One great challenge we as parents have to face every year is taking our kids on a family holiday in a nice place during the summer or Christmas time without breaking the bank. The moment that last school bell has tinkled, the holiday prices have taken off! Oh if you are a single parent your best hope is picnicking under a massive umbrella! Often the holiday deals based on 2 adults sharing seemed to me more like an incentive to stay together no-matter-what!
I remember the summer of 2013 when my ex-husband moved out. Left with my 3-year-old daughter, I was often dreaming of a nice holiday somewhere sunny. But how I could squeeze it in our already very tight budget? There are moments like this when rock bottom becomes the solid foundation for a new life because it is in the quietness of your own heart where insights are born.
Through a miracle, I came across an amazing group home exchangers. I was a little sceptical at first. But I’ve done my research and decided to join in. In less than 10 days we secured an exchange with a Belgium family who had a holiday home in Tenerife. I paid just under £700 for the plane tickets for me and my daughter and a car rental. Off we went: 10 days in a serviced holiday apartments resort, in Tenerife in June! I must’ve spent another £400 there for food, petrol and fun fairs. However, in no form or shape, I could’ve afforded this if I had to book a hotel during the high season in Tenerife.
Later that summer we’ve exchanged with a lovely family of Dutch professors. We lived for 2 weeks in Breda, in a state of the art 3 storey townhouse! Apart from the tens of notes, leaflets and books with the best places to visit, the best places to eat and shop, their shopping vouchers and store fidelity cards, our exchange partners have also left us a parking permit, so we didn’t need to spend any money on parking right smack-bang in the middle of the town.
The following year 2014, however, was absolutely out of this world! We went full-blast! We went to Rugland in Germany for 2 weeks at Easter time. I took with my one of my friends’ son as well. It was incredible! The neighbours were incredibly friendly. They cooked for us, they invited us for dinner, they gave us chocolate bunnies for Easter. We visited so many places, but Playmobil Funpark must’ve been the top attraction for kids.
In May we went to Cannes for another 2 weeks for my 40th birthday. The flat we stayed was just across the Mediterranean sea. The views were astonishing! I was sipping wine every evening on the veranda overlooking the boats. Then we exchanged again with Nice in July. This time I invited my mother to join us – the flat was out of this world and our exchange partners, an English and Maths teachers in Nice, absolutely fantastic!
And no, we did not stop here! The entire month of August was spent in Valencia. The flat in Valencia downtown was a real jewel and the adventures in Spain were absolutely magical. We made so many great friends and visited so many incredible places.
All the plane tickets were booked in January-February which made it a great deal more affordable. It is very true that during that time most of my work was home-based, so I managed to pull this one off only because I had a secure income coming in whilst we were travelling and in all fairness, I would spend a lot of the time working. I had my laptop on the beach and answering emails in a cafe.
However, even if we had to stay indoors, it is much easier to keep kids entertained when they’ve got a house very often filled with loads of new toys to explore than a boring hotel room. We exchanged homes, cars, currencies, club cards, shopping cards, the lot! We lived just as the locals did. It was an incredibly reach experience for both of us and I couldn’t recommend it more. It has cost me a fraction of the local nurseries or childminders and my daughter could speak a little Spanish and a little French when she began preschool in September 2014.
Since then, I’ve joined several others home exchange platforms, some in the UK others in Europe but many of them proved themselves pretty lame whilst others completely inactive. So in time, I got to understand the importance of being part of a good, active home exchanging networking platform like HomeLink.
In the home exchanging business trust is paramount. And you cannot reach trust if the communication is not there. HomeLink and Caroline facilitate communication, have template contracts ready in place for you and help you like no others. I don’t need to mention them for advertising. My guess is that they’re doing very well. It is not every day that you get an email from the manager asking you whether you had your exchange quota for the year or whether you’d like to be featured in the newsletter to increase visibility. It is not every day that you get a discount even if you renew late. I mentioned their name only because I honestly believe it will save you lots of money and time if you tried this route. Because if you do, the only regret you’ll ever have is that you haven’t done it earlier!