We recently took a short road trip from Eau Claire to spend five days in Madison, Wisconsin. During our stay we had our first HomeExchange experience and it was really positive so I wanted to share a bit more about that.
I first heard about HomeExchange from my sister-in-law who's been using HE for several years. She’s had great travel experiences with her family as well as good hosting experiences. Hearing her positive first-hand experience made me feel comfortable trying it out.
The cool thing about HE is that you can arrange reciprocal exchanges (you stay in their house, they stay in yours at the same time) or GuestPoint exchanges where you use or earn points for stays. I love this option because it means there’s a lot of flexibility. For example, when we go visit my family in Austin our house would be available for someone to stay there and we’d earn GuestPoints for that stay. If you’re interested in learning more about the system the website has lots of great info. And if you’d like to sign up to try HomeExchange, I have a referral link you can use that's linked throughout the post which should earn me some points – thank you!
You earn a lot of points after completing your sign up so we had more than enough points for a four-night stay in Madison. Like AirBnb or other home rental sites, to find a home to stay in you can search by state or city and with your dates and numbers of travelers. Some cities have several homes that might be options while others have few or no homes so it just depends! Luckily HomeExchange seems fairly popular in Madison. The next step is messaging home owners to ask if their home is available for your dates. Each home has a calendar showing availability but you have to confirm first. There’s no “instant book” feature like AirBnB.
I had to message with three home owners before finding a house that would work for us. So far all my interactions with HE users have been so friendly and helpful. Once we confirmed dates with the Madison home owner she accepted our exchange and the trip showed up in my account. The home owner was responsive to all my questions and sent an informational email about the house that also included suggestions of things to do around town.
An interesting aspect of HE is that depending on the home you might have plants to water or pets to take care of since these are often primary residences (although sometimes second homes). In Madison we had a friendly cat and two hens to take care of! Overall they were easy charges although I am happy to be living the pet-free life once again.
Something I loved about the HE experience was getting to see how another family organizes their stuff and decorates. I got some ideas for things I might want to do myself, and found new appreciation for aspects of our house. AirBnbs are great and can be beautiful but they often don’t feel like real life. I’m endlessly fascinated by the ways other people and families do things – this is why I love personal blogs and podcasts, and love sharing myself! Being in someone else’s everyday house was a neat way to get a peek into their life in a different way. For example, I loved the framed wedding and newborn photos in the en suite bathroom. I thought that was a thoughtful place to have special photos that you’ll see all the time. It was also fun to see what board games and books the family had. Maeve was obsessed with this interactive baby signing book. Plus I loved walking through the neighborhood of older homes and seeing everyone's gardens, porches, and paint colors. And although I really loved all the character in an older (1920s) home, the wood floors were really creaky the kitchen was pretty cozy and didn’t have a dishwasher. Those things made me appreciative of our newer house in Gilbert.
At the end of our stay we tidied the house, stripped bed sheets, and left towels in piles as per the instructions. I’ve seen that some HE hosts have a cleaning fee but most don’t seem to. I think that everyone is expected to leave a home in the way they found it. Otherwise there is not supposed to be any exchange of money between guests and hosts. It seems like there's a strong community aspect on HE, even though you probably don't often meet your host or guests face-to-face.
I’m hoping that we can host our first HE guests this October while we travel for the boys’ fall break, and then again possibly in March during spring break. Arizona is great at those times of year, especially for people who live in cold climates. Now that we’ve stayed at someone else’s home I have a good idea of how to prepare our house for hosting. I need to put together an informational email with info about the house and things to do around town. That’ll be fun for me to write. Then I’d also like to make a list for myself of things that I’d like to put away or figure out how to lock up when we’re out of the house, like passports and important documents and my personal journals. I think it would also be handy to change our front door lock to a digital lock with a passcode that we can monitor from afar.
After staying home for so long with COVID, plus emerging from the baby years, and especially now that we’ve found such a neat and affordable way to stay in new places, I definitely have a travel bug. It’s very fun to search for HE homes all over the country and the world. I’m excited for the family travel adventures in our future!