Swapping Homes Anybody?


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Why Do a Home Swap?

So the reason for swapping homes is a financial one; but not exclusively. We find it more relaxing to have a well equipped house with all the mod-cons that we're used to at our disposal than just a hotel room or a smallish vacation rental in a touristy area. We like to live like the locals. To shop where they shop, to eat out and find restaurants that we otherwise wouldn't have found. To get insider tips of places we otherwise would never have spotted.

Where do you find people to swap with and do you know them? we're constantly asked.
If you google "home swaps" or "house exchanges" , various companies will come up. Take your pick. The cost roughly the same membership fees unless you can join a super-high-end outfit dealing in luxurious villas; if you have such a home yourself.

Then the procedure is similar to that of  a dating agency. In fact, I have compared these two searches before: In both cases you are looking for a potentially acceptable partner. The listings show pictures of the object you want to swap. You describe what you have to offer and what you are looking for.
Start off with a certain region of the world that interests you. How many members live in that country? It varies from company to company. If you can agree on a time where you both want to travel, you are one step closer to vacation haven! Most offers include a car deal, i.e. a car swap is offered. Isn't it marvelous to have a car waiting when you arrive and not spend major fees on rentals?
A contract or exchange agreement seals and binds the arrangement.

The search process can be lengthy or quick, just a matter of luck sometimes...just like in the dating business. And other than the one off membership fee that entitles you to use their database for a year as often as you like there are no other costs involved. An umbrella insurance to cover your back for all eventualities is advisable.

Some agencies specialize in seniors for obvious reasons: They typically have more time, prefer longer stays, no children if you don't want a family with children to visit your house. Every step of the way you have a choice and some say in who you commit to.

It shows that I was a matchmaker, doesn't it? Well, I'm the author of www.NextTimeLucky.com.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ever Swapped Homes with Strangers?

A short introduction to home swapping who haven't read my blog or heard about this cheap way of seeing the world.
Why would you swap your beautiful home with strangers?
With more dash than cash it's hard to fulfill your traveling needs...Thinking of the top '100 places you should see before you die' always makes my tummy churn and my face green with envy.
After a wonderful vacation in the Fatherland -which cost a bomb- I had a brainwave. Somewhere and somehow I had heard about swapping homes. Well, on TV families are known to even swap spouses. With a little bit of investigation (thank you Mr. Google!), I found an app for that or rather several websites. Looking at all the beautiful homes worldwide nurtured my travel bug that bit me years ago. He started to grow and make himself heard: If you swap houses with some of these people, you can stay longer. Hey, there is a way to swap cars too. That takes a big load of your pocket book. The bug could no longer be ignored.
Cheap package tours are an option, at least occasionally, but not in our circumstances. Especially if you live in "Paradise" anyway. We want to travel to Europe as much as possible because of family reasons. And hubby loves France and Italy.

I was all for it immediately. More to come!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Alsace- We're coming!

We are at it again: Home Swapping with another family. You just can't beat it when it comes to economical ways of planning a vacation abroad or the States - no contest!
It's our 5th season. We had 4 years in a row of successful home exchanges.Well, one turned out to be a bit itchy but the others were all wonderful! I think we had 9 so far!
Our destination this year is France again but a part that is not well known here in the US unless you are a wine aficionado. The Alsace area produces  wonderful wines that are similar to German wines but to some drinkers maybe a little less suspect...:) As a former wine importer and distributor, I had plenty of opportunity to sample and compare them. Rieslings, Pinot Blanc and Noirs, Sylvaner and the inimitable Gewűrztraminer.
And the Alsace region is gourmet country! The cuisine is a little hardier than the typical French haute cuisine or cuisine nouveau you find in Paris or Lyon, again resembling German country fare. If you look at the proximity to my home country on the map, that is not surprising. The other factor is that Alsace belonged to Germany until World War II. Germany ceded the region to France under the Treaty of Versailles. For history buffs and other interested parties, there is more on Wikipedia.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Season 4: a Great Success

