Many people ask about home exchanges and short-term rentals - two ways to spend a vacation in a home rather than a hotel. More and more travelers are discovering that exchanges and rentals, although generally more difficult to arrange than hotel accommodations, can be both intimate and economical.

The following information supplies the nuts and bolts you'll need to begin your own search for a home away from home.There are two basic ways of securing a house or apartment for vacation accommodations. The first is to arrange a short-term vacation rental. The second is to exchange homes with someone who lives in the area you want to visit - so that while you're away, your home is occupied by the people in whose home you are staying.

Each has its advantages. Renting is generally more convenient, often not much more difficult than booking a hotel room, and you don't have to worry about leaving your house in the hands of strangers.

Exchanging, on the other hand, costs nothing (except for any money you spend on matching services and long-distance telephone calls), and many exchanges include use of the family car - potentially a big saving. Also, you know that someone will be looking after your house while you're gone.

A number of organizations can help you arrange a home exchange or vacation rental. Some are full-service companies that locate properties to conform to your needs and then make the arrangements for your visit. Others are directory services that simply publish catalogs of available accommodations, leaving the arrangements to you.

Following is a list of some such organizations, with brief descriptions of the services they offer.

Note that some rental properties include housecleaning staff and other support services similar to those offered by hotels - ask the rental agents exactly what is included in the price.

It is also a good idea to contact the government tourist office of the country you plan to visit - some offices can offer advice and referrals for exchanges and rentals.

- At Home Abroad, 405 E. 56th St., Suite 6-H, New York NY 10022; telephone (212) 421-9165. Agent for vacation rentals, primarily in Great Britain, Western Europe, the Caribbean and Mexico. One-year registration fee is $50.

- B&D de Vogue International, 1830 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia, Calif. 93279; telephone 1-800-727-4748. Offers private stays with families in their chateaux, in France, Italy, Portugal, Belgium and Germany. Most rates range from $70 to $200 per night for one bedroom, based on double occupancy. Also offers villas and farmhouses in Italy and France for one-week-minimum rentals; rates range from $600 to $3,000 per week. Chateau catalog is free; villa and farmhouse catalog costs $12.

- Condo Network, 6400 Glenwood, Suite 301, Mission Kan. 66202; telephone 1-800-874-1411. A central resource for condominiums in the United States and across the world. Most prices range from $80 to $200 a night per unit.

- Creative Leisure International of California offers castles, villas and estates in England, Scotland, Ireland, Portugal and France, some quite plush ($900 a night for nine bedrooms), others more affordable ($80 a night). For more information, call 1-800-426-6367 during regular working hours.

- Hideaways International, P.O. Box 1270, Littleton Mass. 01460; telephone 1-800-843-4433. A travel club that publishes a semiannual directory of vacation rental properties as well as quarterly newsletters updating the directories. Most properties are in Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean and the United States. The cost is $79 a year, and members make direct contact with property owners.

- International Home Exchange Service, P.O. Box 590504, San Francisco 94159; telephone 415-435-3497. Represents Intervac International, a worldwide network of home exchange offices that publishes three catalogs a year. Members pay a fee to list their homes in the Intervac catalogs, mostly for exchange, but rental listings also are allowed. Participants make contact directly with the home owners. The cost to place a listing and to receive three catalogs is $45, plus a mailing fee of $12. Seniors get a 20 percent discount.

- In the English Manner, P.O. Box 936, Alamo Calif. 94507; telephone 415-935-7065. Offers apartments in London (from $575 a week for a studio) and private stays with families in their grand private homes - manors, mansions and castles - throughout the country. Most prices for these run from about $130 to $600 a night.

- Loan-A-Home, 2 Park Lane, Apartment 6E, Mount Vernon NY 10552. A direct-contact listing service specializing in long-term rentals and exchanges - generally a minimum of four months except during the peak vacation months of July and August - but some short-term listings are included, and some long-term listings are also available for shorter stays. Loan-A-Home publishes two directories and two supplements each year.

- Paris Connection, 301 N. Pine Island Road, Suite 106, Fort Lauderdale Fla. 33324; telephone (305) 475-0615. Offers apartments mainly in the 5th, 6th and 7th arrondissements of Paris' Left Bank, with some places available on the Right Bank. Prices start at about $750 a week for one person in a studio; $1,200 for two in a one-bedroom; $1,400 for four in a two-bedroom. Two-week minimum. Prices are lower for longer stays. These prices also include free bus/Metro passes for your entire stay and a personal orientation tour.

- Travel Resources, 4200 Aurora St., Suite E, Coral Gables Fla. 33146; telephone 1-800-327-5039. Specializes in villas and condos in the Caribbean, Mexico and Florida. Prices range from $55 a night for a studio in Cancun off-season to about $400 for a three-bedroom condo or villa in the Caribbean in high season.

- Vacation Exchange Club, P.O. Box 820, Haleiwa HI 96712; telephone 1-800-638-3841. Publishes three international directories of homes for exchange (as well as a few rentals) around the world. Participants make direct contact. The cost is $50 for an annual subscription to the three directories, including a listing in one. Additional listings are $10 each, and accompanying photographs are $12. Repeat subscribers receive a 20 percent discount; senior citizens receive an additional 10 percent discount.

- Villas International, 71 W. 23rd St., New York NY 10010; telephone 1-800-221-2260. Rents apartments and villas in France, Great Britain, Spain, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawaii. One-week minimum stay. Prices vary from $540 per week for a London studio apartment to $3,500 per week for a private home (with pool and staff) on the French Riviera.

- World-Wide Home Rental Guide, P.O. Box 2842, Santa Fe NM 87504; telephone (505) 988-5188. Publishes semiannual catalogs of rentals. Subscription rates are $18 for one year; $30 for two years; and $42 for three years. Listings cost $150 including photographs. Participants make direct contact.