There are a host of services in place for travelers to move large things like suitcases, musical instruments, and even dogs and cats around the world; but getting little things from one place to another when you’re on the go can be a cumbersome mess. As many couchsurfers have come to realize, even a simple key swap can be a tough game of timing and coordination that doesn’t always fall into place.

handing over keys

Swapping Keys The Old-Fashioned Way

Couchsurfing, the free accommodation swapping network, is a simple concept – yet can leave many members wondering how to swap keys when the host is traveling. Simple tried-and-true methods work best in these situations as the small size and flat profile of a house key make them easy to hide just about anywhere.

  • Under The Doormat – This is probably the most common method of leaving keys for people when you’re not around but as Alex mentions, using a bit of tape to secure the key is an effective improvement.
  • Key Camouflage – You can take your key hiding to the next level by disguising them as rocks, thermometers, or sprinklers.
  • Leave Them At The Front Desk – Usually only an option for apartments and condos but if you’ve got a front desk or building security you can trust, John suggests leaving keys with them.

combination door lockWall Mounted Key Safes

Key safes are small lock boxes that mount to the exterior wall of your home and a common form of key exchange at holiday cottages and cabins (thanks Dee and Heather for the tip). A basic one like this Master Lock model runs around $20 making it an inexpensive way of leaving keys for visiting family, friends, and home swappers when you’re not around.

If you go this route however, be absolutely sure you purchase a key safe that lets you chance the combination after each visitor. It’s good a good habit to get into to secure your home and lock down your laptop as well.

  • Real Estate Locks – Common on for-sale homes throughout the US, these locks get the job done at the same price as wall-mounted key safes but may give off the impression that you home is always vacant to unscrupulous folks.
  • Combination Door Locks – With both the option of a physical lock as well as a numerical password you can let couchsurfers and other visitors in by giving them the key code, skipping the physical key all together. Many of these combination door locks (which cost around $75) also let you program specific times outside of which even a valid combination won’t work.
  • SmartKeys – Most lock manufacturers like Kwikset make deadbolts that can be easily re-keyed at home with inexpensive kits. A bit more involved than the other options, it lets you create a new set of physical keys for each visitor.
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You might be thinking wall-mounted key safes are easy targets for potential thieves and buglers but anyone who’s willing to tear a piece of your wall off to deal with a key locked in steel is probably more likely to smash in a window instead.

tunnelton post officeKey Shipping And Pickup

Keys are small enough to fit into envelopes but if you do mail them locally it might be a good idea not to include a return address (or at least a real one); lest someone along the line of communication decides to pay an unexpected visit.

  • Use Free Priority Mail – Shipping keys using priority or express mail typically isn’t expensive, but according to Get Rich Slowly, the USPS will send free Priority Mail boxes to your home, saving you even further.
  • UPS Or FedEx Pickup – Understandably you might not want to ship house keys half way around the world for every visitor. Rather send or keep them at your local UPS or FedEx store, most let you specify packages must be picked up there.
  • Take Packages With Your iPhone And Online – Of course if you ever send your keys through any mail service, it’s a good idea to confirm they got to the person you sent them to. Since you might be traveling, consider tracking your packages for free with the iPhone version of Packagetrackr.
  • Airport Lockers – This method might involve a bit more work for you but if you’ve got a flight scheduled, an airport (train, or bus station) locker makes a great place to drop off a set of keys for arriving guests as Chris suggests.
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poste restantePoste Restante

One of the easiest to use and most internationally available methods of package pickup and delivery is called “poste restante” or  aka. general delivery. As Upgrade: Travel Better describes it,

Poste restante is an old fashioned mail-pickup service that most countries’ postal services still provide. Mail is addressed to a person, but in lieu of an address for delivery, the mail is sent to a post office branch, where you pick it up. You’ll usually address mail to Name, Poste Restante, the specific name of the post office (usually the main, central office), that branch’s street location, city, postal code, and country.

A simple Google search of “poste restante [country name]” should turn up the information you need. Once it’s set up, you send the keys to a local office and let your couchsurfers know to pick them up there while you’re out shopping or getting a tan in Panama.

Secure Your Preferred Methods

It may initially take some trial and error to figure out the best key swapping method for you but once you get it consistency keeps things simple. Finally, if you’re not home for part of your couchsurfer’s stay be sure and keep your home safe while traveling and implement a personal security plan for you and your house.

[photos by: novelgazer (handing over keys), cheerfulstoic (combination door lock), cindy47452 (Tunnelton post office), elephantkitty (poste restante)]