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SUCCESS IS IN THE PLANNING
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Whether you're new to the idea of traveling the home exchange way or have been happily swapping for years - there's always more to learn and share.

Have a tip? Contact our editor with your one (or more) liners and we'll add it .

 FIND THE SWAP THAT'S PERFECT FOR YOU
Being a member of Digsville is a great first step to finding a potential swap partner to fit your travel and lifestyle choices.

How can I be sure the home will have the amenities I need? What if our housekeeping styles clash? Are there enough beds? These questions (and the one's below) are what you should be asking your potential exchange partner to ensure the best possible exchange.

  • Ask for photos. Don't see enough pictures on a home listing to answer your concerns, ask for more and be specific about what you want to see. There is no limit to the number of photos posted to a listing.
  • Be sure to read the listing very carefully for special conditions and house rules. A person with allergies may want to stay in a dander free home!
  • Check the listing for housekeeping styles! Clashing styles will leave everyone unhappy. Think Felix and Oscar!
  • To up your comfort level, look to swap with someone in a similar lifestyle or stage of life. Singles, seniors, large families, kosher kitchens, handicapped accessibility all have their own particular needs so swapping in similar circumstances can greatly ease the transition into someone else's home.
  • Check the U-Rate rating. Unique to Digsville.com is a publicly-visable feedback rating system offering objective commentary from other members who have stayed in this particular home.

 

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 TIPS TO PREPARE YOUR HOME FOR AN EXCHANGE

Home and hospitality exchange are no different that preparing for out-of-town guests. Here's your chance to get the whole family involved to begin the task of discarding, recycling, and organizing. Make those repairs that you have put off. It will be time well spent to make your guests feel welcome and a wonderful feeling of accomplishment for yourself.

  • Clean Out Your Closets. We've all said it, now let's do it. Go through all the clothes closets and pull out all the items that haven't been worn in the past year. This includes items that are put aside for repair, garments that you were hoping would fit one day soon -about three years ago! Go room to room with large plastic garbage bags to give away stuff for friends, family, and charity. It's customary to leave about 12 inches of closet space for your adults guests.
  • Organize Your Paper Trail. Many of us keep our personal records (tax, insurance, etc.) for around least seven years, some items permanently. Check out the large office supply stores that carry many items to help tame the disorganized beast.
  • Put away personal items to make room for your guests. Most experienced home exchangers will tell you they have made at least one closet or small room "off limits" to their guests. This is where you can store personal items that you will not be traveling with. Jewelry, private correspondences, backup personal toiletries, highly temperamental or delicate electronics, or maybe a very expensive vintage bottle of cognac will be on your list. You'll find you now have plenty of space to accommodate your guest. Here are a few ideas to ensure their comfort.
  • Keep a supply of basic toiletries such as toilet paper, hand soap, and simple cleaning supplies available and easily accessible. Temporarily take your personal items (toothbrush, shavers, etc) and tuck away in a nearby drawer or closest.
  • Provide a fresh supply of clean bath and hand towels, a rubberized shower mat, and bed sheets to accommodate the guests staying in your home.
  • Each guest should be provided two large drawers in addition to approximately 12 inches of closet space with plenty of extra hangers.
    A small basket of locally made hand soaps, bath salts, or body lotion would be a nice welcoming touch to a bath or bedroom, as would a short stack of your favorite (recent) magazines near the bedside.

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Kitchen supplies and all those practical items…

One of the many luxuries of staying in a real home is the fully equipped kitchen. There is something magical that happens when you're away from your own home and the pressures of your everyday life. Cooking is more inspired and appreciated by the entire family in ways you'll be soon discovering. Follow these tips to provide a well functioning kitchen for your guests to create simple culinary magic.

