Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Staycations with a Twist
By Diane Andrews
Here’s the twist. Normally on staycations, you stay at home and take local excursions. On staycations with a twist, you stay at someone else’s home, and that home can be anywhere in the world.
You and another family exchange homes and cars (optional)—usually at exactly the same time—and while they are exploring your world, you are exploring theirs. Once you arrive at your staycation home, your only expenses are fuel, food, and fun.
The twist gets even better if, as I was, you are invited to join a friend who is arranging the exchange, and all you have to do is show up. My friend Sharon Madigan joined Homelink USA (www.homelink-usa.com), which claims to be the largest home exchange in the world.
Madigan has used Homelink USA for exchanges in California, Hawaii, Mexico, Germany, and Switzerland. “It takes some time and effort to send out inquiries and track them. You send them out, but you could be disappointed. If you’re flexible [about dates and locations], it’s an advantage,” she says.
I joined Madigan on three home exchanges, most recently a month in Bad Zurzach, Switzerland. Six of us (not all there at the same time) explored Switzerland, Germany, France and Italy, taking day trips and spending overnights farther afield. “It’s nice to have a comfortable home base,” says Katie Zauner.
“Because of the savings in money, you can afford to stay longer and see a country in depth,” says Madigan. “Unlike a tour or a hotel, you have the luxury to take a day off to relax and live like a local—amble around downtown, shop, have a cup of coffee in a café.”
“It’s convenient,” she says. “You can spread out; you’re not relegated to one bedroom. You can sit in the garden. You have the option to buy and cook local food rather than go to a restaurant every night. You can pack lunches.”
“It’s the way to go! You learn a lot about a country by living in a citizen’s home,” says Mary Hottelet, who got to practice her German. “You get suggestions of places to shop and go. Sometimes you meet neighbors.”
Home exchanges, however, are not for everyone. “We’re talking independent travelers,” says Rose Ryan. “You have to plan what you want to see and how to get there.”
“Location is important. A lot of people wouldn’t want to drive in another country, so they should exchange in a big city where they can use public transportation,” says Malle Sibul, who brought a GPS with her.
It takes some work to prepare your home for the exchange, cleaning and clearing closet and drawer space. “You’re using people’s things—china, glassware, their car. You worry about accidents. Careful as you are, things happen. Things break,” cautions Madigan. And something did.
The Swiss home exchange family e-mailed Madigan photos of damage to their car that had happened, unbeknownst to us, while the car was in our care. We were responsible for paying for the repair, which was less than the insurance deductible. Another time, Madigan would be sure to sign the Homelink USA home and car exchange agreements and do a walk around the car before and after driving it to check for damage.
“It’s a cultural education, a small peak into how others live around the world,” says Madigan, already thinking about her next staycation with a twist destination.