The Blog

Youth Exchange—Trading Kids instead of Houses

Add 04-25-2012 14:20

Children can experience another family, language, and culture through youth exchange. These visits also benefit the host families. Our kids grew up in a house with frequent overseas visitors in residence. Our daughter spent two weeks in Japan, six weeks in Mexico, and three weeks in Spain on youth exchange programs. She has an international viewpoint—she speaks Spanish and is getting a degree at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Her flat mates are from Belgium, Sweden, and Ireland.
Our oldest son spent the best month of his life as a 15 year old in France. I don’t know the details but they included wine, women, and clubbing. One host family had become friends through home exchange. We had hosted the other family’s boy. Last summer he spent a month in Britain with one of our former home exchange partners. Their son has visited us in California twice. With Facebook and other technological wonders folks can stay friends and connected for life.
There are many organizations that facilitate youth exchange. Often a hefty fee is involved, even if the organization is “non-profit.” Most programs are reciprocal--your child visits a family for a few weeks or months and returns with the child from the other country. A leader in youth exchange is Rotary International (, which has programs for an academic year or a few weeks.
Can you visit a website and find a youth exchange, much as you would a home exchange? While home exchange agencies and offer this, less than 4% of their listings are for youth exchange. and offer a web based system for youth exchange. Their focus is on helping students learn other languages. The best way to learn a second language is by living with a family and speaking that language. Lingoo and Language for Exchange appear to be good websites though they share the problem that demand for youth exchanges in English speaking countries is much greater than demand from English speaking countries.
My French partner at, Didier Leclerc, is active in youth exchange with his own children. He and I have decided to set up a website to facilitate youth and student exchange. is under construction; please check it out and let us know how we can improve it.
The photo shows a World Cup party in Switzerland, a highlight for several visiting University students from California.

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Home Swaps Question: Florida for New Zealand

Add 01-19-2011 17:42

Today the following question was submitted:

“I live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in a great location. It’s a small historic house. 1 bedroom. nothing fancy... Anywho, I am going to New Zealand in April. (South island) Any ideas on where to look for a basic average house swap? Nothing \'luxurious\' even better if I don’t have to pay to use the site.

Fort Lauderdale is next to the ocean in sunny and warm Florida. This is a prime location. If you live in Fort Lauderdale you will find it easy to exchange your home. You may not get the South Island of New Zealand in April. There are at most several hundred active home exchangers on the South Island of New Zealand at any particular time. Many have children in school and won’t be able to trade in April—unless your exchange is April 16 to May 1, 2011, which coincides with the Easter/Autumn school holidays in New Zealand.

If you visit you will see there are over 300 active house swap families in New Zealand. About 90 of these are happy to consider the USA as a destination. Less than half are likely to be on the South Island.

If you visit you will see they have 340 members in New Zealand, 102 of which are on the South Island. 22 have mentioned the US as a desired destination. This number doesn’t count those that claim they are willing to go anywhere.

At they have 247 members in New Zealand, 101 are on the South Island.

At they have 219 members in New Zealand.

At they have over 300 members in New Zealand. This is the only agency listed that is free to use.

When looking at the numbers above ask yourself these questions: how many will consider Florida? How many will need a larger place than a one bedroom house? How many will want to swap in April 2011? You will be lucky to find an exchange because your parameters are so specific. To find that exchange you may need to join more than one home exchange agency. You don’t have much time; you had better start looking now. Good luck!

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Happy Home Swap

Add 11-24-2010 19:03

This is a new home exchange agency. They have a free membership offer at the moment. They have an attractive website with lots of useful information about home exchange in general. Most of their listings appear to be apartments in large cities around the world. They are well balanced geographically with listings on all the continents (except Antarctica.) You can visit them at

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Home Exchange Question

Add 11-22-2010 14:06

Fara from Malaysia sent an e-mail asking if he could participate in home exchange with a very basic apartment setup. Here is my reply:

The home exchange system is most popular in the western world. Participation in Asia, Latin America, and Africa is much less. As long as your apartment is clean, functional, and safe, I think you have a possibility to find a home exchange. It will help if you are flexible as to destination and dates. One home exchange website to try is if you are willing to go to France. They have many members in France and you would be unique offering a place in Malaysia. If you are on the young side consider, their focus is young adults and students, who by definition have basic accommodation setups. You can join and which are both free and give it a try.

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Being a member of the Club

Add 11-05-2010 18:12

One complicating fact of modern life is that to get the best price at many stores you have to carry a special card. For example, at Safeway Supermarkets in the USA you carry a Club Card. Without it you don’t get the special advertised prices. As a home exchanger in another country you have three options to deal with this annoyance.

1) You can say “#@$%!” and pay the higher price.
2) You can fill out a form and become a club member
3) You can present the card which has been thoughtfully provided by your home exchange hosts.

Option 3) is the best alternative. Often the card is a piece of plastic that is on the keys to the house.

I don’t see any ethical problems with this as these cards are associated with households and families. When you are in their house you are a member of their household.

A trickier ethical situation involves a membership card that admits you to a museum or other attraction. Usually these are not transferable and there is a possibility they will demand identification when you present them.

I don’t visit Safeway often and never have my Club Card. I can enter my home telephone number into their computer and that counts as my Club Card. They always say, “Thanks Mister Smith and have a good day.” My name is not Smith—that’s the name of one of our home exchange partners that signed up as a Club Member to get a better price at Safeway. This is ok; we are all one big happy home exchange family.

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Children and Home Exchange

Add 10-25-2010 14:32

A challenge for families is finding activities that all enjoy. We have learned to be flexible when planning our vacation days. We did manage to occasionally please the four teenagers that accompanied us on our home exchange in Switzerland in 2009. We had two 14 year olds and two 18 year olds. A plus was that our 18 year old son could drive, though he mostly drove with us in the car. We allowed him to drive on his own in the region on roads he had become familiar with. This made life much easier.
My wife and I love long walks in the country and strolling through town. The two 14 year olds preferred playing video games till early in the morning and sleeping in towards noon. The 18 year olds were better about getting up and enjoying Switzerland.
Everybody enjoyed the Montreux Jazz Festival and the Tour de France. We appreciated the public transport in Montreux which allowed us to leave the Jazz Festival after the nightly fireworks. The kids had the car and could stay a few more hours.
I have many faults, including being cheap. A beautiful fact about home exchange is that it is so much more economical than normal travel. There are times when I need to remember this and spend money on the family. Our daughter celebrated her birthday in Switzerland. We had two special activities. There was a horse ride for all four teenagers while my wife and I walked around the beautiful region known as Les Paccots. The second activity was an obstacle course with zip lines and other delights in a forest near Aigle. The kids got a few hours of vigorous exercise while the wife and I toured the Chateau of Aigle, which focuses on the history of the wine industry. Sometimes the best way for a family to enjoy their house exchange vacation is by going in different directions.

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Temporary problems at

Add 10-13-2010 12:35

One of our readers, Mickey, complained that the new design of wasn’t working properly and that they hadn’t been responsive regarding questions about the problems. I have been using the new website and have to agree with Mickey that there are lots of bugs. Many problems are quick to be resolved but then new issues will arise. I have been in touch with They are sorry about the problems and are working to solve them. I think if we are patient they will get it working better than ever. I am sorry that they haven’t gotten back to Mickey; they are probably focusing their efforts on getting the website to work as it should.

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Negative Home Exchange Experiences

Add 10-04-2010 17:36

Here is a comment that arrived today from Marie:

“I think you gloss over the section on damage. we have exchanged at least 15 times since 1998 and put up with misrepresentation of the exchangers home and car,i.e. car very old, no aircon, in poor running condition,dirty houses, broken appliances,and returning home to find - fine glassware broken, plates, cups chipped, dirty pots; bicycle and car damaged. Websites do not remove listings when complaints are made; nor do they vet listings. we will no longer home exchange. “

I wrote my home exchange book two years ago. Since then I have met many more exchangers and it is clear there are negative experiences from time to time. The problem of homes not being clean or in order has been reported often. In the industry this is called “differences in housekeeping standards.” It would be more accurate to say “differences in ethical standards.”

As to damage, a small amount is to be expected in most exchanges. It is easy to break a glass or dish, though it shouldn’t be the formal china set or best crystal as these should not be used by a visiting exchange family. Any damage should be paid for. Twice I have damaged the car and twice our partners got it fixed with me paying the bill. And I once damaged the bicycle, breaking a wheel. That cost me $100 to repair. In order to avoid damaged appliances I only let my wife use the dishwasher, washing machine, stove, oven, and dryer.

Misrepresentation can take many forms. Shading the truth or errors of omission are gray areas. Outright lies are unacceptable. We have had a couple of old cars, both of which worked fine except for one with broken air conditioning. (They said it had been fixed before their departure.) If something is important you should specifically ask your exchange partner, for example, “What is the year of your car? How many miles/KM are on it?” In our 13 exchanges we have never had a misrepresentation from our partners. They have all been honest, considerate, and careful.

I don’t think it is possible or reasonable for home exchange agencies to vet exchangers and their homes. But you should always work diligently at vetting your potential partners—ask them lots of questions, have many discussions with them, ask for references, etc. Look at the photos of their house and check out maps of their neighborhood. This process is described in the Finding a Home Exchange section of this website.

You say that home exchange agencies don’t remove listings when complaints are made. I think this policy varies by agency and by the severity and number of complaints. There are agencies which allow members to rate their experiences with exchange partners.

Marie, thanks for your comment, please send me your e-mail address, I would love to discuss this further and learn more about your negative experiences so we all could better understand this aspect of home exchange. I am sorry you have had these problems.

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Changes at

Add 09-28-2010 12:40 ( is the agency with the most members—they claim 37,000. They have recently redone their website. The new look is beautiful though there are a few bugs they are in the process of squashing.
They are offering a special $1 membership for three months to any member of another home exchange agency that wants to give them a try. If you don’t happen to belong to another agency I assume you could sign up for one that was free, such as, to take advantage of this offer. Once your three month trial is up I assume they will automatically renew your membership at the normal rate of $119.40 per year. You would have to cancel before your 3 months membership is up to avoid this automatic renewal. This offer is also available at their French language site,, but the price is higher—1 Euro for three months.

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Last Minute Exchange

Add 09-14-2010 12:41

Today I received a question from Iris in Canada:

I am considering a business/pleasure trip to the UK early November. Do you think I will be able to co-ordinate things this quickly? I'll just need to be there a few days. Thanks! Cheers, Iris


My response:

Hi Iris,

This brings up a lot of interesting questions. There are folks that trade homes for a weekend but usually they are on the same continent. If you are planning on being away a week or two, and only want to be in the other persons home a few days that might work. The idea is that your exchange partner could use your place for the entire time you were away.

Finding an exchange is easier if you are flexible as to dates and locations. To arrange a particular country, England, without much time, might require you to work hard to find the exchange. You might need to join more than one home exchange agency. A key factor is your home and its location. If you have a beachfront place in Vancouver it will be easier to find a trade than if you live in Saskatoon.

If you like the idea of home exchange you can join one or more agencies and see what happens. Even if you don't get the November exchange you can exchange at a later date. There are two agencies with many listings in England that offer a guarantee. If you don't find an exchange during your first year of membership you let them know and they give you a second year of membership free. These agencies are and For information on other home exchange agencies, including a chart showing how many members they have in Britain, visit

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Bien débuter vos échanges de maisons - Comment c

Add 09-06-2010 17:31

Below is a guest post from home exchange author Didier Leclerc. My French translation of his work is in the previous post. The photos is of Clisson in the Vendee, France. We discovered this beautiful town when we traded with Didier's family in 2005.


Bien débuter vos échanges de maisons - Comment convaincre sa famille.

Par Didier Leclerc

Devenir voyageur par échange de maisons n’est pas chose facile. Il faut vaincre ses propres réticences, convaincre un conjoint hésitant ou des adolescents peu enthousiastes à l’idée de prêter leur chambre… Il faut aussi parfois surmonter le regard de ses amis incrédules.

Obtenir l’adhésion de tous
Une maison est un lieu d’intimité, partagé par tous les membres de la famille. Il est donc nécessaire d’obtenir l’adhésion de tous, conjoint et enfants. Ce ne sera peut être pas facile. Alors pas de précipitation ! Prenez votre temps et ‘jouez la finement’…

1- Rassurer sa tribu
Informez-votre famille. Il existe de nombreux moyens pour y arriver. Utilisez des forums, lisez des articles ou des livres, consultez les blogs des échangeurs…
Si vous avez la chance de connaître une famille expérimentée, demandez à la rencontrer. Une rencontre avec parents et enfants favorisera les échanges entre les uns et les autres et permettra aux plus réticents de se projeter dans ce nouvel univers. Chacun pourra exprimer ses craintes et peut être trouver des réponses à ses questions. C’est une étape essentielle, décisive. Laisse murir la décision.

2- Vaincre le regard des autres
Lorsque vous annoncerez à vos proches votre intention de voyager en échangeant votre maison il se peut que certains s’en amusent. Vous leur apparaitrez bien naïf et ils parieront sur votre infortune. Dites vous que lorsque vous aurez voyagé ainsi de nombreuses années, leur regard évoluera. Vous passerez du statut de ‘naîf’ à celui d’’avisé’. Vous aurez des souvenirs de voyages extraordinaires et votre niveau de vie augmentera de façon sensible. L’échange de maison est incroyablement économique. En économisant sur le budget vacances et weekends, vous pourrez dépenser plus pour vos loisirs ou pour la maison…

3- Avancer à petits pas ou faire le grand saut ?
Deux stratégies sont possibles. Vous pouvez commencer par de petits échanges le temps d’un week end. Ils permettent de découvrir en douceur la culture de l’échange, à petits pas. Les échanges de maisons le temps d’un weekend sont assez faciles à trouver et à organiser, ils se développent de plus en plus. Ils éroderont vos craintes et familiariseront votre tribu.
L’autre possibilité consiste à faire le « grand saut ». Partez loin, très loin… au Canada, aux Etats Unis ou en Australie… L’échange de maison met à votre porté des destinations qui vous étaient peut être interdites pour des raisons financières. Une destination de rêve vaut bien quelques efforts. Utilisez alors le potentiel de séduction d’une ville comme San Francisco ou Melbourne pour emporter l’adhésion du groupe.
Le premier échange sera déterminant pour votre avenir d’échangeur. Il faut le réussir. Choisissez de préférence un partenaire expérimenté. Vos erreurs seront plus facilement pardonnées. Vous pourrez prendre exemple et apprendre d’eux. N’hésitez pas à annoncer clairement votre manque d’expérience à vos partenaires et demandez l’indulgence. Ils vous aideront et vous conseilleront utilement.

4- Rendez ce que l’on vous a donné.
Lorsqu’à votre tour vous serez devenu une famille d’échangeurs expérimentés, vous pourrez alors aider d’autres familles à débuter.

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Convincing your family to home exchange

Add 09-06-2010 17:23

Guest Blog by Didier Leclerc

To become a home exchange traveler is not easy. It is necessary to overcome your own doubts. You may need to convince a hesitant partner or adolescents who show little enthusiasm for the idea of lending their room. You may also need to deal with friends who think home exchange is too good to be true.

A home is your own intimate space, shared by all the members of the family. It is necessary to get everybody to buy into the concept of house swapping, including your partner and kids. It may not be easy. Don’t be in a hurry. Take your time and win them over gradually.

Inform your family. There are a number of ways this can be achieved. Use forums, read articles or books, look at blogs of exchangers. If you are lucky enough to know an experienced family, arrange a meeting. The parents and children can explain why they favor exchanges; this will allow the unconvinced to imagine themselves in a different vacation reality. All family members can explain their concerns and have their questions answered. It’s a necessary and decisive step. Then give them time to reflect on the possibilities.

When you let your friends know your home exchange plans there will be those that think you are crazy. You will seem to them naive and they will bet on your misfortune. Tell yourself that when you have traded a few times their perceptions will evolve. You will move from « Naive » to « Expert. » You will have memories of your special travel experiences and you will notice an improvement in your lifestyle. Home exchange is really economical. With the savings on your vacation budget you will be able to spend more on your hobbies or your home.

Two strategies are possible. You can begin with a simple week end exchange. This will allow you to discover the exchange system with minimal commitment or risk. Weekend exchanges are easy to organize and once you have done one you will find it easy to do more. Your clan will be familiar with exchange and any fears will go away. The other possibility is to go whole hog. Go away, far away, to Canada, the United States or Australia. Home Exchange allows you to visit far away destinations that otherwise would be too expensive. A dream destination is worth extra trouble. Use the charms of places like San Francisco or Melbourne to seduce your group into agreeing to exchange.

