A Cheapskate's Passport to Paradise

If you’re willing to swap homes with a (somewhat vetted) stranger, you can globe-trot for a song—and live the fantasy that you’re a native, not a tourist

By Naomi Wolf
home swap Thailand photo
Stay virtually free in places like this luscious abode in Phuket, Thailand
Photograph: homeexchange.com

We were supplied with two kayaks and adopted by a lovely Mexican-Swiss family who invited us to a party at their own vacation home. At that gathering we met two famous race-car drivers, one of whom won the world’s record for speed by attaching jet engines to his vehicle. Seeing my son’s excitement, he invited Joe to his house the next day to check out a model of that car and of the racetrack.

MI CASA ES SU CASA: The price of borrowing other people’s homes, of course, is that they also borrow yours. For me, that end of the deal has been remarkably unproblematic. To be safe, I always lock away important papers and personal items. But our guests have been uniformly thoughtful with our home. We haven’t come back to any damage; in fact, I usually return to find an immaculate apartment and a nice note, accompanied by a gift from abroad—such as artisanal French strawberry jam from Fabienne and Françoise—and a bottle of wine to replace the one I always leave to welcome the newcomers to Manhattan.

I’ve grown accustomed to the idea of strangers putting their feet up on my coffee table; in fact, I welcome it. I like to think of our home giving pleasure, instead of being left empty, when I travel. Just as we love to try on other lives and make new friends, there are people out there who actually find it gratifying to try on ours, who delight in our local coffee shop and grocery store—all the places where we do chores or start our own days, places that we scarcely notice anymore. Our swap partners give us the gift of realizing that our ordinary lives can be the apex of a Manhattan idyll of their own.

NAOMI WOLF is the author of the forthcoming book Vagina: A New Biography.

Want to explore home-swapping for your next vacation? Click here for info on home-exchange sites.

Click here for a slideshow of other great places you can trade for a stay in your humble abode.

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Originally published in the April 2012 issue

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