TRY IT … YOU’LL LIKE IT!
Which of these might fit your fantasy?
*A slick, sophisticated apartment in the heart of Vienna.
*A casual country house with a pool ten minutes from the famous Algarve beaches.
*An elegant apartment on the top floor of a regal palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice.
*A family-friendly modern home on a hill in a small village in the Var with amazing views over the Mediterranean and terraced patios leading to an infinity pool.
*A 500-year-old village home in a hilltop town in Tuscany.
*A modern, bungalow on a top-rated golf course set amidst the mountains near San Diego, California.
*A cool loft condo in a restored Victorian building on the Piccadilly tube line in the east end of London, England.
*A spacious 4-bedroom country home with pool and classic Provençal blue shutters and doors set in the middle of a private vineyard in the south of France.
*A two-bedroom home with private pool in a golf and tennis community in southeast Florida, 15 minutes from fabulous beaches.
All of these properties have been “home” to us, at one time or another. They could be yours too. How you ask? Stay with me, dear reader.
Full disclosure: I am a travel junkie. There is nothing about the travel experience I dislike. The annoying aspects of air travel today don’t bother me in the least. When I go to the airport I know I’m on my way to a special destination and flying is how I’m going to get there. That’s all I care about. “Relax and chill” is my travel motto.
I know not everyone wishes to travel far and wide. Some people are happy never to venture any great distance from where they live. Not I. Ever since I spent a year working and traveling in Europe at the age of 21 in 1967, I’ve been hooked. I love to experience life in different parts of the world, some more than others. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate my wonderful hometown of Toronto and all it has to offer but when I have the opportunity to go further afield, I do my best to make it happen.
This quote resonated with me many years ago.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
(Literary comment: I first read that this was a Mark Twain quote but since have discovered it probably isn’t. Never mind! It works for me.)
There are many parts of the world I have yet to visit but I believe the greatest travel lesson I’ve learned is this: if you have a desire to go somewhere, no matter how unattainable you feel that dream may be, chances are you can make it happen.
In today’s uncertain economy, there’s no question untold numbers of travel plans and vacations have been shelved. Often the cost simply squashes dreams. The solution I offer you right here, right now … in fact go ahead and Google it as soon as you finish reading this …two simple words … HOME EXCHANGE.
I looked into this concept of swapping homes about 15 years ago and was instantly intrigued. I had heard of it over the years and finally decided to check it out.
Why on earth had I waited so long?
You’ll ask yourself the same question!
My husband and I have since enjoyed 11 home exchange vacations and highly recommend it. In fact, this year we will be spending two weeks in Switzerland in May, followed by a month in Nice, and then two weeks in Vienna. All with home exchanges.
The first step is to join a reputable website, and there are several, some of which I list at the end of this article. Look for longevity of service and you will soon see for yourself which agency appeals to you. As one of the websites states, “Home exchanging is a bit like dating, where a house swap service plays the equivalent role to a dating agency. It helps you to meet, but the rest is up to you.”
When we first mentioned exchange to friends, the reactions ranged from horrified, “You’d let perfect strangers stay in your house?” to excited, “I’ve always wanted to do that!” One screwed up his face and asked, “You’ll sleep in a stranger’s bed?” We asked how many strangers had slept in the bed in his last hotel room. Think about it.
Every one of our exchange vacations has been wonderful and the truth of the matter is you connect in a personal way with your exchange person/couple/family. With some, we have developed a close friendship and others we simply keep in touch from time to time but a connection certainly occurs.
Living in a home in a different part of the world, whether it is a foreign land or a different area of your own country, provides a more complete cultural experience than staying in a hotel. You are instantly part of a community and neighbors or friends of your exchange family will have been asked to introduce themselves to you to see if you need assistance with anything. It’s an amazingly friendly and personal process.
Having all the amenities of a home at your disposal makes the travel experience so much easier. If you feel like eating in, you can. Want to do your laundry (and therefore be able to pack lighter)? Go ahead! Take care of the space around you as you would in your own home. We always make sure that there is someone who will come in and clean the house before we leave so that is not our responsibility and I make the same provision at our end.
When you arrive at your home exchange destination, you will find a detailed booklet put together by the homeowner. In this will be every bit of information you might need to know, from a list of important phone numbers to information about appliances, doctors, dentists, shopping, entertainment, and attractions.
For families with children the benefits are even greater as there are homes with toys and yards. Car exchanges are often offered and specifics such as non-smoking homes or pet-free or child-free can be requested. On the other side of that, you can also find pet owners looking to swap. There’s something for everyone!
The possibilities are endless.
Our longest exchange was two months (September, October) in a beautiful home in the middle of a private vineyard in the Var region of France. We were in scenic hills but just a half-hour from the coast. We were even invited to help with the grape harvest. Our other exchange holidays have been in Portugal, Italy, London, Vienna, California, and several in France.
Without getting into all the details here, there are excellent websites that have been established since long before the Internet. Now you can peruse properties online and send out inquiries to see if the owners are interested in exchanging with you. With e-mail or phone conversations, before you ever commit to an exchange you get to know each other.
Not only do you discover unique travel opportunities, you also meet fine people who share your values and with whom you will feel confident about exchanging. Interior and exterior photos are shared as well so you can determine if the property is acceptable to you in every way.
On their website, HomeLink International offers these words. “Respect. Trust. Caring. Generosity. We understand that these are the foundation for every great home exchange holiday.”
All the websites have FAQ pages and are usually only too happy to answer personally any other questions or concerns. Obviously the cost of your trip becomes significantly lower when accommodation is free. We have never experienced one problem and always return to find our home as spotless as we left it.
What I love best about exchanging is that it reaffirms my belief most people are good and honest and just like you. You will hear these words from people on these exchange sites who write about their experiences. You will also see there are many far more experienced exchangers than I am. I love reading about others who are on the thirtieth go or more! Give it a try!
As I mentioned, there are excellent exchange websites, well organized and detailed. Memberships are reasonable. Some are specialized with regard to age, profession, or culture. Here are a few in no particular order, just to make it easy for you to get started:
HomeLink International – established in 1953 and spanning 27 countries
Home Base Holidays – UK-based, over 25 years experience
HomeExchange.com – 39,000+ listings in 143 countries
Seniors Home Exchange – exclusively for the over-50 age group
Intervac Home Exchange – since 1953 – over 30,000 listings, 80% in Europe
I’m happy to answer questions about all of this, based on our personal experiences. In fact, I’m such a fan, my latest novel, The Promise of Provence, is centered round a home exchange in the south of France.
Try it! Whether it’s a weekend enjoying The Big Apple, a romantic rendezvous in Paris, a month hiking and taking cooking classes in Italy, golfing in Ireland, sailing in New Zealand, visiting relatives wherever, or simply exploring whatever corner of this wonderful world beckons you. Home exchange can enhance your experience and make your dreams affordable. You’ll like it!