  • Be sure all the major appliances are in good working order. If you've been living with a blown-out refrigerator bulb for a while, now is the time to replace it. (Provide appliance instruction booklets when possible).
  • Stock up on kitchen staples such as oils, vinegars, flour, sugar, salt and basic seasonings. Most exchange partners will agree to use basic kitchen and household supplies.
  • Supply adequate pots and pans.
  • Sharpen your knives.
  • Keep your cookbooks and favorite recipes within easy reach for the guest chef. Those dog-eared pages will undoubtedly stir the imagination.
  • Provide simple tools and cleaning supplies in one easy to find place.
  • Have a favorite market or two for buying your ingredients? Is there a fantastic butcher or fish monger in your neighborhood? Share this info with your guests - it's gold!
  • Provide take-out and sit down restaurant menus for those days when home cooking is out of the question.


Repair and replace

We all have our own threshold for what degree of disrepair we can live with. For some it may be unthinkable to have a leaky faucet for more than a few days. Others can live indefinitely with the inside of the linen closet unpainted or the woodwork in the den never installed. Wherever you fall, remember that a little sprucing up goes a long way and virtually every home is listable and worthy of an exchange.

On the remaining pages of an old notebook, tour your home room by room writing down the things you would like to improve. It may help to have a friend follow you with yellow sticky notes pointing out some of the less obvious. Divide the list into what you can do yourself and what you'll have to call in the pros for.

Here are some items members have told us about in planning exchanges this spring.

  • Hang coat hook in front hall
  • Put outlet covers on outlets and switch plates in master bedroom
  • Install shelves in small closet in baby's room
  • Re-grouts bathroom tiles
  • Paint inside of linen closet
  • Install floor molding in den.
  • Buy and install toilet paper holder in downstairs bathroom
  • Fix leak under kitchen sink
  • Replace light bulbs in back hall
  • Replace light pull (chain) in back hall
  • Prime and paint wrought iron gate
  • Replace broken mailbox
  • Shampoo carpets

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Your Biggest Beneficiary

After all this streamlining and sprucing up, you'll find that your home is more livable than it's been in years. You will be thanking yourself for finally pulling it all together!
Also, once your major repairs are done, you'll be more prepared for your next exchange, devoting more energy to learning about your upcoming journey.

Remember, this is just a guide for those of you who asked. That doesn't mean your home is not swappable by any means. Just be sure to be clear with your swap partner the condition of your home and your expectations. Also post photos of your home and be sure to see photos before finalizing any plans. Go in with your eyes open!

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10 TIPS TO A SUCCESSFUL HOME EXCHANGE

1. Practice clear communication. Be honest and accurate when describing your home and offer in your listing, if you fail at this, both parties could be disappointed. Let others clearly know your needs for a comfortable arrangement.

2. Establish do's and don'ts. Be sure to clarify who is expected to pay what in terms of utility bills; use of staple kitchen and bath items; computer usage; hands-off closets or rooms.

3. Get Confirmation. Before you make any travel plans, be sure to finalize the date and details with your swap partner.

4. Inform of any additional guests. Be up front with your host about additional friends or relatives who may be joining for part or all of your stay. It's customary to bring along a best friend or grandparents! If the home can accommodate the number, in most cases all will be welcome.

5. Inform the neighbors. Let your friends and neighbors know you'll be lending your home to guests for the period of time you are away. Imagine the surprise (both parties) if they thought strangers were entering your front door unannounced. Neighbors can often be a great resource for your guests as well!

6. Leave a guide and instructions. Provide the phone number of a friendly contact person to assist in an emergency, numbers for local doctors and dentists, instructions for pet and plant care if needed, info about appliances, locks, tv/video equipment or anything else in your home that may need a bit of explaining. Typically a notebook or three-ring binder will suffice placed prominently so your guests will find it upon their arrival.

7. Be a guide to your town. This is your opportunity to collect business cards, menus, and other info from all your fav places in town and not-to-be-missed events!

8. Inform your insurance agent. Your guests will be covered under your existing policy (in the USA), however, in the event there is a claim, the info may have some bearing if the events happened during your absence.

9. A welcome or thank you gift is always a nice touch but not expected! 

10. The Golden Rule. Treat the home of your host as if it were your own. Remember, they're in your home as well. Always leave the home in the same condition you found it in.