The first exchange will determine your exchange future. You need to succeed. Go out of your way to find a reliable and experienced partner. They will forgive your mistakes. You can learn from them. Don’t be hesitant to let them know your lack of experience and ask for their help and understanding. They will help and aid you.

Once you have become an experienced exchange family you can help others discover this great way to travel.

The Home Exchange Guru’s notes
Didier Leclerc wrote the above article in French. I translated it into English. The original French version follows in a separate post.
I am in complete agreement with everything Didier has said. A few thoughts . . .
1) If you don’t know an experienced local exchange family use your home exchange agency to find one in your area. Send them an e-mail and ask if they will have dinner with your family and help them understand home exchange.

2) The best way to start home exchange will vary depending upon your family and your geographical situation. Our home is of little interest for weekend exchanges yet is highly popular for long exchanges. An exchange in your own country should be less risky than an exchange in a faraway land with a different language. It will be easier to arrange and adjusting to a new home and location will be quicker and easier.

The photo is from Clisson, Vendee, France, a lovely city we discovered when we traded with Didier's family in 2005.

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Edinburgh for Lyon at Christmastime

Add 08-16-2010 16:33

Jane from Scotland asked about trading her home in Edinburgh for one in Lyon, France at Christmastime
Edinburgh is one of the world’s great cities and a popular home exchange destination. My family has been trying to arrange a house exchange in Edinburgh for years. I know our time will come one of these days. My daughter will start her undergraduate degree at the University of Edinburgh next month.
The first step to finding a house swap is to list your place with a home exchange agency. Our friends at are the experts in evaluating home exchange agencies. They have a chart of agencies with the number of listings by country. You can click on a country and it will sort agencies by number of listings in that country. You would want to choose an agency with lots of listings in France. A related criterion would be the number of listings in the UK. Your chance of finding a trade in France are better if there is less competition from your fellow countryman. Below are the four agencies with the most listings in France:
1stHome—7936 France, 794 UK—5000 France, 2000 UK—4917 France, 1060 UK—2672 France, 850 UK
Each agency has its own style, clientele, and cost. Read the detailed agency reviews at You can list your home on 1st Home Exchange for free, though you are not a full member. Only full members can contact other members. Geenee is free, though they would like you to pay if you arrange an exchange. is expensive though you get a lot for your money, including a second year for free if you don’t arrange an exchange. HomeFor Exchange is a good site that is cheaper than many of its competitors. An interesting option is This French non-profit is free and as a result has a less sophisticated website than its competitors. According to they have 2150 members in France and 14 in the UK. Their members tend to be middle class, while many other agencies have higher proportions of upper middle class customers

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Basel and Binningen

Add 06-08-2010 16:32

One of the tricks of home exchange is finding great places that others have never heard of. It is difficult getting a home exchange in London, New York, or the French Riviera. Switzerland has a good reputation but the city of Basel probably wouldn’t be tops on your list. You would be mistaken. Basel has a metropolitan population of about 1 million, most in Switzerland, some in Germany and France. It is the third most important city in Switzerland. It is on the Rhine river and home to the large pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Roche. It has several world class art museums and hosts the world’s largest art fair which is called Art Basel. It has a superb public transportation with trains, trams, and buses. I am in a large home built around 1900, in a green and pleasant neighborhood called Neubad. When I want to go into the heart of the city in ten minutes I walk two blocks and catch a tram. If you just miss the tram you might have to wait 9 minutes for the next one. My first day here my hosts took me to a garden art show in nearby Binningen. 16 citizens had volunteered their gardens for local artists to embellish. The event was free, you could wander from garden to garden, there were even free refreshments. You could chat with fellow visitors, the owners, or the artists. If you want to learn more and speak German visit

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Different Exchanges for Summer 2010

Add 05-31-2010 13:45

The Home Exchange Guru will be taking a sabbatical from home exchange in 2010. It will be our first year without a house swap since 1999. We have other exchange programs in mind.

I will be accompanying a group of seven young adults, 18 to 25, to Switzerland on an exchange visit. We will be hosted by three different Rotary Clubs. The members of our team will learn about Swiss life by visiting factories, farms, tourist attractions, and other places. We will stay in homes of Swiss Rotarians. I had the pleasure of being on a similar trip in 1998 to France, it was fun and educational.

My son Tarn is in a university club affiliated with Rotary, it is called Rotaract. He is the International Director of the chapter at the University of California in Merced. He and two colleagues will attend the Rotary International convention in Montreal, Canada while I am in Switzerland.

My daughter Lia will host Maria from Madrid, Spain, for three weeks in July and August. Lia will stay with Maria’s family for three weeks in August and September. This is an official short term Rotary Youth Exchange. Home exchangers often participate in youth exchange, you can try to find them on home exchange sites such as and My home exchange friend and colleague, Didier LeClerc has been hosting a high school student from Austria for the last year. Rotary youth exchange is offered by individual Rotary districts around the world, you can get more information at

My wife will fly to England to visit her family in September. Lia will fly in from Madrid. A week later Lia will begin a four year degree in law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Exchange programs improve international understanding and friendship. You never know where you will end up or how your life will be changed by exchange programs. The photo shows our family in Edinburgh during a home exchange in 2002.

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The French Connection

Add 05-13-2010 18:16

In 2005 we did a home exchange in Western France. I couldn’t resist a beautiful modern home surrounded by vineyards in the Muscadet wine growing region. My initial e-mail to Didier was in French and he courteously replied in English. Once I had shown him I could speak French it was a lot easier to write him in English. The advantage, besides quicker communication was that he responded in French. He is a teacher and school administrator and his French writing was beautiful. He and his family were charming and totally committed to the home exchange concept. We spent five weeks at his place. We have kept in touch over the years.
Didier has written a book on home exchange in French, “Voyager en échangeant sa maison”. I read the initial draft, he provides a succinct and clear look at home exchange from the French cultural perspective. I liked this book so much I wanted to immediately translate it into English. His publisher has the foreign language rights, so this might take a long time. Didier is also working on a home exchange television project.
If you can read French I highly recommend his book and home exchange website, Didier has helped me over the years with my home exchange efforts and is an active participant in my other home exchange website

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Home Sweet Solar Home

Add 05-04-2010 19:32

Two months ago our family had photo voltaic solar panels installed on our roof. We now generate more electricity than we are using, though this might change when summer arrives and the air conditioning and pool filter are heavily used. Our local electrical utility gave us a generous subsidy for the system, there is also a tax credit provided by the US Government. We estimate the system will pay for itself in ten years. It will be interesting to see if any of our potential home exchange partners see our solar system as an additional reason to trade with our family.

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Free Home Exchange Listing Sites

Add 03-11-2010 18:21

Home Exchange blogger Nicole Frank had two useful posts on this subject on March 4th and 6th of this year. You can read them, together with helpful comments from her readers at The purpose of this post is to present my thoughts on this topic, to the extent I have copied or imitated any ideas from Nicole and her readers I thank them and give them credit.

There are two methods to list your home for exchange for free. One is to use a general free website such as craigslist. They have home exchange as a category. There are also home exchange agencies out there that do not charge a membership fee. For example, Variations on the free theme include, where you don’t pay to list or be a member but they want you to pay if you find an exchange. The folks at will allow you to list for free, but you can’t contact other members. As always our friends at can give you reviews and information on all types of home exchange agencies, whether they charge a fee or not.

Nicole made the point that she didn’t like craigslist and similar websites for home exchange. She pointed out that if you pay for a home exchange agency you have to use a credit card and in this way your home address is verified. They don’t do this at craigslist. I agree with Nicole on this point. Nicole used craigslist to try to find an exchange and was not satisfied with the experience. Another disadvantage of craigslist is that the search options and listing format are far inferior to those provided by home exchange agencies. Despite these problems there are folks that have successfully used craigslist for home exchange. They would say you should make an extra effort to verify your potential partners before trading with them.

Agencies such as that don’t charge don’t do a credit card verification. I have used and can personally recommend them. Some of their members are less organized and more casual in their e-mail inquiries and home exchange listings than other agencies. Having said that they are much closer to the fee charging agencies than they are to craigslist. Switchome is good value for being free and a useful agency, especially if you are looking for an exchange in France.

Our friends at the agencies that charge a fee would point out that since their members pay to be listed they are more serious. This is a benefit beyond the opportunity to verify their address with their credit card payment.

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Computers and Home Exchange

Add 02-03-2010 17:57

A computer is essential on a home exchange. You use it to stay in touch with your friends via e-mail, My Space or Facebook. You can research local attractions, look at restaurant menus, and check out the local news.

It is normal to let your home exchange guests use your computer. Having said this, many folks these days travel with their own laptop. There are potential problems with letting your guests use your computer. If they bring their own computer everybody benefits. You know the settings on your own machine and it has everything you need. Computers in your home away from home may have strange keyboard layouts and be set up in a Byzantine manner, even if you are not in Byzantium.

Even well intentioned guests can screw up an unfamiliar computer. They might not understand the language of the operating system. They may accidentally download a virus or malware. They may inadvertently change settings. Our family has the dubious distinction of having been victim and perpetrator as regards damage to home exchange computers. We know of two instances where important data was erased.


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Home Exchange Podcast

Add 01-28-2010 13:56

Our friends at have interviewed several home exchange experts for podcasts, including yours truly. You can listen to these at:

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Home Exchange Listing Photographs

Add 01-18-2010 17:40

In the last week I signed up for two home exchange agencies. They were both free, so I shouldn’t be complaining. Photographs of your home are crucial for letting potential exchangers know what you have to offer. It can be difficult to get photos the way you like them.

There are agencies that accept any photo easily. Most others have limits—the file type has to be compatible, the photo has to have a certain geometry, or there is a limit on the file size. It can be confusing to get the photos in the right order—what really matters is which photo appears as a thumbnail on search results. This is the photo that others will look at to decide whether to click on your full home exchange listing.

I have learned how to use Microsoft Photo Editor to downsize my photos, which reduces the file size. I have a special folder for these reduced size photos. Limits vary—one agency I signed up for today had a 2 megabyte limit while another had a 100kilobyte limit. You want your photo to look good which means it should be more detailed which means a larger file size. One photo file size, in this case, does not fit all home exchange agencies.

The agency I worked with today, for mysterious reasons, did not accept certain JPG files. They also handled all photos in landscape format. I had one of myself on a bicycle on top of a Welsh mountain—their automatic system cut off my head. I had to copy the photo and crop it so it was in landscape format. A photo of our entry hall showed the floor and first vertical meter of the room—the rest was cut off.

Getting your photos right can be time consuming and is important in helping you find your preferred home exchange.

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Add 01-11-2010 18:15

This is a home exchange information website. They are based in France; the site is in French and in English. The French version is impressive; there is lots of advice and information. Not all the information is translated into English and what is translated is done in an amateurish way. It is understandable but not elegant.

They offer brief reviews of home exchange agencies. These reviews don’t provide as much information as those at On the other hand they offer discounts for certain home exchange agencies, including,, and

Those of you that speak French will enjoy this website. If you only speak English you can get an idea of the French view of home exchange by reading the content that has been translated.

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Happy Holidays

Add 12-24-2009 13:22

This is the time of year when we think of family and friends. We have been blessed with many friendships due to home exchange. This summer I was in Birmingham, England, for a Rotary International Convention. Also attending were Ron and Christine, who we had first met in 2002 during a home exchange in Northern England. We shared a dinner with wine overlooking the beautiful canals of the Midlands.

After the convention I stayed with friends from our exchanges in 2004 and 2006, which I have already written about. We spent three weeks in Switzerland on an exchange. We were able to visit friends living less than two hours away in France, near Annecy. We had not seen them in 15 years. We gave them a break from our company to drive along the Lake and visit Gray and Sue, friends who had taken a gite. I was the best man in their wedding; it had been several years since we had seen them. My son has visited them twice in Canada and was as pleased to be with them as we were.

In September our Swedish home exchange friends Peter and Suzanne invited us to dinner at the Polo Club in Beverly Hills. They were enrolling their oldest daughter in the University of Southern California. We don’t get to Los Angeles often, and stayed with friends, one of whom gets the blame for introducing me to the lady who became my wife. It was the first time we had been to their house. It was a lovely break from our usual routine.

Our home exchange friends from Paris have a son studying enology in Montpellier. He and his girlfriend arranged six month internships with wineries in the Napa Valley. The parents decided to visit California. We enjoyed more good bottles with them on a weekend than is normal for an entire year. We had a perfect fall day hiking amongst the giant Sequoias of the Calaveras Big Trees. It was Halloween and we tasted wine in the old Gold Rush Town of Murphys, a pleasing combination of Ghouls, Goblins, and Grenache. My wife mischievously bought a set of devil’s horns for Pierre so he could add to the evening’s atmosphere and confirm unfair American stereotypes of the French.

Given current events, the ideas of Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards Men are ambitious goals. Home exchange helps. We understand other cultures and countries better. We make friends. When it is natural for our children to study and work abroad and think globally we have succeeded. The attached photo is of my family. We wish you and yours Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and all the best for 2010.

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Chocolate and Rockets

Add 12-09-2009 15:01

The Swiss National Day, August 1st, is a big deal. Our home exchange family arranged to return home that morning. They didn’t want to miss the festivities. Local newspapers reported that Swiss diplomats would be hosting parties in their embassies complete with food from home including Cervelas, one of the official national sausages.

Local supermarkets had special sections for the necessary paraphernalia such as Swiss logo supplies and trinkets, flags, and fireworks. In California we are limited to safe and sane fireworks. They have to be approved by the state Fire Marshall. Rockets are out of the question. My son’s eyes went wide when he saw the massive ordnance on sale. “Dad, can we buy that rocket, it is only 18 francs?” ($18.) One disadvantage of a home exchange is you don’t happen to know local rules. Are you allowed to fire a rocket over the neighborhood? Our exchange family had kindly included ample advice in their home manual but rocket etiquette had been left out. We could have consulted the neighbors. Yes, I have to admit I didn’t want my son to convert my Swiss Francs into a few moments of smoke, light, noise, and contingent liability.

We had arranged our house swap several months in advance. We could have arranged our flights for the day after August 1, which was a Saturday. We like returning home on Saturday, there is no traffic on the way home from the airport, and we have Sunday to recover before starting work on Monday. We knew about the National Day, but didn’t know how important it was. It was irritating to see the excitement and anticipation for the holiday build over the three weeks of our vacation knowing that we would miss it.

We didn’t miss Swiss chocolate as you can see from the photo.

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Craigslist for home exchanges?

Add 12-01-2009 16:35

Katrina from Hawaii uses to find her home exchanges. She asked if this was a good idea in our question section, I responded briefly. Here is a fuller commentary.

My experience with craigslist is limited, so these comments may be misinformed. The only compelling advantage of craigslist for house exchange is that it is free to use.

Craigslist is organized geographically by country and then city or region. If you choose France you have large cities such as Paris and Lyon and regions such as Brittany and Normandy. Housing Swap is one of their standard categories under housing. If you click on Paris you have many exchange opportunities listed. Most are proposing a specific pairing, such as their place in Manhattan for your home in Paris. To search for an exchange you would look under your own geographic location or the one where you want to exchange. The format is freeform, some have photos, some have lots of information, and some don’t. For example one listing under Paris is a home in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Nothing in the listing suggests it is for exchange, it could be for sale.

There are lots of choices in Paris. But if you click on Brittany there is nothing listed under housing swap. has 299 listings in Brittany.

I clicked on my home town of Modesto, California and was surprised there were a family in Idaho and one in coastal California looking for an exchange. I assume they have relatives in Modesto. If I want to exchange in Europe this isn’t helpful.

If you live in a well known area, like Hawaii, Paris, or San Francisco, craigslist will provide lots of home exchange options. If you want to search broader areas, such as France, the search tools of home exchange agencies are much more powerful and efficient. They allow you to search for homes that accommodate a certain number of people, filter out smokers, or look for a swimming pool. All listings in a particular home exchange agency are in the same format. It is quicker to figure out who is a good candidate for an exchange and who isn’t. You can save listings that you like for further review later. You will have more options and save time by using a home exchange agency instead of craigslist.

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Add 11-28-2009 13:12 is a new home exchange advice website that is much better than the one you are reading now. The writing is carefully reviewed and edited. The site has an indexed blog and you can subscribe to it. The three founders of this website are passionate about home exchange and enthusiastically promote its many unique benefits.

I say this sincerely as I am one of the founders. Deren Monday approached me a few months ago. He complimented this website and liked my book but felt that my commercial, promotional, and website design skills were lacking. We thought it better to design a new website from the ground up rather than redo HomeExchangeGuru, which will remain available. I will be providing most of the content for You may not recognize my writing. After it has been edited by Deren it is well organized, focused, and funny.

We are assisted by Didier Leclerc of France who has written an excellent book in French on home exchange. It should be available next spring. Didier and his family have exchanged frequently. He provides a European viewpoint and is articulate on the human and environmental values of home exchange.

