It’s back to school time for much of the planet, so we’ve put together a list of things you can learn to help make the most of your world. Step out of your comfort zone and into the classroom – even if you don’t leave your house!

1. Dance

dancephoto credit: redbuildinggroup via photopin cc

From the Argentine tango to the Viennese waltz, there are dance styles from all around the world. Dance is a great way to get in touch with different cultures, elevate your mood, and sneak in some exercise, too!

2. A new language

language photo credit: Tim Green aka atoach via photopin cc

There are about 6,500 languages spoken in the world today, and while chances are you won’t need to bust out your Belarusian anytime soon, it’s a great idea to polish up your basics. English, Spanish, French, Mandarin, and German will help you communicate in nearly every corner of the globe.

3. A musical instrument

Instrument photo credit: minipixel via photopin cc

So you never mastered the recorder back in elementary school. That’s ok! There’s an instrument out there for everyone. Head to your local music store and try every instrument you can. Who knows, you might discover your inner Mozart… or Led Zeppelin!

4. Arts and crafts

crafts photo credit: hello-julie via photopin cc

It’s been scientifically proven that working with your hands can lower stress and boost brain function. The list of crafts to learn is nearly endless, but to get you started, how about knitting, calligraphy, woodworking, or painting?

5. Cooking

cooking photo credit: kaktuslampan via photopin cc

Some people are just not at home in the kitchen. Even if you’re one of them, you can absolutely master some basic dishes. Make it your mission to cook the perfect grilled cheese, or expand your skills by learning some advanced techniques from around the world.

6. Mixology

mixology photo credit: esimpraim via photopin cc

That grilled cheese is going to need the perfect cocktail pairing! Learn the art of the perfect Moscow mule or work on your own signature drink.

7. Books and literature

reading photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

If you’re reading this post, you obviously already know how to read. But in this digital world, we can sometimes forget how great it feels to pick up a book. If you’re already an avid reader, try tackling a different genre or a classic that you’ve been meaning to dive into.

8. First aid

first aid photo credit: ydhsu via photopin cc

Most of us took the requisite CPR class in high school, but how much do you remember? Sharpen your first aid skills and you’ll always be prepared in case of emergency.

9. Photography

photography photo credit: Alan Bell via photopin cc

Even if your camera is your iPhone, you can improve your photography techniques. There are countless tutorials on the web with tips and tricks for taking the best possible photos no matter what equipment you’re working with (extra useful for snapping some great listing photos!)

10. Travel planning

travel planning photo credit: WanderingtheWorld (www.ChrisFord.com) via photopin cc

Ever notice how some people seem to just do more when they travel? That’s no coincidence; trip planning is a skill that has to be learned like any other. Put together some dream itineraries and you’ll be ready for your next home exchange in no time!   Learning resources: Brit + Co, Skillshare, Khan Academy, Duolingo


Getting away without spending a bundle can be difficult. We did a bit of research for you to find ways to spend less than $1,000/€750 on your next vacation. You don’t need to couch surf or beg a relative to let you sleep in their guest bedroom. Get away from having to see your friends or relatives in their pajamas!

Start by exchanging your home using HomeExchange.com. Then use one or all of these tips to ensure you get the most out of your vacation budget.

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Meet Alan and Peggy, HomeExchange.com members and owners of Acme Cafe in Vancouver, Canada and try your hand at a recipe from their restaurant!

“We have done two home exchanges… we really can’t pick a favourite! They were very different experiences: one an apartment in New York City and the other a house in Berkeley, California. When we travel, we seek out restaurants that are similar to our own because we like to know what comparable restaurants are doing for comparable prices; it’s hard to turn off the inner restaurateur! We always come back from travel with new ideas of things to cook and inspired by food and service we had. The local farmers market recommended by our exchange family in Berkeley gave us our best meal in San Francisco, and our kids fell in love with chocolate babka in New York. If exchangers come during our spring break, the entire street is a canopy of cherry blossoms from the 40-year-old trees that line our boulevard. It’s beautiful!

We started doing home exchanges to make family travel affordable, but have been pleasantly surprised to find so much more than that; home exchanges are the best of the best if you like to travel off the beaten path and see how the locals live.”

Pumpkin Harvest Cake with Bourbon Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Yield: One 3-layer cake


For the cake:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (not extra virgin)
  • 1 cup milk

For the frosting:

  • 12 oz. (1 1/2 packages) cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons Bourbon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 6 cups sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Grease 3, 8-inch round cake pans. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl mix flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl/stand mixer cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla, pumpkin and olive oil. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk.
  4. Divide batter evenly into prepared pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Remove pans from oven and immediately place in freezer for 45 minutes. This keeps the cake moist by immediately stopping the baking when you remove it from the oven.
  5. For the frosting: In a large bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in bourbon,vanilla and cinnamon. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high until the frosting is smooth.
  6. Assemble the 3 layers with a thick layer of frosting between each layer. Then apply a thin crumb coat on the top and sides. Pop back into the freezer to harden the crumb coat for about 10 minutes. Finish icing and chill.


