Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Imagine....!! Twenty Dollars a night to see the world!!

Imagine visiting all kinds of interesting places in the world
Melbourne, Australia
Paris, France

London, England

That's what The Affordable Travel Club offers for only $20 a night, breakfast included!
The idea is that you join the club at about $60 a year and then select someone from the
membership list who is willing to host you.  The basic rate is $20 a night, breakfast is offered
and your host will spend at least an hour with you to help you get oriented. It is expected that
you will not overstay your welcome, the limit is usually 4 days, unless a more extensive stay
has been negotiated.  In most cases, people tend to more generous in their welcome with the
result that wonderful, lasting friendships develop.  Of course, you may get an email or phone call
from someone who asks you to host a visit.  Friends of ours are presently on a wonderful vacation
down-under,  enjoying the hospitality of friendly, welcoming Australians.  What a wonderful,
affordable way to travel and see the world.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

When considering home exchange: don't short-sell yourself

We live in Brantford. one hour from Toronto and about the same distance from Niagara, Stratford etc.  We are blessed with a wonderful, historic community, cycling and hiking paths, a vantage point from which to travel to the theatre and vinyards of the Niagara and Stratford areas -  yet, we continue to ask ourselves:  "Why would anyone bother to come to our town and participate in a home exchange?"  We decided to put that question to the test and see who in the past year has expressed in interest in coming to Brantford and participate in a home exchange.  We were surprised.  The list included people from Israel, St. Petersburg, Mexico, Paris, Australia, Holland!!  We had forgotten that what may be ordinary and common-place to us, is new and interesting to others.  The things we take for granted are an inviting adventure to those who come to visit.  So, don't short-sell yourself when listing your home.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Beautiful British Columbia

Angela and I recently visited British Columbia where one of daughters lives.  We visited Kamloops and area as well as Vancouver and Vancouver Island.  Saw lots of beautiful scenery and wildlife.  Here are a few pictures taken during our trip.
The pictures above were taken on Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver.
 Everywhere you go, there is breath-taking scenery.  Vancouver is one of the most people-friendly cities in Canada with lots of space for hiking, cycling and sight-seeing.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Colonial Hanoi.... Going.... Going.... almost Gone

Here and there, when looking up to the second floor, a discerning eye will still see the neglected remnants of French architecture from the colonial period.

And this is what can happen when imagination, pride and money come together to restore and rehabilitate these almost forgotten architectural  jewels of the past.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Traffic in Hanoi: If you stop, you die.... If you run, you die....

When hundreds of motor cycles and scooters come at you from all directions, it is a hair-raising experience to try to cross a street.  The very first morning we tried it, we were nervous wrecks.  Then we realized that you just need to walk into traffic and expect people tp slow down and drive around you as you cross.  Somehow that  seems to work.  We saw no accidents or even fender benders on the streets of Hanoi.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Good Morning Viet Nam!

We have just returned from a 5 week trip to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hanoi, Viet Nam and will be telling you about experiences and travel tips that may help you to enjoy that part of the world.   The picture you see here was taken on the island of Lankowi in Malaysia and is just intended to whet you appetite!  So, stay posted, more is to come....

Sunday, May 2, 2010

An anti-cruise crusade

I am on a kind of "anti cruise crusade", having enjoyed the benefits of home exchange and more affordable forms of travel.  Instead of briefly, very briefly,  visiting ports of call on a cruise itinerary, home exchange gives you the opportunity to live the culture you are visiting, shop and walk the streets the way the locals do.  It is a rich experience which surpasses anything a brief hop off a cruise ship can allow.   

These pictures, showing a man doing ablutions before entering a mosque, a couple at a bank machine and seniors working out on exercise equipment in a park illustrate what I mean.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Imagine walking the streets of Istanbul at leisure, watching and photographing its people in their daily routines, because you have the time..... that is what a home exchange offers.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Walking the Streets of Paris

What could be more exciting than to walk the streets of Paris at leisure?  Only when you "live" in the city, albeit for a short time, are you able to enjoy this rare pleasure.  Home exchange offers this opportunity of living the daily lives of the people you are visiting.  


Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Joy of Street Walking

Instead of standing in line at the next tourist attraction, which is fine when your time is limited and you are on a scheduled tour,  the alternative is to do a home exchange, walk the streets or sit in a sidewalk cafe and just watch peopleas they go about their daily rounds and routines. For me, at least, there is nothing more enjoyable than people watching. 


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Living a Culture

The beauty of home exchange is that it allows one to stay longer and "live the culture" one visits.  No hurried bus tour or directed tour can replace the pleasure of simply walking the streets at leisure and "soaking up" the life the surrounds you. 


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Record and Share your memories

An excellent way to record and share your home exchange memories is to collect and copy your favourite pictures with accompanying text in a professional-looking book -  I recently downloaded the free sofware from www.mypublisher.com and now have wonderful coffee table books of our ventures in Turkey, France and Scotland to share with my family and friends.   The software is very easy to use and the cost is most reasonable. A 30 page book cost me only $30 plus shipping. Here is another affordable way to see and share the world.

