If you want to take a vacation this year but don't have the money for a hotel, consider swapping apartments as an exciting and money-saving alternative.
Step 1: Start early Give yourself plenty of time to find the right person or family to swap homes with. You may dozens of people before finding the right offer, so don't wait until the last minute to get started.
Step 2: Join a home exchange site Go online and join a home exchange website. Most exchange sites are free to join, and a few charge a fee to access contact information.
Step 3: Be detailed Be as detailed about your home and the neighborhood as possible in your description of the property. Highlight the positives of your place to attract the attention of potential swap mates.
Step 4: Find a place to visit Decide where you want to visit and check for listings in that area. Pick an apartment you like and send a private e-mail to the owner.
TIP: Swap with people who live in similar situations as you do. For example, if you have a family, swap with another family that has an apartment or home that can accommodate you comfortably, rather than swapping with a single person with a smaller apartment.
Step 5: Work out the details Talk on the phone and exchange e-mails to work out the final details of the swap. Discuss who will cover what costs. Typically, the resident pays their regular bills, and the visitor pays phone bills.
Step 6: Draw up a contract Draw up a contract outlining what you and your visitor are responsible for during the swap, who is responsible for damage, and any other details of the exchange including how you will swap keys. Have both parties sign the contract.
TIP: Rest easier knowing that incidents of damage are usually low in swaps because the other party is just as worried about having their property damaged or stolen.
Step 7: Contact your insurance and landlord Contact your insurance company to make sure your visitors are covered as invited guests. Since swapping does not involve exchanging money it is not considered subletting, it's usually permitted.
Step 8: Swap Swap apartments. Enjoy your stay but remember to leave the apartment just the way you found it when your swap comes to an end.
FACT: Dustin Hoffman's cameo in the house-swap film The Holiday was unplanned -- he was walking past the set as they were filming, and he knew the director so he jumped in for a quick scene.