Ski season is right around the corner, which means it’s time to plan your ski exchange! Here are some tips from our Norwegian representative, and resident ski pro, Tanya.
Find ski areas that suit your abilities
Are you a novice, or travelling with young children? Find a ski area that won’t be too crowded, and that has lots of beginner and intermediate runs. If you and your companions are experts, make sure you find a ski area with lots of off-piste runs, mogul fields, and untouched bowls to drop into. Do a little research first or ask around, so you can prepare for your home exchange search and find homes near the ski areas you prefer. Read More
New York, Paris, London… they’re all must-visit locations, to be sure. But venture off the beaten path and you’ll find equally amazing, totally underrated destinations worthy of a vacation all their own.
While not as well known as Amsterdam or The Hague, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this historic city. You can explore it entirely on foot, which might be just what you need after dining at one of the Michelin-starred restaurants.
Durango is a charming town all on its own, but its location also makes it a great hub for exploring some of the state’s most beautiful mountain scenery. Bonus: the Grand Canyon National Park and the Navajo Reservation each make for a wonderful overnight trip.
Small enough to be cozy but large enough to be exciting, Ghent is a wonderful discovery. Locals love their city and will be happy to share their favorite spots with you, which might include a quirky bar, an amazing museum, or a shining example of medieval architecture.
The San Juans are made up of around 172 islands, many of them uninhabited, between the mouth of the Puget Sound and Vancouver Island. This is not the place for a flashy vacation; fishing, whale-watching, hiking, crabbing, and watching the sunset are among the islands’ most popular activities.
The waters of Lake Balaton have been described as “silky”, and with an average summer water temperature of around 80 degrees fahrenheit, you might find yourself spending more time in your swimsuit than your street clothes.
6. Glasgow, UK
London and Manchester might disagree, but Glasgow has arguably the best music scene in the UK (just look to legendary clubs like King Tut’s and the Barrowland Ballroom). Families will love the Science Center, and there are enough culinary options to please every palate.
Chances are, you’ve heard of Sydney and Melbourne. But you may not have heard of their south coast cousin, Adelaide. The city is known for its cutting-edge art scene and year-round mild climate, and has the added bonus of being just a ferry ride away from Kangaroo Island.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is just 38 miles from Dubrovnik, Croatia, and every bit as picturesque. Climb the pathway to Sveti Ivan fortress for a spectacular view of the mountains, bay, and the Old City, built between the 12th and 14th centuries.
If you’re looking for an authentic New Mexican experience, skip Santa Fe and head straight for Taos. There’s a strong emphasis on all things genuine here, from the famous chile rellenos to locally made candles and jewelry.
Despite earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and floods, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Antigua is as vibrant as ever. This former capital is awash in pastel facades and beautifully restored old buildings. Venturing just outside the city will lead you to coffee plantations, fantastic hiking, and a region seemingly frozen in time.
Have you been to any of these underrated destinations? Tell us in the comments!
Looking for a dose of American history? Look no further than Boston, Massachusetts.
1. Make way for ducklings
Visit the iconic statue based on the beloved children’s book, then spend some time in Boston Common, the USA’s oldest public park (and the southern end of the Freedom Trail). Bring a book, blanket, and picnic, and spend a leisurely afternoon amongst the trees.
2. Visit the Museum of Fine Arts
The MFA Boston is home to one of the most comprehensive collections in the world at nearly half a million pieces. Admission isn’t free every day, but you can visit at no charge on Wednesdays after 4pm (there is a suggested donation of $10).
3. Meander down Newbury Street
The stores on this upscale stroll might be pricey, but window shopping and people watching won’t cost you a thing. When you’re ready for a break, pop into one of the many cozy coffee shops along the way.
4. Do some stargazing
Channel your inner astronomer, bundle up, and head to Boston University’s Coit Observatory. Public Open Nights are held nearly every wednesday year-round starting at 7:30pm during the fall and winter and 8:30pm during the spring and summer. The program is weather-permitting, so make sure to call ahead!