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Where is Seniorshomeexchange?

Add 11-27-2009 16:58

Sheila from France sent an e-mail asking about She has been a member and noticed that the website was no longer available. I visited to learn more about this home exchange agency. They are based in Canada, have a few thousand members, and focus on seniors.

Do any of you know what has happened to this agency?

Many leading home exchange agencies belong to Chec Travel, Seniorshomeexchange did not. I am disappointed that an agency could disappear without contacting their members and trying to take care of them. If the owners are no longer able to continue they should make a deal with another agency to take over their members. This would be beneficial for all concerned.

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Home Exchange Listings by Country

Add 11-15-2009 13:04

I received an e-mail from Ross asking the following question:

Can I ask your help in finding a table that shows home Exchange agencies by country?

Here is my response:

The folks at have lots of information on home exchange agencies including information on the listings in certain key If the country you want isn't listed you will have to do your own analysis--which is easy to do for most agencies. As a visitor you can browse their site and look for listings in your country of interest. Certain agencies, for example show the number of members in a country on the search menu. Others will require that you count up the number of members when the search returns the summary results. Since the result pages always have a certain maximum number of listings per page you can multiply this number by the number of complete pages. You then only have to count the number of listings on the last partial page of results.

If you want to do more work, you can look at an agency and consider how many members in your country of interest want to come to your country and vice-versa. If you find that an agency has more members wanting your country than vice-versa the odds will be in your favor.

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The Montreux Jazz Festival

Add 11-06-2009 14:34

Montreux is famous for its Jazz Festival, which fortunately was happening during our home exchange. It turns out that Montreux and its neighbor Vevey are well known for many other reasons. They call their corner of the lake the Leman Riviera. They face south, the lake moderates the weather, and they are protected from the harshest winds by the mountains, which rise up steeply behind. They have old world luxurious four star resort hotels and the path along the lake combines views of snow capped mountains and paddle wheel ferry boats with world class municipal gardening. There are palm trees, flowers, and shrubs, all sculpted and arranged and ordered, yet another example of Swiss quality and attention to detail.

Famous artists perform at the Jazz Festival for eye popping prices. Tickets can run several hundred Swiss francs for a single performance. But you don’t need much money to enjoy the festival. There are stages and venues with free music. My favorite was the Chipping Camden School Swing Band from England. They ended their show with three girls dressed up in second world war American Army uniforms, pretending they were the Andrews sisters. They were so good I had tears in my eyes.

There are hundreds of vendors selling life’s necessities such as beer, waffles, Nescafe, margaritas, and African handicrafts to thousands of visitors. The beautiful paths and gardens along the lake are transformed into a festival ground, with milling crowds jostling to buy tasty and overpriced refreshments and souvenirs. My son bought a drink in a coconut for 9 francs (about $8).

A free highlight of the festival is the fireworks, shot from barges in the lake. The views of the night sky, the fireworks, and the lights of the buildings along the lake and climbing up the mountains are magical.

Thanks to our home exchange we could drive to the festival in less than half an hour. We could stay as long or as short a time as we wished, knowing that we could always come back the next day. Home exchange allows sightseeing and relaxation at a leisurely pace.

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The Tour De France in Switzerland

Add 10-30-2009 14:04

We were delighted to discover that the Tour de France would be passing through Switzerland during our home exchange vacation. The route ran to the north of Lausanne, we decided to drive to Romont, less than half an hour away. We took quiet roads and had no traffic or problems until arriving at a barricade, which was the course. The guards told us we could turn around and park on the street, how convenient to drive right up to the race and park there. The riders would pass through in two hours. The town was celebrating the race with a brass band and vendors selling the usual Swiss festival refreshments—sausages and frites washed down by beer or wine. I ditched the kids and went exploring.

Romont is an old town on a hill protected by a medieval wall with picturesque towers and a castle, which houses a stained glass museum. The local church is worth a visit. There are lovely views across the countryside and a modern fountain inspired by the town’s history and traditions. Romont has a few thousand people yet has as much public art as my much larger city in California. A recent study ranked countries on overall quality of life. Finland came first; Switzerland was second, which, after our visit, seems appropriate and credible.

Bicycle races are strange in that the riders whiz by the viewers in a few seconds (unless you are on a mountain.) The organizers reward and exploit Tour de France spectators with the Promotional Caravan. They hand out a newspaper, fresh each day, with the latest news and standings in the race, and lots of advertisements for the caravan and the companies participating in it. The caravan passes by about an hour before the riders. There are fifty to sixty vehicles, many shaped strangely and decorated outlandishly. The tire company Kleber, for example, has a vehicle that looks like large tire. Folks on the vehicles wave to the spectators and throw out trinkets such as pens, hats, t-shirts, and mysterious items whose purpose you will not be able to determine. For the public the Tour de France briefly becomes a participatory sport as the competition for souvenirs can be intense. My daughter was irritated with her friend because he got a polk-a-dot hat from Champion supermarkets, which was much cooler than her black hat with a squirrel logo on it from the Caisse de Epargne savings bank. There are mobile sales vans selling Tour de France merchandise.

Before the riders flash by there is a succession of police motorcycles, police cars, and cars with officials. We had chosen our spot carefully so could view the cyclists for about 30 seconds before they disappeared from view. After they passed there were scores of team cars and support vehicles. You have to be careful as these guys are driving quickly, you don’t want to be too close to the road. You can stay for another few minutes to wait for the stragglers to pass.

It was easy to walk a few meters back to the car and be home in time to watch the last two hours of the race on TV. Every summer I waste many happy hours watching the cyclists of the Tour de France cruise through the European countryside on television. It was fun for a change to see it in person.

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Special Events and Home Exchange

Add 10-26-2009 19:02

One advantage of home exchange is that you are in one place for one to several weeks. There probably are special events happening in or near your vacation home. We benefited from three special events during our summer home exchange in Switzerland.

The first was the least well known but for me the most enjoyable. Slowup is the Swiss word in French, Italian, and German for an organization that encourages cycling, walking, and roller blading. You can visit their website at They organize several events each year around the country. They pick a region and place for a day of non-motorized transportation. You can reach the event by train, bus, or cycling, and they also provide ample car parking. They have several circular routes, one for walkers, one for mountain bikers, and the third for everybody, including cyclists and roller bladders. The latter course is closed to motorized traffic.

The Sunday after our arrival they had an event in Gruyere, which is a cheese, region, town, and lake. The 25km route crossed Lake Gruyere twice and went through Bulle and Broc, and several villages. The countryside is hilly and forested, punctuated with meadows and contented cows. The lake is lovely, especially when looking at the mountain peaks that rise up behind it.

There were several aspects of this event that surprised me. There were several hundred, perhaps thousands of people participating. Many looked out of shape and awkward, suggesting they did not cycle frequently. There were even a few handicapped people, in some cases being pedaled on special bicycles by a helper. I admired the attitude and spirit of these folks.

Though the roads were closed traffic jams were frequent. At times I was cycling at a walking pace. Many of the blockages were caused by the refreshment stops, which seemed to arrive every one kilometer. There were folks handing out drinks of water and others handing our free snacks. The route passed the large chocolate factory at Bulle, there was a sign suggesting a detour to visit the factory. Fortunately they were handing out free samples of their products on the course.

There really wasn’t enough food for free; this was ok as the food vendors’ offerings were irresistible. Every three or four km there were feeding frenzies. You could have frites and saucissons. The local anglers club offered barbecued fish from the Lake. I had a Soup of the Castle (Gruyere cheese an ingredient) with hunks of fresh bread. Drinks included a variety of wines, beer, water, sodas, and coffee. It was obvious that large groups and families were enjoying the day. Folks were in a jovial and relaxed mood.

There were exhibitors offering useful services such as insurance. You could also get your bicycle fixed for free if it broke down on the course. The repair staff had four or five stations. I stopped at the last to have our hosts bicycle slightly adjusted. This was a great day out and an opportunity to appreciate Swiss culture and organizational skills. The next special event, which also involved cycling wasn’t quite as much fun. I will write about the Tour de France later.

Comments [0]

Home Exchange Agency Mapping

Add 10-12-2009 14:27

Many home exchange agencies include a mapping feature as part of their listings. You can view the listing and look at a map that will show you the location of the home. Though many of these mapping features provide accurate and useful information you need to be cautious with the results. The map may be insufficiently detailed so the information is useless. A worse problem is a highly detailed map showing an exact, but incorrect home location.

We received a home exchange inquiry with a house on an island. The map showed it in the middle of the island, about 10km from the ocean. I re-read the description, which gave a village name and noted that the home was less than 3km from the beach. I visited, and found the village was not in the center of the island, but in a corner, close to the sea. This particular place is much more attractive in its actual location rather than in its false location, as reported by the home exchange agencies automatic and inaccurate mapping function.

A source of further confusion is that the maps may vary within a website, as the detail, quality, or even source of the map may vary depending upon the country of the listing. You should always double check a potential exchange home location on an accurate map so as to avoid false positives and false negatives.

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Our Home Exchange near Lausanne, Switzerland

Add 10-09-2009 17:51

A family on Lake Geneva, in Switzerland sent us a note proposing a home exchange in December 2008. Their home looked good. It was near Lausanne and had a view of the lake. Negotiations went well, they kindly agreed with all of our requests. For example, could two of my children each bring a friend? Yes, that was ok. Could my 18 year old son drive their car? Yes, that was fine. They had a well written and comprehensive manual on the home; it had sightseeing and restaurant suggestions as well as the names of friends and family that could help us.

They picked us up at Geneva Airport and took us to their home. They gave us a fantastic dinner; we sat outside and admired the view of the Lake. They said goodbye, they spent the night with relatives and took the train to the airport the next day. They had left us a welcome basket with local specialties and several bottles of Swiss wine. They had a file of tourist information and plenty of maps, a road atlas, and hiking guidebooks. This family earned top marks for the quality of their home exchange preparation.

Their home was near Lausanne, a beautiful city that we visited often. (The photo shows a detail from City Hall.) Lausanne as an urban center is confusing as it includes many different communes, which have their own names. There’s Prilly, Pully, Ouchy, Renens, Crissier, and a whole host of surs, Le Mont sur Lausanne, Romanel sur Lausanne, and Belmont sur Lausanne. The road network is good, though confusing at times, public transport is an efficient alternative though the park and ride system is expensive. You can minimize your parking charges by going at lunch, when the meters aren’t enforced or by parking in a nearby commune. The waterfront at Ouchy is attractive but parking is scarce and limited. Nearby Pully allows six hours of parking for free and you can be walking along the lake in Ouchy in ten minutes. There were six in our group, fortunately their car could take up to seven. Lausanne has an extensive system of bicycle routes though on many you are only separated from the traffic by a line on the pavement.

The home was modern and comfortable and in impeccable condition. There was an en-suite bedroom for the adults and three bedrooms for the children. The garden had raspberries and blackberries that were much appreciated and eaten. The children had bicycles, skateboards, and a badminton net. Our home exchange was off to a promising start.

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Home Exchange and Israel

Add 09-30-2009 13:18

Angela from the UK asked for the best home exchange agencies for a home exchange in Israel.

I did a quick check of the largest home exchange websites. The sites with the most listings for Israel are www.homeforexchange, with 124, and www.1sthomeexchange, with 137. The first website mentioned is $59 for 18 months, the second is $75 for 24 months. has 68 listings in Israel and is $100 a year though they will give you an extra year for free if you tell them you didn’t get an exchange the first year.

The other large home exchange websites don't have many members in Israel. You should also consider which is free and has 105 members in Israel. By definition they exist so Jewish folks can exchange with other Jewish people, but even if you aren’t Jewish they might be happy to have you. Their website doesn't clarify this question. An advantage of this website for Angela is that they only have five other members in the UK.

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Home Exchange and Telephones

Add 09-22-2009 18:24

The August 2009 newsletter from had an article about telephones. One of their US members traded with a family from the Netherlands. They traded cell phones to save money. This can be a good idea, especially if your own cell phone doesn’t work overseas. Many US phones won’t work in Europe. Even if your phone does work it could be expensive, for example with AT&T I think it is about $1.29 per minute to use my American phone in Europe. If you don’t have your own cell phone on vacation it will be more difficult for people to reach you—maybe this is a positive if you want a tranquil vacation. These days I use my cell phone in Europe and accept the astronomical charges for the convenience. (I try to avoid using the phone.)

The article brought up another telephone issue. Nobody in the exchange discussed the cost of calling overseas on home phones. It turns out that the US family did not have a cheap overseas calling plan. The Netherlands family did not know and their son called his girlfriend, racking up $1,400 in charges because each minute was several dollars.

We were impressed with Swiss telephone technology this summer. The phone in our exchange home displayed the cost of the call on the handset immediately after you hung up. We could see the charges were reasonable.

One summer my son wanted to call his girlfriend from our English home. I told him this was a waste of money and he could always send her an e-mail. He didn’t use the phone in the home. Instead he used his AT&T cell phone, racking up a bill of several hundred dollars. We punished him and I pleaded with customer service to give us a break from this adolescent mistake. They generously credited back most of the charges.

I wish all teenage mistakes could be resolved easily and cheaply.

Comments [0]

Insurance and Home Exchange

Add 09-17-2009 19:59

A rare, but serious problem for home exchangers is the unexpected cancellation of an exchange by the partner. Sometimes there is a good reason for this, perhaps there has been a death in the family or a job has been lost. If you haven’t taken out travel insurance you might find yourself with expensive airline tickets to a destination where you no longer have a home.

The folks at addressed this by offering a home exchange insurance policy to their members. The policy covers trip cancellation as well as offering $1,500 for damage to the exchange home being used by the insured. The details are complicated; you need to read the policy to fully understand what is offered. You have to pay for this insurance which also offers other benefits including medical coverage in certain circumstances. The trip cancellation benefits of this policy are more extensive than those described below. has announced that all their members are now covered by trip cancellation and property damage insurance. To fully understand this insurance you need the complete details, which are not yet available on their website. The trip cancellation covers non-refundable airline tickets and certain related expenses up to a maximum of $2,500. It only applies to injury, illness, or death to the member on either side of the exchange or to a member of their immediate family. The property damage covers up to $10,000 but is contingent to the homeowners own insurance policy. The beauty of this insurance is that you are automatically covered at no extra charge as long as you are an active member of trading with another active member.

Significant damage to an exchange home is really unusual. My guess is that cancellation of the exchange may happen 3 to 5% of the time. Depending on your situation either of the above insurance programs may be of interest. Both are useful and should be appreciated as they take risk out of the home exchange system. They should encourage more families to consider home exchange.

Comments [0]

Looking for an Exchange In Greece

Add 09-17-2009 12:15

Rob from Canada sent a question asking for the best home exchange agency for finding a swap in Greece.

To research this question I visited where they have lists (by home exchange agency) of the number of listings in various countries. Greece is not a large enough country to be shown. I looked at their list of home exchange agencies and visited the websites of the five agencies with the most members around the world. You can search for homes in Greece at these home exchange agencies without being a member. Here is a list of agencies with the number of listings in Greece: 40 21 38 47 58

Rob might want to join more than one agency to get a better selection and to improve his chances of finding an exchange in Greece.

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Response to a Reader's Question

Add 09-15-2009 13:40

Today I received a question from reader “Scumbellina”. She had contacted a family about a possible home exchange. When they responded with more information she decided the home, although adequate, was not as attractive as she had hoped or expected from their listing. She wondered how she could explain to them politely that they were no longer interested in considering an exchange. She did not want to offend them.

There are many possible answers to this question. The one I came up with is:

"Thanks for sending more information, you have a nice place, but we will not be able to trade with you this year as we have other possibilities that we think will be a better match for our family."

This response is polite, reasonable, and truthful. It is often true in the home exchange world that folks will be considering several possibilities at the same time. Our reader is no longer attracted to the home because she thinks she can find a better situation elsewhere.

Do any of you have suggestions on how to handle this situation?

Comments [0]

Hanging out with Home Exchange Friends

Add 09-03-2009 18:09

After four days in the Peak District it was time to liberate my friends from their house guest. I took the train to Suffolk, where I stayed with my Father and Mother in law, who were good to me. I moved on after three days to visit Dick and Betty, whose home we had exchanged with in 2006. They live near Winchester. We had a barbecue dinner. It was enjoyable to talk to their son, who had stayed with our family for a couple of weeks. Teenage children can be exasperating and seeing one who was polite, charming, and friendly gives hope that my children will one day turn out the same way.

