Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Anatomy of a Home Exchange

Imagine..... you are sitting in your home in Ontario when it's snowing outside and the thermometer is at -15C and you receive this letter.....

"Hi, We discovered your lovely home on HomeExchange.com. We are wondering whether you would be interested in an exchange for our home a few hundred meters from the beach in the south of France. Our area is easily accessible from Barcelona airport and many smaller regional airports. You will see many photos and description of our area on our listing. We hope that you will consider an exchange with us..."

Included in the letter is a link showing sun-drenched beaches, picturesque villages and vineyards ready for harvest.... How could they!  Needless to say, we obliged.....

"How did you know? We are real weaklings when it comes to France, especially when you show us sun-drenched beaches, vineyards and amazing scenery. All this when we are here in Canada with snow on the ground!

The bottom line: we are definitely interested - we notice you are planning an extensive trip through the Eastern US and Canada - We will try to fit into those plans as you begin to make them more definitive." 

This is typical of how a home exchange adventure starts.... If you are wondering how a home exchange starts and evolves, we suggest you stay in touch with this blog.  We will keep you posted week by week as we continue our discussions with our new-found friends and eventually end up on one of those sun-drenched beaches in the South of France.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Be Sure To Do Your Homework

When we got our first email from a couple inviting us to a home exchange, we were excited and
thrilled -  Destination The Netherlands, the place exactly where we wanted to go after many years of
absence from this wonderful country!  Our response was immediate and spontaneous:  "Of course, 
who wouldn't want to come to beautiful Holland"  Off we went to a suburb in the city of Rotterdam
for a two weeks stay..... After arriving, we soon realized that we had landed in one of the most 
conservative towns in Holland where people, may of evangelical bend, still went to church on a 
Sunday morning dressed in their best suits and dresses,  harking back to the 50's and where on a Sunday it was impossible, (and I mean impossible!) one could sit down in a restaurant for a cup of coffee.  It was a rude and unexpected awakening.  The only way out of this conservative ghetto was
to take the local bus or ferries to Rotterdam or Schiedam for a livelier experience.

The moral is:  Do your homework!  Find out as much as possible about the location in which you
plan to live and do not get surprised as we did.  Maybe a quiet, conservative environment is exactly
what you want.  But we are people who enjoy the city and the hustle and bustle that city life brings.

The picture you see above was actually taken in the community where we had chosen to exchange:
"Vote for Jesus" the sign says and that says it all even when exchanging your home with someone in a progressive country like Holland:  Do your homework!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Home Exchange and the Car
An important issue

We have just returned from a home exchange in The Netherlands which included the use of our automobiles.  On several occasions in the past, the use of the car was no problem.  This time I had called my insurance agent to make sure that there was no problem and also wrote a statement in which I  stated that I had given use of the vehicle to the other driver.  Recently when I addressed a service club about home exchange, I was asked about the car:  "Is that difficult" I was asked.  "Are there any problems?"  "No problem" I said......

Well this time there was a problem..... a huge problem!  When we left the airport in Amsterdam, the GPS in the car took us on a wild journey through the Dutch country-side, along beautiful lakes and canals.  Apparently, the GPS had been programmed to avoid the big, busy motorways and was taking us along secondary roads and more scenic routes.  In fact the road was so "secondary"  that I had not noticed the hazard called a "bus sluis",  an ingenious way whereby the Dutch authorities discourage the use of a road designed exclusively for buses.  The word "discourage" is mildly put:  it in fact is intended to seriously damage the offending vehicle and render it inoperative!

I hit the "bus sluis" with considerable impact but continued on my journey from the airport not realizing the damage that had been done.  The next day the car stopped in the middle of the road and I had to be towed to our home exchange residence!  When I called the local dealership I was told that the engine had leaked enough oil to seize up and had to be replaced!

When I told the other home exchanger now living in my home in Canada what had happened, he was obviously upset and could not understand how I could have missed seeing the red warning light.  
My Dutch friend enquired if I had third party insurance, thinking that that would cover the damage.
He also informed me that the insurance on his vehicle was for third party damages only and that this did not cover the damage caused to his vehicle,  an issue which had not been made clear to me at the time we signed our home exchange agreement!

Apparently this type of insurance is not uncommon in Europe:  where the owner assumes the risk of damage to his own vehicle and has it insured against third party claims only.  In fact, had I known this fact, the home exchange would never have happened.  The bottom line is that both he and I had been far too casual about the insurance issue when exchanging our homes when our cars were included.  

