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.

How to Get Yourself Invited to Dinner

I am writing this post on a bit of a dare. If you have been following my blog/Facebook page/life in general, you already know that I am in Palm Desert for a month-long home-exchange. As my husband and I didn’t know a soul who would be in the area during this time, I had assumed that my days here would be quiet. I imagined myself doing long-avoided tasks (like cleaning out my iPhotos) as my husband golfed. Okay, so we already knew that we would be attending the Epic Desert Trip Concert that took place last weekend. We also knew that my parents would visit during our final two days here. But I had no plans for the remaining twenty-three days. Trying to stay active, I decided that I should join a yoga class.

So I did.

The second class that I attended happened to take place on Canadian Thanksgiving. One of the participants overheard that I was Canadian and introduced herself (also a Canadian from the Vancouver area). I asked if she knew where my husband and I could find a place to eat for Thanksgiving dinner. It was an innocent question. “After yoga, I’m on my way to pick up friends from the airport. You and your husband should come join us for dinner”, she generously offered.

So we did.

It was a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner with barbecued steak that was delicious (we brought the pumpkin pie)! We chatted as if we had known our new friends for years. My husband and I had a fantastic time. We understand about turn-taking and repaying generosity, so naturally we invited the whole gang to dinner at our place (plus their two additional guests who would be staying with them shortly).

“How’s Thursday next week?” I offered. Everyone agreed. I then found out that there is a truly fabulous evening market on Thursday nights in Palm Springs. If avoidable, I didn’t want to miss that. I knew that we couldn’t do the first weekend because of the Desert Trip concert. We couldn’t do the following weekend because the four guests would be gone. “How about Monday next week?” Everyone agreed. Then my husband reminded me that we had planned a quick overnight trip away from the desert for the start of the week, so that date didn’t work either. Tuesday initially sounded good–but would we be back in time to prepare dinner? “Okay so let’s go with Wednesday.” Wait, that’s the night of the U.S. Presidential Debates–which are always best watched alone (especially when friends have different points of view)!

Before I could even suggest Friday, there was a group huddle–without me. “You and Richard are coming here for dinner on Tuesday” I was informed, with no chance to defend myself.

So we did.

The menu was barbecued fish tacos– which were incredible. (We brought the home-made cheesecake).

“You seriously need to post about this,” I was dared.

So I did!

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A Postcard from Desert Trip

I sit and mentally savor the list one more time: Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters and The Who. Not long ago, this line-up would have sounded too good to be true. Yet, here I am at the end of Day Three of what has been referred to by many as ‘the greatest concert that was ever staged.’  It has also been dubbed ‘Seniors’ Woodstock.’

Like Woodstock (1969), Desert Trip celebrated the soul-grabbing power of rock culture. Its repertoire brimmed with weighty songs that have become the anthem for many.

Unlike Woodstock, admission to Desert Trip was not cheap. (Free to $18 for a three-day pass to Woodstock vs. $399 to $1599 for a similar pass to Desert Trip.) Most believed that the Desert Trip audience would be boomer-heavy. Participants were actually quite mixed age, with a strong smattering of ‘millennial hippies’ throughout. Although there was on-site camping, Desert Trip was not a muddy, free-love experience. It was extensively planned, precisely executed and inarguably bore more than a touch of commercialism at its core.

I stood (or rather swayed) in awe as some of the most iconic rock stars of the last fifty years took the stage. Never previously have the stars of this lineup all appeared together on the same bill. My entire being pulsed in the understanding that I was witnessing something not quite seen before…and likely never to be seen again.

I was only eleven years old when Woodstock took place. Yet I grew up believing in the ‘free spirit’ and ‘everybody is my brother’ community that Woodstock was touted to embody. Before arriving at Desert Trip, I feared having this idealized notion shattered by cliche. To the contrary, performance after performance Desert Trip rose high above platitude.

