Guest post by Sofie Couwenbergh

Learning how to ski isn’t just for kids. At aged 27 I strapped on skis for the first time, took a lesson, and descended the family slope only an hour later. I’d never gone skiing before because of my fear of heights, and although that fear was still there that first day in the ski resort, I was pretty calm because I had come prepared. Here are a few things you can do to help prepare for your first ski trip. Read More

car swapping

Car swapping is a wonderful way to get even more out of your next home exchange. Car rentals can be costly and complicated, and having a car waiting for you at your exchange home is delightfully simple. Of course, there are questions that come along with the possibility of having someone else driving your car for an extended period. Here to help are the answers to some of the top questions we receive about car exchanges.

Q: Do I need to insure my exchange partner to drive my car or will their own insurance cover them?

A: In the majority of cases, exchange partners are simply added to the host’s vehicle insurance, but since policies differ widely between people, companies, and countries, you’ll need to check with your insurance company.


Q: What happens if my exchange partner has an accident while driving my car?

A: During the planning stage of the exchange, you should each review the procedure for reporting an accident in the country you’ll be visiting, how to report an accident to the insurance company, and whether your partner would be responsible for a deductible in the event of an accident.


Q: Can we limit the number of miles driven during the exchange?

A: Yes, this can be agreed upon ahead of time using the vehicle exchange agreement document.


Q: Can anyone drive in the United States?   

A: If you are planning to drive in the USA, you will need to get an International Driving Permit.   An International Driving Permit is an official document translating the driving license that you have been issued in your own country, which you’ll need to obtain before you leave for your trip. When driving in the USA, you must carry both your International Driving Permit AND your license from your country.


Q: Should I do anything before the exchange to prepare my car?

A: Be sure that your vehicle’s maintenance is up to date and check all of the fluids and tire pressure. It’s also a good idea to clean the car inside and out before you leave for your trip, just like you would your home.

If you have additional questions about car swapping, our member support team is here to help!


Dreaming of the slopes but not sure which skiing destination is right for you? Take this ski quiz to find out where you should plan your next ski vacation!

Which destination did you get? Share your results in the comments below!

Porto, Portugal

How to say hello:


How to say goodbye:


How to say thank you:


Currency used:

Euro (EUR)

Portugal mountains

Favorite national foods:

Portugal offers a wealth of fresh fish and seafood to feast on – from clams, lobster, and sardines to tuna, swordfish, and bacalhau (salted cod), the national favorite. However, the Portuguese are also great meat eaters, and they are justifiably proud of such dishes as roast goat and suckling pig.


The best time of year to visit Portugal:

The coastal regions can be very rainy in winter, and although temperatures don’t drop that low, it often feels very cold. In the mountainous north it’s not uncommon for snow to fall on higher ground.

The Algarve is an excellent year-round destination (although it lies on the Atlantic, it’s protected from the winds by the inland hills), with hot summers and mild winters. Other coastal areas generally have warm to hot summers, with either balmy or windy evenings. Inland areas throughout the country are subject to more extreme conditions, with colder winters and hotter summers. Madeira enjoys a more temperate climate, but the Azores are susceptible to winter storms.


The best way to get around:

A private vehicle is necessary to explore much of the country beyond major cities and main tourist zones. Portugal’s mainland rail network is inexpensive, fast, and modern on busy lines such as Lisbon-Oporto and Lisbon-Faro, but slower on provincial lines. Keep in mind that the provincial rail system is not very extensive, and many railway stations are located some distance away from the towns and villages they serve.

Cycle tourism is gaining popularity all over the country. A designated cycle route in the Algarve connects Vila Real de Santo António in the east with Sagres in the west. Hikers fare even better, since Portugal enjoys an extensive network of tracks, trail and footpaths.

Portugal Lisbon

Local customs:

Although English is more widely spoken in Portugal than in neighboring Spain, the Portuguese appreciate visitors’ efforts, however small, to communicate in their language. A simple bom dia (good morning) or boa tarde (good afternoon) can work wonders. Portuguese also retains some oldfashioned modes of address that foreigners might perceive as overly formal, including o senhor and a senhora where English uses “you.” This contrasts with the informality of cheek kisses, used in most situations except formal and business introductions. Men tend to shake hands.