5. “Pahk the cah at Hahvahd Yahd”
Ok, this sentence may never have been uttered by any Bostonian in history, but you should still make the trip to Cambridge to check out Harvard Square. The area is full of shops, restaurants, performances, and book stores, and you can even take a free student-led guided tour of Harvard Yard. (All kidding aside, parking in the area is tricky, so take public transport if possible!)
6. Board the USS Constitution
“Old Ironsides” is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, and you can tour it, and its accompanying museum, for free. Fun fact: every July 4th, the ship is taken out of the harbor and turned around to ensure that the hull weathers evenly.
7. Attend a performance by the Boston Landmarks Orchestra
The Boston Landmarks Orchestra was founded in 2001 with the goal of making the arts accessible to everyone, regardless of wealth or education. This spirit of accessibility evident in the many concerts accompanied by an interpretive sign language performance and programs in braille. Performances are held all around the city in significant historical and architectural settings.
8. Tour the State House
The State House is house of government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and you can tour it for free every weekday from 10am to 3:30pm. The building itself is steeped in history, from the land that used to belong to John Hancock to the copper dome installed by Paul Revere’s company. It’s also home to the Sacred Cod, which is exactly what it sounds like.
9. Grab a brewski
A visit to the Samuel Adams Brewery is served with a side of history. You’ll smell the hops and experience the brewing process firsthand, but you’ll also learn about Samuel Adams himself. The tour and tasting are both free of charge, although a small $2 donation to a local charity is suggested.
10. Walk the Freedom Trail
Follow the red brick line through Boston on a self-guided tour, which includes 16 historic sites and more than 250 years of history. The walk can be completed in about three hours, but it’s easy to spend an entire day wandering in and out of the stops along the way. If walking isn’t your thing, hop on a (paid) unofficial trolley tour. Either way, it’s the best way to immerse yourself in the city’s remarkable history.
Guest post by Catherine Monroy
As the saying goes, “Italians are happy French.” This summer, after a hard year, I longed for happiness and and I thought I could kill two birds with one stone as my son is learning Italian and needed to improve his skills.
It all started with a wonderful home exchange with an Italian family in Alberobello, a city in Puglia listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its archaic houses called trulli. Just the beauty of these unique homes, where it is never hot in the summer nor cold in the winter, is a trip in itself. The inner yard was so beautiful; its lemon tree, the giant gardenia giving a captivating perfume, my favourite! And the grapes on the vine that, incredibly, tasted like wild strawberry. And this feeling of absolute serenity. Inside the trullo, all had been thought of with great care and great taste by my hosts. Michele and Loredana had restored the old furnace and the inner shutters. The Italian style pervaded every detail.
After this great week, I needed to organise another one further south. I tried to book an exchange on the Ionian coast because my dear friend Giulio Pianese, from Milano, boasted about the incredible crystal waters. I contacted Cristina in Maruggio and she was sorry to tell us the house was not available because her son and daughter-in-law were to be here. She suggested I contact a friend of hers named Giulia, near Ostuni, who owned a very nice trullo. Giulia told me that there was only one possible non-simultaneous exchange in June. She sent me two pictures that looked enticing. I said yes, of course! But to tell you the truth, I was afraid to be disappointed after Alberobello.
And there we arrived in this olive plantation in the middle of nowhere, with just an amazing view from the beautiful swimming pool overlooking the countryside. The house was very stylish. Giulia, very gently, suggested we come to her husband’s son’s 25th birthday party where Cristina, the friend who introduced us, would be present too. It was a magic evening.
Italians have this incredible gift of making you feel part of their family. We learnt how to make our own pizza and prepare the oven, and everybody shared its creation. Mine was not excellent, I am afraid! Laura, Cristina’s daughter-in-law, fascinated my children by teaching them about Garibaldi and their favorite pizza, the margherita made for queen Marguerite. Laura’s husband, a geologist specialising in plate tectonic motions, fascinated them too.
