My fiancee and I just got back from the South of France. The trip was fantastic. But the way we chose the destination for our vacation deserves somes attention.
We listed our home in Newport Beach, CA on a website called HomeExchange.com, where (as the name suggests) people "exchange homes". The process of listing our place was actually quite fun. You pay a $99 annual membership fee, and then proceed to upload pics of your house and your neighborhood. It really kinds of feels like you're writing a personals listing for your home! And most people give some info on the owners as well (which is important since most people, rightly so, want to know about the people they are potentially lending their home to).
Here's our listing:
After we finished and posted the listing, we were blown away by home many inquires or "exchange requests" we received. From all over the world. Major cities in Italy, Spain, and France. London, Aspen, Stockholm - the list goes on! The site allows you to specify where you're looking to go, but we kept ours fairly open since we weren't exactly sure where we wanted to travel (although France and Australia were high on our wish list). Plus, the element of a little serendipity was appealing as well.
After evaluating all of the inquiries, we ultimately chose to exchange with a nice couple from London who own a vacation home in St. Jean Cap Ferrat (an exclusive little enclave in the French Riviera). According to the pictures and description (http://homeexchange.com/show.php?id=89062) it was an adorable two bedroom apartment about a hundred yards from the beach, with views of the Mediterranean. Upon arriving we were relieved and actually pleasantly surprised that the place felt even better than advertised!
We had such an amazing vacation. One of the best things about doing a home exchange v. staying in a hotel/resort, besides saving around $10,000+ (14 nights x at least $600/night plus all those annoying taxes, egregious parking fees, restaurant/room service...) is the fact that it forces you to have a different kind of experience. You're staying in a home, with a kitchen, and end up shopping a the locals markets every morning, and cooking in many nights. For us, we ended up feeling like we really got a much more intimate feel of the town and the people.
I highly recommend Home Exchange for your next vacation. (And if you happen to have a place in Australia and want to visit Southern California...let me know!)