Since August 2022, Sarah Cowie, a 28-year-old policy manager based in Edinburgh, has worked from Amsterdam, London, and Bucharest. Her voyages, which weren’t work-sponsored trips, were made possible through the house-swap platform HomeExchange. Cowie, whose company is on a hybrid schedule, saw the platform as an opportunity to experience new destinations without the need to use her paid time off (or a vacation-sized budget).
Before joining HomeExchange, Cowie described traveling around her job as a “mini-break.” Typically, she’d take a Friday or Monday off, purchase a cheap flight somewhere, cram everything into 48 hours, and then return home. But the ease of home-swapping opened up more possibilities for her, even around her hybrid work schedule. The cost-benefit makes it simple: to plan exchanges on the platform, members just have to pay an annual $220 fee and pass a verification background check. The result: Cowie can travel without paying for her stays, plus do it flexibly around the time she can work away from the office. “I can go for a longer period of time, I can maximize my annual leave, and I can properly experience a place by working somewhere else,” she said.
Making time for travel while working a full-time job can be a difficult chore, as Cowie described it. As companies call their employees back to the office, trends show that hybrid schedules are sticking. Even workers who have to work in company offices for part of the week can still travel more than they could before the pandemic made remote work a norm. And thanks to members-only accommodation platforms like HomeExchange, hybrid and remote workers around the world are finding ways to combine their jobs with travel more easily.
House-swapping isn’t a new concept—but a new genre of exclusive membership-based accommodation apps is. HomeExchange, which started as a catalog in 1992, has been around for the longest. The platform also has its own exclusive offering, HomeExchange Collection, for members with luxury properties that are carefully selected according to specific criteria of design, location, and amenities. The membership comes at a hefty $1000 annual fee.
Then there’s Behomm, an invitation-only home exchange community that bills itself for creatives and lovers of design. The platform, founded in 2013 by graphic designers Eva Calduch and Agust Juste, is based on stringent interior design criteria and accepts only 20-30% of applicants. Those who make the cut pay a 380€ annual fee to receive access to more than 2,000 well-designed homes across the globe.
Joana Fins Faria has traveled to 18 different cities across Europe through Behomm. None of her stays have required taking time off from her job as an interior designer and artist. Instead, she’s been able to draw inspiration from the homes she stays in and expand her network of other creatives. “It’s extremely enriching because all of the houses are so well done. So for me, I’m working, but at the same time feeding my imagination,” she said.
Of the newer platforms is Kindred. Launched in April 2022, there’s no cost for membership. Instead, members pay a small service fee upon booking a trip, an affordable draw for workers. “Many of our members are working professionals eager to travel more to take advantage of their remote or hybrid workplace policies. We call these trips ‘lifestyle travel’—it’s not quite a vacation, and it’s not quite a business trip,” said Justine Palefsky, the company’s co-founder and CEO.
Kindred, like Behomm, mostly grows through referrals. Each accepted Kindred member is issued a unique code they can share with others. This brings those applications to the top of the review queue. For people who are interested in applying, but don’t have an invite code, there’s an option to join a waitlist. What might come across as exclusive is an opportunity to build trust within the community—most members have something in common like mutual friends or a shared network.
All kinds of workers are finding their way onto the platforms, and taking advantage of them around their 9-5. Ruth Campbell, a 46-year-old social worker based in Oakland, California, didn’t want to wait until her sabbatical or retirement to begin traveling. Like many jobs, her in-office role became remote during the pandemic. Since joining HomeExchange a few years ago, she’s worked from Tulum, Mexico City, and the California coast, and she’s been able to maintain traveling while working even as her company has pivoted to a hybrid office schedule. “It’s allowed me to find a niche way to balance my life better in an infrastructure that doesn’t really promote employee work-life balance from an institutional perspective,” Campbell said.
It’s affordable, too. “I think one of the beautiful things about it is I don’t know that I would be able to go somewhere for an extended period of time if I had to pay for accommodations,” she added. “The financial flexibility is what initially attracted me, and then being able to work from cool destinations was a bonus.”
And for Cowie, the policy manager in Edinburgh, the ease of taking exchanges have reinvigorated her relationship with her work. “Even though you’re still working from home, or in this case, someone else’s home, it does just kind of make it feel a bit more exciting to get up and work from [new cities] like Amsterdam or London,” she said. “It really adds balance to your life when you can combine work and travel at the same time.”