International Home Exchange
Travel on a shoe string budget Internationally.
International travel is the substance that many of us only daydream
about. You look at your wallet, and realize a ticket for the local movie
or fast food establishment is really all you can afford.
It's still possible to travel on what's left in that almost empty wallet
by eliminating one of the most expensive part of a vacation - the cost
of accommodations. Travel on a shoestring budget with a home exchange.
International Home Exchange
Who's idea was
this?" I wondered wearily, as one more e-mail arrived saying,
"Thank you but we've already connected with someone else."
It looked like our plans to exchange homes with a family in France were
falling through. Just one week earlier, we were finalizing an agreement
with a Parisian family expressing "great interest in visiting your
beautiful country." But family problems forced them to cancel at
the last minute.
It was the middle of May and we wanted to fly to Paris at the end of
June. We had received offers to exchange from England, the Netherlands
and Ontario but we had our hearts set on Paris.
We were learning the first hard lesson in home exchange: Don't be stingy
with those e-mails and letters. We'd listed our home with a home
exchange company which said that a successful exchange might require up
to 50 letters. We'd sent out only about a dozen e-mails.
Now, still "homeless," we wondered if we should abandon plans
to stay in Paris and consider other offers.
We were glum about it but it is, in fact, the joy and surprise of
considering places you might not have thought of visiting, that's
one of the beauties of home exchange.
It's what spurred Antoine Reverchon of Paris to respond to our e-mail,
one of dozens my husband fired off after our initial Paris contact
Antoine, a business reporter for Le Monde newspaper, his wife Marina,
also a journalist, and their two children had signed up for a second
home exchange. They hoped to go to Italy.
But our letter describing the attractions of Canada instantly seduced
them. They wanted to travel with their good friends Valerie and Marc and
their two children.
No problem, we said, delighted that Paris was still in the picture.
Our large B.C. home always has room for visitors -- enough for eight --
something we emphasized in our listing.
We, too, planned to travel with friends and were seeking a place big
enough for six.
Our friends, meanwhile, were arranging an exchange in southern France so
we'd have two places, one in Paris and one in the south. So, as we were
finalizing the exchange with the Reverchons, our friends were closing a
deal with Jean-Claude Delgal in Seilh, a village just north of Toulouse.
It was all coming together.
But then I got cold feet. I began to worry about letting total strangers
into our home. Would they wreck the house? Would they rob us blind?
I tried reasoning with myself: They are opening their home to us and
surely have exactly the same worries. And even if their hearts weren't
entirely pure, they weren't going to be able to carry much away since
they lived nine time zones and one ocean away. Besides, I told
myself, our neighbors had assured us they'd look after any problems.
Still, it went against the grain of everything we'd been conditioned to
think: Dead-bolt those doors, install motion sensitive lights, don't
open the door to strangers. Now we were doing just the opposite,
inviting strangers into the very heart of our home. I soothed my fears
by locking away all that was precious and personal.
We met the Reverchons for the first time in Paris. They weren't
leaving until two days later but had their lovely three-bedroom
apartment on Avenue du Maine ready for us when we arrived.
Antoine, trailed by eight-year-old Marie on her bicycle, then walked us
through their Montparnasse neighborhood to lead us to the best bakery,
the best cheese and meat shops and the most interesting restaurants.
That afternoon, we had lunch in their "garden," a tiny green
sheltered place where Marc and Valerie joined us for a delightful
afternoon, talking about places we should visit, places to avoid, how to
use the transit system.
I began to feel a little guilty about my initial fears. And when,
after a week in Paris, we took the Reverchon's Renault to head for
Toulouse and our second exchange, I felt convinced that this is the only
way to travel.
Southern France was a completely different experience from Paris and
having a car allowed us to see places we otherwise would never have
seen: Drouilles, Beau-lieu-sur-Dordogne, Ora-dour, Andorra, Bruniquel,
Mauriac, and Saint-Sulpice-sur-Leze.
We came to try a home exchange through friends who first signed up
three years ago and became instantly hooked. "It's changed our
lives," they both crowed after returning from two months in Europe.
Now I know exactly what they mean!