Bob Dylan opened the three-night event the day after he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. That touch alone significantly upped the ante of an already highly revered line-up.  Dylan gave a memorable performance, despite never speaking to his audience directly, and not allowing his close-up to appear on the screens. Then The Stones took the stage. Jaguar began with a playful nod to the average age of the performers (72), coining it the “Catch ‘Em Before They Croak” tour (getting ahead on the joke of this being the  “Rockers with Walkers” Festival). He then continued on to strut, ensnare and encapture until his audience was totally hooked. The Stones stunningly belted out old songs, new songs, and new takes on much-loved classics in a way that was simply heart-stopping.  Just when you thought that nothing else could possibly match this, it was Day Two.

imagesimg_9601Legendary Bob Dylan opened the three-evening music fest.

 

 

 

Regardless of your view, the ‘colourfulness’ of the Rolling Stones was impossible to miss.

 

 

As we attended the second weekend of Desert Trip, I assumed that we would receive the exact same sets that the artists had delivered during their previous performances. Not necessarily, especially with Neil Young. He actually stopped a song that his band had begun because they had played it the weekend earlier. Young made sure that he had a bit of fun with the audience as he did this. And true to character, he had political points to make (with much of his wrath directed at the California Seed Law).

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Neil Young performed ‘Harvest Moon’ just as a full Hunters’ moon was rising on the horizon behind him. The timing was  magical!

 

Young was then followed by Sir Paul McCartney. McCartney was so genuinely intimate with the crowd that I almost felt like I was in his studio as opposed to standing in a field with over 75,000 other concert goers. He invited Young back onto the stage for a few songs, while surprise guest Rihanna also joined him for a duet.

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McCartney and Young performed “Why Don’t We do it in the Road?”

 

When the concert-goers became fully seasoned and hungry for more, Day Three shifted its tone and, to some extent its stakes, while continuing to deliver at the same extraordinary level. The Who set the bar for the evening. After witnessing Roger Daltrey’s vocal runs and Peter Townshend’s power chords/guitar windmills, you knew exactly why they have achieved legendary status.   Adding to the sheer intensity of their music was Zak Starsky (son of Ringo Starr) on drums. In a word, his performance was exhilarating. Before leaving, Townshend warned the audience that they would need to get their “brains in gear” for Roger Waters’ upcoming set. He was absolutely right.

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Roger Daltrey

 

 

 

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Peter Townshend

 

 

 

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Zak Starsky

 

After Weekend One, Waters had sparked much controversy for his ‘stick it to the man, flying pig’.  It would be a mistake to let this controversy overshadow the sheer mastery and brillance of Waters’ surround-sound rock opera that unfolded.  Despite your own thoughts on this, Waters was consistent in his message and his beliefs, as were the other performers of Desert Trip. The artists of all six bands proved that they still have much to say, and have not lost their passion or their creativity for expressing their point of view.

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Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd) and his Flying Pig made his thoughts about ‘the man and his wall’ very clear.

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If you can’t make out the words in the pic, your best guess is likely correct!

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And yes, the crowd definitely added to the experience. On Day One we sat behind a group who took the words ‘Desert Trip’ seriously as they passed around a pipe and smelled of strong cigarettes.  On Day Two, the pair in front of us did what they could to express free love. On Day Three, it seemed that all of the women surrounding us had received a prior memo stating that pants were optional.

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So was it actually ‘the greatest concert ever staged’? This can only be determined by the mind of the beholder. Regardless, on countless levels, Desert Trip would be very, very hard to beat.

I have madly scrambled to get this all down just hours after the final performance ended.  Still reveling in the sensations of the weekend, Desert Trip has stirred my very being. If these artists can do all this at 70+, including writing and producing new material, what can I do when I reach that age?  It was a bucket-list weekend come true and one that I will never forget.

For more information on this iconic rock festival, check out Desert Trip’s home site or Desert Trip by the numbers. And, please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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img_9584 So glad to be able to say, “We were there!”

