Lost Our Virginity ~

Yup, as of this past weekend, the hubs and I are no longer home exchange virgins!  Finally… we found a match… and it was so good.  And so easy.  We are completely hooked.  Mr. Just-a-Backpack is already asking me to do it again.  In fact, he wants to do it any time, any place.  Oh, Baby!

I always get a buzz of excitement when an Inquiry from Home Exchange pops up in my email.   My first thought – Wow, somebody chose us!  What can I say, I have a strong need for people to like me.   That’s quickly followed by the thrill of opening the email to discover what new adventure awaits. And finally, there’s the reality of can we make this one work.  Or in some cases, do we even want to.  Sorry, but the week in Minneapolis didn’t seem worth the cost of two plane tickets.

Anyhow, back to this particular exchange.  A few weeks ago we received an inquiry from Dawn and Ram, a lovely couple who live in Toledo, Oregon (a few miles inland from the Port of Newport).  They were interested in snuggling Mr. Ricky in exchange for our feeding “the girls” – their 12 chickens, and gathering eggs.  Could we work out an exchange weekend?  We could and YES we would!  So, a match was hatched.  We emailed back and forth, exchanged information, made a plan and Voila! at 9:30 on Saturday morning we were off on an adventure.  We left flowers on the table, snacks in the refrigerator, wine on the counter and Mr. Ricky waiting to meet some new friends.  We found a beautiful custom-built, art-filled home on seven acres owned by an artist and a wildlife ranger.

A notebook on the counter gave us detailed instructions for everything we needed to know about their home, right down to the names and descriptions of the chickens “Ginny – Big and brown with white speckles”.  We settled in to enjoy one of the most relaxing and peaceful mini-getaways in a very long time.   That first evening, as we were sipping wine on the big, comfy couches overlooking the pond, hubs looks over and says “Do you hear that?”  I said, “Yes.  Nothing!  What a lovely sound.”

The next day (after feeding the girls and gathering the eggs) we explored the tiny mill town of Toledo, strolled the streets of Newport, barked back at the noisy sea lions, walked out to the fishing docks, ducked into shops, crossed the big bridge to escape the rain for a few hours in the Oregon Coast Aquarium and stuffed ourselves at one of the best seafood restaurants on the Oregon coast – Local Ocean Seafood.

By early evening we were completely tuckered out and headed back to our Toledo retreat to enjoy all the comforts of “home”.  So much nicer than watching TV sitting on the bed in a hotel room.  We put our feet up, pulled out a blanket, turned on the fireplace and snuggled on the couch with a glass of Pinot and a wee bit of chocolate.  We also discovered Netflix and the guilty pleasure of watching How I Met Your Mother.  All-in-all, it was a perfectly wonderful experience and we cannot wait to do it again.

Parked my rollie in this lovely bedroom.

Thank you Ram and Dawn for making our first home exchange such a wonderful experience.  We hope you enjoyed your stay in our home as much as we loved staying in yours.  Mr. Ricky says “hi” and please come back to visit any time.

If you’ve been considering home exchange for future travels, I suggest you go for it.

Now, I’m off to find home exchange number two…

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Home Exchange ~ not this time

Last week I was merrily picturing myself wintering in a beautiful townhouse in sunny Southern California after a surprise and quite intriguing offer came in through Home Exchange.   Several of you offered to meet up with us in Century City.  A few asked if there was room for visitors.  And then there were one or two who felt this was not the right offer and we might do well to wait for something better.  Well this time the Nays have it.  Apparently, there was a slight problem with a major allergy to cats.  Doomed on both sides by our handsome boy.   Oh well, on to the next adventure. Here’s Mr. Ricky.  He moonlights as a pizza guard cat.

Home Exchange ~ An intriguing offer

Don’t you love it when you go in to shut down your laptop for the night and you take one last peek at your email and there, glowing in your inbox, is a message that you just have to open – and read – and read again.  And now your mind is buzzing with possibilities and excitement and fear and what ifs?   Sleepy?  No, not now.  That was so five minutes ago.

Well, here’s the short story on my enticing email from Heidi.  When I signed up for Home Exchange three weeks ago, I had no specific goals other than to test the waters on some short stays closer to home and otherwise figure out how it all worked.   A shakedown cruise of sorts.   Plus I would get to peruse all the offerings and dream.  Well, my friends, Heidi came a-calling with a pretty interesting offer… Heidi, her husband and five year old daughter live in Century City, a very nice suburb in LA between Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.  I worked there back in the days when I lived in LA so I know it pretty well.  (I’m sure a lot has changed since 1987, but still.)  Turns out they are thinking about moving to Portland and are looking for a home exchange from August 2012 through June 2013.   Nowhere in any of my thinking was the idea of a long term stay like this a possibility right now.  That was for way off in the future.   And frankly, I’ve lived in LA and while I do like to visit from time to time, it is definitely not on my list of places to live permanently.  Too busy, too crowded, to expensive, too L.A.  But, for a few months…say January or February through June…when it’s cold, gray and gloomy to the max in Portland, well I have to say I perked right up at the idea.  Hubby, Mr. “let’s become Citizens of the World”, was seriously not enthused.  In fact, he was kind of a wet blanket on my initial enthusiasm.   Big Bummer!   And it raised a few very interesting points for future discussion.  Apparently the move from talking to doing is not going to be as easy as my Pollyanna mindset had led me to believe.