All good things must come to an end. We had 8 home swaps all together now.
I'm going to miss a lot of good stuff about my home country like bread, ice cream in Italian Gelaterias, beer gardens. Certain dishes even tasted nice out of season - prepared by my aunt for me knowing I would love the white asparagus, which is not available after 21 June. She also had a winter specialty, kale, prepared and frozen for me in a manner only available in the north of Germany.
Like every year I'd like to conclude this season with some general tips for home swapping:
Sign up with a reputable agency which has numerous members in as many countries as possible. There is also an agency for seniors only. This means you're dealing with couples, not families with children. Maybe that will take your angst away about the safety of your home. By the same token they are likely to have smaller homes. Many have downsized. If you fall into that category, that company is ideal for you. I found out that many of them are looking for long-term stays as they have no job obligations and time constraints anymore.
Start to make contact early with prospective exchange partners, especially when you want to go to Europe. Many know a year in advance when their vacation will be and will plan ahead accordingly. Also, many people will look for flights early in the hope of getting cheaper flights.
On the other hand, invitations make come in at the last minute also as happened this year with our Dutch partners. Don't hesitate to be proactive. Contact exchanges that you wold fancy instead of waiting around. Allow me to compare it again to dating on line. You're not committed until you have a contract with them.
Set up an owner's closet, even a separate room with a lock to safeguard your valuables or personal belongings; just for your own peace of mind in case you still have reservations. An umbrella insurance is also a good idea to cover yourself against possible liabilities.
If you have the time, line up two or even more swaps. Once you're overseas, it's easy to move around in Europe with all these cheap air carriers or by train. A flight from London, Dublin or Paris to Berlin for example will only set you back by about $100.

You save a lot of money by home swapping. Especially the costs of rental cars overseas are higher than in the US and can burn a hole in your pockets. Not so if you get an exchange partner who is willing to swap cars with you.
Once you've tried home swapping, you'll want to repeat this great experience. We can't wait to start the selection process for next year. While waiting for our connection flight in Atlanta, a very tempting offer came in from Sweden. With home swapping the world is your oyster! Good luck and happy travels!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Vacationing on a Train Station

Ever heard of a vacation train station? Me neither, but this little town where we were staying has one.
Ideal for families with children, it looks idyllic and fun! Holiday makers stay and sleep on a train in the passenger cars. They are located next to the old train station of F. which houses kitchens and bathrooms. Your family will easily make friends with the other vacationers. Parents can take it easy as it is a safe environment where their kids can run around with others. It reminded me a bit of the old-fashioned horse-drawn wagons in Ireland, but of course, they moved around and this is stationary.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The mighty "Father Rhine"

It's a must to go and see the biggest waterfalls in Europe when you're on Lake Constance. They are located near Schaffhausen in Switzerland. (You need a passport to cross the border as CH is not a member of the EU).
The waterfall is 23 m high and 150m wide.Scientists reckon it's between 14,000-17,000 years old!  You park your car at the top and descend lots of stairs to get magnificent views on several platforms. I was grateful for the lift to take me up again! You can also approach it by boat.What a spectacle! This video can give you a way better impression than all my words. It makes you believe you're actually there yourself.

At the top is a real castle, Schloss Laufen, that's also a restaurant.Switzerland being Switzerland you may expect steep prices. We paid EUR 6,80 for a Bratwurst with a slice of bread. One with a portion of chips would have been EUR 12,80. (The equivalent of $16). Then again the tickets were not costly at EUR 7,50. Parking and toilet use were even for free.
                                                                Schloss Laufen
The mighty Father Rhine as it is often called has its headwaters for the most part in the Swiss canton of Grisons. Its biggest part runs through Germany until it reaches the North Sea in the Netherlands. Rhine Cruises are very popular.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Visiting a Ruin: Hohentwiel

How much fun is it to visit a ruin? Probably not much you think.We saw this one in passing on our way to Switzerland one day near the town of Singen. (More about the Rheinfall  next). It sits on top of a mountain,  a lava cone. After some exploring on the Internet, we found it was worth a trip although some strenuous climbing and walking would be involved.

Once you're up there after about 30 minutes of hiking, your view sweeps over hills and valleys, the Bodensee, into Switzerland (Thurgau) and the mountain range of Swiss Alpine.
Through the centuries it was a noble residence, first mentioned in a document dated 914, later it inspired, served as a defense fortress for the dukes of Swabenia until Napoleon ordered it to be destroyed.
View of another across the valley that is just like it
 There is one tower that is best preserved and looks strange with its satellite receivers.
but not preserved in the same way.
The garrison usually housed around 80 soldiers who had families.Sometimes up to 250 people. In times of war or danger, 1000 people would find refuge up there.