During the pandemic, many people see are considering short-term rentals and/or home exchange as a safer way to travel. But which is best? Here’s an updated version of our earlier post that explains how how they differ.
Our traveling life started late: once our kids were on their own, we moved from the dark, sprawling home they’d grown up in to a compact, sunny home overlooking a marsh where snowy egrets stalked their breakfast. We loved it, but we were restless. We wanted to travel! We had the time…but we didn’t have much money. To afford the kind of traveling we wanted to do, we decided swap or rent out our sunny new home.
Over the years, we’ve found that exchanging and renting out our home both help us accomplish our purpose: to make travel affordable, and to have someone caring for our home while we’re away. But we’ve learned that there are some big differences between home exchange and short-term rental.
Home exchange is more personal
With both home exchange and short-term rentals, you agree to let strangers live in your personal space, sleep in your bed, shower in your bathroom, and cook in your kitchen.
But with home exchange, you also live in your exchange partner’s home. That creates an odd sort of intimacy. Some people love that feeling; others do not.
That’s one reason that home exchanges work best when you and your home exchange partner share some sense of what’s important about the place you live in. If you like elegant surroundings, you’ll probably not feel at home in a pad with thrift-shop furniture. If your exchange partner craves light-filled rooms, they may find your ground-floor apartment a little depressing.
Communication is even more essential for home exchanges
Clear, ongoing communication is the vital ingredient for success in both short-term rentals and home exchanges. In fact, most problems can be traced directly to a lack of that communication. A few email exchanges are not enough to avoid the surprises and misunderstandings that can ruin your trip – and in extreme cases, your home.
But communication is even more important for home exchanges. Rentals are business transactions, secured by written agreements and cash deposits. Home exchanges are grounded only in trust: I’ll take good care of your home and you’ll do the same.
Home exchanges are also more logistically complex. Exchange partners need to synchronize their arrival and departure dates; agree on who will be responsible for cleaning and expenses; determine what happens in case of damage; and more.
Home exchange can help you get to know a new community
Vacation rental hosts usually leave maps, guidebooks, and other information to help their guests find their way around. Experienced home exchange partners might do that as well.
But home exchange partners are more likely than rental hosts to delight in sharing their favorite places to shop, the cafes and restaurants they like, where to find hidden bike and walking trails and off-the-beaten path attractions, and more. They are also more likely to introduce you to their neighbors and friends, helping you forge new connections with people you would otherwise never have met.
Short-term rentals give you more options
When Jeff and I travel, we prefer 4-8 week stays in the late spring and early fall, and we opt for vibrant cities over beaches or the countryside. But every January brings a slew of proposals for August exchanges in Europe or winter exchanges in cold, snowy places like Boston and Montreal. We also get proposals for week-long exchanges in out-of-the-way places that don’t much interest us.
That’s why we often end up with a short-term rental instead of an exchange: we’re not limited by destination, time of year, type of home, or length of stay. The rental income helps us pay for a place of our own choosing. We still get the benefit of having someone living in our home instead of leaving it empty while we’re away.
Home exchange isn’t right for every trip
There’s another reason you might choose to rent out instead of exchange your home. If you plan to drive through the villages of northern Spain, go on an African safari, or take a cruise, a home exchange won’t work. You’ll need to do a short-term rental instead.
Which do you think would work best for you, a home exchange or a short-term rental? What other differences between home exchange and short-term rental do you see? Please share your thoughts in the Comments or on our Facebook page.