The first time I spoke with Philippe, I listened closely to everything he said for any sign of a criminal past—or even just a very messy one. I could detect neither. Philippe assured me that not only was he an upstanding French citizen, he took his cleanliness seriously. I had entered the world of home swapping, where a clean record, good hygiene, and solid housekeeping habits go a very long way.
Swapping my Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment for Philippe's Parisian flat was the springboard to my fabulous French vacation, the icing on my éclair! It makes sense: Home swapping draws you closer to the people and places you're visiting, producing a far more culturally enriching experience than staying in a hotel, where the line between tourist and resident is drawn at the porter's door. Now, with a proliferation of online home exchange services, it's easier than ever to indulge your travel fantasies: Spend your well-earned vacation days in an Aussie's beach house off the Great Barrier Reef, a Vermonter's 1850s clapboard house within view of the Green Mountains, or a Parisian's flat on Ile Saint-Louis.
KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY
A handful of online services are targeted towards gays and lesbians who want the security of knowing their sexual orientation won't be an issue or who simply feel more comfortable staying within the gay community:
GFN Home Exchange Club
Listings: 2,000 (2/3 American; 1/3 Everywhere else)
The Scoop: Guarantees you'll find a home exchange partner in one year, or the next year is free. Lets you rate the houses you visit.
Membership fee: 1 year for $44.95
Mi Casa Su Casa
Listings: 258 (2/3 American; 1/3 European)
The Scoop: Has a great track record (established in 1992), but you can't view full listings unless you're a member.
Membership fee: 3 years for $60
Home Around the World
Listings: 350 (mostly European)
The Scoop: Has good search parameters. Offers travel insurance, flight and hotel discounts, bulletin boards, and 50% discount on renewal memberships.
Membership fee: 2 years for 39 pounds (about 71 USD) or 5 years for 65 pounds (about 115 USD)
One World One Family
Listings: 120 (2/3 American, 1/3 European)
The Scoop: Though free, it takes 48 hours to set up an account. Includes a link that translates pages (very roughly) into eight languages. Big photos!
Membership fee: Free
Gay Home Exchange
Listings: 551 (2/3 Europe, 1/6 N. America, 1/6 Everywhere else)
The Scoop: Yes, it's free, but this poorly designed portal has a few kinks.
Membership fee: Free
Our full report on Home Swapping appears in the Spring issue of The Out Traveler.