Home exchange stories

An exchange holiday for your birthday?

Mandy Cavanagh is the newest Ambassador for Intervac. Here is a wonderful exchange story from her. If you have a great story too… tell us yours!

 

My husband is fortunate enough to have a birthday during the summer months, however, he is one of those ‘difficult’ people who can never think of any gift that they want! Last year, was a milestone birthday for him and I was determined to make it memorable even if the inevitable ‘just buy me a card.’ had already been uttered.

As unashamed Francophiles, we had already arranged an exchange with a couple in a village not too far from Lyon called Domarin and in late July we set off with our youngest son. With grown up children, we are now able to enjoy the journey rather than trying to get to our destination as quickly as possible so, for the second year, we stopped off overnight in Troyes. We stayed in the Aparthotel there and were able to stretch our legs while exploring the Medieval old town.

When we arrived at Domarin, we received a warm welcome from a neighbour who even managed to keep my husband’s birthday surprise quiet! The following day, my son and I set off for Lyon airport, as it became obvious where we were going, my husband became more convinced that we were going to make him jump out of a plane! He needn’t have worried, our lovely exchange partners had agreed to let my eldest son and a family friend stay for a few days as well and we picked them up without any trouble at the airport.

 

 

 

What a birthday to remember! The house itself was lovely, with a pool and a converted barn so everyone had enough space and we could all enjoy the fantastic weather. Having a mix of people with us through the holiday meant that we all enjoyed different experiences. My son enjoyed shopping in Lyon while I was able to go off with my friend to look at clothes ( a rare treat for me as I have three sons!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spent my husband’s actual birthday exploring the caves of La Balme, a cool, magical experience, and respite from the heat. We loved the village of Perouges, and because of the lack of cars, it was easy to be transported back in time there. Further afield, we explored Annecy, a bustling, beautiful town on the lake and enjoyed people-watching with a wine in hand!

 

 

Back near the house, we went for evening drives in the countryside, had a rare sighting of a HUGE badger and finished our days with a swim in the pool, marvelling at our 19 year old and 24 year old sons racing on inflatable unicorns!

We have exchanged with other partners in France, Bruges, and England and know that, as well as the economic advantages of an exchange, we wouldn’t get the same experiences on a package holiday. I can’t wait for this year’s trip to Avignon…

Home exchange stories, Intervac

82ND – Wintertime in Greece!

As we have just retired, exchanging houses is on top of our bucket list! So we have had the opportunity to exchange houses with a Greek family.

Evdokia and Minas from Kavala near Thessaloniki had contacted us just before our New Year’s exchange in Leeuwarden, European cultural capital of 2018.

We booked our flights and were lucky to exchange cars also. And so we arrived in the middle of winter at Thessaloniki Airport. 

After searching car keys and texting each other where to find the cars, we were ready to explore Thessaloniki.

An amazing city full of culture, Roman and Byzantine and a lot of hidden spots we hadn’t expected. We admired the beautiful churches and “The Rotunda”! In ancient times its mosaics must have been as splendid and impressing as the ones we had been able to admire in Ravenna during a former exchange.

Soon it was time for our first Greek coffee and surprisingly, even in wintertime, we could enjoy a frappe! Love it!

In the evening my wife and I reached the lovely seaside village Palaio near Kavala. Thanks to the neighbours we had a very warm welcome and the great meal Evdokia had prepared made us feel most welcome!

During our exchange, we visited Filippi, the old town with the forum and its splendid theatre, all without the overpopulation of summertime visitors!

We loved the beautiful walks into the Nestos Valley, enjoyed wandering around unspoiled small towns like Drama, Amphelio and Kavala.

We took a boat trip to the island of Thasos, visited its beaches and white marble quarries. In Skala Panagias we witnessed inhabitants dancing in the streets.

Just Greece as we like Greece to be.

Happy people, enjoying life.

And so did we, being Greeks for ten amazing days!

Frans and Sonja / BE022

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This is part of the Intervac Home exchange stories series. Do you have a story yourself? We would love to hear about it! Tell us your story.

Home exchange stories, Intervac

Budget holidays in Switzerland

Our family holidays this year made me feel special, lucky (and smart!). In the end, I felt we had achieved something quite against the odds. We were an average Portuguese family who spent 9 days on vacation in Switzerland. Not usually an option.