Local websites for discounts:

Portal Cinema, Economias


Lesser known towns or villages to visit:

National Park Peneda do Gerêz: About 700 square kilometers (270 square miles) of breathtaking scenery, from high peaks to wooded valleys, a wide variety of fauna and flora, remote villages, and calm rivers where you can enjoy water sports. There are wild horses and unique medicinal plants.

Aveiro: Once a great seaport, this calm city is known as our Portuguese Venice. It’s a very special town with its water channels lined by Art Nouveau houses, a great city to walk around visit and soak up its charm.

Óbidos: Perhaps the most visited historic site outside of Lisbon in Portugal, this charming walled medieval fortress city with its narrow, winding cobbled streets, quaint whitewashed cottages surrounded by colourful bougainvilleas and geraniums is the perfect living, working museum town.

Marvão: A world heritage candidate. From the castle in Marvão, spectacularly set on an escarpment facing Serra de São Mamede and Spain, splendid views can be enjoyed over the fertile plains. This small and tranquil medieval town is completely enclosed by walls, with whitewashed houses blending into the granite of the mountains.


The best kept secret about Portugal:

Ria Formosa. In Algarve, discover the Natural Park of the Ria in a boat tour with several stops in deserted beaches and in fishing villages on the barrier-islands. The Ria Formosa, a designated Important Bird Area, is a paradise for birdwatchers. This is one of the most important areas for aquatic birds in Portugal, hosting on a regular basis more than 20,000 birds during the wintering period. You can also spot dolphins along the Algarve coast.

Portugal Vineyard

The most unique thing about Portugal:

In September and October, the verdant Douro Valley, considered the oldest demarcated wine region in the entire world, offers the opportunity to be part of the wine harvest, complete with grape stomping and parties. Along the hillsides and through the vineyards, men will carry grape-gathering baskets on their backs, while the women chant traditional songs.


Common misconceptions about Portugal:

So, foreigners usually think two wrong things about Portugal: 1. That it’s part of Spain*, and 2. It’s a country made up almost entirely of beaches.

*Ok, we were part of Spain between 1580 and 1640!


Portugal’s best free activities:

We have more castles per capita than any other nation, and the vast majority are free to visit. Among the many free castles are the fortifications of Guimarães, Palmela, Lousã, Evora, Marvão, Castelo Bom, Penela, and Almeida.

Taste the diversity of Portuguese wines at the ViniPortugal Sala Ogival in Lisbon or Porto to sample fine wines offered by producers through their respective regional winegrowing commission’s wines – admission and tastings are free. Or explore the many Port Wine Lodges in Gaia, across the Douro River from Porto. Dozens of companies offer free tour and wine sampling with breathtaking views.

Admission to Portugal’s hundreds of city parks rich in heritage and monuments is free. Many public museums are also open at no charge on Sundays and holidays.


Photo credits: stevekeiretsu via photopin cc, Fr Antunes via photopin cc, Adam Tinworth via photopin cc


Winter is approaching and that means snow in the mountains. Many skiers and snowboarders plan that one ultimate trip during the season to enjoy the snow. Why not plan multiple ski vacations to the best destinations? Using will save you money and let you stretch your skiing budget. Here are 10 of the best ski destinations in the world to get your planning started!

1. Aspen Colorado, USA

homeexchange-ski-top10-aspen-680x350-progPhoto credit: Tony Prikryl

For many, Aspen is still the quintessential ski town that all other North American ski towns compare themselves to. There are four mountains located within easy reach, each offering different levels of terrain. Beginners will love Buttermilk with its innovative ski school and many green runs, while expert adrenaline seekers can attack Aspen Highlands — the locals’ favorite — with the steepest terrain.

After your fun filled adventure on the slopes, check out all the museums, art galleries, boutiques, coffeehouses and gourmet restaurants Aspen has to offer.

Read More

tartiflette and salad

Guest post by Caro Blackwell member and foodie Caro shares her recipe for authentic tartiflette. Just try to make it through this post without your mouth watering!

