Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ever Swapped Homes?

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 but expensive vacation in the Fatherland 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. And his employer is too stubborn to let us relocate and pay for regular trips.
I was all for it immediately.
But: I hear you ask a) Do you want strangers in your house? b) even sleep in your bed? Guess, how many different people share a hotel bed over time? c) What about valuables and personal stuff? Well, lock it away! And if a glass or a vase breaks, or a book gets be it. In any case, people have insurance.
Well, we women can be very persuasive with the right arguments and the right open-minded partner who wants to please his wife who is a long way from home...
That's how it all started. Hey, Europe here we come: The Intrepid Home Swappers! The world is your oyster- if you like oysters. Who knows where we'll go next if this works out?
Being an old hand on dating sites, my experience with a home swapping site took me right back.
As new hopefuls on a home exchange website, my hubby and I enthusiastically put up photos of our house, plus a catchy description together with details about us. We felt like kids in the candy-store: all these great places and houses all around the world up for grabs at the click of a mouse.
We approached desirable potential partners, sometimes we got replies, and sometimes not: “sorry but...or you're too late”. Then we thought we had found the right fit and we started to communicate by email with the prospective swappers.  At the same time we asked a couple of questions about what they were offering on their part. After a bit of research, at last we were ready to commit: “Let’s do it” only to get blown off: We've found somebody else.
It reminds me of Internet dating. After crafting a compelling personal profile, you click though gazillions of pictures and prospects; you wait for responses or actively approach potential partners. You communicate, sometimes slowly; sometimes unexpectedly excited, making quick progress in getting to know the other side. Then boom—you’re blown off and don’t know what hits you. They disappear from the radar or have the courtesy of informing you that they have met somebody else while you were getting your hopes up. Happens all the time. It’s called double timing.
We lost out while trying to cover our backs and avoid being disappointed if things turned out to be different to what they were portrayed to be. 
We are still "virgins" on the home swapping front so to speak, but we learned our lesson: Apparently one has to jump "into bed" here even more quickly than on dating sites.
You can follow our steps for about months on our travels to Germany and France. The first home swap near Frankfurt turned out to be an all-round positive experience. We absolutely loved it and felt totally at home away from home. Our second exchange made me want to scream when we arrived and then take the prefix ‘in’ out of Intrepid Homeswappers. The location, however, was hard to beat and even the lack of good weather wasn’t that important once you see the sights of Paris.
The topic solicited even more interest with the local media than my book on dating, i.e. the interview with NPR will concentrate on this adventure, yet still plug my book I was promised.
For us it was a great, invaluable experience. We were drawn out our comfort zone, left the rut of daily routine in the US, and managed to enjoy ourselves even though my husband was working for five out of the seven weeks. While we’re still unpacking our six enormous suitcases -68lb.each-, plans for next year are being hatched and little safeguards discussed in order to guarantee an even better exchange next time.

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