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Welcome to Community Corner, a monthly update on what’s happening in the world of HomeExchange.com! This month: a half marathon in Denmark and meetups around the globe.

Anna, our PR pro in Denmark, joined more than 11,000 other runners participating in the Foreningen Cancerramte Børn (Association of Cancer-Affected Children) half marathon. Often, children being treated for cancer have compromised immune systems and can’t go to school, parties, or other places where their risk of infection is high. The organization supports the patients and their families by organizing safe and healthy trips, events, and parties to help make life just a little easier and more fun. HomeExchange.com was a proud sponsor of  the event.

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Our Italian representative, Cristina, organized a meetup that was generously hosted by HomeExchange.com member Silvia in her world-renowned winery, MonteDelFra. Current and prospective HomeExchange.com members from all over Italy gathered in the wine cellar to exchange stories, information, and to enjoy a tasting. Everyone spent the night at a nearby farmhouse and had a behind the scenes tour of the vineyard the next day. We’re feeling just a little jealous here in the States!

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In keeping with HomeExchange.com’s love of sharing, more than 30 members gathered in Madrid’s El Retiro Park for a potluck picnic. Everyone shared food and drinks, swapped stories, and had a wonderful afternoon.

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Major cities are indisputably great. They offer culture, a variety of food, and wonderful experiences. But sometimes, the best way to really live like a local is to leave the big city and hit the suburbs. Check out some of our favorite benefits of staying in the ‘burbs.

1. Free parking. You’ll usually find pretty good public transportation in major cities (with Los Angeles being a notorious exception), but what if you want to explore other areas? You’re much likelier to score a car exchange outside of the city, and you’ll be able to drive home at the end of the day knowing there’s a spot waiting for it.

2. Peace and quiet. The hustle and bustle of a metropolitan area certainly has its appeal, but it’s usually far from relaxing. Head to the suburbs and you might even hear the birds chirping.

3. Space to spread out. It’s well known that most of the living spaces in cities like New York and London are teeny tiny. If you’re traveling alone or with a significant other, this can add a certain kind of intimacy. But if you’re traveling with a larger group, especially one that includes children, the extra space offered by a house can be a sanity saver.

4. Green space. Big cities generally have some lovely public parks, but what about a lawn, or even a pool, of your own? Outdoor space is especially useful if you’re caring for a dog while you’re on your exchange; late night walks in the rain lose their romantic appeal when you also have to clean up after a furry companion.

5. More variety. Yes, you could spend a week exploring Los Angeles. But if you stay in Orange County instead, you’ll have easy access to LA and San Diego. If you can position yourself between more than one major destination, it’s like two vacations in one. Of course, you might find yourself so enamored by the local scenery that you never even make it to the big city.

Ready to exchange to the suburbs?

Time to widen your search radius! It’s easy using the map search feature on HomeExchange.com.

Step 1: Search for your destination city. In the example here, we chose Seattle, Washington.Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 7.04.12 PM


Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 7.05.33 PMStep 2: Check your settings. Make sure that “Adjust the search results as I move the map” is selected, then click “Expand Map” for a better view.


Step 3: Zoom out. Click the “-” button once or twice, and see what pops up!Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 7.06.32 PM

Have you ever exchanged in the suburbs? Tell us about it in the comments!

You might think that home exchanging is a new concept, but did you know that HomeExchange.com has been around since 1992? Check out this quick history of home swapping!

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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.

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Make a budget for your travel expenses

Include how much you can spend for flights and skis passes, but remember with a ski exchange you will save all the money you would otherwise have to shell out for accommodations. With a home exchange, you may even be able to save more by doing a car swap, or by borrowing sports equipment. In fact, many people who have a home near a ski area often have season passes you might even be able to borrow, so you might not have to pay for lift tickets!

Look for a swap that corresponds to your offer

If your home is just average or not located near a desirable travel destination, don’t despair. Many people who have homes near ski areas would still like to get away from their usual scene. On the other hand, don’t automatically expect to swap to an exclusive chalet at Park City or Banff. Your odds will be better if you look for a less-known ski area, or for a simple cabin. These may be smaller but can offer all you need, and are often in less expensive or touristy locations.

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Make an enticing offer and send it to the profiles who match

Keep your offer simple with a few alternative swap dates. Focus on the best things about your home and location. You can always sweeten the deal by offering a car swap, baby equipment, sports club passes, a ride from the airport… be generous and creative! Remember that a ski swap will always beat staying in a hotel, so do your best to make it happen ahead of time and it will.

Do you have tips for a great ski exchange? Tell us in the comments!

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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.

1. Maastricht, Netherlands

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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.

 

2. Durango, Colorado, USA

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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.

 

3. Ghent, Belgium

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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.

 

4. The San Juan Islands, Washington, USA

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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.

 

5. Lake Balaton, Hungary

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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

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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.

 

7. Adelaide, Australia

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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.

 

8. Kotor, Montenegro

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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.

 

9: Taos, New Mexico

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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.

 

10. Antigua, Guatemala

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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!

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Looking for a dose of American history? Look no further than Boston, Massachusetts.

1. Make way for ducklings

Violet feeds the mama duck statue.photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via photopin cc


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

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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

Newbury Streetphoto credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism via photopin cc


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

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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”

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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

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“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

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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

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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

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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

Freedom Trailphoto credit: Maxim Melnikov via photopin cc


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.

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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.

The trulli with cabalistic signs in Alberollo

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…

At Gulia's near Ostuni, the amazing view over the olive tree plantationAnd 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

CatherineCatherine 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.