We enjoyed our two weeks of home exchange and were able to add two more weeks for stays in Amsterdam and Paris.  But let this anecdote of our experience be a warning:  Make sure there is adequate insurance coverage for both parties on home and car.  There is no problem when there is no problem.  But when there is a problem, it could be a huge problem with serious consequences.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Would you like to spend some time in Australia for $20 a night?

 That's what The Affordable Travel Club offers,  breakfast included!
The idea is that you join the club for about $60 a year and then select someone from the
membership list who is willing to host you.  The basic rate is $20 a night, breakfast included,
and your host will spend at least an hour with you to help you get oriented. In most cases, your host is waiting, offering a glass of wine when you return in the evening, to listen to your day's adventures. 

It is expected that you will not overstay your welcome, the limit is usually 4 days, unless a more extensive stay has been negotiated.
 In most cases, people tend to more generous in their welcome with the
result that wonderful, lasting friendships develop.  Of course, you may get an email or phone call from someone who will ask you if you would be willing to host a visit.
  Friends of ours are presently on a wonderful vacation down-under, enjoying the hospitality of friendly welcoming Australians.  During their one month visit, they will have spent only 4 nights in hotel!
  What a wonderful, affordable way to see the world!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Home Exchange -  Be Ready for the unexpected

We are experienced home exchangers.... at least we thought we were,  until we experienced the unexpected:  a heart attack in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  It had been the end of a lovely day,  just the two of us hiking and having a wonderful time.  Toward the end of our hike,  Johannes started to feel unwell with pressure building up in his chest, sweating and getting sick to his stomach.  All the signs of a heart attack.   What to do?  Whom to call?  How to call?  We had not prepared for this eventuality:  didn't know how and whom to call in an emergency.   These details had not been discussed between us and our hosts before they left.    The bottom line is that everything turned out all right thanks to the quick thinking of a wife and friendly helpful neighbours.   But it could have turned out otherwise because we had not planned for this eventuality and have looked after the details as we should have.    

Home exchanges are wonderful, but be prepared for the unexpected!


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Home Exchange.... The Affordable Travel Club

there is no better way.....

How do you meet and get to know "real people" and not just tour guides and fellow travelers who look and act in predicable ways,  the way you do?  The pictures you see here are the delightful children of our hosts in Istanbul we were privileged to meet on a home exchange. What's it like to be a child in Turkey, to go to school,  have friends and birthday parties, live as a member of a family?  There is no better way to get to know the answers to these real questions of  "real people" in the country you visit than through a home exchange or The Affordable Travel Club.  What is it like to live in Turkey,  to experience the daily work-a-day life of a family living here?  There is no other way than to experience that daily life the way "real people" do.  Doing a home exchange for an extended period or enjoying the benefits of ATC for a shorter period are the only way. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A couple of simple but important and helpful hints

The other day my wife and I received an enquiry from a couple in Spain about a possible home exchange.  Sadly we had to decline.  Why?   The exchange being proposed was for a whole year, starting this year in July!   Sorry,  but..... When we plan to be away from home for such long period, we need time to prepare.   Lately we have been getting quite a few of these enquiries for shorter periods of time but with imminent time-lines.  When approaching someone,  be realistic and try to put yourself in his or her shoes at the other end.  Unless they are single with no children and are able to venture forth without much concern, most people will feel obliged to turn down a request when the time delay is so short.

Once  a home exchange has been negotiated, be sure to stay in the communication loop.  Let your hosts know how your time-line is progressing, when you expect to arrive etc.  It's a practical courtesy you should expect too if you are the waiting host.

Once a home exchange has been negotiated,  the details can vary immensely.  In one case, we were present for a couple of days to welcome the couple at the airport and get them acclimatized,  They in turn had asked their family in Europe to do the same for us.  Details regarding the use of a car, care of pets,  operation of the telephone and tv system,  peculiar details  about the house you live in etc all need to be discussed.   

Regarding the latter, we thought we had covered the details...... On the side of our bed is a push button which is connected to the security system and brings the police running when activated.  We had overlooked to mention this little detail to our new guests with alarming results.  During the night, looking for a light switch, they pushed the fatal button.  Thanks to our efficient police, they were confronted by two men in uniform within minutes.    

Just one more thought:  When you arrive, have something in your bag that is unique about your country and which you can present to your hosts as a small gift.  In our case, we often bring a container of maple syrup which is especially treasured elsewhere.