The next morning Dick took me to Romsey, where he had to work. I wandered around this Hampshire market town, which I had never heard of before. It was attractive. The River Test and tributaries ran through it, the sound of running water was pleasant and they had parks and other public spaces along the water. They have an Abbey Church that is old and massive. Abbey properties were expropriated by Henry VIII and many were destroyed or sold. Fortunately the citizens of Romsey bought the Abbey Church, the deed of sale is on display, and you can see that 500 years ago contracts had complicated terms, fine print, and wax seals. There were five or six people sweeping and cleaning the church, they were volunteers; such care for communal property is commendable.

The town had the usual selection of high street stores. I patronized the Oxfam book shop. They have a wide selection of used books, usually costing half or less the new price and you are supporting a good cause. There was a market going on in the center of town, it was relaxing to sit on a bench, look at the clouds blow by the Abbey Church Tower, and see folks going here and there.

That night it happened that Dick’s Investment Club was evaluating liquid assets in Winchester. I had gotten to know these guys in 2006 and it was a pleasure to discuss investment strategies and other topics during the pub crawl. One of the advantages of home exchange is getting to know the locals, this was a friendly group and I am proud that after an evening of drinking and careful consideration they felt I should be an honorary club member.

The next day Dick and I went cycling for several miles, trying to find a vineyard, as we hoped they would offer wine tasting. It didn’t work out though we got a workout and encountered a Gypsy camp in a hollow along a country road. There was a painted wooden horse drawn trailer, a horse, an old lady in gypsy clothing, a laundry line, and a campfire. It was interesting though I felt like a voyeur in someone’s private space.

We cycled through the village of Overton and alertly noticed activity at Caviste, a wine merchant. ( They were pouring 30 different wines from around the world served with fresh artisan bread and French cheese that was runny, smelly, and irresistible. The wines were tasty and the staff kind and knowledgeable. We had dinner that night at Brasserie Blanc in Winchester, which is a good quality chain restaurant inspired by one of the world’s great chefs. It was a congenial evening and having Betty along was a pleasure after the manly company of the previous night.

Comments [1]

The Village Festival

Add 09-01-2009 13:19

(Four in a series of four posts)
The parade arrived at the festival grounds and instantly there was activity everywhere. Those in the know immediately visited the book sales stall to get the best selection. It was really a one year book rental—you paid 50 pence for a book and could donate it back for next year’s event. For the spinning jenny you would wager a pound, if your number came up you won a bottle of wine. I lost once and decided to spend my money on a sure thing, the pudding tent with thirty or so different home made cakes and cookies. Sadly I had to limit myself to trying only a few. Delicious.

It was fun watching the carnival games, in one youngsters would sit on a greased pole and bash each other with pillows until one fell over. For the Sumo wrestling they would don massive outfits and wrestle each other to the ground. There was also the soccer penalty shoot, the mechanical bucking bull, and the coconut shy. If you knocked the coconut out of its holder you won it. One of the talented winners was throwing the coconut for their retriever to fetch; it was comical as the coconut was just too large for the dog to fit properly in his jaws. The canine ended up using his nose to push the coconut as it kept falling out of his grip.

I took satisfaction in sitting down in a chair I had placed hours earlier at the main arena. Children would race about, usually with an obstacle such as having to carry an egg in a spoon or having to jump through hoops. The masters of ceremonies were dressed up like wizards and presided and judged with fairness and good humor.

As I relaxed in my seat I noticed one of the organizers serving sausages. He had worked for several days non stop and now was slaving over a hot grill. I relieved him and was pressed into service. I had more than one customer note mistakes made with money. “I gave you a tenner—you still owe me a fiver.” They could see first hand why Americans had screwed up the world financial system. Finally the festival ended and we began cleaning up. It was strange to take down tents and chairs that had been installed only a few hours earlier. It was serious physical effort at times; one reward was the mandatory after work stop at the pub. The greater reward was getting a unique view on village life and meeting hard working and dedicated people.

The next morning we spent a couple of hours taking down tents and cleaning up. I had a train to catch, which gave my overworked hosts and me a chance to escape slightly early. They kindly took me to the station in Nottingham. Despite my low productivity I was invited to return for 2010. I may not return next year but look forward to it one of these days.

Comments [0]

Preparations for The Village Festival

Add 09-01-2009 12:59

This is the third out of four posts relating to my visit to the Peak District this summer, where instead of trading for a home I was the guest of friends we had made on the exchange. It was Friday morning and I cycled into town for a few hours, one hill was so steep that my brakes were burning in no time. For lunch we went to the local church, where they had home made soup and pudding. I didn’t mind being the only man at this ladies event as I was beginning to feel at home. We were served by the woman whose home my family had used five years earlier. Others I had seen or talked to at previous events.

We say in the US that there is no such thing as a free lunch and this proved to be true. That afternoon we started setting up the village fete. Since this is England the presumption is that it will rain, so there have to be tents, which they call a marquis, to protect everything. We erected tents for the book sale, the canned food sale, toy and snack sale, pudding and drinks, etc. There were smaller structures, we would call them sun shades in California, for the spinning jenny (wheel of fortune), the secretary (the boss), and an exhibition of old photos. There were roped off areas for the racing competition and the young children’s play area.

It seemed like there were a few thousand chairs for the various venues, but it probably was a few hundred. I lift weights three times a week and was the weakest link with the energetic villagers. I would carry two chairs off the truck and onto the grounds while my host, the ex mountain climber was taking four at a time, as was another stalwart, who volunteered with the Boy Scouts. I learned that village institutions such as the scouts, the Church of England and the Methodist Church all contributed tables and chairs, and as part of my village tour saw the storage rooms of each of these organizations. We worked late into the evening, and my hosts kindly felt I had earned both lunch and dinner, they provided a delicious Indian takeaway to end the evening.

We worked the next morning for a few hours and had a rest. Then it was time for the parade of a brass band, floats, tractors, and hundreds of citizens to the fete, about a mile down the road. It was great to see everyone having a wonderful time. I happened to walk behind three teenage girls with incredibly short school uniform skirts. I couldn’t help admiring a pair of shapely legs and thighs in fishnet stockings. I was later to learn that these weren’t real school uniforms—the girls were competing in the fancy dress contest and were imitating naughty school girls from a popular TV series. Speaking of naughty children I noticed boys in the hedgerow and behind walls with water guns and water balloons. America was represented with a float honoring the Simpson’s, kids were dressed up like characters from the series and there was a sign “Are we there yet?”

Comments [0]

The Village Beer Barrel Race

Add 08-31-2009 19:08

This is the second installment of the continuing story of my 2009 visit to a village in the Peak District, England, where we had a home exchange in 2004. We were staying with friends we had made on that trip. They had a lovely stone home, a conversion of a barn. As we were talking at breakfast I learned that they both had been part of a group that made the first ever ascent of a snow clad peak in the Himalayas of Pakistan. They modestly noted that it was a good 10,000 feet shorter than Mount Everest. It was an impressive achievement.

I took off on my own adventure. They supplied a bicycle and I whizzed down the steep hill to the river. Then up through a beech forest, before descending into town for lunch. I came across a fish and chips shop and ordered to go, or take away as they say locally. They amount of food was sufficient for a small family. I should have cycled for 100 miles to work off the calories but instead did about 20.

This was to be my only day off during the visit. That evening was the Beer Barrel Race in a field next to the pub. The teams were in fancy dress, British speak for costumes. There was a group of lads dressed as babies with diapers and bonnets. A ladies team was dressed as Penguins. Another ladies team was superheroes. A beer barrel was filled with water, the default choice was to strap it to carrying poles, and often a ladder was used. Ladies teams had it a bit easier—their barrels were empty.

The teams raced off at intervals encountering several obstacles along the one mile or so of the course. First there was the chair where a team member would sit and others would throw stuffed animals (no, I am not making this up) at a target that would release water on their seated colleague. This was a warm up for the chap with a fire hose that made sure all competitors were thoroughly soaked. Up hill and dale, over fence, through tunnel, over stream and metal barrels, and assorted other obstacles sped the contestants. Laughing kids and one American guest with a camera followed with interest while most of the village remained within hailing distance of the pub. Each team won an award--the fastest, slowest, best dressed, worst dressed, etc. The general fitness level of the villagers was high.

The evening continued with a barbecue, beer, and wine at the pub. I enjoyed speaking with the Catwoman and the Penguins. This dinner was similar to the previous day—this was not a problem. Friendly people, views of green mountains and fields, simple and tasty food, and beer are delightful on a daily basis.

Comments [0]

Home Exchange Friends

Add 08-31-2009 19:04

An important benefit for our family is the friends we make while on a home exchange. We have traded with thirteen different families, most of these remain friends. Three of these families are close friends that we have seen several times since our exchange. We have also met congenial and kind people while on a home exchange, there are several that we have visited or that have visited us in California.

This summer I attended the Rotary International convention in Birmingham, England. I had about ten days to kill before my wife and family joined me in England to visit her relatives. I could have spent all ten days with my Father and Mother in-law, but this would have been difficult for me and worse for them. I purchased a rail pass for England and decided to selectively afflict friends and family.

First stop was the Peak District, where we had met a friendly family in 2004. We had stayed in touch and they had visited us in California in 2008. I sent an e-mail and invited them to invite me for a brief visit. They responded with an interesting proposition. Yes, I was most welcome to visit and it happened that the days proposed overlapped with their village festival. My hostess was a key organizer and her husband a willing and capable worker for whatever task was needed. Could I also help with the work? I volunteered knowing that I would be less capable and willing than her husband, which proved to be the case.

She picked me up at the station and took me home for tea. We had a nice chat before she headed off for the first event, a cross country fell race. I walked around the village, noticing that the festival included an ecological scarecrow contest. Several homes had constructed scarecrows out of recyclable materials or whatever was at hand. I returned home and read the paper until her husband arrived. We had a nice chat and headed off to the race. I was deputized as a Marshall; my job was to stop traffic on the road when the runners were crossing it. The race took about an hour and I was surprised by the grace with which the locals took instructions from an American interloper.

One of the locals I stopped on the road greeted me by name and gave me a kiss. This was the lady with whom we had exchanged five years earlier. She and her husband had separated and the family home, which we remembered fondly, had been sold. Fortunately she and the kids were still in the village. I enjoyed catching up with her during my stay.

I had chats with several villagers, all of whom seemed to be fit and buff. If they weren’t mountain climbers they were runners and perhaps cyclists too. My host had a slight injury and couldn’t run the race. Instead he had walked the course (probably jogged) making sure no one was lost and taking down the course directional signs. The evening ended with a village barbecue. There was a brass band and comprehensive beer and wine selection to go with the lamb, pork, or beef. There was also a broad selection of puddings, which we would call desserts in the USA.

This was a good beginning to my village holiday. (Part 1 of 4.)

Comments [0]

Sightseeing by Train in Switzerland

Add 08-11-2009 18:14

We like sightseeing in Stockholm because you can buy a card good for public transit, canal cruises, and most museums and attractions. A three day card costs about $25 per day. It is an economical, efficient, and environmentally friendly way to see the city.

The Swiss have taken this concept one step further to include an entire country. You can buy a Swiss Pass that is good for most trains, boats, and buses. It works for most urban public transport systems. And it lets you into over 400 museums and other attractions. If you were to buy the pass for 22 days it would cost $455 in second class, or less than $21 per day. If you buy the pass and have children under 16 they will throw in a pass for them for free.

The pass offers discounts on certain special tourist trains and buses, not to mention the hundreds of trams, cable cars, and rack railways that climb their scenic mountains. You can learn more about this (and related deals) at

If you are an infrequent customer of the Swiss Railways, prices can be high. Most Swiss have what is called a half price rail card; this allows them half off on all train tickets. As a tourist you can buy one too. We recently completed a three week home exchange in Switzerland; it didn’t make sense for us to buy the rail tickets because there were six of us. This was a pity as the country is well organized for public transport. You can buy detailed topographical maps that show bus routes and stops as well as hiking routes. You can buy hiking guides that clearly describe how to get to the trailhead and back by public transportation. If you are as fortunate as our family these maps and guides are available at your exchange home.

We found driving and parking in larger Swiss cities such as Lausanne well organized but it would have been more relaxing to take the train.

We took one rail journey, from Lausanne to Zurich Airport. The first part of the trip was spectacular, as we climbed up the steeply terraced vineyards of Lavaux with a backdrop of Lake Geneva. If you look carefully at the photo you might see our train on the hillside.

Comments [0]

The Midwest and the Midlands

Add 08-06-2009 13:52

Several weeks ago I was encouraging folks to sign up for home exchange at the Rotary International convention. I would encounter people who would ask me, “Who would want to come to Iowa?” My standard response would be that most folks aren’t looking for a home exchange in Iowa, so if you live there you need to aggressively e-mail home exchangers and ask them to consider Iowa. If you just sit back and wait for people to send you an e-mail you will be like the Maytag repairman waiting for a telephone call. (American allusion incomprehensible to others.)

Since we were in Birmingham, England there were a fair number that wondered if anyone would want to trade for their home in the Midlands, which is the Midwest of England. It is not a prime tourist destination. Other parts of Britain have more hills, mountains, or moors. Coastline is in short supply. London has better museums and more palaces. (Disclaimer: At the edges of the Midlands there are more interesting places but these to me really aren’t the Midlands from a geological point of view.)

As a self appointed expert in British geography I never would consider an exchange in a city like Birmingham. In fact, I would never consider going there and had managed to avoid it except for the occasional pass on the motorway.

I discovered that Birmingham is a great city that is easier to handle than London with friendlier people. It is the second largest city in the country and the hub of a canal network that was mostly created before the railroad was invented. The center of the city has many chic and architecturally distinguished buildings, many with picturesque views of the canals, which provide excellent walking and cycling paths in addition to cruising opportunities. I didn’t have time for the many museums but the one I visited was outstanding. I was impressed with the artificial beach that was created next to city hall. I passed this beach at least twice daily and should have had ample eye candy. Instead there were a few lonely souls wearing coats.

While at the convention I visited the town of Rugby and Warwick Castle. Both were attractive, interesting, and of historic interest. Birmingham is well served by air, road, and rail and is a central location for visiting diverse places in England. Now I would consider an exchange in Birmingham or other Midlands locations.

My reply to Midlands’s residents was that although their region was less well known it was still delightful and interesting. I told them that I had met many Midwesterners from the United States that would be delighted to exchange for a home in the Midlands. And I started telling folks from the Midwest that they could consider lesser known regions in Europe such as the Midlands. Which would be more interesting, the Midlands or the Midwest? It might depend on where you’re coming from.

Comments [0]

Rotary and Home Exchange

Add 07-08-2009 12:51

A few weeks ago I attended a Rotary International Convention in Birmingham, England. Rotary is an International Service Club with 32,000 clubs around the world. These clubs help in their communities, undertake international aid projects, and allow young people to spend a few weeks or a year in another country. We have been working with the World Health Organization to eradicate Polio through a vaccination program. Besides good work we like to get to know each other and have fun. We have a Rotarian Home Exchange Fellowship. For over 20 years Rotarians have been able trade their home with other Rotarians. Several years ago we realized we needed to be on the Internet instead of using printed directories. It was decided to partner with We have our own home exchange web site using their technology. A good way to recruit new members is to have a booth at the trade show associated with each Rotary convention. This explains me spending four days in Birmingham selling the home exchange concept to hundreds of Rotarians. My colleagues included Jim, a retired business owner from England, and Joe, a retired doctor from Nova Scotia, though originally from Scotland. These were congenial guys to spend several days with and they did an excellent job selling home exchange. We recruited 85 new members. A feature of our program is that Rotarians can choose to be listed on the Rotary home exchange website only, or they can choose to also be listed at Many of us have traded with non-Rotarian home exchangers and have had excellent results. Rotarians tend to be great people—we think the same of home exchangers.

Comments [0]

Problems with Home Exchange and Children

Add 05-07-2009 18:10

I was talking with one of my home exchange friends about children. I explained to him that our kids didn’t enjoy our home exchange vacations much these days. They don’t want to leave home because they are teenagers and prefer to hang out with their friends. When they go on an exchange with us they claim to be bored, primarily because there are not other kids for them to hang out with.

Last summer our son stayed with friends in California when we were in Sweden. Our oldest daughter went on a Rotary Youth Exchange to Mexico. My sadness at not having them around was mitigated by the fact that we didn’t have to buy them expensive airline tickets from California to Europe.

My friend’s recommended solution, which he had tried, was to allow his child to bring a friend on the exchange. As I considered this solution the old saying, “The cure may be worse than the disease” came to mind. My son discussed vacation plans with his girl friend; since she has never been to Europe a trip with our family was attractive. My son agreed to join us on the exchange if he could have the combination of Europe, a girl, and family funding. Since the young lady concerned is charming, well behaved, and responsible, we agreed she could join us. Her folks paid the cost of her air tickets.