At the end of the party, we were no longer tourists but friends, and Christina invited us to pass by their house in Maruggio although it would be a bit of camping in the studio for the three of us. But we could not miss the village feast where they celebrate the flavors of Italy. In this little town, everybody had a speciality and you had to queue to be able to taste them. And we all gathered on the deck on the top of the house overlooking the church to eat. We had political talks about divorce in Italy, the participative democracy, and I learnt about the wonderful city of Trento that started to live again, reborn from the ashes…
And then on the advice of our hosts, we left for the Sassi of Matera, an incredible troglodyte city (also a UNESCO world Heritage site). If I ever get married again (but not to an Italian, advised the a shopkeeper where I bought a swimming costume), that is the place.
This trip in Italy was a moveable feast. We captured not only beautiful images, but also the spirit of Italy.
About the author
Catherine Monroy, 51, lives in Paris, with her 14 year old twins, Alice and Benjamin and their beloved cat, Melchior. She started her career as a journalist, and was a correspondent for French dailies, Le Figaro, in Budapest and Le Monde in Prague. She is now a writer and a TV script writer. Recently she published « Anglais, nos ennemis de toujours » (The English our enemies forever) relating to the sweet and sour relationship between the French and the British since the battle of Hastings, 1066. She keeps a blog in English about all you wanted to know about the French without daring to ask: Catherine’s diary, thoughts of a true Parisian.
Being a HomeExchange.com member is valuable in many ways. Of course there are the obvious benefits of saving money on travel and having a larger living space, a kitchen, a washing machine…everything you’d expect in a home! But swapping homes is also a learning experience, and the unique lessons it teaches shouldn’t be overlooked.
1. People are trustworthy.
In this day and age, it’s easy to become jaded about the other humans with whom we share the planet. However, home exchangers tend to have a different outlook. Because we stay in each other’s homes, there is a mutual trust that occurs. I trust that you will take care of my home, because I know that I will take care of yours. Sure, exchanging can be a leap of faith, but you learn to put that faith into your exchange partner.
2. Children are incredibly adaptable.
We hear stories all the time about how children are reluctant at first to have another kid stay in their room, but quickly learn that sharing with a new friend is an amazing opportunity (different toys and games certainly sweeten the deal!) Home exchanging is also a great way to teach a child about being respectful of someone else’s property.
3. Authenticity is important.
The experiences you’ll have when staying at a hotel vs. swapping homes are inherently different. While more traditional accommodations tend to send you down a more touristy path, home exchanging comes along with the added bonus of your own personal, local tour guide. Home exchangers are always thrilled to share their recommendations and local secrets – most of which you would never have learned from a guide book.
4. Experiences are better than things.
Exchanging homes means living like a local. And when you have that mindset, you realize that postcards, keychains, and t-shirts aren’t nearly as important as the memories you make and the experiences you share. Of course, it’s always nice to return home with a souvenir, but you may find that your photos and travel diary are the only souvenirs you need.
5. Sharing is the future.
People have been sharing as far back as history has been recorded, but it’s only now that the Sharing Economy is truly taking off. The internet has made it easier than ever before to participate in Collaborative Consumption, and once you participate in a shared workspace, home swap, farm share, or clothing trade, you’ll understand why sharing is better, and more sustainable, than traditional commerce. After all: why buy when you can share?
What has swapping homes taught you? Tell us in the comments!
A version of this post originally appeared on the Near Me blog.
Tanya, our representative for Norway, shares the inside scoop on the country she calls home.
How to say hello:
How to say goodbye:
Ha det bra
How to say thank you:
Norwegian crowns (kroner) or NOK
Favorite national foods:
Voted #1 in the nation is Fårikål (lamb and cabbage, with peppercorn seasoning). I prefer Norwegian seafood, which is the best in the world!
Best month(s) to visit:
July and August are best as the days are long and warm with the midnight sun.
Best way to get around:
Nationally: train and Hurtigrute, which is a coastal cruise ship. In cities: bicycle, bus, tram, and subway.
Friends koser each other: press right cheeks together in an embrace. Some kiss each other’s cheeks. When meeting new people we often shake hands, but usually avoid other bodily contact like hugs. Older Norwegians are fairly reserved.
A novel to read, film to watch, or song to listen to learn more about Norway:
For kids, watching the Disney movie “Frozen” or hilarious “Trollhunter” and reading any Grimm fairy tales will give them a good introduction.
