Cruise ship disasters, always a favorite topic of journalists looking for a cheap headline, have abounded the past month or so. Carnival’s the Triumph was recently described as a “floating Petri dish” after an engine fire stranded the ship in the Gulf of Mexico, causing passengers to endure five days without power with sewage running down cabin walls. This PR nightmare reminds me of why I have a different preferred form of travel—home exchanges.
Home exchanges are a perfect example of markets at work: they function based on mutually beneficial exchange and subjective value and they lower costs of travel for all, and they bridge cultures across the world.
People always ask, “Aren’t you afraid someone will steal your stuff?” In the twelve home exchanges I have done, I have never had property damaged or stolen. Why? Because anyone who agrees to do a home exchange understands that the system is built on trust. Home exchanges incentivize people to respect property rights because their own property is, or will be, in an equally vulnerable position. The majority of exchanges I have done have been with very affluent people. Their willingness to offer their valuable homes to strangers is a testament to the power of mutually beneficial exchange.
Indeed, my family shows that home exchanging isn’t just for the rich. My parents are public school teachers who live in a modest three-bedroom house and can’t afford expensive vacations. Home exchanges are incredibly cheap because your costs are roughly the same as they would be at home. Most of our host families have been generous enough to lend us their cars and we shop at local grocery stores to avoid the high costs of eating out. Home exchanges are accessible to people of all income levels.
They also demonstrate the power of subjective value. While my family travels to see crumbling historic sights, most of our visitors come to revel in the consumer economy of Super Target. Home exchanges immerse you in a foreign culture in a way that planned tours can’t. For example, in Germany, I milked a cow and learned how to make spaetzle noodles from scratch.
The most valuable aspect of house swapping is the lifelong friendships you make. Our hosts have played chauffer, tour guide, and chef and have gone far beyond your average hospitality to make our visits enjoyable. I’ll never forget the family we stayed with in a tiny, rural Bavarian village who spoke almost no English but still welcomed us with open arms. The day that we left, they sprinkled us with holy water, literally offered us the shirts off their backs, cried, and made us promise to come back.
I’ll admit that home exchanging isn’t as convenient as cruising. There are lots of headaches involved in coordinating swaps and learning the lay of a foreign land, but if you’re looking for an affordable, authentic, liberating vacation, I highly recommend it.