This opened the door for our youngest child to announce that she also wanted a friend to keep her entertained. She proposed a boy who has been a boy friend but is now not a boy friend but a close friend. The boy’s mother is an old friend of ours and this idea quickly moved to fruition as she managed to buy seats on all the relevant flights at a good price.

Our oldest daughter will stay in California with friends and relatives. We strongly encouraged her to join us in Switzerland; visiting one of the most beautiful places on the planet is less appealing than enjoying her friends.

Fortunately our Swiss friends have a large house and a van that seats seven, so at least we have the infrastructure for this plan to work. It will be an interesting and educational experience and I will share the results with you if they are not too painful or embarrassing.

Comments [0]

A recommendation for a rental cottage in Wales

Add 04-17-2009 12:05

There are several home exchange agencies that allow members to list their home for exchange or for rent. Some agencies allow a home to be listed only for rent, even if it is not available for an exchange. Certain home exchange writers, including this one, have been quoted as saying this is a bad idea. Why rent when you can exchange?

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said something like “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” What follows is a recommendation for a rental cottage in Wales. In 2001 we had a great exchange with a Welsh family. You can read about it on this website in the topic Wales, found under the heading Tales from the Crypt. We fell in love with the country and the Brecon Beacons National Park. We have visited there twice since our exchange.

The family we traded with lives in Ffawyddog, which is up a steep hill from Llangattock, which is on the other side of the river from Crickhowell. Their home has magnificent views of the Usk River Valley and used to have a view of a dilapidated and picturesque barn. A photo of that barn can be found on this website in the essay on Wales. They have transformed the barn into a modern and stylish vacation cottage. We can highly recommend this family as friendly and charming and they should be attentive and reliable landlords. The views from the cottage are outstanding and there are many historic towns and castles to visit in and around the rugged and beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park. To learn more visit their website at

Comments [0]

Home Exchange Question

Add 03-20-2009 17:16

Today I received a question from a couple considering home exchange. I will reprint their e-mail since they also had compliments for our website.

“First of all, your site is excellent -- very thorough.

We are first timers, about to join one of the agencies this weekend. Just one question. We live close to everything that people want to see, in a most attractive area of downtown Washington, DC -- a beautiful place in late April/May. We want to try to find a home exchange, preferably with seniors like us, in Barcelona for two weeks in April or May.

As usual, I've procrastinated on taking action. You described a year-long process. We'd need to make it happen in a month. Do you think it's too late to find a match? We'd really appreciate having your thoughts on this. The alternative is to wait until September or October.”

Here is my response:

It is possible to do exchanges at the last minute, and the Catalans will find that approach culturally appropriate.

There is a larger problem, however. It can be really difficult to find an exchange in a specific city for a specific time with your ideal partners in your ideal place at the last minute. It's like trying to flip a coin four times always getting heads. Any one or maybe even two of these is easy, but all four at the same time is asking a lot. has about 240 listings for Barcelona. They have more if you include places near but not in Barcelona. About 100 of them are interested in the US. Only one of the 100 has specifically listed Washington DC, (for June 2009) but others of the 100 may be willing to consider it.

You can increase your chances by joining more agencies, this will add to your expenses. If you join they have 200 listings for Barcelona. has 159 listings for all of Catalonia. Probably most of them are in or near Barcelona. The folks at have 100 listings for Barcelona, with another 11 under the category Catalonia.

Comments [2]

CHECtravel—for home exchangers and home exchange

Add 03-12-2009 16:39

This is a commercial project of Knowyourtrade founders Leslie Nicodemus and Joe Murray. CHEC has two useful functions. First, it functions as an industry trade association. They work with many home exchange agencies to develop positive industry standards and practices. Those that sign on can display the CHEC logo on their websites.

They also want to help home exchangers. They offer benefits which include:

1. They require their individual home exchange members to sign on to a code of conduct. They do a background check on all US based members and do an address verification of other members. They maintain records on members. If you are a member your home exchange partners should have increased confidence in you.
2. They offer mediation services in case of a dispute.
3. They offer discounts on membership to certain home exchange agencies. Also discounts on certain travel services and accessories.
4. Home exchange agreement forms.
5. They will help you improve your home exchange listing or choose a home exchange agency.
6. They are working on offering an in country advice service for home exchangers while they are on exchange. There would be an additional fee.
7. They now offer a form of travel insurance customized for home exchange vacations. This can protect home exchangers from the usual travel pitfalls of delayed flights, lost baggage, and medical problems, among others. There also is a provision that will reimburse the insured if they are unable to complete their home exchange due to sickness, injury, or death in their family or of their exchange partners. There is also a $1,500 benefit to cover damage to an exchange home caused accidentally by the insured. This insurance costs 5.3% of the cost of the airline tickets or a minimum of $15 per person traveling. This is a breakthrough product that offers significant protection at a reasonable price. Before taking this or any other insurance you need to read the coverage details and fine print carefully.

CHECtravel costs $15 for individuals to join for a year.

Comments [0] (KYT) has a new look

Add 03-06-2009 14:44

Our friends Leslie and Joe at KYT have redesigned their home exchange information website. They have focused on improving their rating system of home exchange agencies. They have succeeded—it is easier than ever to get a good feel and understanding of home exchange agencies from visiting their site. I went through the ratings of all the clubs I had used over the years. I tended to agree with their assessments. A great new feature is a data base of agencies and the number of members in seven important home exchange countries. You can choose a country; it will sort by agency based on the number of listings in the country.

They also provide general information on home exchange and provide links to home exchange resources. You can sign up for a helpful monthly newsletter and they offer discounts for certain home exchange agencies. They promote CHECtravel, which is a service in which they have a commercial interest. I will talk more about CHECtravel in a future posting.

Comments [0]

Home Exchange Story in the Financial Times

Add 03-03-2009 12:31

The Financial Times (FT) is the Wall Street Journal of Britain. It has been available in the US for years and as a businessman I find it valuable. My British wife and I appreciate it because there is interesting and extensive coverage of European life and culture.

The weekend edition of the FT has a House and Home section. On February 7, 2009 the front page of this section had an article on Home Exchange called “The kindness of strangers” by Emily Kasriel. I found the story strange as it focused on her reactions to taking a home exchange vacation and having strangers in her home. She made the comment that it was easier for her to exchange homes because she did not know the other family and had never met them. She talked about her mixed reactions and unease of having others in her home while she was at their place. She made interesting and broad philosophical observations such as “Perhaps these sorts of intimate exchanges hold the key to a new thawing between nations and peoples.”

I was ok with the last bit but couldn’t relate to the other comments. I love getting to know our home exchange partners, most of them remain good friends. We always meet them before our exchanges. I am never uncomfortable being in someone else’s home. When I discussed this with my wife she told me she thought the story was brilliant. She looked at me with disdain and commented “Of course you don’t have problems sleeping in strange beds. You’re a man!”

I had an e-mail exchange with Leslie of about the article. She told me that she loved it but Joe, her partner, didn’t care for it at all. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus and home exchange is out of this world.

You can read the article by visiting

Comments [0]

Home Exchange and the Worldwide Economic Crisis

Add 03-03-2009 12:01

The current economic crisis is hitting the travel and leisure industries hard. Travel is a discretionary expense and individuals and businesses are cutting back.

Home exchange is an economical way to travel. If you can drive a car to your exchange it is not much more expensive than staying at home. Our family goes to Europe every year from California and the air tickets are a huge expense. This year it will be cheaper. There is lots of space on airplanes. A few weeks ago our ideal arrangements were $1,350 round trip per ticket, last week it dropped to $950. This is a good deal during the peak July-August vacation period. In fact we were able to book two tickets with frequent flyer miles, underscoring the desperation of the airlines to fill their planes.

There are also deals to be had on hotels, rental cars, and even restaurants, which you might use on your home exchange vacation.

Comments [0]

Home Exchange Agencies and Cost

Add 02-11-2009 17:57

I had a maternal grandmother whose last name was Stewart and my wife’s mother is Scottish. Our thrifty ways are in line with national stereotypes. There are home exchange agencies that are free to join and/or use and there are agencies that charge a yearly fee. The question is, should you use these free agencies or is it better to pay?

The advantage of free is obvious. There are disadvantages. They include that you may be restricted—for example you might be able to list your home for exchange but won’t be able to initiate contact with other members. The agencies 1st Home Exchange and Home Xchange Vacation use this model.

Then there are agencies that charge you to list your home for exchange but allow anyone cruising the Internet to contact their members for free. Two reputable agencies that use this model are IHEN and Digsville. Some agencies just are free. Their goal, presumably, is to build up a large membership base and then begin charging a fee. I think the largest and best at the moment is Geenee.

I have used all of the above agencies. I think they range from ok to good. If I wanted I could use them to find adequate to good exchanges every year and it would be free. Many years ago I did use IHEN for three exchanges, all were good or better, though I chose to pay the fee so I could list our home for exchange. I did not rely on their free alternative.

Instead, however, I choose to pay a membership fee to Homelink and Other large leading agencies that charge a fee include HomeForExchange and Intervac. We get great results from Homelink and, much better results than we would get if we limited ourselves to free agencies. For us it is worth it to pay the reasonable fees these leading agencies charge.

Smaller agencies that are reputable and charge a reasonable fee include the First Home Exchange Alliance and Jewett Street. They have a smaller membership base and owners that appear to make an extra effort to help their members find exchanges. If you like this personal attention from the owners of an agency they would be a good choice.

There are advantages to using agencies that charge their members. Because the folks are paying a fee you know they are at least slightly serious and committed to home exchange. Experienced exchangers tend to be happy to pay a small fee for a reliable and effective home exchange agency. They know the cost is small versus the benefit. Another advantage of paying members is that the probably have paid the fee by credit card and presumably the home exchange agency has verified that the name and address on the card match the address they have provided. This functions as an informal and limited sort of background check; it is better than nothing.

For a list of home exchange agencies and information about them including cost we recommend visiting There are agencies that offer discounts on membership fees to visitors of

My son told us years ago that he would like a kilt that he could wear instead of a tux for the high school Winter Formal or Prom. Unfortunately for him we were and remain too cheap to buy him one.

Comments [0]

Add 02-06-2009 12:23

One of my many bad habits is that I am cheap. A good home exchange website is I haven’t been a member for a while because I haven’t wanted to pay the membership fee, which is a reasonable $59 for 18 months.

This morning I visited their website and was impressed with changes and improvements they had made. They have always had an attractive format and were easy to use. They have improved their advanced search; it is now more powerful and precise. They also have a new information feature that is innovative and helpful. Whenever you get a list of homes there are ways to narrow the list on the same webpage as the summary results. For example if you are looking at homes in France you can choose to look only at apartments. Or you can choose places in rural or urban locations. You can even look only at houses by the beach. You can see the number of homes with one, two, or three or more bathrooms, and with one click only look at places according to this criterion. is one of the market leaders, and with these improvements is a great value at $40/per year for 18 months.

Comments [0]

To Search or not to Search

Add 02-05-2009 18:10

I was contacted by a reader in Northern California that asked if he should be actively searching and contacting others for a home exchange or just wait for the offers to roll in. This depends on your situation. If you live in a desirable destination for home exchange and receive lots of offers you can take a passive approach.

I prefer to search for exchanges and initiate contact. As mentioned in the previous post I enjoy this as a recreational activity. There are other advantages. By searching you get a sense of what is available. You also can focus on areas of interest. For most active searching will provide a much better selection.

Consider They have over 2,600 members in California. How does someone in France find possible home exchanges in California? They probably don’t want to review 2,600 listings. They can use the search tools. They can search for those that list France as a destination. This will narrow the field down to roughly 800 listings. They can choose a famous city such as San Francisco and will only have to analyze 200 listings. Depending upon how many bedrooms they are looking for and the dates they can further narrow the selection process.

Alternatively they can look for a luxurious place. But luxury as such is not defined in the search process. You could demand more bedrooms, a private boat, a private tennis court, or a pool. If you go for the pool you still have over 200 listings of homes in California where they want to go to France. We put in a pool 2 years ago and have noticed that we get better exchange inquiries since we made this investment. There are hundreds of European members of that wanted to go to California in 2009, but only 9 of them contacted our family.

In this year’s campaign to find a home exchange we ended up with four different families that all had attractive homes in beautiful locations that were ready to exchange with us. Two of them contacted us, two we contacted. I am sorry we weren’t able to trade with all of them.

I think those home exchangers that do actively search tend to go for attractive homes in well known and desirable locations. By contacting others you can make sure your home exchange offer is not overlooked. Whenever we get a home exchange inquiry we look at the listing and consider it. I think most exchangers have this policy. You will have more home exchange choices if you actively search the listings and contact other members whose offers are appealing.

Comments [1]

Finding an exchange for Summer 2009

Add 02-05-2009 18:08

One of my many bad habits is that I waste time at work. It is way more fun to search for a home exchange on the Internet than to work. I sit in my office and look at beautiful homes in interesting places around the world.

This year we had many great exchange offers. We have full membership to three large home exchange agencies and a basic membership with two others.

Basic membership for 1st Home Exchange and means you have a listing but you can’t contact other members. They can contact you. We heard from 3 or 4 members from each of these agencies.

We belong to and received a couple of good offers from their members.

Our best results were with and Homelink. We received 17 inquiries from Homelink, many of which were exceptional and tempting. We had 9 inquiries from and found many properties there that were attractive. In the end we agreed to an exchange with a family from Lake Geneva, Switzerland. This will be our first exchange in Switzerland and we are really looking forward to it.

Now I waste my time at work by researching travel in Switzerland.

Comments [0]

Does size matter?

Add 01-09-2009 11:25

We have had a variety of small, medium, and large homes on our twelve exchanges. They all have been large enough for our family of five and in most cases there have been separate bedrooms for each of our three children. Once we had only one bathroom which was slightly inconvenient. As long as you have enough bedrooms and bathrooms I don’t think there is much of a relationship between size and comfort in exchange homes.

A large house can be useful if you are having visitors. The largest home we ever had was in the Netherlands and it could comfortably host ten, which was ideal as we had two families of five visit us during our stay. If you want to discourage visiting in-laws go for a smaller home.

A large house can be troublesome to clean and put back in order at the end of a home exchange. Most owners of large homes have cleaners; it is a good idea to ask your partners if you can pay to have these people help clean the place. It makes for a more relaxing vacation and since they are familiar with the house it is easier for them to restore it to original condition.

With any house you should avoid using unnecessary rooms. These might include surplus bedrooms or formal living or dining areas if there are informal alternatives. This simplifies daily living and minimizes the end of exchange clean up.

Comments [0]

Sightseeing in Stockholm

Add 12-22-2008 18:02

There are two equally attractive ways to experience the tourist attractions of Stockholm. You can use the relaxed method where you walk around town and appreciate the old buildings, the views of the water, and free shows such as the changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace. If it starts raining you can duck into one of the museums or other indoor attractions.

Alternatively you can buy a Stockholm Card for one, two, or three days and intensively visit museums, palaces, or churches, one after another. The Stockholm card is good for all major tourist attractions, public transport, and some canal boat rides. When we were in Stockholm five years ago we used the Stockholm card on several occasions. When the weather experts forecast a week of rain we bought a 72 hour card. They give you a handy guidebook with times, public transport information, and a map showing where everything is located.

The card cost 580 SEK (Swedish Kronor) and we got about 1000 SEK of use out of it. If we had more stamina and discipline or had spent only 30 minutes at every world class attraction we could have saved more.

Must see three star attractions include the Tre Kronor Royal Palace, the Skansen Open Air Museum, the Millesgarden (sculpture garden), the Stadhuset (City Hall), and the Vasamuseum (well preserved ship from 1628.) The Nordic Museum, the Modern Art Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Historiska Museum, and the National Museum are large and world class, you could spend hours at each of them.

This time around we focused on less famous places we had missed on our previous trip. These included Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde, a large collection of Swedish art from the last 100 years as well as other diverse attractions, in a beautiful villa with lovely views of the harbor. The Hallwyl collection has a variety of objects including ancient firearms and swords in a magnificent building in the center of town. The Museum of Biology is a collection of stuffed Nordic wildlife, in a traditional wooden building.

Of course Stockholm must have a Noble Prize museum; you will find it near the Tre Kornor palace in Gamla Stan. The creativity and technical sophistication of the cutting edge exhibits and the beauty of the building may divert you from the essential fact that it is not that large and not really very interesting given the 60 SEK entrance fee. This is the sort of place you feel good visiting with your Stockholm Card as you can leave after 20 minutes and know you haven’t wasted your money.

