How it works

To stay in a beautiful, far-away home sounds great, but how can this be free?

The answer is home exchange (also called home swap) which is when two families agree to exchange their homes for a period of time for vacation.

Please read on to see an example.

What is Home Exchange?

Home exchange (also called home swap) is when two families agree to exchange their homes for a period of time for vacation. There is no time limit: it could be for a weekend or 12 months. There is no place limit either: the exchange can be within a country or between different countries. A key characteristic is that nobody pays anything; your stay will be free.

Let's look at an example. Here is the scenario of two families, one in the United States and the other in Spain, who decide to exchange homes.

Chris and Gail Edwards live in a large family home in the leafy suburbs of Washington DC, United States. They are in their late 50's. Their 3 children already left the house several years ago.

Chris took early retirement and although their pension is sufficient, they don't have the money to travel the world. Chris and Gail have visited Europe only once and they would really love to go and visit Spain for a while.

They are looking into home exchange to make it happen and list their home on The photo below shows their home listing.

The Edwards' home in Washington, DC

Joachim and Maria Gomez live in an apartment in downtown Barcelona, Spain. They are in their early 40's and have 2 daughters, 8 and 10 years old. Abuela (grandma) also lives with them.

Both have professional careers and they have accumulated several weeks of vacation time. They really would like to travel to the US, but doing so -- while saving for college for their 2 daughters -- is too expensive.

They are looking into home exchange to make it happen and list their apartment on The photo below shows their home listing.

The Gomez's apartment in Barcelona

Chris and Gail have listed Spain as one of their desired destinations. Then one day, they receive a notification from Stay4free that a new listing in Barcelona matched their preferences. They send a message to the owners, Joachim and Maria Gomez, to inquire about a possible 3-week home exchange.

Numerous private follow-up messages are exchanged between the Edwards and Gomez families in which dates and other details are discussed; including number of guests, smoking rules, a neighbor that needs to be notified, home insurance, the lawn sprinkler system, use of the pool, Internet access, and the possible use of their 2010 Toyota Prius. The Edwards family inquires about transportation in Barcelona and learn that a subway station is only 2 blocks away from the apartment. Very convenient.

The Gomez family is excited about the possibility to visit the United States and have listed it as their preferred destination on They receive numerous inquiries, but the one message from Chris & Gail catch their eye because they prefer the US East Coast with its rich heritage and history.

In their message exchange with the Edwards they want to be sure the home is easily accessible because abuela (grandmother) has some difficulty walking. Chris Edwards has offered use of their Toyota Prius and Joachim is very interested because distances are large in the US and car rental would significantly increase the cost of their travel. During their discussions with the Edwards they learn about interesting sites to visit in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. Very exciting.

Once all the details have been ironed out, the Edwards and Gomez families agree that they are ready to exchange their homes in the early summer. Each family prepares for their travel, purchase plane tickets, check passports, etc. Finally, the time arrives to go. So exciting!

Washington, DC, United States
Barcelona, Spain

On June 14 Chris and Gail fly to Barcelona. They arrive at the apartment which is located in a classy neighborhood of the city. The place has a very authentic feel to it. For 3 weeks, they relax and stroll through this bubbly city with its grand boulevards and the narrow Barri Gòtic alleys. They visit the Ramblas, the impressive Sagrada Familia church, the old fortress on the Montjuïc mountain, and the beach which, strangely enough, is close to the city center.

The Gomezes also leave on June 14, but are flying via Miami and stay there for 2 days to visit a long lost cousin of abuela (grandma) who lives there. Two days later they fly into DC. They find a wonderful home with a large backyard and pool. It is already warm in DC and the children make use of the pool every day. They visit the National Mall, including the White House, the Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the famous Air and Space museum.

Sidewalk cafes on the Ramblas

Both Chris and Gail like to eat light and they find everything they need in a local grocery store. Gail has discovered a bakery around the corner with an amazing selection of pastries. Every morning they go down to buy a couple fresh pastries for breakfast. It is easy for the Edwards to move around the city because they have become quite familiar with the highly efficient subway system. They drink coffees at sidewalk cafés and feel they live like the locals.

Visiting the White House in DC

The entire family was invited for dinner one night by their next-door neighbor, a former diplomat -- very friendly people. Using the Toyota Prius the Gomezes explore the beautiful Chesapeake Bay area. They also visit the downtown harbor in Baltimore. Joachim is a medical professional and while in Baltimore they decided to stop by at the world-famous John Hopkins research hospital. In their last week, the entire family makes a day trip to New York city (by train, leaving the car at home).

So, how did this work out?

For the Edwards family the experience was wonderful. Everything felt so authentic and real -- very different from a stay in a hotel. And look at the money they saved:

Average 3-star hotel in the center of Barcelona: $134/night (in June). They stayed a total of 20 nights.

So, how did this work out?

The Gomez family had a trip of a lifetime. The experience was amazing and unforgettable. On top of that, the money saved is just staggering:

Average 3-star hotel in the suburbs of Washington, DC: $169/night (in June). They stayed a total of 18 nights and would need 2 rooms. Compact car rental for 18 days: $844.

  Money Saved: $2,680
  Experience: Priceless
  Money Saved: $6,928
  Experience: Priceless

Ready to get started?

List your home free

Stay4free makes it easy:

     1) Find homes: easy-to-use search and navigation.
     2) User profiles: get to know your home exchange partners.
     3) Favorite homes: your own shortlist of homes you're interested in.
     4) Private messaging: confidentially communicate with your home exchange partners.