Love to travel?  Try Trading Places.

By:  Sharon Cutler, Boulder County Home and Garden Magazine

If you love to travel but crave the comforts of home, a home exchange might be right up your alley. Along with the amenities of a home, an exchange lets you take more vacations because you don’t have to pay hotel and car-rental fees. A home exchange is when you trade your home with someone else’s. It’s usually coordinated through an established network that charges a nominal annual fee to connect you with members around the world. The concept has been around since the 1950s, when queries were mailed and responses could take weeks. By comparison, today’s exchanges are a breeze with connections made and contracts signed online.

There are countless home-exchange networks to choose from; just Google “home exchange” and take your pick. To start your journey, simply join a network, create a listing that showcases your property and location, and start dreaming about where you want to go. There are no limits. Search for homes that fuel your fantasy with the perfect locale and number of bedrooms and baths, and are available during your travel dates. Then email the network members to see if your plans mesh. Once you agree on an exchange, your adventure begins. But be aware: As your geographical boundaries expand, you may find yourself becoming obsessed with magical places you never knew existed!

Besides the opportunity to travel to extraordinary destinations, the advantages of a home exchange are many. You get a travel base that’s an actual home, with separate bedrooms for the kids, a fully equipped kitchen, a yard, a potential pet, and perhaps even a car.

And the best thing about a home exchange is it’s free. Well, not exactly. While no money changes hands during a home exchange, a certain amount of sweat equity is required to prepare your home for a swap. There’s the obvious, of course, like stashing valuables, wiping crumbs out of the silverware drawer, vacuuming dust bunnies under the beds, and clearing space in your closets and dressers.

But it’s the not-so-obvious behind-the-scene tasks that can make or break a swap experience. Here are tricks my family has learned that have helped pave the way for successful exchanges. Katie Costable, the U.S. representative for HomeLink International, also weighs in with her advice.

Help with Directions

Your guests are apt to arrive hungry, weary and sans GPS. If your home is off the beaten path or difficult to find, supplement your written directions with photos showing the more obscure turns and landmarks.

Create a Guide

Create a notebook so all information, “even tips on how to get quirky appliances to work,” is in one place, Costable says. “And leave it in plain sight.” Don’t forget to include favorite restaurants, local attractions and important phone numbers, including emergency contacts, doctors and even neighbors who are willing to answer questions.

Talk Trash

Let home-swap guests know what to put in the garbage, recycling and compost bins. Make sure the bins are clearly labeled, and tape a note with the pickup schedule on each bin.

Tips for Technophobes

If your guests are from another country, English will likely be their second, or even third, language. Mastering your electronics and appliances can be daunting, if not impossible, without a little help. Provide instructions with photos showing which buttons to push and in what order to push them.

Stay Connected

Another must for your home guide is your Wi-Fi password. “This definitely needs to be in the notebook,” Costable says. And if your modem often crashes, be sure to provide reset instructions.

Grow a Green Thumb

Move all your indoor plants to one area to make watering a breeze. You can do the same with outdoor pots. “If you don’t have an automatic sprinkler system, be sure to write down the watering schedule,” Costable says.

Live Like a Local

Provide tips on what to do, where to go and what to avoid. For example, your home-swap guests will want to know not to drive eastbound on I-70 on a weekend afternoon during ski season.

Start a Conversation

“Know the questions to ask and the details to exchange before the swap,” Costable suggests. Pay attention to details, like when your guests are arriving, how they’ll receive the key, what kind of gas your car takes, areas that are off-limits, if there are pets that require care, and any other expectations.

Make Space

It’s tough to make space in overflowing closets or overstuffed drawers. If clearing them out is more than you can manage, invest in a few portable clothes racks to put your clothes on and store the racks in another room or in the basement. Unpack dresser drawers into boxes and stack them in an unused corner or beneath the bed.

Stash Valuables

Remember to store personal papers and valuables in a safe place. The easiest solution is to lock everything in an extra room or closet. If that’s not possible, try hiding them in your crawl space or attic, moving them to a safe-deposit box or taking them to a friend’s for safekeeping.

Add Personal Touches

“Leave a small gift for your home-exchange partners, like the makings of a meal or a premade meal with heating instructions,” Costable says. That makes guests feel welcome and sets the tone for a successful exchange.

Setting up a home exchange takes a little time, but it’s not complicated. Whether your dream destination is an apartment in the Alps, a flat in Finland, a cottage in Curaçao or a bungalow in the Bahamas, you’ll find your perfect home exchange if you’re willing to invest the time and energy to make it happen.

And chances are, you’ll make some new friends in the process.