In my new novel, The Promise of Provence, the protagonist goes on a home exchange in the south of France. You’ve heard how authors are always told to write what they know? Well, I know about home exchange and I love to spread the word.
I realize not everyone wishes to travel far and wide. Some people are happy to never venture far from where they live. I have to admit I am a travel fanatic. 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 from Mark Twain 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.” – Mark Twain
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. If this idea calls to you, then read on.
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 first seriously looked into this concept of swapping homes about 12 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 8 home exchange vacations.
When we first mentioned what we were doing 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!” When one person screwed up his face and asked, “You’ll sleep in a stranger’s bed?” we asked how many strangers had slept in the last hotel room he booked. 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. 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.
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 the hills but just a half-hour from the coast and even got to help with the grape harvest (at our request). The other holidays were in Portugal, Italy, London, Vienna, a second in the south of France, and California.
Flexibility is the key! Without getting into all the details here, there are excellent home exchange websites that have been established since long before the internet. In those days they produced catalogues of their listed properties. With e-mail, the ability to connect is simple and before you ever commit to an exchange you can get to know each other. Interior and exterior photos are exchanged as well so you can determine if the property is acceptable to you. All the websites have FAQ pages and are 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 you find your home as you left it (or possibly even tidier!) when you return. What I love best about this is that it reaffirms my belief that most people are good and honest and just like you. You will hear these words from the many people on these exchange sites who write about their experiences. Give it a try!
There are excellent exchange websites, well organized and detailed. Memberships are very 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
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 HomeForExchange.com – excellent intro video HomeBase Holidays – over 25 years of reliable international exchanges
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 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!
Photos courtesy of Patricia Sands
The Promise of Provence: A Novel
by Patricia Sands (Goodreads Author)