Home swapping is just what it sounds like. Your family and another family live in each other's home for the length of your vacation. You avoid the cost of hotels and eating out constantly. If the home is near attractions you want to see, you save on transportation, too. Before considering this option, however, check your insurance policy. How does it cover damages and injuries to guests?
The least expensive way to connect with home swappers is through advertising/classifieds sites, such as Craigslist.com. Subscription-based Web sites can speed your search. Some offer short-term (such as three-month) memberships, which are probably the most economical for a one-time vacation.
The process is something like blind dating: You describe your home and look for suitable digs in your desired destination. A backyard pool could be a safety hazard if you have a toddler, for instance. Eventually, through photo or video exchange and communication, you find a good match. And, as with dating, the more honest the parties are, the happier everyone will be with the outcome.
Before handing over the keys, work out a detailed written agreement. For example, who pays the utilities? How many people are allowed to stay? Are pets permitted? What about smoking? Are any parts of the property off-limits?
And do tell the neighbors. A visit from police checking on suspicious activity is more local flavor than most guests bargain for.
On our next leg of this journey, we travel by horse -- iron horse, that is.