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On a Budget

Swapping Around for a Home Away From Home

July 12, 1998|ARTHUR FROMMER

For people on a budget, the "vacation exchange" has to be the single most sensible, effective money-saver in travel today. You arrange with a family, couple or individual in some other part of the country or the world to live in their home for a specified period while they live in yours. Thus a family of four can save from $3,000 to $4,000 on an average two-week vacation, taking into account what they would have spent on a hotel, rental car (most people exchange cars, too) and three meals a day in restaurants. And the longer they stay, the more they save.

As a bonus, they get to experience local life up close and personal. They might end up in a suburban ranch house or basic downtown apartment, or something more exotic--a houseboat in Sausalito, a 17th century manor in Wales, an underground domicile in Taos. They might get invited to meals and guided around the area by neighbors and treated like locals by shopkeepers. Many people build lasting friendships with their hosts or with folks they've met abroad.

It's something you can set up strictly on your own, without joining a club. Some people place classified ads or arrange to have a notice posted on a bulletin board. It can be as simple as one person meeting another at a convention or cocktail party and suggesting a home trade.

Some might fear that letting strangers live in their place while they're away is a recipe for all sorts of mischief or worse. But the correspondence and planning needed to set up a home exchange make the parties pretty familiar and comfortable with each other by the time the swap actually happens. Still, feel free to ask for references. Other suggestions for easing your fears can be gotten from a number of vacation-exchange clubs.

Most home-swappers, in fact, go this route, paying an annual fee of $45 to $80 to receive directories of members and descriptions (sometimes with photos) of their homes. You then contact and arrange the details with the homeowners yourself. Following are some top options.

Homelink ([800] 638-3841; Internet http://www.swapnow.com): The direct successor to the original Vacation Exchange Club founded in 1960, Homelink is also the largest of the clubs, with more than 15,000 members in at least 50 countries worldwide. It puts out five directories a year. Membership costs $83 annually.

Intervac U.S. ([800] 756-4663): About 70% of this group's listings are in Western and Eastern Europe, but they also cover the entire United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. Membership runs $78 ($73 for senior citizens) including two directories; supplements published later in the year cost extra.

Landfair Home Exchange Club ([800] 458-6557 or [416] 431-4493; Internet http://www.landfair.com/landfair): From dual offices in Florida and Ontario, Canada, it publishes the usual directories for do-it-yourselfers for a $75 annual charge. But for a $50 registration fee and $250 closing fee, owner Bert Meadley also will do the legwork for those who don't have the time or energy to go through the long back-and-forth required to do it themselves.

Teacher Swap ([516] 244-2845; Internet http://tswapaol.com): Only educators need apply; this kind of homogeneity usually makes trading easier, since teachers often have similar schedules. In the last few years it's linked up with similar organizations in France and Germany and has thus added members throughout Western Europe. The organization charges $45 to join and $35 to renew membership. For $55 you can get a directory without having to list your own home.

The Invented City ([800] 788-2489; Internet http://www.invented-city.com) and Trading Homes International ([800] 877-8723; Internet http://www.trading-homes.com) are both affiliates of the International Home Exchange Assn., an umbrella organization that combines directories from member groups in Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Italy, Scotland, Spain and Switzerland (plus listings for individuals in other countries including Luxembourg, South Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Guatemala and Mexico as well as several Caribbean islands). The Invented City charges $75 a year and Trading Homes $65 for access to their directories and Internet sites.

Worldwide Home Exchange Club ([202] 588-5057): If you're an Anglophile, try this club, which has a twin in London. It covers the whole world but particularly emphasizes the United States and the U.K. The cost? Only $29 for a 1,500-home directory.

International Home Exchange Network (Internet http://www.ihen.com): Totally on the Net, this organization and others like it are probably the wave of the future in this arena, allowing new listings to come online and old ones to be retired within minutes. Membership is $29.95 yearly including photo. Browse the site and see what you think.

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