I recently booked a home exchange on the Guest to Guest network for an upcoming trip to Rome. It’s a points-based exchange because I’m going with a friend so I can’t do a simultaneous swap. We will be staying in someone’s vacation home, which I think she occasionally rents out, but also uses regularly herself. The host was very responsive to my questions and overall I felt good about the booking. Just a week before the trip I reached out to finalize arrival details and she asked if we would need sheets and towels, mentioning that there would be a €25 charge if we wanted her to supply these things. I was very surprised by this; in all my swaps this is the first time I’ve been asked to pay for the use of sheets and towels.
I should mention that all of my communication with this host was through the “translate message” feature on the Guest to Guest website. They have done a really good job of implementing this tool. You can write a message in your own language, and the recipient is offered a button to translate the message into their first language. Of course it’s only as good as the translation technology underlying the tool, so going from Italian to English will not be perfect. But I found our discussion surprisingly clear, and this is the first time I’ve needed to use the translate feature.
So when I read about the charge for sheets and towels my first thought was that maybe I had missed a mention of this in the profile or in previous messages, due to the language barrier. I send a note back expressing my surprise at this charge and asking if I had missed it in her listing. I also shared my feeling that these charges are not appropriate in home exchanges and not something I’ve ever requested or been asked for before. But I concluded my message saying that yes we would pay as we definitely need sheets. In the grand scheme of things this isn’t really that big a deal for a 5 night stay and I certainly didn’t want to give her cause to back out of the swap at the last minute. My host wrote a nice message back that since she had failed to mention it before she would not charge me, but she also commented that she had been asked to pay a similar fee on a recent swap to London so she does not think this is unusual.
Some home exchange purists oppose points-based swapping because they think it’s too much like spending money and there’s not enough of a personal connection if you aren’t doing a direct exchange. This experience suggests that points-based exchanges do introduce a monetary element not found in direct exchanges, even when everything is done in the currency of points. The direct exchange is clear on the general expectation of equivalence: you stay in my house and use my sheets and towels and I stay in yours and do the same. It would be silly for someone to charge a fee for sheets when they expect sheets in the house they will be swapping for. We need to negotiate who will clean what (i.e. do we each do laundry before leaving or do we leave the dirty laundry for each other to take care of upon return home). But at least we are negotiating from a position of equal requirements (everyone needs sheets!) .
I suspect that there is some blurring of lines between peer-to-peer rentals and home exchanges, especially for folks who list their vacation/rental homes on home swap networks. People who have a system with sites like AirBnb where they charge guests a cleaning fee might naturally expect to transfer this system over to a home exchange when the “payment” is with points instead of cash. I want people to list vacation homes on exchange networks, this increases the stock of places available for me to swap and also usually involves far greater availability and flexibility than primary homes. So I’m willing to work through this problem and will continue to do points-based swaps when they make sense for my travels.
My take-away from this experience is to re-emphasize the importance of negotiating details in advance, something I’ve been lazy about since I’ve had so many great exchanges with generally the same expectations. I’m not going to ask future swaps if there are “additional charges” for the exchange because I still consider this totally inappropriate in a system that does not use money as a currency, but I will talk about cleaning expectations up front to make sure we’re in agreement. And I can think of situations where a host might want to offer services for a fee. For instance, rather than clean the house after a week long stay, some people might be happy to pay the house cleaner fee. I wouldn’t mind being offered that option by a host.
Since most costs to the property owner are going to be related to cleaning, this reinforces the importance of talking about what is expected prior to arrival. Will I need to do a deep cleaning of the flat, or just tidy up? What should I do with dirty linens? These are small details, but they are actually the things I fret about once I’ve arrived if there are no clear instructions, since I always want to be a good guest. So it’s always best to have these things clear before arrival, especially if you know you and your host don’t speak the same language.
In the end I went back to my Rome host to ask about specific cleaning expectations and she said she generally operates on the “leave everything as it was when I arrived” principle but that if I preferred she could have someone come clean after I leave for €25. I haven’t decided whether or not to take advantage of this option, but I appreciate knowing in advance that she’s fine either way and that if we’re in a hurry on departure day we can skip the cleaning and pay to have it done for us.