Wordless Wednesday: How I Spent My Florida Vacation

For this week’s post, I’ve decided to try out #WordlessWednesday and tell the story of our recent Florida home exchange as wordlessly as possible. Photo captions seriously don’t count, right?!
Enjoy!!

Our trip began in Orlando where we had a serendipitous catch-up with two life-long friends (and two brand new ones). Loved it!!
Then it was off to our home exchange in Cocoa Beach. We were thrilled with this amazing find and our very generous hosts!
Most mornings began with us paddling on a lagoon that jutted against our exchange property.
Okay, before Richard jumps into the comment section…I confess! It was Richard who paddle boarded, kayaked and canoed each morning…while I, in firmly strapped life-jacket, held on tight to the side of the canoe. (Hey, you can never be too sure what’s swimming underneath!)
Much of our time was spent on the beach. We lounged, read, slept, walked, rode, swam, ate, drank and played there. (The featured sandcastle was not made by us…ours was not photo-worthy!)
Even when not on the beach, we tried to have as much outdoor time as possible. This included picnics in parks and on the dock!
At Kennedy Space Centre, I watched my husband relive his childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut. We missed the launch of Delta IV Rocket by just one day…. aarrghh!
We even wandered into an Open House…purely for fun. (It never hurts to dream!) This was the backyard view.
We saw alligators (from afar) and glimpses of jumping dolphins and manatees. Sadly, as my iPhone is the only camera that I had with me, the best shot that I can show you is of these common beach terns. (My husband and I called them “Kramer Birds” due to their spiked caps, prominent beaks and… a look that inexplicably made us smile!)
Our Home Exchange Hosts asked us which Cocoa Beach experience we liked best. It was hard to choose, but bike riding along Florida’s expansive beaches was hard to beat!
One for each Book Club!!
And I read two novels…
We are now at the Orlando Airport awaiting our return trip home. While the scenery on Vancouver Island is also spectacular…we are bracing ourselves for the snow, rain, slush and COLD!

But, in compensation…Richard and I just received a complimentary $400USD flight coupon (each!) for giving up our seats on this flight, and taking a different one (35 minutes later). A great trip all-around!

How to Plan An Affordable, Last Minute Winter Escape

Last week, my husband and I were sitting at our home in Vancouver Island complaining about the unusually long, cold and snowy winter. We had no travel plans until summer. One week later, I am eating a banana that I picked from a backyard tree while my husband soaks in the outdoor pool, reading the paper and enjoying the sun’s warm rays. Steps away in the lagoon, we both catch the sight of a dolphin jumping.

What transported us so instantly to such a completely different (and luxurious) environment? It started with my husband wondering aloud: “How quickly can we get out of here to some place warm that won’t break the bank?” In short, the answer to his question was ‘very quickly…with free accommodation, rental car on points and a super cheap flight to boot!’

I’ve mentioned previously about our frequent travels with home exchange. But we had never tried last minute home exchange before now. I was astonished at how swiftly and easily it worked.

It really was just a matter of logging into our home exchange website, clicking on the last minute travel tab and browsing through the houses on offer that seemed to suit our interests. (There are also tabs for retirees, teachers, pet owners, second homes, etc.) Normally, I would write to several potential exchanges at one time, but in this case, a particular place caught my eye: “Waterfront pool home – walk to beach, dolphins in backyard. Available February 25 – March 4”. It sounded perfect! And it was in Cocoa Beach…weren’t Major Nelson and Jeannie from there? I sent a quick note saying that we would be interested in staying that week. Within minutes (literally) I received a positive and welcoming reply.

The other key piece that made this home exchange arrangement go so smoothly is that I didn’t need to worry about whether our potential exchange partners were interested in coming to Vancouver Island. HomeExchange.com now offers a ‘passport program’ where you receive a ‘virtual balloon’ every time you renew your annual membership…and every time you host an exchange partner in your home and do not stay in theirs. From renewing my membership, I had a balloon to spare. Our Cocoa Beach partners were happy to provide a week-long stay in their luxury home in exchange for one balloon.

I miraculously found a cheap, no frills flight –$250USD return, including all taxes and fees. (We then received a free upgrade to comfort class!). I confirmed our exchange and began packing.

When discussing home exchange, I’m frequently asked how I am comfortable dealing so intimately with strangers. The answer is to take the time that you need to communicate well with your potential exchange partner(s), just like you would with a babysitter or anyone else coming into your home. Ask all of the questions you have and trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, or if you are unable to negotiate terms that you are completely comfortable with, find a different exchange. In this case, we felt instantly at ease with our hosts, Wendy and Ted. In addition, the reviews from their other exchange guests were first-rate and provided further helpful details.

When we arrived at Wendy and Ted’s home, we felt that we were being greeted by long-time friends. They had even cooked dinner for us (that truly does not happen every time), and they took us out on the paddle boards to give us a tour of the lagoon and canals.