There is the Drottningholm Palace, a World Heritage site on an island outside of town, surrounded by formal gardens. It includes a Chinese Pagoda and Theatre, each of which you will pay extra for, unless you have the Stockholm Card. Gripsholm Slot is a short drive outside of town, a magnificent old castle on Lake Malaren that houses the National Portrait Collection. Highly recommended but if you look at each and every portrait you will become cross-eyed, dazed, and confused.
We have spent six weeks of our life in Stockholm and have yet to visit large parts of the city. There still are 30 or so museums we haven’t visited. Dr. Johnson is quoted as saying to Boswell that “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” You will not get tired of Stockholm during a home exchange unless you are tired of life.

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Old Friends in Stockholm

Add 12-18-2008 18:18

You can read about our first home exchange in Stockholm on this website under the Tales from the Crypt section. One of the motivations of a second visit was to see friends from the first visit, especially Peter. He stopped by with his wife and son at our beautiful lakeside home and what was a drink turned into a reunion evening. Peter and I opened a few bottles and talked while the women folk did the work of supplying dinner. They were not overly exploited as they went to the local pizza restaurant for takeout. We are told that many pizza providers in Sweden are Turkish and that cabbage salad often accompanies the main course. It was tasty.

Peter is an international businessman and was in and out of the country during our visit. He kindly arranged many meetings, with the common theme of eating and drinking. First was a visit to an outstanding fish restaurant in a market hall where we tried local specialties including salmon lasagna and Skagen Rora toast. We walked around a bit and finished at a cozy and traditional coffee house with pastries. The conversation turned philosophical with Peter making wise statements. I noticed that the difference between his sage comments and mine was that our fourteen year old daughter listened attentively to him.

Our next meeting was an American style barbecue at our house, with the twist that Peter and his family provided the food and the Budweiser beer. We were joined by one of his friends who had become our friend five years ago. Peter’s two teenage daughters flawlessly cooked the meat and cleaned up after the meal. As cooks they were not typically American as they were beautiful and spoke impeccable English.

On one of the few rainy days of the vacation we drove to an island for dinner with another one of Peter’s old friends who had taken good care of us in the past. He maintained his standard of hospitality. His partner was a charming Swedish woman who had lived in California many years. At one point there was a traffic jam, nothing was moving. Peter got out of the car, established that the problem was a fender bender, got in the car, and drove in the wrong lane for a few seconds so we could be on our way.

I have not said much about Peter’s wife, in part because it is my policy to stay happily married by focusing on men and not women. She is quiet and one of the pleasures of this visit was getting to know her better. She was polite, intelligent, and competent. We were able to appreciate how she complemented Peter.

My last meeting with Peter was breakfast at a private club. It was an architectural showpiece in the old world style and I had dressed up a bit to maintain standards. I was bemused as we toured the place as the formally dressed staff treated Peter with deference and didn’t seem to mind his shorts, casual shirt, and sandals. It was Sweden—high standards and quality combined with tolerance and flexibility.

On our first trip to Stockholm I had met a brother Rotarian, an older man with a sharp mind and a charming wife. When I called him this time around he explained that he had medical problems and was not the man he had been. Aging is hard on most of us and despite these problems he was in good condition and amusing and opinionated, impressive for anyone, especially a gentleman in his mid 80’s.

We had them over one evening and later we spent our last day in Sweden with them. We drove to Stenige Slot, a small palace surrounded by parkland and garden, with a view of a lake. In Europe this is considered a beauty spot of local interest, if it were in my home town in California it would be considered an architectural and horticultural marvel and would be in all the tourist guides. There had been a glassworks established there a few hundred or more years ago. An old stone building was turned into a glass factory/tourist shop/exhibition hall. There was a fantastic exhibition of glass works of art; I could only see a few of the dazzling pieces without paying. We couldn’t justify the time and money for the exhibit as we were spending time and money at the factory outlet. We also were mindful of the excellent lunch our friends had waiting for us at their home. The first course was prosciutto and melon, served with other delicacies on fine china on an outside table, washed down by French rosé. When we were driven inside by the attacking wasps it became typically Swedish. Seeing something new and spending the day with old friends was a beautiful way to spend our last day in Sweden.

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Home Exchange Information Website Know Your Trade

Add 12-09-2008 13:00

I have recommended the website as an excellent source of information on home exchange agencies. This website has gotten better and better and has added more content and features on home exchange. It also offers discounts to several leading home exchange clubs. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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The French Connection in Stockholm

Add 12-05-2008 17:19

One of the pleasures of our first trip to Stockholm in 2003 was seeing an old friend from the misspent days of my youth. We had met at a French language camp in Aix-en-Provence in 1979. After the camp I had visited his family in Lund. It was amusing crossing into Sweden from Denmark on the ferry. At that time the Swedish government hired University students during the summer as immigration inspectors. My friend’s Sister stamped my passport and gave me a kiss—by far the friendliest immigration agent I have ever encountered.

We kept in touch for a while and then lost contact. In 2003 while in Stockholm it was delightful to find him on the Internet and give him a call. We spent several pleasant hours together.

This time around it was harder to contact him as we had no Internet service to look up his phone number. Our neighbor Jens came to the rescue by looking up the number. When I called my friend was with his new wife on vacation in Italy. He had friends visiting when he got back to Sweden and would be free only one evening after driving several hours from Southern Sweden. We had them over for dinner. It turned out his new wife had first caught his eye in elementary school and reconnected even though they had not seen each other for many years.

A related example was when Jens and Lena came over for a drink during one of the rare moments they were at home. Lena asked me when I had studied French in Aix-en-Provence. I thought about it and calculated it was the summer of 1979. I reminisced about how my backpack had been stolen in Greece before arriving in France. Since I had lost my electric razor I decided to grow a beard for the only time in my life. Lena claimed that she had been in Aix at the same time and remembered me. If this was true I had known her before she met Jens. We had a pleasant evening and said good night to them about 11pm. At 11.30pm we had just settled into bed when there was a knock on our door. The Swedes have a casual attitude about nudity but I thought I should at least put on my underwear before answering the door. It was Lena with a box of slides from 1979 in Aix-en-Provence. We sat on the bench outside the front door holding the slides up to the porch light, I was shivering from the cold, she was wearing a ski jacket and long pants. After a minute my wife arrived, her contribution was to take a picture of me looking like an idiot wearing only my briefs and a smile next to Lena. I was astonished when I found a photo Lena had taken of me in 1979. One trait that makes women talented and dangerous is that they have long and accurate memories.

Another benefit of home exchange—making the world smaller and more connected.

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Great Neighbors in Stockholm

Add 11-26-2008 18:51

Often the difference between a good home exchange and a great one are the experiences you have with the locals. Mats and Anne arranged for us to meet their neighbors. One couple, we will call them Jens and Lena, graciously offered us the use of their home computer so we could check our e-mail while we were waiting for our Internet connection to be fixed. We chatted about traveling, he worked for an international company, she was a professional. They loved France and had owned an apartment on the Riviera. I explained that we loved France and somehow it came up that I had spent four weeks at a French language course in Aix-en-Provence while a University student.

During most of our stay they were not neighbors because like many Swedes they prefer to be on vacation or at their summer home. They had two American students come for a visit and promptly took them on a tour of Southern Sweden and Denmark. They were kind enough to invite us to visit them for the day at their summer home on a remote island in the Stockholm Archipelago.

It was a two hour ride each way to their island on a commercial ferry. The ride out was initially annoying. The boat was packed and we ended up on a rear deck inhaling diesel fumes and being too close to the locals and their dogs. After an hour enough folks got off the boat and it was better. The scenery was constantly changing and included forested islands with granite rocks, tiny bright red cottages, larger modern homes, boats of all sizes and description, set of by the dark blue water of the Baltic and the bright blue of the sky.

I used my cell phone to text Jens to let him know our ferry was late. I had visions of him waiting at the quay. I needn’t have bothered. When we arrived at their home he showed me the website where he could see the location of all ferry boats in the Stockholm archipelago in real time. During our journey he had a better idea of our whereabouts than me.

The egalitarian and modest Swedes have summer homes of all types and description. Some are tiny and rustic while others are mansions. Jens and Lena had a reasonable compromise, a comfortable bungalow with a proper kitchen, a mostly normal bathroom, and several bedrooms. They had broadband Internet and two boats, one for local use and one suitable for long sea journeys. We took the later for a cruise of a few hours to a windswept outer island that had nothing but rocks and grass and disused fisherman’s huts. For a few minutes Jens intentionally piloted the boat in a way to make the ride rough and exciting, which pleased all of us, especially our teenage daughter.

They were careful to see we were adequately nourished. We had lunch on the terrace in front of the house, which had lovely views of the water. The Provencal Rosé reminded us that a few weeks earlier we were there. On our excursion to the island we had tea and cookies. Dinner was outstanding, traditional pickled herring and barbecued steak, washed down by red wine and herb flavored schnapps from their island.

Swedes are fit and sporting and Jens was in superb condition for a middle aged man. We went cycling on the island’s main road and visited a picturesque old fishing village with a tiny harbor and red wooden buildings. Jens also explained that we had to go swimming, it was cold but I had to show him that Californians could put up with difficult conditions. I did not object when 90 seconds later he got out of the water.

Insects can be a nuisance in Sweden during the summer. Local pharmacies were displaying large posters modeled after old fashioned post cards. They would show a rural scene, with a gigantic mosquito, tick, or wasp with the words “Greetings from Sweden.” One of the cats in our exchange home was a tick magnet and any visitor to Sweden needs to be careful as ticks are carriers of Lyme Disease.

We didn’t have too many problems with mosquitoes, though the wasps could be annoying. Jens and Lena had discovered an underground wasp nest near their summer home. They poured gasoline in the hole. They then used a vacuum cleaner to suck up the wasps. This hybrid strategy was unfortunate as the gasoline disabled the vacuum cleaner. This is the only time we have seen Swedish ingenuity and improvisation yield mixed results.

At the end of the evening Jens had his son take us to the stop for the ferry. The return journey through the archipelago was magical. The boat wasn’t crowded and the sun was just beginning to set. It was dark when we passed by Vaxholm, the lights of the castle and town adding to the charm of a perfect day.

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Socialism and Home Exchange

Add 11-02-2008 19:27

The most prolific writer on home exchange is Nicole Feist whose blog is titled Home Exchange Travels ( Today Nicole posted an interesting essay with the title “Is Home Exchange Socialism?” She suggests that in many ways home exchange can be equated with socialism or even communism. Much of what she said strikes me as reasonable.

There is one important area she addressed that in my view would benefit from further discussion.

She states that “ . . . Not surprisingly, home exchange is most popular in Socialist Western Europe. . . .In the United States . . . only a tiny fraction of people have ever heard of swapping homes. . . . The average person here seems not to have the financial resources or freedom to travel or create a home that would attract many offers. . . .”

There are cultural values and traits that encourage home exchange. These traits are found more in some cultures than others. While one can argue whether certain European countries are socialist, all would agree that they have generous social welfare systems that reflect society values. These positive values (for example honesty, solidarity, and trust in other people) create a favorable environment for home exchange. Laws in Western Europe that mandate long paid vacations for workers encourage home exchange.

There are other factors at work that influence the propensity of people to home exchange. I analyzed 40,000 home exchange listings; you can read more about it on this website, choose the topic heading “A country guide to Home Exchange.” Within Canada families in the province of British Columbia are almost 6 times likelier to list their home for exchange than Canadian families in other provinces. It is true that British Columbia has tended to have the most left wing provincial government in Canada so maybe this supports Nicole’s case. I suspect the most important reason is that folks in British Columbia have discovered that their beautiful province allows them to find attractive exchanges.

Within the United States families in California are almost three times as likely to list their home for exchange as families in all the other states except Florida, where families list their homes for exchange at twice the rate as the US outside California and Florida. California is leftist but not Florida. What they have in common is that they are both popular vacation destinations.

Looking at Western Europe the rate at which families list their home for exchange varies hugely between countries. The countries with the highest rate of participation are Iceland, Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Scotland, and Norway. You can find lots of socialist thought in these countries. On the other hand the rate at which families list their home in Germany, Finland, Italy, Greece, and Portugal is below the US rate. The home exchange rate in France is six times that in Germany. France is more socialist than Germany, but there must be other factors at work.
In case any of you wonder, I am a member of the Democratic Party in the United States. As a University student I was a left wing Democrat, as an old man and business owner I am now on the right wing of the party.

Comments [1]

Our problem in Sweden

Add 10-26-2008 19:19

Mats had explained to us on the journey from the airport that they had lost phone and Internet service during a storm. He said there was a possibility that we would not have the Internet working during our stay. I didn’t want to believe this as Sweden is a civilized and efficient country. This is generally true, but not true during summer vacation.

The phone was restored about 3 days after our arrival. Mats called his Internet provider from California to impress upon them the importance of fixing the Internet. We will call his provider Bredbands Bolaget, though a better name, to use British English would be Bredbands Bollocks.

Most of us dread calling customer service, navigating a voice menu, and waiting to speak to a person speaking English with a heavy Indian accent. It was slightly better in Sweden. You listen to Swedish and guess which numbers to push. You don’t have to wait too long before being connected with a polite Swede that speaks impeccable English. They will have a nice chat with you before explaining that you pushed the wrong number and transferring you to a colleague.

The colleague will be sympathetic and in our case talk about their recent trip to California. They will tell you that perhaps the router was fried by the lightning strike and that you can go downtown to pick up another one, but today is Thursday and it will take a while to sort out the paperwork, so maybe you can do it on Monday.

After you have a pleasant cycle ride to Sodermalm you return with the new router. You plug it in and call them, getting right through since you now know which numbers to push. After preliminary pleasantries they will tell you it is still not working. They will promise to send a serviceman within 72 hours. They won’t send the serviceman sooner even though the system has now been down for one week.

The serviceman never shows up, so you call Mats and complain, he calls Bredbands Bollocks and complains, they call you to apologize, and they promise to send the serviceman that doesn’t come but at least is polite enough to telephone you.

He explains that the problem is probably at the telephone office and he hopes to check it out for you. A few more days pass by and a different serviceman calls and says he will stop by the house. He does, spends a half hour, and reports that the problem is at the telephone office, he will write up an order and try to fix it.

They finally do visit the telephone office and reconnect the wires so the Internet will work. Unfortunately they get it wrong and knock out the telephone service for the last four days of our Stockholm exchange. What is worse than no Internet? No Internet and no telephone.

This problem was aggravating at many levels. During an 18 day exchange we lost at least a day by making phone calls, traveling to pick up a new modem, trying to check our e-mail in other ways, and waiting at home for a serviceman that we shall call Godot.

If we had taken Mats advice and assumed the Internet would not work we could have spared ourselves most of this aggravation. We could have focused on getting onto the Internet in other ways. They were kind at the local library, where you could log on for free. There was a neighbor whose signal was unprotected, and I could use the Apple notebook Mats had kindly lent me. I am not familiar with the Apple operating system and trying to navigate it in the Swedish language is not recommended. Other kind Swedish friends would let us use their computers to check our e-mail. These were always spur-of-the moment arrangements because we kept assuming our Internet connection would be fixed any day now.

We still love Sweden, we think Mats and Anne are great people, and we realize that we are lucky that we could only complain about the Internet and not the usually fickle summer weather.

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Is home exchange green?

Add 10-24-2008 18:12

One of our home exchange friends in France, Didier Leclerc, brought up this topic. He advocates travel that is “ecoresponsable.” He thinks home exchange is better for the environment than traditional travel. I agree.

If you take a traditional vacation your home is probably empty while you are away. This is inefficient. You are probably staying in a hotel or vacation rental. There is associated infrastructure, such as streets, water, and sewage systems. And manufactured goods such as beds, chairs, and sheets associated with hotels or vacation rentals. Energy and natural resources are required to build these properties and everything that goes with them. This contributes to global warming.

In a home exchange vacation the home is not left vacant. The infrastructure associated with it and everything else tends to be used by the home exchange family. This has to be friendlier to the environment than taking vacations in hotels or purpose built rentals.

There are places around the world popular with vacationers. Consider the French Riviera. Many of the buildings are associated with tourists and are used intensively for only a few months per year. This is inefficient and thus environmentally wrong. The other problem is that the beauty of the French Riviera is harmed by this development. Native plants and animals suffer.

Travel is educational. By living as a home exchanger in different parts of the world you can better understand environmental issues and ways societies and individuals can contribute to a sustainable world. An American visiting Europe for the first time on a home exchange vacation will learn about energy efficiency, public transportation, and recycling. I consider myself an environmentalist and six weeks of home exchanging in Stockholm have contributed to my green opinions and views.

There are situations in which home exchange might contribute to global warming. Our family travels from California to Europe every summer for a home exchange vacation. If home exchange did not exist we would probably not travel overseas as often. Air travel is energy inefficient and contributes to global warming.

An analysis of two leading home exchange agencies showed that 27% of exchange listings involved second homes. If your motivation to build a second home was to have it for exchange this would be environmentally wasteful.

There are vacations that involve lots of driving using the exchange home as base. This could be worse for the environment than using hotels to cut down on the driving required.

