People vacation in different ways. Many tourists like cookie-cutter hotels and predictable plans. Their main goal is to hit every attraction they’re “supposed” to see. Travelers, on the other hand, want to experience the everyday life and culture of the places they visit. The sites are fascinating, but not nearly as much as the experience of immersing themselves in an unfamiliar town. Home Exchange offers opportunities for the open-minded traveler to live like a local and participate in activities outside the pages of a guidebook.
We woke up in the home exchange I’d arranged in an apartment on Piazza al Volo in Venice, Italy. In the square, the local produce vendors had already set up their stands, offering the fresh vegetables we would cook for our dinner that night. My husband, niece and I walked down the three flights of stairs (old-world European style) and wandered to the fish vendor floating in a gondola in the nearby canal. Buying fresh and cooking at home is the daily routine here and one of the great benefits of home exchange. It was cost effective, relaxing and fun to use our host’s cookbook to create our own authentic Italian meal.
In New Zealand, my husband and I traveled the windy scenic road around the Coromandel Peninsula. We had been told that morning that it was a must see, but I hadn’t worked it into our itinerary of 12 exchanges and hospitality stays over our 6 week trip. From our host’s Auckland home I sent out inquiries to the five listings in our target destination saying it was the “most last-minute request” they’d ever receive. Two hours later we stopped at a visitor’s center at the base of the peninsula to check emails. Mary and Anton were delighted to host as home exchangers for free at their B & B in Tairua on Paku Hill with a 180° view over the Bay of Plenty. While staying with them we had car troubles. They helped us to the mechanic who said it would take two days to get the parts. “No worries,” they said, “you’re welcome to stay.” That night we went with them to the local low-key country club where everyone in the community came to participate in open-mic night. I strummed the borrowed six-strings and sang a few songs with my impromptu band of locals. Their weekly ritual became our delightful surprise.
My husband and I had a large home for the two of us on Lago Llanquihue near Puerto Montt, Chile. While out walking, we met the next-door neighbor in this sparse area, who was heading out fishing. He dropped by later in the day and showed us the huge salmon he had caught. He came back with expertly cut salmon steaks that we cooked up together. He brought spices and taught us how to use the special flavors of his region. The next day as we prepared to leave, he dropped by with some home-made salmon jerky for us to take on the road.
Viviane and Sylvio from Switzerland stayed with us several times while taking dance lessons at a nearby studio. Eight years later we headed to their hometown of Bern. Viviane’s parents, Julia & Heinz, were gracious hosts who not only put us up and took us on a walking tour of their city, but also allowed us the use of their family chalet in Kandersteg. While staying with them, Heinz showed us how to make Zopf, Bern’s traditional braided bread. He paired it with Tete de Moine cheese florets made with a round cheese cutter. We loved it so much we came home with our own cheese cutter for decorating our party tables.
A home exchanger whom we affectionately named “Hippy Dave” and his lovely wife Shami hosted us at their home on Lake Rotorua, in the thermal center of New Zealand’s north island. Dave had a small motor boat which he hitched to the back of his pick-up truck. An hour’s drive later we arrived at a smaller lake. We put in and glided through the pristine waters to the far end in search of a small thermal spring in the forest. We asked fellow boaters who directed us to a tiny cove. We walked the narrow wooded path for about 10 minutes until we reached the secret jewel: a thermal pool which had hot water flowing in and out, a gravel floor and a small wooden bench next to a tree that bent perfectly to supply nature’s towel rack. Hippy Dave and Shami shared with us a beautiful and peaceful spot to “take the waters” outside of the bustling city spa setting.
For us, living like a local is seeing each new place through the eyes of a person who regularly lives there. We love delving into the everyday culture through unanticipated interactions and experiences. The kindness, warmth and generosity of our Home Exchange community allow us to be citizens of the world.
~ Elyse, USA (HomeExchnage Member since 2005)
Elyse Ortiz is a world traveler, having made over 60 exchanges while visiting 36 countries on six continents. It’s her passion to bring the world together as one community and break down barriers of perceived differences between people by celebrating their similarities of spirit. Check out her beautiful and central Condo in Los Angeles.