“We joined just over a year ago and have had many wonderful offers of beautiful places to visit all around the world. We will be taking our first exchange this Christmas and New Year with a lovely family from South Africa who want to come and discover the French Alps in the winter and enjoy some time on the slopes, skiing and enjoying the winter activities, the ambiance of a ski resort and local savoyard cuisine. The experience of organising our exchange through has been easy and pleasurable. I believe we find like-minded people on this site. The food of our region is centred around cheeses that come from this region and there are many traditional savoyard dishes that really must be tasted and enjoyed. The raclette, cheese fondue and the famous tartiflette made with the locally produced reblochon cheese.”

How to make Tartiflette

Tartiflette is probably one of the most popular dishes in the Savoie and Haute-Savoie regions. The main ingredient is Reblochon cheese from Haute-Savoie, France.

The word tartiflette is based on the local word tartifle (potatoes) and it is hard to go into a restaurant in this region and not find a variation of this dish on the menu. On a menu, tartiflette can also go by the name pela, which was the original name for this dish and was a gratin of potatoes, onions and cheese. The word pela was derived from the long-handled pan, or pelagic, in which it was made. Tartiflette in its modern-day form was made popular and promoted in the 1980s by Le Syndicat Interprofessionnel du Reblochon to increase the sales of Reblochon cheese in the region, although the dish was mentioned for the first time in a cookbook from 1705.

reblochon cheese

Visitors to the Savoie regions first heard of the tartiflette when it started appearing on menus in the mountains and at the ski resorts, thus conveying an image of ‘comfort food’ and a warm, friendly authenticity. The ingredients of what is considered a traditional tartiflette would be potatoes, bacon lardons, onions, and Reblochon. I have had tartiflette here with wild mushrooms added, seafood and lobster, confit de canard (duck), even a tartiflette where the Reblochon has been replaced with goats cheese – Mon Dieu! Not sure what the locals would make of that!

Here is a recipe for a Tartiflette for 4 people, which is a combination of several recipes that I have found:


  • 1 kg Potatoes
  • 1 whole reblochon
  • 200g bacon lardons
  • 1 onion
  • 250ml of cream or creme fraiche
  • splash of milk


  1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into evenly sized pieces.
  2. Cook the bacon lardons, no need for any oil as they make enough of their own, then add the onions and soften but don’t brown. Then add the potatoes, cream, milk and season.
  3. Bring the mixture to the boil and allow to simmer for around 5 minutes, until the potatoes soften. Now tip everything into a large ovenproof dish.
  4. Cut the reblochon into slices – this can be done in a number of ways and is a matter of choice. Cut the reblochon in half horizontally and then into triangles and place over the top, or cut into slices and arrange on the top.
  5. Cook in a pre-heated oven at 180 or 160 for fan ovens for about 25 – 30 minutes until the potatoes are tender and cooked through.

Serve with a crunchy green salad, fresh french bread and a crisp dry white Savoie wine like Apremont or Crepy.


Variations on a theme…

I have made this recipe and added chopped garlic and thyme and sautéed with the bacon and onions. I have also substituted gnocchi for the potatoes, normally tossing them with the bacon and onion sauté mixture having added a large knob of butter. You could add a splash of wine to the bacon onion mixture at stage 2. For vegetarians you can substitute the bacon lardons for a mix of wild mushrooms sautéed in oil and butter with the onions.

About the Author

CaroCaro Blackwell is a member, professional photographer, and passionate about food. She is enjoying eating and photographing her way around the Haute Savoie and blogging about it at Taste of Savoie. Check out her listing: #436553

All photos ©Caro Blackwell 2013

10 Free Budapest EN

With enough architecture, history, and culture to keep most every traveler happy, Budapest is a fantastic destination. Check out our list of 10 free things to do in Budapest!

1. Cross the Danube

Walk across the Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lánchíd), the first permanent bridge over the Danube in Hungary. It connects Buda and Pest (the western and eastern sides of Budapest) and is a symbol of advancement and strength within the country.


2. Do some shopping

These days, Vaci street (Váci utca) caters predominantly to tourists, but take a stroll past the chain stores and you’ll arrive at the Great Market Hall, which was commissioned by the city’s first mayor.  Step inside and you’ll find an amazing variety of spices, produce, caviar… you get the picture.