Obviously, there are logistical questions to be considered and worked out in any kind of long term swap, but, it would be so much easier to do between Portland and LA than say Portland and Prague.   First, (again) what the hell do we do with Mr. Ricky?  He and hubs are a team – the dynamic duo, and I fear that Ricky might fare slightly better than his human half if they were separated.  Second – August?  Leave Portland during the one or two months of really lovely summer weather?   After I waited a whole year for summer to come back?  And third, we would have to actually pull the trigger and do something so far out of the comfortable box we currently live in.  Whew.  Not so quick or easy as it turns out.

Actually, if it were just me, it would be an easy decision.  But it’s not, we’re a team.  So I’m going to move us through this slowly to see where it might lead.  Here’s my tentative plan:

1.  We have to take the cat.  Will they be amenable to a handsome well mannered fur boy moving into their “gorgeous, art-filled, 3-level contemporary town-home with a grand piano in Century City”?  If no, end of road for now.  If yes, take one step forward.

2.  Heidi indicated she was flexible in her dates and might consider multiple swaps to get the full year.  Ok!  How about Les and Nancy from February through mid-June?

3.  If 1 and 2 fly, then it’s time to start working on my armchair based and very comfortable there world traveler.    Baby steps.  Stick and Carrot.  Sexy lingerie.  Time to bring out the full bag of tricks!

4.  If 3 flies and the hubs climbs on board, then it’s time to negotiate with the LA swappers to see if we can work out a lovely FREE winter vacation in sunny Southern California.  If so,  here’s where you’ll find us on the weekends…

And here’s where you might find Heidi and her family…

Yep, this is definitely worth pursuing.   Words of wisdom from the Old Grey Haired Guy I live with ~ “Keep saying Yes until you have a reason to say No”.  Words I now need to remind him of.   I’ll keep you posted.

Mi Casa es Su Casa ~ exploring home exchange

Exploring another of the many options available for traveling on a budget, I decided to sign us up for home exchange.  I’m pretty darned excited about the possibilities.  Oh yes, I am more than ready to spend a little time in the charming garden in the photo below…

18th Century Bastide in Aix en Provence

I was first intrigued by this idea in 1996 when I discovered an organization called Intervac.   It was started back in 1953 by two teachers who were looking for an economical way to travel and it’s still a great option for people with limited funds.  You can exchange homes, flats, boats, cabins…pretty much any living accommodation you can think of in towns, cities, resorts and out of the way places all over the world.

So, way back when, I signed up to exchange my condo in Lake Oswego hoping to work out an inexpensive European vacation for my son and myself.  This was during the stone age before everything was online.  I wrote a short description of our home and the great things to do in the area, took a couple of photos and sent it all off with a check to be published in a very large book printed on newsprint – nothing fancy here.  It took a while (they only published once a year) but I finally received my copy in the mail.  The photos were black and white, small and often a little blurry, but I was hooked.  I poured over the available exchanges every evening for weeks.  Then, truth be told, I chickened out and didn’t follow up on the few opportunities that came my way.  I’m pretty sure Portland, Oregon was not on a whole lot of international vacationers’ top ten destination lists back then.  I’m hoping things have changed.  I know Portland has.  And I know I’ve changed too.  These days getting signed up is SIMPLE.   Here’s how it went when I registered a couple of weeks ago – I paid online using my Pay Pal account, uploaded several photos of our townhouse, wrote my description and voila! here’s our listing with homeexchange.com.  It still needs some tweaking, but I’ll keep updating and improving it as I get a better feel for how everything works and what attracts potential exchangers.   Within a couple of days we had two offers for exchanges.   So easy!

Why home exchange?  Well, to me it seems like the perfect way to travel just a little bit off the tourist path.  You literally have all of the comforts of home if you understand that the home you are vacationing in may be very different from the one you currently live in.  Having had several successful vacation rentals with VRBO – Vacation Rental By Owner – I’m ready to take the next step – swap vs. cash payment.  For those of us who count their travel pennies, it is a great option.  I’ve talked to several veteran house swappers and have yet to hear one horror story (although I’m sure there are some and it would be good to hear those as well).

Right now because I’m still chained to my office desk most of the year, we’re looking for a few short, easy exchanges closer to home.  The two offers that came in right away were from St. Paul, MN from a couple that were coming to Portland in September for a conference and another from some folks in Redondo Beach, CA who were looking to exchange in July.  Neither fit in our plans, so I just hit the “No Thanks, Not This Time” button.   So, you know where to find me for the next several weeks, I’ll be cruising through the thousands of listings and tossing out a few offers of my own to see if we can connect on some west coast shares, maybe something in Mexcio and (fingers crossed) a house for next summer in France, Italy or Spain to tie in with my walking vacation that is also in the plans.

I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime.  Here are a few options to consider for your own travels.

A lovely flat in London

2 Bedroom Apartment in the center of Madrid

Sit on this patio in San Miguel de Allende Mexico.

Have you tried home exchange?  What was your experience?  I’d love to hear!