A few months ago I wrote in The Sun about a home exchange my family was planning to make with a Parisian couple and their two young children. Home exchanges are a fast-growing way to save thousands on lodging costs, live like a local and get to know (if only over the Web) a family in the country you're visiting.
The idea of letting strangers live in your house for an extended period is off-putting for some, but our exchange, completed a few days ago, could not have gone better. The French family took perfect care of our house and gave us frequent e-mail updates on how they were enjoying Baltimore and Washington. (Independence Day fireworks at the Inner Harbor, then Port Discovery, then the Baltimore Science Museum, then some Washington sights and some shopping for merchandise priced in cheap American dollars.)
On the other side of the ocean, the Paris apartment that we used for 17 days was even better than we had expected. In a newer building near the Place de la Republique, it was quiet, set back from the street and overlooking a little courtyard.
Long-term metro passes made all of Paris instantly accessible, and we used their car to make a couple of day trips outside Paris. We saved at least $3,500 on hotel bills, and by eating in the apartment much of the time we also saved hundreds on eating costs.
The fact that our hosts had stocked the fridge with foie gras, champagne and wine didn't hurt. Over several months we exchanged dozens of e-mails with them in a process that built trust and a sense of responsibility. Our A+ experience, say home exchange pros, is the rule, not the exception. With $125-a-barrel oil driving up travel costs, home trades are the single best way to cut travel costs.
We used HomeExchange.com. Other services include Digsville.com, Intervac International and HomeLink International. All charge modest fees for membership, but people in Paris told us that many home exchangers have started using Craig's List, which is free.
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