What do you think?

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Add 10-23-2008 14:38

We were lucky to have two weeks of warm and sunny weather during our exchange in Stockholm. The home was in an affluent town near the city. 200 meters from the house was a bus stop where you could catch a ten minute ride to the underground station. Alternatively you could cycle into the center of Stockholm in less than 30 minutes.

Our corner of Nordic paradise had well kept single family homes as well as large apartment blocks. Perhaps half of the town territory was undeveloped, parkland, or nature reserve. There were running, walking, cycling, and cross country skiing paths everywhere, some were paved, some not. The nearest beach was 300 meters, though if you didn’t mind jumping off the rock into the lake it was 50 meters. The Baltic was less than 1km away. The town center, with everything you needed was a ten minute cycle ride and the pizza restaurant was even closer.

There were three different varieties of wild cherry trees growing next to the house. The house was on a slope and had a deck and by taking a few chances it was possible to harvest the fruit. The black cherries were the best, the red were good, and the tan ones disappointing. Fraises des bois (woodland strawberries) had been planted next to the house; since Julia is our family member closest to the ground it seemed fair that she harvested them. There were blueberries everywhere as well as lingonberries and raspberries. Perhaps if it had rained there might have been mushrooms; we enjoyed the sun and didn’t mind buying Chanterelles at the market.

We received the daily newspaper, it was in Swedish and though the text was incomprehensible we could use our imagination to figure it out with help from the Swedish-American dictionary.

Mats had a sturdy and well kept city bicycle that I used on a daily basis. There were other cycles, unfortunately too large for my daughter and wife. Julia and I took frequent walks through the forest and along the coast, enjoying the sunsets.

Our friends had a collection of several hundred DVD’s and state of the art audio visual equipment. There were projectors and screens in both the living room and master bedroom. The practice in Sweden is that films and TV retain their original language with Swedish subtitles. If we got tired of the local subtitles we could choose Icelandic, Finnish, or Danish. We could hear spoken Swedish by watching the Tour de France or the Olympics.

They left us two cars; we usually took the Jeep as it was more compact than the Mercedes. They had a small boat on their lake which doubled as a rain gauge. After bailing it out for twenty minutes I had an improved understanding of the normal level of summer rainfall. We had a lovely cruise one bright morning; the highlight was sharing the lake with a water snake.

We were house proud and invited our friends to join us for dinner. Peter and his wife joined us the day I called them, kindly supplying the pizza while we furnished the wine. They and their friends and others offered food, entertainment, tours, and drink, all of which were much appreciated and will be described later.

As a family we tended to visit Stockholm in the evening or on weekends, as otherwise you had to pay for parking. It was easy to find a spot on the edge of the city center, perhaps because most locals were on vacation elsewhere. It was a delight to walk around Stockholm, shop, people watch, and admire one of the world’s most beautiful cities. The last week of our stay it rained, encouraging us to buy the Stockholm card to determine how many museums, palaces, stately homes, and other attractions could be visited in 72 hours.

This was an outstanding home exchange except for one problem that we will discuss next time.

Comments [1]

Arriving at our Stockholm Exchange Home

Add 10-17-2008 18:21

Our home exchange partners in Stockholm were veterans of more than ten previous exchanges. I had immediately taken a liking to Mats during our home exchange negotiation. He was friendly, intelligent, responsive, and had a good sense of humor.

They had just returned a day earlier from an exchange in England that was great except that it rained almost every day they were there. They could have stayed home and enjoyed the same weather. We were lucky, it was a sunny day, though the previous week of storms had knocked out the telephone and internet service to our exchange home. Mats had called to get it restored, but he warned us that there was a possibility that we would not have Internet access during our vacation. I was slow to understand why he had this opinion and it turned out to be correct, but that is another story.

They lived in an old home that had been carefully restored. The interior design was an artistic synthesis of old and new. The dining room was in a Swedish country style and the house had rustic wooden floors. The kitchen was modern with granite countertops, two refrigerators, and an espresso machine. There were massive century old porcelain wooden stoves in most rooms. The bathrooms were elegant and modern.

The house was on high ground overlooking a forest and lake. There were covered outside terraces on the first and second floors. There was a deck adjacent to a heated and lighted enclosed gazebo. Each of these had tables and chairs and lovely views of the trees and lake. We were spoiled for choice when it came to al fresco dining.

Mats had two barbecues. He and his wife Ann prepared a gourmet meal of marinated pork and sautéed vegetables, washed down by a selection of outstanding wines. (For purposes of this essay the definition of an outstanding wine is one that tastes great and costs three to five times what I normally spend on a bottle.) They were gracious hosts and it was agreeable to get to know them and their children better.

We slept in a kid’s bedroom and our daughter had the couch in the living room. The next morning Julia and I had the first of many walks through the forest and around the lake. They were a family of five and we needed two cars to drive them to the airport. We said good bye, the navigation system was set to return to base mode, and Julia followed my confused and erratic driving. Due to construction the normal freeway exits and on ramps were changed and we found ourselves in the center of Stockholm. After ten minutes of urban driving the correct road was found. It was good to be home.

Comments [0]

Rant about Ryanair

Add 10-12-2008 18:43

The best thing about the European budget airline Ryanair is that their low cost flights have encouraged normal European airlines to lower their fares. Buying tickets and flying Ryanair can be an exercise in frustration and humiliation.

The problems start with their pricing structure. First you pay the air fare, next are taxes, fees, and extra charges, followed by the check in fee, which can be avoided if you don’t need to check baggage, which of course results in another charge. If you feel like you haven’t paid enough you can opt for expedited check-in and insurance for an additional charge. Ryanair knows that you want these benefits and helpfully checks them off as choices for you. You have to uncheck them to avoid buying them. Finally you are charged a hefty per person fee to pay for the ticket with your credit card. This charge can be reduced by using a debit card, but Ryanair wouldn’t accept mine.

Baggage is a complicated and expensive issue with Ryanair. You pay for each checked bag but your weight allowance is for all your checked bags. If you pay for one bag you get 15 kilos. Pay for a second bag and the total allowance is still 15 kilos. If it weighs more than 15 kilos you are charged 15 Euros per additional kilo or fraction thereof.

They allow suitcases to be large, hoping you will put more than 15 kilos in so they can charge the excess baggage fee. You can carry on 10 kilos but the size of the carryon is small.

With Ryanair you tend to use small airports. The charge for the shuttle bus into town might be more than the airfare. We flew from Beauvais (90 minutes from Paris) to Nykoping (an hour from Stockholm). We had a rental car to drive to Beauvais, and Mats, our home exchange partner in Stockholm agreed to fetch us in Nykoping.

Beauvais was relaxed and convenient. We had carefully arranged our baggage so the heavy stuff was in the carry on. We were wearing several layers of clothing and had stuffed pockets. The airport had 30 check-in stations, but less than 10 were in use. I walked over to one of the unoccupied stations and used the scales to weigh our bags. The process took about 20 minutes and involved the frequent opening and closing of suitcases. Julia and my daughter were embarrassed. I was pleased to take off several layers of clothes and put them in the suitcase.

In the check-in line ahead of us were several young ladies, one had a suitcase that weighed 19 kilos. She didn’t want to pay 60 euros for excess baggage so was obliged to open her suitcase and start passing clothes around to her buddies that stuffed them into their bags. One girl put on a horse riding helmet—either to protect her head or her wallet. When we stepped up to the counter it was like winning the lottery—the bags were 14.9, 14.8, and 14.9 kilos. My daughter expressed admiration for this little victory. It isn’t easy impressing a 14 year old.

Ryanair wasn’t enforcing the carry on limit for our flight in terms of weight or size. Since we had carefully followed the restrictions this was irritating. The flight was fine and on-time. Paying for drinks and having seats that didn’t recline was ok. Mats was waiting for us at the airport. We soon were gliding though the forests and fields towards Stockholm in his Mercedes station wagon.

Comments [1]


Add 10-05-2008 19:10

We traded homes with Pierre and Charlotte in 2000. They live 30 minutes outside Paris in a beautiful green valley. We have subsequently seen them in California, the Netherlands, and France. We have gotten the better of this series of visits as they have hosted us at their home or second home on five occasions. Pierre makes his own bread at home, using the same bread machine we happen to have at our place to prepare the dough, which he cooks in a normal oven. Julia has been taking lessons from him and her loaves improve after each visit.

These friends provide us room and board, the pleasure of their company, and even act as tour guides. Pierre and Charlotte drove us to the Parc de Bercy in Paris, which we had never before visited. Old buildings have been restored and the park is a green oasis with modern fountains and architecture. On a bright Sunday afternoon it was packed with families and children. We walked for three hours following the Seine towards the city center, passing by the Place Vendome and the Place des Vosges. Julia was especially intrigued with a railway viaduct that had been turned into a pedestrian pathway and linear public garden. She alertly noted that it was relaxing and peaceful because the hubbub and noise of the street was muffled. Her advice to you is that if you buy an apartment in Paris it will be quieter if you choose one on the third floor or higher.

One change from a few years ago is the system of public bicycles that can be affordably rented. Many Parisians love this new, efficient, and environmentally sustainable means of transportation. You may have a different view as a pedestrian, as your freedom to walk is infringed by the hordes of cyclists.

The following day we took the RER train into Paris on our own and had nothing but problems. In order to save money there no longer are ticket sellers at train stations. But since it is impossible to terminate employees in France these folks are still at the stations where they can’t sell you a ticket. In theory they can help you understand the automatic machines, which don’t take American Express, and don’t take Mastercard or Visa either. At least they wouldn’t take our cards, which we learned through 15 minutes of trial and error. They may take your credit cards if they are issued in France. What is especially aggravating is that you need to spend five minutes using the machine to tell it what ticket you wish to purchase before it reads your credit card and informs you it won’t work.

At some subway and train station entrances you won’t be able to buy a ticket because you don’t have a French credit card. You can try another entrance where you should eventually find a machine that takes cash. At this point pray you have the right assortment of coins and notes. You may also need patience as there might be a long line of confused tourists trying to figure out how to use the only cash ticket machine that is available.

We finally got ticketed and arrived at Notre Dame to change to the subway for the Eiffel Tower. This didn’t work as the line was shut for a construction project. We took a long detour and started our walk in Paris. The city was hot and swarming with tourists and locals trying to take advantage of them. I remembered there was a food court in the shopping center underneath the Louvre. It was similar to what you would find in any mall in the United States though the food was slightly more interesting. The prices were at least triple to quadruple what you would pay at home. We ended up buying sandwiches at a super market, since they were only twice as expensive as at home we thought we had gotten a good deal.

We decided to leave Paris around rush hour and were waiting for the train at Les Halles. There were at least ten to twenty trains an hour heading in the correct direction. There was a technical problem; all the trains were delayed 20 minutes. This coincided with a deep voiced gentleman exceeding his rights to free speech with impassioned oratory regarding the lack of religious faith in France. One of his lines was “JESUS CHRIST EST CHOMEUR”, which can be translated that Jesus Christ is unemployed. Three transit police arrived to speak with him and this kept him quiet until he was sure they had left.

This was a truly bad and wasted day, except that it was so bad that once it was over you had to laugh about it. Standing around our friend’s kitchen, a glass of wine in hand, with the promising aromas of dinner, I enjoyed recounting our misadventures, especially the part where I could speak loudly and in a deep voice “JESUS CHRIST EST CHOMEUR.”

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Traversing France, Saint Flour and Laval

Add 10-04-2008 12:37

One challenge of exchanging homes one after the other is getting the dates and transportation right. Here is our cautionary tale. Our French partners returned one week before the exchange in Stockholm, which you know is a few thousand kilometers from Provence.

We considered hanging out with our friends. We looked at one way air flights between Provence and Stockholm. The cheapest total price for all 3 of us would be over $750. Another possibility would total less than $200. This was to fly from Beauvais, which Ryanair optimistically calls “Paris” to Nykoping, which is called “Stockholm” at Ryanair. It would be easy to save $500 by renting a car, taking a week, driving 1,500 kilometers, and hanging out with different friends than those whose hospitality we had already abused in Provence.

Hertz gave us a good deal on the one week one way rental. We were sad to leave our beautiful French home and appreciated that our hosts had arranged for their maid to handle the transition. They would not be arriving until 8pm in the evening so we weren’t able to meet them at the airport.

When motoring in France I have a goal of avoiding toll roads, which results in lengthy and time consuming detours. This occasion the strategy was efficient as we took toll roads when necessary and found attractive alternative routes. The big money saver was the A75 (also known as E11) which is free for several hundred kilometers from near Montpellier to Clermont-Ferrand. It traverses the scenic Massif Central and is a relatively new freeway. The only toll is to cross the Tarn River on the famous Viaduc de Millau. There is a viewpoint and visitor’s center on the north side of the bridge; we spent a happy half hour there.

We arbitrarily stopped around 7pm in Saint Flour, a historic city on a plateau. We considered the traditional hotels but ended up choosing an ultra modern ultra cheap motel on the outskirts of town. We got the last room, a triple, it was minimalist and spartan and had a pre-fabricated plastic bathroom module. You had to remember to step up and down to get into and out of the module. The only good thing I can say about the module was that it was manufactured in Clisson, which is one of our favorite towns in France from a previous home exchange.

We had a pleasant stroll though the cobblestone streets of the old town, admiring the stone buildings and views across the countryside. There was one street that sloped down a hill so that the sidewalk required a step down every ten to twelve meters. Our daughter had the best skateboard run of her life and declared that Saint Flour is her favorite city in France. Dinner was pasta, fondue, and cider on a restaurant terrace.

The next morning we left but not before buying pastries at the boulangerie and visiting the cathedral. The drive was routine, we arrived in Laval, the prefecture of La Mayenne, which is twinned with Stanislaus County in California. We are active in the program and enjoyed meeting our friends. La Mayenne is in the northwest corner of the Pays du Loire next to Normandy and Brittany and has rolling hills covered in farmland and forests. There is an 80 kilometer recreational trail that follows the Mayenne River. One afternoon we cycled 35 kilometers from Laval to Chateau Gontier. The Chateau of Laval is worth visiting, you can admire the views of the countryside from the tower and it hosts a museum of naïve art as a way of celebrating one of its most famous sons, the artist Rousseau, otherwise known as Le Douanier.

By now you are weary of reading about the outstanding meals given to us by our friends in France. We shall only mention the farewell barbecue which started with foie gras. The livers had been bought from the farmer 24 hours in advance. The laborious process of preparation included a lengthy bath in Armagnac. Pieces were spread on bread with a few crystals of salt and lightly cooked over the barbecue. The combination of melted foie gras, toast, and salt was delicious. We left the next morning for Paris to visit our friends Pierre and Charlotte before flying to our second home exchange in Sweden.

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Comment on previous post

Add 10-01-2008 21:55

Thanks to Hobiej for his comments on the blog about joining more than one home exchange agency.

Hobiej also made the following comment “Because of Homelink’s differential pricing it is very expensive in the UK – I think they are trying to deter extra members or maybe they’re just milking it.”

Homelink costs about double what it should in the UK, I think their explanation would be that they give every member a directory. These are expensive to produce and ship. I think directories are useless and my recommendation to them would be to scrap the directory and lower their fee. I sent an e-mail about a year ago to Homelink UK asking them about their high price and mandatory directory and have yet to hear back from them.

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Should you use more than one home exchange agency?

Add 09-28-2008 18:33

Each home exchange agency has its positives and negatives. One way to determine which agency works best for you is to try more than one. We have found several good exchanges through We tried Homelink and discovered that they had many users with attractive homes in destinations of interest that wanted to trade with us. I tend to try new agencies which offer their services for free. We signed up for free memberships with the following agencies:,,,, and This gave us a chance to try them out and compare and contrast. (These particular agencies may or may not be free for you at the moment you join them.)

Another reason to use more than one home exchange agency is that it will give you more choices. If you live in San Francisco, New York, London, or the French Riviera you probably don’t need more choices. One agency may be enough. You may be annoyed at receiving a daily avalanche of home exchange inquiries in your in-box.

Those of us in obscure locations can benefit from an increase in exposure and possibilities. If you are searching for an exchange in a specific country, region, or city you may benefit from having more potential partners. For the summer of 2005 we wanted a home near our Sister County of La Mayenne in France. We joined several agencies and found the home and location we needed on Recently I noted a listing in our Sister County on, it happens to be an outstanding home in one of the most upscale and attractive towns of the region. You probably wouldn’t find such a appealing place in La Mayenne on many, if any of the other home exchange agencies.

