HomeExchange.com, as we all know, opens up new horizons. It turns you from a tourist into a traveler. You have more of the inside track on life in whatever city, village, town, far-flung field than anyone who’s booked themselves into a hotel. It’s also very affordable. Free in fact.
So it gets you thinking. Why spend a lot of money on all other aspects of traveling life if you don’t have to? Why not take this whole notion of ‘living like a local’ a bit further and enjoy it more for a whole lot less?
Be flexible – a flight to Paris or Rome might be out of your reach on a Saturday but perfectly possible on a Wednesday. Keep your options open. Make adjustments along the way and keep an eye on flights. There can be as much as £100 or ($166) difference from one day to the next.
Eat with the locals. Yes, go ahead and buy a good food guide. Then keep it for laughs. Instead, wander around your area, check out restaurants and who the customers are, and follow the locals. The food will be good, but so will the prices. People who eat in their neighbourhood restaurants and bistros do so because it’s good value. Talk to fellow diners if you get a chance and they will fall over themselves to tell you about an even better, even cheaper restaurant that they would also recommend. Triple whammy: good food, a bill that doesn’t make your eyes water, and new friends.
Look out for deals on the internet or get yourself on the contact list of travel companies you know and trust. I go to Australia as often as I can to see my daughter and her family, and I am on the Flight Centre list, which is a global company. Every now and then flights come up on special last minute deals of around £500 ($830). It’s the same airline, same flight, and same seat as any other economy passenger, just several hundred pounds or dollars less.
Not all travel is by air. In fact, I try to avoid planes if I can and go by train, coach, boat, or car. I have always considered flying over somewhere as literally skimming the surface; great for an overview, but if you want to get to know a place you must smell it, walk on its streets or through its fields. Take time to stop and stare. Slow travel is always more rewarding and it is also often (not always) cheaper.
Obviously, once you’ve arrived at your chosen location take public transport when available. It’s not only much cheaper, it gives you an instant taste of your surroundings and the people who are going to be your neighbours for the next few weeks. At Gare du Nord in Paris, my husband and I were whisked off by a new best friend from the train to our home exchange in the Bois de Boulogne. French waiters may be the snootiest in the world, but ordinary French people can be the kindest and most helpful imaginable.
Buy in markets. They’re everywhere these days, in every major city of the world and plenty of smaller towns and villages. Often they only appear on special days of the week, but it’s not hard to find when that is.
In Italy, markets are great for underwear, sweaters, T-shirts, and hats. You can also find good leather belts and handbags (just avoid the ones that pronounce themselves to be by Dior or Gucci but at a fraction of the cost). Better to look out for well-made, attractive goods that pretend to be no more than what they are.
Of course some markets are the expensive option, selling rustic looking honey or cheese or bread at prices way above the local supermarket. But you’re paying for atmosphere and charm and a bit of local banter alongside the actual goods, so factor those into your calculation, too. In fact, if you consider how much fun you’re having, how many locals you’re meeting and how your travel bills feel considerably lighter you’ll be laughing. And who’d blame you?
Sandra has been a freelance broadcaster, journalist and writer all her working life. She has reported on TV for Thames Television, London, presented on radio for the British Broadcasting Corporation and has written for The Sunday Times, You Magazine, Punch, Times 2, She Magazine and High Life where she became commissioning editor. Later she became editor of Business Life and created the highly successful sister magazine to High Life for British Airways Club World and Frequent Flyers. She became an enthusiastic home exchanger after writing an article about it for the British national daily newspaper, The Guardian when she interviewed Ed Kushins, the founder of Homeexchange.com. Since then she has traveled to Rome, Sicily, California, Melbourne, Perth, Morocco and Venice, writing about her adventures not only for various glossy magazines, but for HomeExchange.com. Sandra has been married to Jafar Ramini for 40 years and has three adult children and four grandchildren.