We found their home to be equipped with everything that we could possibly want for a relaxing, luxurious vacation (waterfront location, heated pool, paddle board, kayaks, canoe, pool table, bikes, fully-equipped kitchen, barbecue….).

While being here, our only difficulty has been in choosing what we want to do each day. The options have been endless. In my next post, I will share the highlights of this Florida escape. In the meantime, if you have any questions about home exchange, I’d be happy to answer what I can.

Home Exchange…From Fourteen Different Points of View

My husband and I are currently preparing for a home exchange to Cocoa Beach, Florida. Although this is our sixteenth exchange, it is the first one where we have used HomeExchange.com’s new ‘passport program’ (i.e. we will be staying in Cocoa Beach–but in return, our hosts will stay in someone else’s home at a location of their choice). I will detail this program further once our trip has been completed.

In the meantime, I am happy to repost a recent article from HomeExchange.com that highlights fourteen different bloggers who also travel using their service. If you follow my writing, you already know that I am a big fan of using home exchange for travel. (And if you missed my previous home exchange posts you can catch them here and here).

You don’t have to take just my word for it. Now, you can read a quick summary of thirteen additional points of view regarding home exchange, all in one convenient spot. Again, if you have any questions about how this swapping system works, I’d be happy to answer what I can. This is a non-sponsored post which gives me the freedom to respond to your questions openly and honestly.

Enjoy!

14 Amazing Bloggers Who Travel With Home Exchange by HomeExchange.com

Dolce Far Niente

I have a dirty little yoga secret.

I don’t love savasana.

My mind and body refuse to stay quiet. Together they plan and scheme. They want to be doing something…anything but stillness.

And that leads me to this post that has refused to be shelved.

This past October, I had written the following entry. Then, as our days turned into sadness, this piece was put aside. But it refused to lie still. In November, I received a letter from my sister-in-law. In it, she included the following quote:

“If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.” Lin Yutang

This forgotten entry came to mind and tugged at me. But I had other things to get out.

Last night, in the quiet of early February, I watched an old movie on Netflix. The famous line, “dolce far niente,” again gave me a shove. Here is the post that would not remain silent–a confession of sorts:

There are many areas that are not my strength. Consciously ‘doing nothing’ tops this list. Throughout my work and school life, there were always so many things to get done. I hated the pressure of trying to complete things at the last minute. To counterbalance, I attempted to use my time wisely–perhaps a bit too wisely. I was always cramming in little tasks here and there so that I wouldn’t need to worry about them later. The problem was that a multitude of other tasks always snuck in to take their place. Always! A middle-school student, who frequented my office when I was a first-year principal, kindly tried to offer me some advice. “You should pay yourself first,”  he said. “You know, like have fun and take breaks before you do the other stuff. The work part will always be there — it doesn’t go away.” These were very wise words, especially coming from a thirteen-year-old. If only I would have/could have heeded them.

A blogger that I follow, previously posted that he has been focused on saving money his whole life. Although he is now retired, and financially solid, it is still very difficult for him to spend money. His saving patterns are ingrained. This is my exact same dilemma — but my ingrained patterns are with time.

On one of the final days of our October home-exchange, my husband suggested that we spend the afternoon sitting around the pool. All afternoon! I don’t swim (okay, I can swim, but I usually choose not to). And the hot tub was too cool for my tastes. I had just finished my book for book club and didn’t want to start another until I had allowed my mind to ruminate on that novel a bit more fully. What would I do during all of that time, especially when Richard was napping or swimming? More importantly, how would I prevent those many pesky tasks from calling my name? You know, like the vegetables in the fridge calling to be chopped for dinner. The laundry in the hamper begging to have their turn in the washing machine. The jumbled pile of receipts demanding to be sorted in preparation for going through customs in a few days. Even my yoga mat was imploring me to work on my downward-facing dog. (Not being into hot yoga, it was simply too warm to pull my mat outside and practice there.)

Richard, who is fabulous at enjoying the moment, modeled. He comfortably sat in the lounge chair, leaned back and enjoyed the rays. He took a dip in the pool then sipped the hard-lemonade smoothies (that I had snuck out and made). He relaxed and napped peacefully. I so admire that!! I tried to do the same. I really did! I squirmed. I wiggled and jiggled. I flipped through a magazine. I took a few sneak peaks at random messages on my phone. I did manage to do (almost) nothing for most of the afternoon. But when Richard left for a late afternoon walk, I madly scrambled and did all of the jobs listed above (okay, except for the downward-facing dog).  I was left with the knowledge that ‘relaxing idly’ is a skill that I simply do not possess…not even in retirement.

Dolce far niente….the sweetness of doing nothing.

If you have mastered the ability to kick back completely, what advice do you have for a wanna-be lounger like me? And if ‘chilling out’ isn’t your natural thing, what strategies have you discovered to overcome this? Please share!

Cover image created with: https://www.canva.com.