If there’s one thing you learn quickly as a tourist in Switzerland is that everything is very expensive, and it is not a currency problem. The Swiss Franc and the Euro are almost equivalent. Prices in Switzerland are so expensive that, despite high wages, Swiss who live near the border cross to Germany on weekends to shop because the prices are much cheaper.

A vacation like ours was is possible for tourists on a budget but you will do lots of Internet searching and planning. And you will need at least some of the tricks I want to share with you, so you can also feel special, lucky and smart on your next vacation.

The top 5 items that your travel budget will go for (without any special order) are:

  1. Travel to Your Destination
  2. Local transportation
  3. Food
  4. Tickets to tourist attractions and shows
  5. Accommodation

Travel to Your Destination

To find an economical way to travel to your destination try using one of the sites that group information from the airline’s own sites. Personally, I like Skyscanner and Google Flights.

Be flexible with your departure and return dates (and times!). This helps you to find the best budget options as there seems to be no logic in the price scheme. Sometimes a longer trip will actually save you money! In the case of our recent vacation in Switzerland, our return flight to Portugal went through Milan giving us a 25% reduction in our overall price. For our family of 4 that was serious savings.

Local transportation

Local transportation is the factor that most benefits from really good planning. Everywhere you go the local transportation has its own rules and special prices. There are always alternatives, but with very different costs and it is not always easy to see which is the best transportation option at the first glance. Added to all that is the uncertainty – you never know for sure how long you will want to stay at each attraction and missing a connection can be expensive.

In the case of Switzerland, we decided to do our traveling always by train. Swiss trains are very reliable. In all the time that we were there, we only saw 2 delayed trains. On the first occasion, the train was 3 minutes late (which in Portugal wouldn’t even be considered a delay), and it was announced in the train station panels. On the second occasion, on our way to Italy, the train had to wait twice for trains coming from Italy that were late… This made us reach the destination in Italy a full 7 minutes late… quite out of the norm for Swiss trains!

But, Swiss trains are not cheap. A simple trip can cost 5 or 6 times more than we would expect to pay for the same distance in Portugal. The value is that quality, timeliness, tranquility, silence, and cleanliness of the toilets are guaranteed, even in second class. Some trains even have special carriages for families with a small playground on the second floor … our kids loved that! Parents find it especially easy to miss the Swiss trains, in spite of their price.

Some trains even have special carriages for families with a small playground on the second floor ... our kids loved that!

Tips for Train Travel in Switzerland

  • Round-trip tickets are valid for 24 hours. One-way tickets are only valid for 2 hours.
  • In Switzerland, certain train tickets include the bus service on your destination. That is worth checking in advance.
  • The good news is: Children under 6 years ride for free!
  • If you are traveling with young people between 6 and 15, you can buy an annual pass called “Junior Karte ” for just CHF 30 (Yes, an annual pass for under 30€!). This pass is valid as long as the youngsters are accompanied by an adult.
  • And if you are traveling with 3 or more children in the 6-15 age group, you only need to buy 2 passes. After that, your accompanied children can ride for free.

As you might expect the options for adults are not as easy. There is an annual pass called the “Halbtax ” which costs CHF 185 (around 160€). With this pass, adults pay 1/2 price for all tickets. The problem is that for a 9-day vacation the price is too high. We would have had to carry out trips costing more than 320€ per adult…Supersaver tickets are available for the following month and can be bought in advance through the train company (SBB) website or their app. Supersaver tickets are often a good option as the discounts can be as much as 50%.

Food

In Switzerland, a perfectly normal meal in a perfectly normal restaurant costs what we in Portugal would expect to pay per person for a wedding party. On our holiday, we opted for healthy meals (salads and juices) which we bought in the supermarket and ate in one of the many parks, (preferably next to a playground…). Yet, even that cost the equivalent of a meal in a normal restaurant meal in Portugal …

We also cooked and ate many meals at home, in “our” garden… more about that later!

Tickets for Attractions and Shows

Plenty of fun to be had even in the valley

Your family knows which sorts of attractions make memories on your trips. For the most part, we crossed museums and cable cars off the attractions menu because of the price. In Switzerland, there are breathtaking views and plenty of fun to be had even in the valley.

The Rhine runs along the border between Switzerland and Germany and we decided one thing we could not do without was a boat ride! We got a good deal on a RailAway offer and did the boat trip from Stein am Rhein to Schaffhausen. By going downstream, the trip takes 1h15 instead of 2h05, and is still done at a leisurely pace.

