Family Travel: Swapping Houses

Trading places with another family is a great way to have a cheaper, family-friendlier vacation.

Why Families Swap

Two summers ago, on vacation in Martha's Vineyard, 5-year-old Caroline and her 2-1/2-year-old sister, Lily, got a bonus even the swankiest hotel wouldn't have provided: a chance to take care of Penelope, Petunia, and Pickles -- three real-life pet pigs. The girls' parents, Nicole and Andy Dewell, of Eagle, Colorado, had taken a leap of faith and swapped houses with the owners of said pigs, using an Internet home-exchange program.

"We don't have a lot of money, so this was great for us," says Nicole, who calculates that they saved about $3,000 they would have spent on hotels and restaurant meals.

Each year, a growing number of families log on to Internet exchange sites (usually for a fee) to gain access to thousands of listings from fellow swappers. When you find the right place in the right location, you contact the owners. If all goes well, e-mails and phone calls fly back and forth until you've sealed the deal.

But what if (like most of us) you don't have a home that's a vacation paradise? It turns out it won't really matter too much when it comes to making a match. Beyond the chance to go swimming, hiking, or skiing, a family may have a lot of other reasons for seeking a comfortable place to stay in a given area, anything from attending a wedding or reunion to checking out retirement spots or visiting local colleges.

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