Before the Internet, one of the most popular ways to learn about the world was to find a pen pal in some faraway country and to write a letter to them. Weeks later, a reply showed up in our mailbox — a thin, pale blue, airmail envelope with exotic stamps and our name written out carefully. It was magical.
Usually, it was an elementary school teacher who introduced us to this pleasant practice, often in service of a lesson on geography. It was a uniquely wonderful window into the similarities as well the differences among the peoples of our world.
It should come as no surprise that many of those same teachers then adapted this method of communication to others teachers in far-flung countries who desired to travel in the summertime when they were free of the classroom.
Some teachers who had an entrepreneurial mindset also thought of running small classified ads in foreign newspapers, soliciting like-minded individuals and then compiling their names into a database which could be printed and distributed in subsequent mailings. It took a long time to grow such a network, but once it took hold it gave life to what we now enjoy with lightning speed as HomeExchange.com.
In fact, HomeExchange.com founder Ed Kushins created his version of a network, Trading Homes International, back in 1992, just a couple of years before even the word “Internet” became part of our common knowledge. Three years later, in 1995, when we were all just learning to go online with screeching modems and monochrome monitors, HomeExchange.com became the high tech extension of Trading Homes. It was another whole decade until HomeExchange.com had its first, fully-functioning international website, but the growth of what has become known as the “collaborative economy” or “sharing economy” has been swift since then.
Since 2005, HomeExchange.com has seen membership grow 430% to over 65,000 members in more than 150 countries around the world. In more tangible—and amazing numbers––that’s a running total of 180,000 “bedrooms served” at an estimated savings $360 million USD over 2.1 million nights through 2014.
The numbers don’t tell the whole story, of course. It may be tempting to think that because the growth of home sharing has been driven by the Internet, the typical home swapper is young, ultra-tech-savvy and on a hardcore quest to save money.
The truth is, polling shows that 98% of members are interested in exploring the cultural heritage of the destinations they choose, and 84% visit parks and museums during their travels. Further, more than two thirds of you believe that ecologically-sensitive tourism is important and also practice that belief at home by purchasing organic food (73.5%), fair-trade food (65.3%) and supporting social causes (52.7%).
By joining and participating with other members, such beliefs and practices are truly what constitutes a cohesive, like-minded community. Which brings us to another crucial component of this collaborative economy: trust. More than three quarters of home exchangers believe that “most people are trustworthy,” and by living by this tenet, we believe we are fostering a better world for everyone.
Founder Ed Kushins came to appreciate this expansive worldview when in 1972 he worked for the Flying Tiger Line, a cargo airline, as director of market development for Asia. He married a Pan Am airline stewardess, and they traveled the world together at a discount. Ed became hooked on seeing all the countries and cultures he had never visited before, and a lifestyle was born.
Now, it’s easier than ever to replicate Ed’s passion for yourself. With more people joining HomeExchange.com every day, your opportunities grow daily as well — your opportunities to enjoy more travel possibilities than ever before in history. And, with advanced tools like Local Mapping, you can see where your friends and neighbors have elected to do exchanges, from your street or city to Europe, South America, Africa, Asia and beyond.
Enjoy the benefits of Full Membership
Still contemplating your first home exchange? Perhaps the idea of getting to know folks from around the world whom you haven’t yet met can be a little intimidating. But remember, as Ed says, “Nobody ever does a home exchange with a stranger. Our whole process is designed to eliminate fear and to assure you that the people coming to stay in your home are as real and down-to-earth as you are.”
Those teachers 50+ years ago really started something. Who could have known they would spark this “sharing economy” so many years into the future?
Those of us who have had the life-enhancing experiences of home swapping now have yet another reason to thank a teacher.
They also taught us that we have much more in common with one another than we have differences, and that by sharing our homes and apartments, it is possible to see the world without spending thousands of dollars on accommodations on every trip.
The friendships that home exchangers form, along with the cultural riches of living like a local are priceless.