Photo courtesy of Acme Cafe

Want to plan an around-the-world trip but feel intimidated by the actual planning part? Matteo Pennacchi and his company, Around the World Tours, are here to help! The company was founded to help travelers make their dreams of going global come true, and even offer a tour using HomeExchange.com and other Sharing Economy companies.

HomeExchange.com: A round-the-world tour using the sharing economy… how does it work?

Matteo Pennacchi: First, we define the flight itinerary. Then, we put the traveler in contact with the communities he’s interested in, depending on their presence in the selected countries.


How did you come up with this idea?

We organized the first Travel Massive event in here in Rome, and we understood that the sharing economy is a growing trend in the travel segment. We then simply adapted it, in an open way, to our RTW Tours.


What do you think are the advantages of using the sharing economy while travelling?

You get to know other travellers, you interact with local people, and you spend less money than traveling with a Tour Operator or in conventional accommodations.


How much money do travellers typically save on the lodging by using sharing economy companies such as HomeExchange.com during a round the world trip?

From a generic calculation, if you travel in the northern hemisphere, you can save between 40% to 70% on accommodation, transportation, and food.


Why would you recommend people to go on a round-the-world trip instead of doing a one month vacation in one destination?

Travelling to a destination and circumnavigating the planet are two different things. The first can be done every year, the second is a once in a lifetime experience which can be done – today – in a very easy and economic way. The tours are especially popular with students doing a gap year, honeymooners, and retirees.


Tell us your three favorite best-kept secrets in the world.

1. Circumnavigating the planet going east makes you save a day of life – like Mr. Fogg in Around the World in 80 days.

2. The Ark of the Covenant is in northern Ethiopia

3. My second round-the-world tour was with no money and no luggage, for the Guinness Book of World Records. Through this challenge, I realized that people in the world are much better than what the media leads us to believe.


photo credit: agroffman via photopin cc

Q: Do I have to swap my home with another of the same size/shape/type?

A: Only if you want to!

HomeExchange.com welcomes homes of all sizes and kinds, from studio apartments to sprawling villas, RVs, houseboats… if you can live in it, it’s probably a listing on our site! Our members swap lofts for estates, pied-à-terres for beach houses, and every other combination imaginable. Of course, who you swap with is entirely up to you. Although we encourage you to swap with all different kinds of homes, if you’re only comfortable in a house of equal size to yours, that’s just fine too – just keep in mind that the more selective you are, the longer it might take you to find your perfect exchange.

You should also remember that different locations have different kinds of homes; while you might find traditional houses in Southern California, you’ll be swapping for a flat in Paris. But these experiences are what make HomeExchange.com special. You aren’t just traveling, you’re truly living like a local.

You can read more about narrowing your search criteria here, and our awesome LiveChat team is always available to help!

Do you have a question about home exchanging? Ask us in the comments and we might feature it in our next FAQ post!

photo credit: conejoazul via photopin cc
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Of course you could travel to Paris, Barcelona, or Rome, but tucked away beyond the big cities are some truly beautiful destinations. To get you started, here are some of our favorite hidden villages in Europe.

Bornholm, Denmark

Denmarkphoto credit: Steenbergs via photopin cc

The island of Bornholm might not be a secret for Danes, but it’s new to many foreigners. It’s a popular summer getaway spot for locals, with a fantastic coastline, great opportunities for outdoor activities, and a rich history. You can also visit the tiny nearby isle of Christiansø, which served as a fortress during World War II. The island is home to just a few houses, but you’ll find an inn that our local representative says serves the very best smoked herring!


Gruyères, Switzerland

Switzerlandphoto credit: Jasper180969 via photopin cc

Gruyères is nestled in the foothills of the Alps, providing some truly lovely scenery. You’ve probably heard of its namesake cheese, but the village of Gruyères is also home to 800 years of history, a castle, and several museums – including the newer Tibet Museum, which houses over 300 works of sculpture, art, and artifacts from the Himalayas. And yes, you can learn all about the town’s traditional cheese-making heritage!


Castell’Arquato, Italy

Italyphoto credit: Wild About Travel via photopin cc

It seems like there’s no end to the beautiful little towns you can stumble upon in Italy, but Castell, with its perfectly preserved medieval architecture, stunning valley views, and traditional food will transport you back in time like no other. Be sure to visit the Praetorian Palace (now used as the town hall), built in 1293 and the church on the piazza, a striking example of Romanesque construction built in 1122.


Giethoorn, The Netherlands

Hollandphoto credit: jas_gd via photopin cc

The small village of Giethoorn was settled in the early 1200s, and its old fashioned spirit remains intact to this day. What makes Giethoorn especially unique is the lack of roads! Locals travel by foot or by boat, which gives this town the nickname “the Venice of the north.” If you don’t mind a little paddling, a visit to this unique village is the perfect way to slow down.


Hollókő, Hungary

Hungaryphoto credit: paula soler-moya via photopin cc

After the Mongol invasion of the 13th century, Hollókő castle was built to protect the area from future attacks. Control of the area was disputed for more than 150 years, and it wasn’t until 1683 that the village was abandoned and present-day Hollókő was built. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to just 387 residents, but you can visit the castle, church, and museums and take part in the town’s annual Easter celebration.