For adults: “Blind,” “Kautokeino Rebellion” or “Troubled Water” are good movies. The modern books “Shame” by Bergljot Hobæk Haff and any books by Jo Nesbø about the detective Harry Hole are recommended, or read classics by Sigrid Undset, Camilla Collett, Henrik Ibsen, and Knut Hamsun.
Music: Classical compositions by Grieg or rock by Big Bang (there are many good Norwegian bands but most don’t sing in English. For laughs check out anything by Ylvis on YouTube (especially “The Cabin” which describes Norwegian cabin culture perfectly).
Local websites for discounts:
The best kept secret about Norway:
There are thousands of kilometers of completely free, prepared, well-lit cross-country tracks around the country, with warming huts supplying food, drink and saunas!
The most unique thing about Norway:
The nature, especially fjords where the mountains meet the ocean.
Common misconceptions about Norway:
Foreigners think Norwegians are cold and distant, but the key is to smile and say “Hi” even if some people just look at you and don’t answer. Some are friendlier than others. There is an outdated unspoken rule that you don’t greet people you don’t know, but Norwegians like to help tourists! Norway has a reputation for having bad, expensive food but this has changed and good food is everywhere now.
The best free activities:
In Oslo: free movies and concerts outdoors in the summertime and at the rock club Rockefeller. Everywhere: Fishing in the sea (lake and river fishing requires a paid permit), and free entrance to many museums. Check out the websites visitnorway.com and visitoslo.com!
Odds and ends:
Alcohol and tobacco (in all forms) are regulated and taxed and are very expensive. Buying a bottle in the tax-free and leaving it for your host will ensure you great popularity, but don’t ever drink and drive!
There are countless classes, books, articles, and people that will claim they can teach you how to assimilate into a culture. However, I’ve found that the best way to learn is to just go and experience it first hand. These are my top 5 tips for adapting to and learning a new culture once you’re there!
1. Be Neutral. In order to truly learn a culture, you have to shed any prior bias or judgments you might be bringing to the table. This can be one of the hardest things to do, since often we are unaware of our perceptions and tendencies. The best thing to do is not judge. Anytime you catch yourself thinking negatively about the way people act, the things they eat, their values, etc. just take a step back and consider how differently everyone sees the world. There is no right or wrong, just different ways of living life.
2. Roll your Rs. In other words, learn the language. If you are traveling anywhere, chances are that the native language where you’re staying is not going to be English. Take the time to learn the language, and show people you are interested in their culture. Even if you sound completely foolish, if you make a genuine effort to speak their language, people will be happy knowing that you appreciate it. Plus, it can be pretty endearing – like when you’re trying to roll your Rs while speaking Spanish to your new friends in Barcelona.
3. Make Friends. This is without a doubt the best way to learn about a culture. Get to know the people who actually live there, don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and introduce yourself. When was the last time you ever were annoyed with someone trying to learn more about you or where you came from? People are more than willing to tell you about their lives and teach you about their culture, so just talk to them!
4. Be Uncomfortable. There are going to be things that you are not used to, but instead of avoiding new experiences you should embrace them. It’s okay to be uncomfortable; in fact it is one of the best things that you can ever do. Maybe the thought of eating a worm makes you feel a bit sick to your stomach, but when you’re in Namibia and they offer it to you as a gift because it’s one of their countries dishes – you eat that worm with a smile. When you face uncertainties head on, you learn how well you really can adapt to and learn a new culture.
5. Above all, be curious. You have to want to learn about another culture, or you never will. Watch people, marvel at the simplest things that are new to you. Embrace new lifestyles and culture with wonder and curiosity, and you will find that you are learning things and shifting your perspective without even knowing it.
About the author
Sarah is the owner of The Travel Project, a blog dedicated to providing budget trips and travel tips. Due to her extensive travel experience, Sarah has developed the skills to plan extremely cheap and authentic trips that she is now sharing daily for anyone to take. She hopes to create a more tolerant and positive world by making travel more attainable to others. At only 22, Sarah has already been to over 42 countries and 108 cities. She began her own personal travel journey when she left home at 16 to sail around the world. Her experiences fueled what has become a lifelong commitment to travel.