In Schaffhausen, we visited the Munot, a round fortress that dates from 1564. It can be reached by stairs and has a covered footbridge across the moat. The views from the top are great and admission is free.

Returning from Schaffhausen by train we stopped over at Schloss Laufen where you can see the Rhinefall, it is the largest waterfall in Europe (in terms of water flow). You can see the waterfall for free from the landing point of the boat trips to the center of the falls. Taking boat trips or viewing the falls from other points will cost money.

Also not to be missed is the journey by train through the Alps to Italy on the Bernina Express. This train trip from Chur to Tirano is in itself UNESCO World Heritage and takes you through bridges and historic tunnels, reaching over 2000 meters above sea level. Right by the train you see mountains (up to 4,000 meters high), with snow even in July, glaciers and beautiful lakes.

Money Saving Bernina Express Trick

Super trick for the Bernina Express

Buy your tickets as if you are starting your trip in Freiburg (Germany) with Deutsche Bahn. This is quite a bit cheaper than booking your tickets through the Swiss railways… 29€ instead of about 80€ per person. Then, you board the train halfway through the trip. I learned this from an online blog and can confirm it works.

Special Events

We were lucky enough to be able to go to the “Züri Fäscht” in the city of Zürich, a festival that takes place every three years. Everything seemed to be happening at the same time and throughout the city – fairground, bars and restaurants with music of all kinds, air show, circus shows, sports, diving, and more! We opted for a peaceful (and free!) ride on a solar power boat in the “ Zürichsee” (Lake Zurich), also one of the festival’s attractions.

If you are interested in visiting Zürich during “Züri Fäscht ” the next one is July 5-7 2019!

Accommodation

None of the previous tricks makes me nearly as happy as my accommodation trick. During my family’s nine days in Switzerland, we spent eight nights on a home-exchange holiday with Intervac. We also spent one night in a hotel in Chur, just before boarding the Bernina Express at 8:32 in the morning.

Breakfast at home in our garden

During our home exchange, we lived in a fantastic house in Winterthur. It had 4 floors, garden, swing, toys, and books for the girls and everything else a family needs in a home. Staying “at home” provided some unexpected opportunities for fun, such as catching large snails for a snail “race”!

So, for eight nights of accommodation, we paid only the annual cost to be a member of Intervac. Of course, we also provided our exchange partners with good conditions for a fantastic vacation at our home in Madeira.

The last night, the one we spent in the hotel in Chur? Oh, that cost us €157 – which was more than double the cost of our annual Intervac membership! But, this is Switzerland. Our €157 entitled the four of us to one room, with 2 single beds and a bunk bed, on the 3rd floor of the hotel. The price included electricity and internet (essential!) but there was no elevator, no private bathroom… And there was a notice in the common bathroom to let us know: “broken shower – use the 2nd floor “. They suggested we each paid €5 to rent a towel.

We did miss our home exchange house on that last night in Switzerland. We missed the space. We missed the comfort. But most of all we missed feeling at home.

 

 

This is part of the Intervac Home exchange stories series. Do you have a story yourself? We would love to hear about it! Tell us your story.

History, Home exchange stories, Intervac

Third generation exchangers

3rd_generation_intervac
Beltman the Founder to Beltman the Grandson

We owe a lot to our organisers who have long been a devoted part of Intervac, Roel and Willemien Eissen among them. They have been responsible for excellent membership development in the Netherlands since 1978. Recently Roel, writing about our history, said:

You can read on our Faces of Intervac page, in 1953, there began formal contact between the Dutch National Teachers Union (NOV) and the Swiss Teachers Union (SLV). At various Congress-Meetings, Mr. Gerrit Beltman for the Netherlands (NL) and Mr. Lehmann for Switzerland, go to know each other well and privately started to make home-exchange holidays.

This idea of home-exchange worked so well, they extended and developed it further to benefit the members of their Unions. Many successful holidays later this is the seed that has developed into our worldwide Intervac organisation.

All this has struck my mind again, after I had not thought about our history it for some time. However, it suddenly hit my attention when I had a pleasant telephone-conversation some weeks ago with one of our NL-members. The lady just told me, that her husband is a grandson of Mr. Beltman.

Home Exchange – A Family Way of Life

Not only has home exchange really enriched our lives with many nice contacts and stories of holidays, friendships, but I am also very pleased to know that the name Beltman is still enthusiastically being used inside Intervac.