3. Wander Buda Castle Hill

The castle at the center of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is, to put it mildly, gigantic. The palace was built in the 14th century, but today it’s home to the Budapest History Museum, the Hungarian National Gallery, and the National Library. You can easily spend a day (or more!) wandering the streets and grounds.


4. Visit a cave church

Gellért Hill Cave feels ancient (and the natural network of caverns most certainly is), but its entrance was actually constructed in the last 100 years. It’s an amazing sight to see, and has played many unique roles throughout history.


5. Grab a drink

Ruin bars started popping up around Budapest in the early 2000s and have become ubiquitous throughout the city. Part pop-up, part dive bar, these hangouts have been transformed from run-down buildings and unused outdoor spaces into lively spots to grab a beer (usually for under $2) and maybe even catch a concert.


6. Spend an afternoon on the island

If you’re yearning for some outdoor time, Margaret Island is the perfect place to spend an afternoon. With gardens, a tiny zoo, running track, and an open-air water park, you’re sure to have a fun-filled afternoon.


7. Hike the Buda Hills

Need even more fresh air? Head to the hills … the Buda Hills that is! Take the Children’s Railway (operated entirely by kids aged 10-14, except for the conductor) to the top, and take in the best view of the city.


8. Bust a move

Ready for a night out? Most clubs in Budapest have free admittance. You’ll find clubs with every kind of music imaginable, both indoor and out.


9. Catch a concert

The Palace of Arts houses a concert hall, theater, and museum, and hosts musical acts and performances of all kinds. Elvis Costello? Check! Opera? Check! Most of the performances are paid admission, but you can check out the Colour Concerts series for free classical concerts.


10. Hit the suburbs

Hop on the suburban railway and in 45 minutes you’ll be in the picturesque town of Szentendre. Though small, the town is packed with art museums and galleries and makes for a wonderful day trip away from the capital.


Do you have something to add to our list? Tell us in the comments!

My first ski instructor
Guest post by Erick Prince,

Skiing is not only a very popular sport internationally but one of the best leisure activities today. Since its recreational inception in 1849, skiing has remained the premiere winter activity for people from all walks of life. Here are some of the benefits to learning how to ski now!

Increase Your Health and Fitness Levels

My first time skiing was outside Santiago, Chile, high in the Andes mountains. Although I’m in reasonably good shape, nothing could prepare me for the physical endurance needed to ski at 10,000 feet above sea level. Skiing will give your muscles one of the best workouts of your life, particularly in your legs and core area. Not to mention cardio! An added health benefit is that the high rate of endorphins released leads to better blood circulation and heart health. No matter what your health situation, skiing will definitely be able to accommodate you.

Join a Welcoming Community

The ski community is one of camaraderie and acceptance. Whatever your age, race, sex, or aptitude, you’ll be welcomed with open arms, and you’ll often find yourself speaking with people from all over the world. For example, many ski enthusiasts visit South America to ski during the northern hemisphere’s summer months. Everyone tends to be very friendly and helpful, especially to new skiers.

Portillo Mountain and frozen lake

See Stunning Landscapes

Ski resorts and lodges are largely located in some of the most pristine areas of the world. The Andes, Colorado Rockies, the Rhône-Alps… the list goes on and on. Nature enthusiasts will love not only the scenery but the nature and wilderness surrounding the lodges and slopes. If you decide to participate in cross country skiing, you’ll be privileged to see the untouched nature and landscapes on a grand scale.

It’s Just Plain Fun

This sport reminds you how fun it is to fall, and when learning to ski you’ll definitely fall… a lot. No matter how good you are, you’ll eventually take a tumble. But you get back up, strap the skis back on, and give it another go, just the same as we did as children. Skiing takes us all back to when the best part of your day was jumping into some freshly fallen snow.

Children Playing in Snow at Ski Resort

It Can Be Very Affordable

I know what you might be thinking: skiing is only for the wealthy. Well that couldn’t be further from the truth. All over the world there are five-star ski resorts that cater to the rich and famous. But not too far away, and frequently sharing the same snow, are more affordable options. With a bit of searching you can find amazing deals, especially right before and after high seasons when the resorts are far less crowded. And of course, you can always find free ski accommodations on!