Looking for a low- (or no-) cost vacation homes? Try home swapping or couchsurfing.
Here’s how home swaps work: You have an apartment in New York City, but dream of exploring the art treasures of Florence, Italy. You find a family from Florence that longs to see the lights of Broadway. You have multiple discussions with them by email, and ultimately swap homes—and perhaps a car, bike, and even ideas for things to do—for a few weeks. Some families we know have even "swapped" friends, babysitters, and more, by hooking their visitors up with people to contact while they're in town. Here are some useful resources on home swapping:
Another fairly new concept is "hospitality exchange" or "couchsurfing. A number of websites let travelers introduce themselves to people in other parts of the world and arrange to stay in their homes—for free! It's a system that relies on give and take, so travelers are expected to offer a homestay to others once they're back home. Here are some good websites for checking out couchsurfing: