One of the growing trends in travel is the use of the home swap. If you are interested in staying in a location for a month or more, you might be able to save on your travel expenses  by cutting out the cost of lodging. With a home exchange, you stay in someone else’s home, while they come and stay in yours.
Instead of paying for a hotel or for an apartment, you pay a monthly fee to the home exchange site you belong to, and receive access to thousands of listings. For between $100 and $500 a year (depending on the site, and the level of membership), it’s possible to find people willing to exchange with you. On the cheapest options, your yearly membership fee basically pays for itself after you’ve spent one night in someone else’s home. This option is even cheaper than vacation home rentals .
It’s important to be careful, though. Remember that you aren’t just staying in someone else’s home; someone is coming to stay in your home as well. Here are 5 tips that increase your chances of success:
1. Vet Your Exchange Partners
Before agreeing to a home exchange, vet your partners. Exchange emails, and perhaps even arrange to speak with them on Skype. You can also check to see how many exchanges they have been involved in. The higher the number, the more likely it is that they are good people to swap with. You can also ask for recommendations and follow. Research your home swap partners to ensure that you are dealing with reputable people.
2. Create an Exchange Agreement
Many web sites, like HomeExchange.com  and HomeLink.org , offer sample agreements that you can use. Check through exchange agreements so that you understand what is expected of you. It helps to be clear about what is expected of those who stay in your home as well. Share which areas are off limits, and which expenses those staying in your home will be expected to cover. Often, it is the owner’s responsibility to pay for ordinary repairs and maintenance, and the exchangers to pay for damages.
3. Put the Valuables Away
If you have valuables that you don’t want other people touching, or possibly breaking, you need to put them away. Store them in a safe, or a locked room that is off limits to the exchangers. The same is true of important and private papers. Likewise, when you visit someone else’s home, check for breakable items. If you are worried about breaking something, put it away in a closet in order to avoid accidents. You can replace it when your stay is finished. Realize, too, that you will need to clear out space in drawers and closets, as well as bathrooms, for visitors to store their items. On a long-term switch, it’s important to make sure that there is adequate space.
4. Ask for Area Information
Seasoned home swappers often leave maps, local tourist guides, and other information for visitors. Ask your exchange partner to leave local information, along with recommendations for services, such as dental and eye care, that you might need during your stay. And, of course, you should return the favor. Recommend activities, entertainment, and more for those who stay. Also, leave information regarding noise rules, and other items of local interest.
5. Leave a Thank You Note and Small Gift
It is customary to leave a thank you note and small gift for those who let you stay in their homes. Also, clean up after yourself. While you don’t need to clean every nook and cranny, you should keep things relatively clean and damage-free. If you want to get a good review, and go on other exchanges, you want to be a good guest.
(Photo: jedavillabali )