There are disadvantages to belonging to more than one agency. You have to invest time in understanding how the agency works, including creating your listing and using search tools. One irritating aspect is photos of your home. Some agencies will take any photo but others have a size limit. I have learned how to shrink photos to meet the size limit; this is a hassle and inconvenience. Another disadvantage is cost. If you wanted to always be a member of the top 10 home exchange agencies by size you are looking at an outlay of over $600 per year (slightly less if you take advantage of multi-year offers.)

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Living Like the Locals

Add 09-25-2008 20:25

In Provence it is easy to get into the rhythm of local life. It starts with the usual summer weather that is hot or extremely hot. The temperatures become bearable sometime in the early evening and mornings can be cool and refreshing. It is easier to work with the weather than to fight it.

Our home had traditional wooden shutters. They serve several roles. The first is security, when they are locked from inside you would need a sledgehammer or maybe a bulldozer to break in. At night you can leave the doors and windows open with the shutters closed. You have security and the shutters allow a certain amount of fresh air and ventilation. You also can open up smaller windows that don’t have shutters—these are protected with iron bars. We were told that as long as the lights were off the insects would stay outside. This was true, though the occasional lizard would find its way into the house.

In the morning you open all the shutters to let the cool air into the house. Sometime in mid-morning it gets hot or the sun starts shining into the house, you close the shutters and the doors and windows. It is so dark you need to turn the lights on in the house. It keeps everything cool. Once the sun is low enough and the temperatures are dropping you start opening up shutters and doors and windows.

I would wake up about 8am and have a pleasant 1km walk into the village to buy fresh bread at the boulangerie. Next would be a morning activity. For example, one day I cycled into the town of Sainte Maximin, which has the largest market in the region. There were shuttle bus stops on a quiet country road allowing those without cars to visit the Wednesday market. The French are well organized. The countryside was beautiful, a mixture of mountains and forest with vineyards. I took a detour by circling a mountain on a dirt road that once was the Aurelian Way—an important Roman road. It must have been in better condition when the Romans managed it. It was a steep climb, there were lots of rocks, and time to admire the trees and wildflowers. There was a pretty olive orchard that seemed out of place in the remote pine forest. It was exciting to see a stone Roman road marker which on closer examination turned out to be a replica from the last century. I met my wife and daughter in town; it was a mob scene with thousands of people and hundreds of vendors at the market. Sainte Maximin has a famous basilica which is magnificent and worth visiting. The compact ancient center of town is only a few hundred meters from the outskirts which have a hypermarché and discount stores such as Aldi and Lidl. Traditional and modern shopping are conveniently close.

After the morning activity we would head home for a late and leisurely lunch. Because it was hot, the rosé was cold, and the car’s air conditioning did not work it was easy to justify a siesta followed by a dip in the pool. Around five or six pm it was cool enough to take a walk or bicycle ride. Evenings were best spent talking, drinking, and eating with friends until midnight.

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Friendly Neighbors

Add 09-24-2008 19:01

An advantage of a home exchange vacation can be friendly neighbors. Thanks to Mutt and Arlette we had friends in the neighborhood. Mutt invited us to dinner at another friend’s house; he lived in Toulon on a hill with a fabulous view of the town, harbor, and coast. One of our fellow guests was a young man who I could not help liking even after learning he worked for a toll road company. After drinking rosé wine and eating appetizers while admiring the view from the terrace we moved to the dining room. There we admired the view and had one of those typical multi course meals that lasts until midnight and includes large quantities of red wine. These are good experiences as the food, drink, and company are remembered while the hangover the next day is forgotten.

Arlette had us to dinner at her house. We discovered that typical appetizers in Provence were anchoiade (anchovy dip), tapenade (olive dip), and a red pepper dip whose name escapes me. They mash the main and other ingredients with olive oil and you eat them with bread (sometimes toasted) and raw or cooked vegetables such as tomatoes, green onions, red peppers, carrots, and hearts of palm. She made us a dish of artichokes, a regional specialty, washed down with local wine.

One morning Mutt, Julia, and I drove up to the trailhead for the mountain, near the Hostellerie de Ste. Baume. Mutt and I disagreed about where the trail began, I told him I knew how to read a map, and proved the contrary with a useless 15 minute detour. Once on the trail there were two ways up the mountain, the historical footpath leading to the Grotto of Sainte Mary Magdalene or a steep paved road closed to vehicle traffic. We took the path with stone steps well worn by thousands of pilgrims over the years. The forest was dark and beautiful. The grotto is a natural cave turned into a beautiful chapel, with lovely views from the terraces. A surprise was small birds that would swoop down, coming within inches of us while we were admiring the view. We took the hint and moved on, climbing down before we could climb up to the top of the ridge. The view from the top would be spectacular on a clear day but haze obscured the coast and the view in general. We still were proud of our climb of over 1,000 feet and had enjoyed traversing the primeval forest. We descended via the paved road, which turned out to be the route of choice for scores climbing up the hill. We had made the right decision in choosing the quieter route for our ascent.

One afternoon Arlette took us on a hike through the forest to a series of springs that created a stream. The water would form in pools and then disappear for a few hundred meters, then reappear. There was a sign saying that dogs were forbidden in the area. When you see these kinds of signs you know the reason is that people would otherwise do what was forbidden. In fact, since this was France, and the French routinely ignore prohibitions, Arlette took her dog, who enthusiastically jumped into the pools of the stream to fetch thrown sticks.

One morning Arlette and I went mountain biking. On our ride we went on dirt paths along forests and fields, the latter obviously privately owned. I asked it we had a legal right to trespass on the private property. She told me we didn’t but that our passage was “tolerated.” We returned to the beauty spot where dogs were prohibited and I noticed the sign indicated that bicycles were also forbidden. The trails along the stream made for beautiful and challenging cycling.

One of the advantages of home exchange is living like the locals.

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Day Trip to Wine Country

Add 09-20-2008 14:05

Our friends Roger and Liz from Wales had recently bought a house in the Cotes du Rhone wine region of France. They were about two hours from us. Having just arrived we didn’t really need a long car journey, but they were planning on returning home so if we wanted to see them we had to visit them on our third day in France.

We got an early start. Our first stop was La Fontaine de Vaucluse. This is a natural wonder, picturesque village, and tourist trap. We beat the crowds and the heat by arriving early. The parking lot could hold a few hundred cars; we were the third one of the day. The village is located where the mountains and the plains of the Rhone River meet. A large river is created instantly from many springs gurgling out of the mountain. There are lots of restaurants with lovely riverside views, and as you head upriver there is a shopping mall, with a roof terrace, we recommend walking the terrace as it affords good views of the river and leads in the right direction. After several hundred meters the shops are gone and you are in the canyon of the river which is forested, rocky, and beautiful.

We took minor roads through and around old villages that appeared prosperous, this is one part of France where the wine trade must be thriving. We stopped at the avant-garde shop and tasting room of the Vignerons de Caractere à Vacqueras (Winegrowers of Character of In the old days this would be the simple local cooperative but now it’s gone up market. Here is my translation of how these characters characterize themselves:

“We are 80 families of grape growers who during the centuries, one generation after another, have farmed with love and passion more than 1000 hectares of grapes. We invite you to discover the authenticity and the generosity of our wines which come from a land where everything is stronger. United together by common values, respect, humility, the art of life, that vital force, we invite you today to love more strongly in order to defend the art of living.”

These folks know their marketing and their architecturally modern and chic shop reflected the lofty goals in the above statement. The staff was friendly and knowledgeable; they had a broad variety of local wine in both bottles and bags-in-the box. When I asked how to translate this later concept in French they replied “Bag in Box.”

In the Napa Valley of California it is usual to have architectural masterpieces where expensive wine is tasted and sold. The advantage of Vacqueras is that you can buy a case of six bottles or 5 liter box of delicious quality wine for less than the price of one bottle of many Napa Valley cabernets.

At this point the car keys were handed to my wife and we drove to the famous wine village of Gigondas. They have always produced reliable and prestigious red wines: what was surprising was the beauty of the village and the countryside. Gigondas is located on a hillside; there are expansive views of the vineyards descending from the hills to the plain. The "Dentelles de Montmirail", a striking and magnificent rock formation rise high on a ridge behind the village. We walked around the village admiring the views and ambience, which left time for only one visit to a tasting room. I appreciate the fact that at many wine establishments the servers are attractive young women who are polite and respectful to old men like me. They enhance the quality of the wine or perhaps it is the other way around.

We finally arrived at our destination, parking the car next to the massive stone wall that protected the village in ancient and modern times. Our friend’s home was part of the village fortification wall and had views of the countryside towards the Alps. They had owned a second home in the region for many years and had been looking for the perfect place. They finally found their dream property about a year ago. There were aperitifs with an eclectic group—locals that spoke English and English that spoke French. We had a tasty lunch and a tour of the property which had an experienced wine cellar. We have always found Roger and Liz to be cheerful and friendly when we visited them in Wales, but in the sunshine of Provence they seemed more relaxed and happy.

We were sad to say good bye to our friends in the late afternoon, in part because we had discovered that our home exchange car had air conditioning that did not work. It was a hot and difficult drive home and a great pleasure to walk into the cool house and take an immediate dip in the swimming pool.

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Review of

Add 09-15-2008 18:02

A few weeks ago I signed up for, a new home exchange agency. Their website is bright and attractive and you can become a member for free as they are trying to build up their numbers. The listing format and search tools are good, and there is a Google mapping tool that for many homes is precise—you can see exactly where the home is located and view the neighborhood from a satellite photograph. This provides detailed information at the possible cost of the listing member’s privacy. They have a unique idea which involves using “Exchange Dollars” as a system that allows one family to use your house and pay you with “Exchange Dollars” that you can then spend to stay at a different exchange home. This is a new idea that may appeal to some customers. If this idea doesn’t work for you that is ok—you can still trade in the traditional way, which is my choice. Though they have less than 100 listings at the moment I found several that looked promising for my family.

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Cycling the Mountain and the Sunday Market

Add 09-13-2008 10:34

One way to get over jet lag is to exercise and expose yourself to sunlight when your body thinks you should be sleeping. Since my daughter was occupying the only computer in the house, using it to chat with her friends in California, I decided to take advantage of the cool morning air to cycle up the mountain.

You never know what kind of cycles you will find in a home exchange, unless you have carefully questioned your partners in advance. They sounded like they knew what they were doing and I was lucky. The man of the house was about my size and was a competitive mountain biker in his spare time. He had three mountain bikes, all top quality and well maintained; two with full suspension, one with only a front suspension, what we call a hardtail. They had special pedals with clips that required special shoes with cleats to use properly. I considered trying on his shoes, but in the end decided that the hardtail could be ridden safely with normal shoes, which mostly turned out to be true. He had a good quality helmet that I was able to use.

They had detailed IGN maps of the region; I found my way and eventually headed up the mountain. There was little traffic at seven in the morning and the riding was easy until the sign indicating 5 kilometers of winding road, which turned out to have an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet. I had time to admire the scenery as I was riding at less than five miles per hour and stopping every ten minutes to rest. It was lovely, green hills all around, with views of villages and old ruined castles on ridge tops or hills. Especially spectacular was the view of the Montagne Sainte Victoire, another massive ridge of stone set behind intervening ridges of green hills. The climbing mostly ended when the road reached a thin plateau that ran parallel with the mountain. At this point there was no public road to climb up the last 1,000 vertical feet of the mountain, though I was later to discover a road (closed to cars) that could have been cycled if I had more ambition that judgment.

Once on the plateau the cycling was pleasant and easy, I noticed pre-positioned water tanks for the fire fighters and numerous dirt fire roads, carefully marked and identified with signs. Wildfire is a problem in Provence; they have many ways to fight it including small yellow trucks with water tanks that cruise the region looking to snuff out blazes before they become conflagrations.

I discovered a one lane paved road heading down the mountain, the five minute descent was exhilarating, no traffic except for a buff young man cycling up the hill without his shirt towing a baby in a trailer. It was great to arrive home and shower and relax for five minutes before Julia told me it was time to go to the market.

The Sunday morning market was in a nearby village. There were 50 or 60 stalls arrayed in the rectangular central plaza, shaded by ancient plane trees with a few bars for the men that preferred to relax while their wives did the shopping. There was clothing, fruit, vegetables, cheese, wine, fish, and meat, everything necessary and unnecessary for daily life. The boulangeries were open; this village was blessed with three of them. Two small grocery stores were open for the morning too.

We bought our supplies, went home, and had a tasty lunch with fresh food, rosé, and then a siesta, to honor local traditions. We woke up about four in the afternoon, just in time to catch the last 60 minutes of that day’s stage of the Tour de France on the television.

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Fear of Flying and Our First Day

Add 09-12-2008 16:58

It was a pleasure to leave on July 4th for Nice. We have discovered that flying on the 4th of July, the American Independence Day is a good choice—flights tend to be cheaper and less crowded. I even had an unoccupied seat next to mine on the leg from New York to Nice. The flight arrived an hour early, which meant that we waited an extra hour at the airport since our friend Mutt, who was picking us up, would never consider an early arrival possible.

One attraction of the home in France was that we had several friends who lived less than an hour away. We were impressed that Mutt had a friend who we had never met, who happened to live 1km from our exchange home. We will call her Arlette, and she proved to be a kind, friendly, and delightful neighbor during our stay.

The house and its setting were outstanding. It was in a village near the Massif Sainte Baume, a massive stone outcropping over 1000 meters in elevation. There were views of the mountain and its forest clad slopes from the windows and large garden. The local tourist authorities call this the Pays de la Provence Verte, the Land of Green Provence,, and since there had been rain a weak before our arrival it was green.

The house was in a new development of substantial homes on large lots. Our first challenge was to open the front door. You had to twist the key in a certain way while pulling up on the door handle. After 30 seconds it opened. It was a hot day but it was cool inside due to the massive wooden shutters that blocked most of the door and window openings. The architecture was traditional with tile floors and large exposed wooden beams. Inside and outside the walls were painted beautiful colors of yellow, terra cotta, and brown. The kitchen was well equipped with two refrigerator/freezers and they had left enough food in the house that we didn’t need to go shopping immediately. There was a box of rosé wine in the fridge from the local cooperative. Mutt and I only had to grab a glass and push the button on the tap to celebrate our arrival. It was fresh, fruity, slightly sweet with good acid balance, in short delicious. They had left us a box of white and red as well as six bottles. We didn’t need to go shopping for wine during our stay, we just had to drink.

We said good bye to Mutt and went to bed around noon, which was 3am in California. We slept until 5pm and then went sightseeing in an old Provencal village. Our daughter preferred to sleep. Mutt had invited us to a village celebration but it didn’t start till 10pm and we preferred to sleep. Being jet lagged I woke up at 4am to log onto the computer and discovered my daughter was already there, chatting with her friends back in California. For the first time, but not the last I regretted that we had not brought along our laptop.

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Preparing for our 2008 Home Exchange Vacation

Add 09-11-2008 17:07

This summer our family enjoyed back to back home exchanges in Provence, France, and Stockholm, Sweden. Since I am the Home Exchange Guru you would think that everything would go smoothly, but alas even self appointed experts can encounter difficulties. Our problems began before we left California.

We found attractive exchanges quickly. An experienced Homelink member with a beautiful home (yes, a photo of it can be found on this website) on a lake in Stockholm wrote us, we were also having discussions with a Homelink member on a lake in Switzerland. We ended up going to Stockholm because we were excited about seeing our old friends and revisiting one of our favorite vacation spots.

That exchange was for 18 days, we decided to look for another exchange. I kept an eye on the 200 most recent listings on We found a home in Provence; the family was new to home exchange and had already bought their tickets to San Francisco. I wrote them in French and after a few weeks we agreed to exchange for the last two weeks of their stay in California.

I would like to say that I suddenly had problems with my children, but it would be more accurate to say that new and old problems caused confusion. My oldest son wanted to stay in town. My oldest daughter wanted to do a youth exchange. My youngest daughter was uncertain which high school to attend in the fall.

Our son found a family to take care of him. We agreed he could stay in California. He would be a resource for our exchange partners. Through Rotary we found a youth exchange for our older daughter in Aguascalientes, Mexico, where she could improve her Spanish. We organized it so her exchange there would be at the same time as our trip to Europe. Our youngest daughter would be our only child on vacation with us.

We were delighted when our youngest was accepted into the International Baccalaureate program at Modesto High School. It was recommended she take a health and safety course in summer school. She should do it this summer to get it out of the way and to meet other incoming freshmen. She could finish her class four days after we had planned to leave for Europe. We booked our flights.

We had promised the French family that they could move into our house on a particular date that happened to be four days before our daughter finished summer school. We had to honor this agreement, so we moved in with my brother. This led to a new, strange and disorienting experience—being homeless in the city in which we had lived for over 20 years. On the plus side it was easy to meet our French partners and help them adjust during the first four days of their stay. On the negative side my wife found a new reason to complain about the way in which her husband organized home exchange vacations.

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