Q&A: A veteran house swapper shares her tips
House swapping is an ultimate budget travel feat— you allow someone to stay in your home while you take off and stay in theirs. You both get free accommodations and an authentic experience in a new city.
So what's house swapping really like? We asked Nicole I. Frank of Roofswap.com, a new site that has more than 14,000 house-swapping listings in 130 countries. She offers advice for curious house swappers, and she should know—the native New Yorker is a veteran of more than 40 house swaps since 1991.
Q:Tell us what you get with a membership on Roofswap.
A: Roof Swap was founded by passionate home swappers. You'll have access to an easy-to-use template that'll get your home listed for swapping in a few easy steps. Then, you can search one of the largest databases, with 14,000 diverse listings. We also offer customized advice from home exchange veterans like myself, attentive customer service, and unlimited home swap vacations. Editor's Note: RoofSwap's three-month trial membership costs $20; a yearly membership is $75. If you sign up for membership before Dec. 31, 2010, you can get 20 percent off when using promo code MAR2BT0.
Q: What do you tell people who are interested in house-swapping but also a little fearful of it?
A: RoofSwap has a Forum where members can ask any questions they have and get expert advice from me and other veteran Roofswappers. For more peace of mind, RoofSwap is the only house-swapping club that offers a low-cost insurance policy backed by an insurance company. Most people with home-owners' or renters' insurance can check their policies to be reassured that they are already covered for almost anything that could go wrong.
Q: What are the benefits of house-swapping, besides the fact that you get your accommodations for free?
A: Vacationing in someone's home helps you "live like a local" for a more interesting travel experience; swappers share insider tips on places to go the area. Swappers are usually happy to care for Rover or Kitty. Families will have more space than in a hotel room and can make use of the swap partners' stroller, high chair, toys, and books. Also, homes have more useful amenities than hotels— I would much rather have free wireless internet, a kitchen, and a washer/dryer than a mint on my pillow. Swappers can often negotiate trading the use of cars in addition to homes...I could go on!
Q: Do you have to live in a big city to be a good candidate for house-swapping?
A: There is something interesting about everyone's home town. City folks often want a rural retreat. Swappers from other countries want to experience small-town life. No matter where you live, someone will want to swap for your home.
Q: You've been on a number of house swaps yourself. What's your favorite story to tell about house-swapping?
A: My six-week honeymoon grand tour of Europe. We stayed in Barcelona, Nice, Paris, and Amsterdam and never spent a penny on lodging.
Body language basics
Five ways to say no around the globe—without uttering a word. See the slide show. Bulgaria • Greece • MaltaSlowly move your head up and back (like half of a nod). Afghanistan • IranMove your head up and back (as above) and click your tongue once. Brazil • Ecuador • Italy • MexicoExtend your index finger and move it side to side. Lebanon • TurkeyRaise your eyebrows one to three times* while clicking your tongue. * Challenging for the Botoxed ChinaHold your hand in front of you, palm facing out, and wave it from side to side.
Follow up: Using your cell phone in Europe
While reporting the recent story "Using Your Cell Phone in Europe", I was amazed by the intricacies of data plans and hidden charges. I suggested buying a "disposable" phone at a cell phone store or touristy area (between $40 and $75) to avoid fees from your U.S. carrier. But I should have known that savvy readers would chime in with lots of other workarounds when using a cell phone in Europe! There have been some very helpful and thoughtful comments—thanks to you all. Here are a few highlights: Flightdirector says to rent your phone beforehand from a third-party company: "I've rented a phone for both England and Europe (Italy & Greece) from a company called PlanetFone. If you are an AAA member, you are eligible for a discount. One of the nice things about the phone rental program is the availability of an 800 number. People trying to reach you from the US dial the 800 number without having to deal with international exchanges. The phone is sent to you with charger via FedEx and includes a return FedEx envelope. The cost for the phone rental for an upcoming three week vacation in France will cost me about $50." And both Motorcycle Pete and kyvoyageur suggest a similar service called Mobal: "I only pay for it (via my Credit Card) when I use it, and the rates are competitive. The reliable and efficient Siemens phone I purchased was VERY cheap (perhaps $30?) and it hold a charge, un-used, forever," says Motorcycle Pete. And two readers mentioned Skype, a service that uses the internet to make video and voice calls. "If you have a laptop, iPhone, or iPad you can use Skype, but you will be limited on where you can use it. You would need to use it at your hotel or a cafe with WiFi, but it's a lot cheaper than your cell phone provider," says Suzl4. JL75011 also recommended Skype as an app on your smart phone, but also makes this great point: "Keep in mind, some service providers will only allow you to activate international roaming/data plans on the first day of your billing cycle. Don't wait until a few days before you leave. Also, you can deactivate the plan when you return home, so you don't have to keep paying the additional charge every month." MORE "Using Your Cell Phone in Europe"
Last chance for summer!
You've got 55 days to go before autumn officially sets in, and a lot less than that before school starts. So we're wondering how many of you will you make the last days of summer count. Share your plans below.
What is the strangest travel fee that you've encountered?
The single biggest news story in 2010 has been about all of the extra fees that airlines are charging as a way to supplement flagging revenues. In the second quarter alone, the airline industry picked up $2.1 billion in extra fees and charges. In our October Readers' Choice issue, on stands now, we reported the somewhat unsurprising news that among all the many clever new fees, your absolute least favorite charge was the dreaded baggage fee. (Fortunately, with some planning and the right bag it is possible to get by with a carry-on and avoid the checked-bag fee.) Consumers and travel industry professionals are starting to rally together. A collective of groups submitted a petition with thousands of signatures yesterday via the web site, MadAsHellAboutHiddenFees.com, to the Department of Transportation. The goal? To force the airline industry to create greater transparency about fees during the booking process. (Look for the final ruling in Spring 2011.) While baggage fees (and airlines in general) are getting most of our attention, I'm curious to hear about other weirdo charges you've noticed on a bill recently, whether on a cruise, at a hotel, or at the rental car checkout counter. What are some new and bizarre—and perhaps patently unfair—fees you've been stuck with in your travels?