Saint-Suliac, France

Francephoto credit: Ebenezeer via photopin cc

The village of Saint-Suliac sits on the Rance Estuary. It’s a humble fishing port, but widely regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in all of France. You can take guided walking, bicycle, or kayak tours of the area, passing by wildflowers, granite cottages decorated with fishing nets, and the 12th century church.


Casares, Spain

Spainphoto credit: David G Mills via photopin cc

Located in southern Spain’s Andalusia region, this beautiful village is perfect photography destination; its buildings are all white. While this isn’t uncommon in Andalusia, many of the other “pueblos blancos” tend to cater more to tourists than locals. Casares has a relaxed, authentic atmosphere. Follow any of its narrow streets uphill and you’ll find breathtaking views.


Motovun, Croatia

Croatiaphoto credit: Randy Durrum via photopin cc

This tiny, hilltop village in Istria County is home to only 500 residents. Located away from the vibrant beach towns, Motovun is situated in the peaceful countryside. For a little more excitement, visit during the Motovun Film Festival, held annually in late July or early August. And don’t forget to try the truffles; these Istrian delicacies are coveted the world over.

Have you ever been to one of these hidden villages? Tell us about it in the comments!

photography by Albert Law : www.porkbellystudio.com

HomeExchange.com is thrilled to announce our partnership with EatWith, an amazing company offering the unique experience of dining in a home away from home.

“Until now, there were only two dining options: eat at home or eat at a restaurant,” explains Joel, EatWith’s global community manager. “EatWith has created a third dining category – the home restaurant, which is changing for the better the way people eat, travel, and make connections.”

As a HomeExchange.com member, you already know how to live like a local. EatWith takes that idea and runs with it…all the way to the kitchen.


EatWith’s hosts, who have all been personally vetted by a local EatWith representative, provide a wide variety of meals, from seasonal, farm-to-table fare to traditional meals from their heritage. Joel says his favorite meals always take place away from his home city, sharing delicious food with new friends. EatWith guests always find common ground, and often stay in contact long after events (just like exchange partners); some have even found romance around the dinner table!

We’ll be sharing more soon, but you can visit EatWith.com now and use the code “homeexchange14” for 20% off any EatWith event! It’s easy to find events near you or at your next exchange destination, and there’s no better way to meet locals, enjoy authentic food, and make some incredible memories.

The world is more delicious than you ever imagined!


Images courtesy of EatWith
cookies cream

Speakeasies first appeared during the United States prohibition era of the 1920s and largely faded away not long after, but if you look closely, you can still find hidden bars and restaurants all over the world. Here are five of our favorite secret restaurants – some are tricky to find, but all are totally worth the effort!

L’etage de Pastavino


If you didn’t know better, you wouldn’t look past La Bottega Pastavino, an ordinary Italian deli on a busy street in Paris’s Saint Germain district. But wander past the shelves and you’ll find a winding staircase leading to a cheerful upstairs dining room serving the freshest Italian meats, beautiful cheese, and delicious wine. Reservations recommended.

18 Rue de Buci 75006




Though it bills itself as “London’s worst kept secret,” this hidden speakeasy is still tricky to enter. You’ll find Barts at the far end of a block of vintage apartment buildings in Chelsea. Ring the bell and the barman will open up the peephole and decide if your party is worthy of entrance. If you’re among the chosen ones, you’ll be treated to shots served in teacups and rib-sticking comfort food like mac and cheese in an environment reminiscent of a curiosities shop.

87 Sloane Avenue, SW3 3DW


photo credit: Gandhu & Sarah via photopin cc



Williamsburg, Brooklyn

The only things you might find suspicious about this Japanese spot’s weathered wooden facade are its stylishly simple building numbers – 77. The restaurant offers an eight-course omkase (chef’s choice) menu alongside an a la carte option in a totally private environment. Your table is hidden behind a bamboo shade, and your waiter will only appear at the push of a button. Reservations are accepted for parties of 6 or more.

77 North 6th Street


Cookies Cream


Walk past the Westin Hotel and you’ll find a small, dark, dumpster-lined alley. You’ve come to the right place. Keep going, and you’ll discover a small door set into the concrete wall marked with a small sign. The search is more than worth the effort, for inside the dinner-only spot is some of the freshest and most creative vegetarian food you can find (think cheese dumplings, smoked veggies, and baked walnuts). Reservations accepted.

Behrenstrasse, 55 10117


Zingara Cucina

???, Melbourne

This ultra-secret dining experience prides itself on having no reputation whatsoever. In fact, it’s so elusive that some have speculated that it doesn’t even exist. Allegedly, Zingara operates only in the summer and both the location and menu change weekly. That is, of course, if you can get in. Reservations are by referral only and it can take months, if not years, to make it onto the list. Start planning now!


Have you ever been to a secret restaurant? Tell us your secret in the comments!


featured photo: silverman68 / Creative Commons via Flickr