something] simply because we need to make the most of the time. It costs nothing. »

Over the past decade, Lindblom and Dobson have visited New Zealand, Amsterdam, Sweden, Norway, Mexico and different parts of Canada, all on home exchanges. They originally got involved when looking for ways to cut costs while on the go. Home swapping means there are no hotel costs and no money exchange between participants, allowing them to go further and often to stay longer.

However, you need to be flexible. Home exchanges often start with a request. Lindblom and Dobson could contact several members in areas where they might want to travel, to see if they are open to a trade. Or they might receive requests themselves, asking to open their Ottawa home. From there, they see where they could go.

“We went to places we wouldn’t even have thought of,” Lindblom says. “At one point we went to south-central Mexico. Not in a tourist resort or anything, but we never thought we would go to this town, until someone asked us to trade with them there.

There are also the little touches that make home swapping more personal. When Lindblom and Dobson arrived at Auclair, a bottle of wine was waiting, along with cheeses and snacks in the fridge. It’s a welcome touch, but Auclair says it’s also an important aspect of home exchanges; it’s a sign that you really let people feel at home in your space.

This is the flip side of the experience coin. While you are traveling and staying in someone’s home, you also need to be comfortable having people in your space. “Your state of mind should be free from material possessions, they are not very important anymore,” says Auclair. “[Some people] I don’t want anyone in his bed, but it doesn’t take long to get over it.

Auclair and Des Groseilliers receive about 25 requests a year for their house in Quebec, especially during the summer months. It’s not surprising; According to HomeExchange, another home exchange site, Quebec City is one of the most popular destinations for travelers in Canada, along with Whistler, Toronto, Vancouver and Mont-Tremblant. When traveling, Canadians tend to look for swaps in Paris and New York.

HomeExchange data shows members are making up for lost travel time during the pandemic. Trading in September 2022 increased by 126% compared to the same period in 2019. However, they are not all happening at the same time.

“About 70% of exchanges are not reciprocal,” explains Emmanuel Arnaud, CEO of HomeExchange.

There are several ways to swap houses. The easiest is when both parties travel at the same time and simultaneously stay at each other’s place. There are non-simultaneous exchanges, where each party stays with the other, but not for the same period. (Dobson and Lindblom actually decamped to a summer cottage while Auclair and Des Groseilliers stayed home, then traveled to Quebec months later.)

But with 100,000 paying members, Arnaud says the vacation possibilities are almost endless. More importantly, there are few surprises when it comes to home swapping. Without money changing hands, there’s no reason to gloss over a home’s quirks.

“It will be much more discreet, down to earth,” explains Arnaud. “If you come to my house, I want you to have a good stay.” When members list their homes on the site, they’re upfront about every detail: the sticky lock on the upstairs bathroom door or the leak in the kitchen faucet. Arnaud says it also reduces issues with scammers or security issues. Because no one is marketing a property, like they would for a short-term rental, few people are faking the details. Arnaud says that HomeExchange facilitates 250,000 exchanges per year and they have an incident rate of less than 1%.

For many home swappers, this way of traveling feels like a way of life. The first exchange Auclair and Des Groseilliers participated in was with a couple in California who had been part of the HomeLink network for decades, back when it was a printed directory with mailing addresses listed. For Dobson and Lindblom, the appeal is obvious.

“Going away for a month and being in a hotel all the time, eating three meals a day at a restaurant, it’s so unappealing,” Dobson says. “I can’t even imagine living like this.”

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