Melbourne, Australia

Monday, March 1, 2010

B & B's, Another Affordable Way To Go

Besides Home Exchange or the Affordable Travel Club, there is another wonderful way to explore the world the affordable way:  The Bed and Breakfast way.  Some of our most memorable vacations have been at B&B's in France, Scotland and Australia.  But these are not the only possibilities. At this very moment, we are exploring B&B possibilities in India, Cambodia and Viet Nam.   Just one word of advice:  do your planning and exploring early.  Unless you book a B&B at least 9 months to a year in advance, the best locations are gone.  But it's worth the effort.  The early bird catches the worm and there are some incredible worms worth catching out there!  The internet is a wonderful resource and most B&B's have excellent websites, allowing you even to select a particular room with that special view.

Our B&B in Burgundy, France

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Home Exchange Benefits

One of the great benefits of a home exchange is the inter-action between the people involved in it.  We were present when our couple from Istanbul arrived, enabling us to give them an introduction to our neighbours and community.  Conversely, when we arrived in Istantbul, our exchange couple had made arrangements for their extended families to welcome us and host us for dinner at their favourite restaurants.  This is the beauty of home exchange which no cruise ship tour or guided tour can replace.

Family entertaining us at their home.....

and serving a meal of meze (appetizers) fit for a queen

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Keeping Travel Affordable

When doing a house swap in a foreign country, make sure you have adequate travel health insurance!   Above all, make sure that when applying for insurance you clearly indicate any pre-conditions you have had and medicine regime prescribed by your doctor.  This will affect the cost of your insurance but leaves no room for the insurance company to deny coverage should you need medical care in a foreign country. 

While hiking in the hills of the French Basque country,  I had an unexpected heart attack.  Lucky me that it happened in France which has the most advanced medical system in the world.  It took the ambulance a mere 20 minutes to arrive from Bayonne, a distance which under normal circumstances would take at least 45 minutes.  One thing I did not expect is the fact that in France all ambulances come staffed with  a qualified physician.  After treatment at one of the best cardiac centers in Bayonne, I was released 4 days later having had 3 cardiologists at my disposal.  

The total cost of treatment (angioplasty, tests and medications, service of 3 cardiologists, ambulance) came to a mere $15,000   -  I am sure this cost would have been higher in Canada and in the US I probably would have had to remortgage my home.   The insurance company insisted that we extend our stay in France by a week, to which we happily complied!  We were  able to use our Visa card to pay the medical bill.  (more aeroplan miles for the next trip!)  A few weeks later, after having returned to Canada,  the insurance company reimbursed us the full amount minus a $200 deductible. 


Friday, February 12, 2010

Affordable Travel by Car

If you plan to travel in Europe for more than 17 days, there is a wonderful way to solve the transportation challenge:  buy a car and then sell it back to the company.  That's right!  Both Peugeot and Renault have a program that allows the tourist to select a new vehicle from their fleet and then sell it back to the company when leaving.  On one occasion, we picked up our car at Schiphol in Amsterdam, toured Europe for 6 weeks and returned the car in Amsterdam upon our departure.  Recently we picked up our car in Biarritz, France, stayed for a month and returned the car at Biarritz.  The cost for a small car, a Renault Megane, came to about $60 a day and that included insurance.  Not only is this competitive with rental rates, it also allows someone who is older than 70 to obtain a vehicle because most rental companies have an age ceiling of 65.  In Biarritz we were met at the airport upon arrival and returned to the airport upon departure.  Everything was arranged in advance from within Canada before our leaving.  Renault has an office in Montreal (Renault Eurodrive) and I believe Peugeot also has an office in Canada.  We have nothing but good things  to say about this excellent program. 


Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Basque Region of France

When we were asked to cat-sit in the Basque Region of France, we had no idea what would be in store for us.  We had been in France on several occasions, but this area of France was unknown to us.  Only through Home Exchange could we have the opportunity to "live" and experience life the way it is lived and experienced by the local people.

Bayonne is the administrative center of the Basque region

The architecture with it half-timber construction is reminiscent to the Alsace area


But the language and culture of the Basques is unique




The scenery is mostly rural and breathtaking


Biarritz is the tourist center and well worth a visit



Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pet sitting, another way to go

This year we received a curious email:  would we be interested in looking after 4 cats while the owners could be away for a sailing holiday.  They had seen our listing on the seniors home exchange website and were just interested in having us look after their darlings without a house swap. It took us all of 5 minutes to reply in the affirmative.  As a result we spent two wonderful weeks in Paris at the beginning and end of our stay and 4 weeks in the Basque region of France near Biarritz.   The pussies were gone during the day, giving us a chance to explore the incredible countryside near St. Pee sur Nivelle during the day and learn about a way of life we had not known before.


This was the view from our window

A view of Biarritz


A colourful service at the 15th century church at St. Pee sur Nivelle
Not bad in exchange for looking after cats don't you think?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Home Exchange, the Way to Go

Thursday, January 28, 2010

More about the children of Turkey

When visiting a country, there is always the temptation to romantisize the experience, to exaggerate the positive and ignore the negative.  But there is something about the children of Turkey that continues to fascinate me.  Even in the poorest of villages or slums of the city, they are always ready to meet you with their wonderful spontaneity.  Just look at the picture of the teens below:  there is no sulleness, no "whatever" attitude, only a willingness to meet a stranger with a refreshing openess and spontaneity. 



Monday, January 4, 2010

Turkey and its Children

One of our lasting memories of Turkey are its people and especially the children.  Nowhere, even in the poorest areas of city or village, did we see sullen or unhappy children.