Happy Swapping,
Helen Bergstein
Founder and editor of the Digsville Home Exchange Club

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 TIPS TO A SUCCESSFUL HOSPITALITY EXCHANGE

Newcomers to the home exchange process looking to get their feet wet as well as seasoned exchangers, are choosing to offer and accept hospitality invitations more often than ever before. 


A true immersion into a culture
Exchanging hospitality provides the means to swap ideas, build new friendships and gain insight into each other's worlds.  Sharing in the preparation of meals (including shopping in local markets), dining with several generations of relatives, putting your foreign languages skills to use in a supportive environment, and being directed to the jewels of a region often overlooked in the guide books, are a few of the benefits of an exchange while your hosts remain during your stay. For many it may be simply a comfortable place to hang your hat for a bit while traveling around.

Communication is Key
As in all exchanges, understanding the needs and expectations of one another will ensure a positive experience.  Whether you will be traveling alone or with children, the amount of time to spent together, and the number of shared meals, are just several of the important issues for the host and guest to discuss prior to committing to the exchange.

  • Exchange during the holidays - Holidays are a great time to learn (or teach) the special and often unique customs and foods of a place.
  • Exchange with others who share a similar lifestyle or interest. Examples: If you have teenagers, they will be more receptive to traveling with you if they can meet others of similar age to find out about the pop culture of another place.
  • An exchange where the homeowners and guests share a hobby or a common interest in sporting activities has been known to lead to long-term friendships.
  • Bring a recipe book and cook your host a meal to say thanks! Be sure it's a recipe for which you can find all the ingredients in the regions you'll be traveling.
  • Bring lots of pictures of your extended family and hometown to share with your hosts. Most host families will appreciate knowing more about you as they share their lives.  It's also a great way to get them acquainted with the town where they may visit when they are guests in your home.
  • Mementos of gratitude. Check the appropriateness of gifts in whatever country, culture, or region you're visiting.  Some good information of gift giving customs can be gleaned from guide books, AAA guides, and tourist bureaus.
  • Swap hospitality before an actual home exchange. A new member when this route and says it worked out great for all.


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 TIPS ON SECURITY ISSUES

The number one question from people new to the home exchange concept is, "Yikes, a stranger in my home?" Here are the facts, based on historical data and precautions to take to ensure you will return to your home as you left it (or better).

Facts

Home exchange is reciprocal, while someone is staying in your home, you're at theirs. They have the same concerns you do.
Interviews and surveys with experienced exchangers worldwide indicate the incidence of any sort of breach of security is non-existent.
Local police authorities and insurers agree that an occupied home is safer than one left empty while the homeowner travels.
As a member of the GFN Home Swapping Channel, you are swapping with others of similar mindsets and lifestyles.


Tips and guidelines

  • Get to know your exchange partner via email, phone calls, and photographs.
  • Clearly state 'House Rules' and what is off limits (such as locked rooms or closets, CDs that you value etc).
  • Discuss with your exchange partner, in advance, the consequences in the event of breakage or damage. Most people will agree to replace or pay for the broken item.
  • U-Rate - Digsville.com has a publically-visable feedback system providing you with objective commentary from other members who have swapped with a home. Be sure to rate the homes you visit!
  • Inform your nearest, trusted neighbor of your plans. They can keep an "extra" eye on your property while lending a helpful hand if need be.
  • Remove from the house items of extreme value. Unless of course you are an antique collector (many members are) and you are swapping with other collectors.
  • Consider a hospitality exchange if you have the additional room. This may provide the extra level of comfort you may need.

 

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 TIPS ON INSURANCE ISSUES

The following is a brief overview of what is typical in the USA. Read Resources with individuals links to some of the best and most reputable companies.

Medical/Travel Insurance
Many group/individual insurance companies have restrictions on benefits if you're traveling for an extended period of time and distance. Many attempt to cover emergency travel assistance, travel protection, personal accident, loss of baggage and legal expenses, and travel interruption in their menu of services. Fees vary according to your coverage needs (when, where, how long you're planning to travel) so be sure to keep your insurance agent's telephone number handy for making any last minute changes to your policy. Many countries have sky-high emergency health costs, which can be completely avoided by having the appropriate travel insurance.