A Post that I Wrote for HomeExchange.com

After a home-exchange in Victoria this past August, I wrote a post about our overall Home Exchange experiences. I sent a copy of that post to HomeExchange.com. Consistent with my previous communication with them, their reply was prompt and personal. As they knew that my husband and I had an October exchange planned in Palm Desert, they asked if I would write about that experience for their November newsletter. The link to that publication is copied below. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if I can answer any questions about home exchange for you. I’d be happy to do so. I am not an official HomeExchage.com Ambassador, nor do I work for their company in any way. But I have been a member of HomeExchange.com for almost ten years and have been very satisfied with their services. Thank you for reading my article.

Further Reflections on Retirement and Home Exchange: Not Allowing Retirement to Become a Ticket to Boredom

Thoughts from a Travel Buff: Is Home Exchange Right for You?

We’ve just returned from an immensely enjoyable week in Victoria, BC (a two-hour drive from our home). While there, we explored many breathtaking hiking trails, had some magnificent beach time, bought our groceries at local farmers’ markets, took in a couple of IMAX films…and had a restful and rejuvenating stay.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking— “these people are traveling fools! Do they ever stay home?” We love our home, and we do stay here…sometimes. As our retirement allows us the time and flexibility to travel, and there are many people and places that we want to see, we take advantage of this freedom whenever we can (while we can)! Adding to this, our travel tastes are simple, so we have been able to get around quite affordably. Since retiring, all but two of our excursions have been road trips. For accommodations, we have been fortunate to be able to stay with friends/family, find low-cost roadside motels and to use home exchange.

In fact, our recent trip to Victoria was a home exchange (and our fall trip to Palm Desert will be one as well). We became part of this network over twelve years ago when we were living in Beijing. A friend of mine, who was an experienced home-swapper, tried to describe it to me. “The best thing about it is not the money saved…it’s something more than that..”, she just couldn’t find the right words to explain. After doing our first exchange (2004), I knew exactly what she meant.  For one thing, it was the space– not being confined to a small hotel room and not being tightly surrounded by tourist traps. It was also the freedom– especially the freedom to read my book in peace, as the television blared out Richard’s favorite shoot-em-up kind of movie…in another room. It was the ability to buy fresh, local produce and prepare this in a proper kitchen (not being restricted to endless restaurant meals). Even more importantly (at least for us), it was about being part of a neighbourhood and being able to have more genuine local sights and experiences right outside our front door. However, the money not drained away by accommodation costs and constantly eating out should not be overlooked…you can save heaps.

Started by  Ed Kushins in 1992 as a printed mail-out, homeexchange.com (the site that we use) has grown into a vast social network. It was one of the early businesses to adopt “collaborative consumption” (Source).

Is it safe?  Experienced, credible home exchange organizations put several tools and guidelines in place to help with safety and security for all of their home exchange clients. For example, homeexchange.com includes 24/7 on-line member support, detailed member profiles, private/secure messaging systems, comprehensive home exchange agreements, verification of phone numbers/email address/social media accounts as well as verified reviews.

Along with these features, insurance companies generally welcome clients using home exchange as, statistically, break-ins are reduced when a home is occupied (Source).

It is also important that the individuals taking part in the exchange use due diligence. It is highly recommended to meet with your insurance agent and verify that your coverage is adequate. It is also important to take ample time to establish clear communication with potential exchange partners.

My husband and I have completed fourteen very successful home exchanges to date. We have our fifteenth exchange coming up shortly plus one ‘in the bank’ (they’ve stayed at our place in Beijing, now we just need to find the time to get to Panama!)

Do I recommend home exchanging for others? We have loved our home exchanges, and this method of accommodation has worked out very well for us. That being said, I recognize that this type of arrangement is not for everybody. If you are interested in the concept of home exchange, I  highly recommend investigating it, looking around, asking questions and seeing if this is something that you feel comfortable trying. If it is, again I stress the importance of taking your time in the process. If you feel rushed or pressured by another party, or if your gut just says “no,”  my advice is to skip that exchange and wait for another one that feels right for you. Homeexchange.com currently offers 65,000 listings in over 150 countries. With a bit of flexibility, your options should be plentiful!

 

Feature Photo:  Victoria, BC: only a two-hours’ drive from our home but it felt that we were worlds away.

Photos Below: Previous Home Exchanges (many on which one or more of our other family members joined us).

CIMG0162San Francisco, USA, 2004

 

DSC03239

 

 

 

 

Maroochydore, Australia, 2006

 

DSC02862

 

 

Phoenix, Arizona, 2012

 

 

IMG_1221

 

 

Six Fours les Plages, Southeastern France, 2014

 

 

 

DSC00949

 

 

 

 

Vancouver, BC.  Due to the extreme generosity of our home exchange partner, we enjoyed numerous stays here.

 

To list only a few!! We also had home exchanges in: Paris, Prague, Bangkok, Las Vegas, Ladner (BC),  as well as in three different accommodations in Vancouver (BC).