If you are interested in exchanging with our now-famous first-family in the Netherlands, here is a link to their listing.

This is part of the Intervac Home exchange stories series. Do you have a story yourself? We would love to hear about it! Tell us your story.

Home exchange stories, Intervac

First Home Exchange for Second Generation Members

Intervac’s national representative in Spain got this wonderful testimony:

I’m the second-generation of Intervac members in my family and I see how things have changed. In the past, my parents received a lot of letters from foreign families with brochures from foreign places and, at most, two or three pictures of the house.

Now, I see that my parents were very ahead of their time!

Today, I am the one exchanging my house to travel with my own family. This will be our first exchange and we are looking forward to it with great enthusiasm. My parents never had a problem during thier nearly 30 years of exchange. I hope to have the same luck with my exchange to Britain.

I am sure our member’s parents must be very pleased with that compliment too. It is true that there are very few complaints and there is no more comfortable way to see the world with your family.

Kids love home exchange. It is exciting for them to stay in someone else’s home, to play with different toys and explore a new neighborhood. Parents love home exchange with children – there’s lots of room and plenty for them to do.

In fact, kids love it so much that when they grow up and have kids of their own, many continue the home exchange tradition. They want to offer their own children the chance to make warm travel memories and foreign friends of their own.

Come on, give Intervac a try today. You know you want to.

 

This is part of the Intervac Home exchange stories series. Do you have a story yourself? We would love to hear about it! Tell us your story.

Home exchange stories

The Best Way To Discover The World With Kids

2017-06-03-best-way-discover-with-kids
Still having second thoughts about home swapping? This is what our members have to say:

Homeexchange is the best way to discover the world with kids. The only problem is that once we start, we can no longer stop… ‘Mom, who are we lending our house to this Summer?’

Sandra Bouguet (FR100852)

Home exchange stories

How about a non-simultaneous exchange?

I started doing home exchanges for my holidays in 2005. I love any kind of home exchange and now that my family has grown and I home exchange with kids… even more so! It is great to feel at home when we’re traveling with our kids.

Enjoying our own balcony in our last exchange

 

Sleeping in late on our last home exchange

The problem is that, when you have school-aged kids, you need to stick to school holiday dates. And finding an exchange partner can become a bit more difficult. That is what got me doing non-simultaneous exchanges more often. A non-simultaneous exchange is simply an exchange in which the dates do not overlap.

Actually, my first exchange back in 2005 was a non-simultaneous one: I went to New York for the 4th of July and the New York couple I exchanged with only came to my apartment in Madeira Island in August. The problem for me, back then, was that it meant that when the New York couple came, I had to temporarily move to my parents-in-law’s home… If you have a second home, like I do now, it is even easier!

I have just completed my 6th non-simultaneous exchange. My exchange partner, Rosemary, came in October 2014 to Madeira, and my family and I visited Torquay, in the English Riviera in August 2015.

 

In Torquay’s harbor, with our exchange home showing in the backdrop

This way, we both got good weather, Rosemary got a better price for her off-season flight tickets and we got to go during the school holidays… All in all, it was simpler to get to the perfect dates for both exchanging parties.

 

We had a beautiful balcony to enjoy… day & night!

Apart from the dates, the other great advantage of non-simultaneous exchanges is that it is easier to get to meet your exchange partners which a great way of cultivating international friendships. We love to make new friends while we’re busy seeing the world and enjoying the benefits of home exchange!

This time, we had the pleasure to meet Rosemary and her friend Jennifer both in Madeira and in Torquay. We are reaching our 20th exchange, but Rosemary is an even more experienced exchanger than we are. So, we talked about past exchanges, about each other’s country and about life in general.

 

Meeting our exchange partners was great

We even got to watch a video of an English TV show that aired in 2011 that featured an exchange to Rosemary’s house. The program focused on how home exchange can allow your holiday budget to be as low as £50 for a family of three… If you are curious, you can watch it too here.

To sum up, if your holiday dates don’t match the ones of your exchange partner, consider doing a non-simultaneous exchange. If you have to, consider (temporarily) moving to your parents-in-law’s! But do not miss out on all the great non-simultaneous home exchange opportunities Intervac has to offer you!

 

This is part of the Intervac Home exchange stories series. Do you have a story yourself? We would love to hear about it! Tell us your story.