Automobile Insurance
The typical car insurance policy in the USA states, "any other person while using such a car within the scope of the consent of the insured and his or her spouse." In other words, anyone driving such car is covered by the car owner's insurance, provided the car is being driven with the authorization of the car's owner, the policyholder. Of course this is just a sample of what many clauses state. Exceptions and restrictions differ from country to country. We suggest you check your policy carefully and double check with your agent.

If you decide to make your vehicle available to your swap partner be sure to provide a permission letter from yourself in the event an emergency occurs.
Ask the driver to provide you with a copy of their valid driver's license. 

Homeowners Insurance
As with travel and car insurance, policies vary worldwide and all insurance companies have their own limits and restrictions. Some homeowners' policies offer protection to the homeowner, his or her family, and his or her friends. This usually includes home exchangers as friends of the insured. Umbrella policies can usually be purchased separately to attain additional coverage if necessary. We urge you to speak with your insurance agent several weeks in advance of your trip to make sure you have adequate coverage. NOTE: Local police authorities continue to confirm that an occupied home is much safer than one where the homeowner is absent for an extended period of time.

General Tips on Insurance

  • Before purchasing any type of travel insurance, determine where you'll be traveling, price can vary dramatically from country to country.
  • Shop around for the most competitive price but be wary of scams. Be sure you are provided with a physical address of the insurance company  headquarters as well as a toll free number. Check for a direct point of contact while overseas?
  • If you are traveling for an extended period, say one month or longer, ask about discounts and "bonus days" which may cover you in the event you're delayed.
  • After you have determined how long you'll be traveling, add on an additional two weeks to insure your "lost" luggage will be covered.
  • Read the fine print carefully. You may not be covered for your camera left in an unattended car or a pre-existing medical condition. Chances are you'll be able to pay a small additional premium for particular instances.
  • Makes copies of the policy and contact numbers. Some insurers have strict policies about how and when they are notified in the event of a loss.


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  TIPS TO FIND THE PERFECT EXCHANGE PARTNER

Finding the perfect exchange partner depends largely on you. You need to identify your preferences concerning what kind of vacation you are most interested in, where and when you wish to travel, details about your traveling party and most importantly - what is your degree of flexibility on all of the above.

  • Accurately describe your home and neighborhood in the home listing. This cannot be emphasized enough. Bigger and better is not what others are always looking for. If you have small kids, mention it. This way your prospective exchangers will know there are plenty of "new" toys for their kids to enjoy. Maybe you're an antique collector and cringe at the thought of children in your home. Be honest and select the box in the conditions/house rules portion of the listing. Everybody will be happier in the end.
  • Be honest with yourself about where and when you want to travel. Sometimes a home sounds so exciting (and very often much different than your own) that you will be tempted to jump through hoops to make an exchange happen. This doesn't always work out well due to conflicting schedules, lack of amenities etc. Be flexible to a point and remember, there is always next time.
  • Find a weekend exchange driving distance from your home. Consider swapping your city residence for a country place, or possibly a mountain home for a beach cottage. You don't have to go far to have a fun change of scenery.

Getting Down to Business 

Ask questions and more questions.  If the home listing does not provide the details that are important to you, ask. Scenerio: If you or someone in your family suffers from asthma, you certainly won't want to have a cat tucked quietly away in the corner that you didn't find out about earlier. Perhaps you would like to invite guests over for a Saturday night dinner party. Run it by your potential swap partner and most liking they'll inform you as to where the fancy serving platters are located! Need a local caterer, just ask.
Get additional photographs.  The Digsville listing provides you with unlimited space to add photos with captions of your home, neighborhood, families, great views etc. If you need to see more photos, ask! If someone is not responding to your request for more information, this could be a red flag. Proceed with caution.
Check the U-Rate. Digsville.com's unique U-Rate is a publically-visable feedback system providing you objective commentary from other members who have swapped with a particular listing. Simply click on the 'stars' on the top of each listing.

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