Going on a trip? Here’s a way to save on hotel costs: register your home on a “home exchange” website, find a registered home in the location to where you plan on traveling, contact that registered user, hope that they will want to live in your home at the same time you will live in theirs and book the deal. Easy, right? And no hotel bill!

I have to admit, I’m relatively new to the home exchange concept. I like the idea of removing the hotel costs completely from the travel expense spreadsheet. I like the idea of living in a house during my stay, wherever that may be. I like having a kitchen for cooking, a living room to kick back, real bed sheets. What I can’t fully embrace is the idea that as I make myself at home in the home of a perfect stranger, that perfect stranger is doing the same thing in my home, at the same time.

A little creepy, isn’t it?

Apparently not everyone thinks so. Or so the numbers on HomeExchange.com–a popular home exchange site–seem to indicate. On that site alone there are 37,000 global users; almost half of them hail from North America. I found a good handful of registered exchange homes in my county, and, better still, dozens of homes available in the Portland, Ore., area, where I’d like to visit sometime soon.

What would I have to do? Well, besides paying the membership fee ($9.95/month) and registering the home, I’d have to find that user in Portland who has an interest in a week-long (or however long) stay in Vermont. The details of the arrangement are entirely up to the two parties. (Who cleans the home at the end of the stay is one detail that needs to be worked out ahead of time. The basic rule on this site is “leave it as you found it.” I’m cool with that).

Finding someone you’d trust in your home is another matter. According to HomeExchange.com, they’ve never had an incident of theft in their 14 years of exchanges. A part of me finds that hard to believe. There’s no getting around the fact that it is a huge leap of faith to leave your keys for someone you’ve never met in person. We all know how easy it is to set up a fake identity on social networking sites. Why would this site be any different?

Doubts aside, I like the concept. I like that it appears to work for so many people. I like that car exchange (as part of the home exchange “deal”) is an option that users take advantage of about 50% of the time. I like not paying for a hotel. There’s a lot to like.

I think I’d probably try it with a friend or family member, first. Although if I did that I wouldn’t really need the middle man, I guess. Once I reached a certain comfort level with the concept, executed with people I know, I would probably be ready to dive in to the home exchange with strangers. Particularly if their home was somewhere in the Bahamas.

Have you tried a home exchange service? What was your experience like?