Palm Desert: A Change of Perspective

My husband and I first visited Palm Desert (Palm Springs area) in July 2000. Friends had lent us their condo for a week. Although we were grateful for their generosity, and we certainly enjoyed our trip, we never really got into the Palm Desert vibe.

The summer in the desert was hotter than hot. Even the unheated swimming pools were too warm to swim in, providing little relief. Hiking, which we loved, was out of the question for us mere mortals. We tried to golf–it was the hottest that I ever remember being in my life. The alternative appeared to be indoor malls, overpriced restaurants, bands that we simply weren’t into and casinos.  Even if we excluded the heat, everything around us looked a bit artificial. The average age was definitely ‘senior’ and the pace was much slower than we had expected.

Flash forward to October 2016. We are in Palm Desert to see the iconic Desert Trip Concert (stay tuned for next week’s post). We are also here on a month-long home exchange. In short, we have quickly fallen in love with this area. Guaranteed sunshine, breathtaking panoramic views, balmy evenings, cozy downtown areas, world class art galleries, foodie’s paradise, shop-worthy outlet stores, every sport imaginable..and very affordable yoga and golf ($30/month for daily yoga and $19 + $5 cart rental for 18 holes of golf). I even tried ‘chair yoga.’ Now, before you start imagining me at a senior citizen’s centre, it was a surprisingly great workout (telling me once again that my balance is okay, but my hamstrings are akin to Fort Knox)!

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Photo Credit: saladofitness.com

To rhapsodize further, there is an old Hollywood charm and a definite retro-glamour here, especially when meandering down Palm Canyon Drive. The entertainment offerings showcase both current and vintage names. Desert Trip aside, live entertainment for this month also includes: Kayne West, Robin Thicke, Jo Koy, Arsenio Hall, Foreigner, ZZ Top, Tears for Fears, Alice Cooper, Kiss, Clint Black, Dwight Yoakam, The Doobie Brothers, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett and Tony Bennett…to name only a few. On a budget? Many of the community complexes, as well as local casinos, offer great entertainment for no cost. In preparation for Desert Trip, Richard and I attended a free Mick Adams and The Stones concert. As we looked around, there were people of all ages in attendance. Many were shaking it on the dance floor, others were enjoying the music over a glass of wine, while others were providing free vocal backup (yup, that would be Richard)!

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Photo Credit: MickAdamsStonesTribute

On this visit, Richard and I have both found it incredibly easy to be here. Palm Desert has the advantages of a dynamic city and the feel of a small town. Adding to this sense of community, our home exchange is in Sun City, a large gated compound containing over five-thousand homes. On the first day, I nerdily checked the program guide hoping to find a yoga class. Overwhelming, I found several yoga classes along with seventy-five other chartered clubs/groups (ranging from Writers’ Circle, Camera Club, Model Railroaders,  Democrats in the Sun, Sun City Republicans and much more). Most impressively, as an area that hosts an ever increasing onslaught of tourists and snowbirds each year, everyone that we have met so far has been friendly, welcoming and extremely helpful.

What has made the dramatic change in our point of view?  Undeniably, the October Palm Springs’ weather is much more pleasant than that of July (highs of only 91 degrees Fahrenheit, instead of 108)! Also, although we don’t like to admit it, our perspectives have changed as we have…well, matured. But, the most likely reason of all is that Palm Springs has evolved as well. In March 2016, Gogobot’s travel website listed Palm Springs as “the number one, hippest mid-sized American city.” (Source) Some things truly do improve with age!

Feature Photo: My weekly blogging view has changed significantly…although Cody continues to remain underfoot!

 

 

You Know You Are Retired When….

Here I am packing for another trip. In the past, this would not have been unusual if it were official vacation or even business travel. But, it’s simply a random October get-away. Insert light bulb going off here: ‘I am retired!!’

As strange as it may seem, I often forget that I am no longer employed. This isn’t only due to my  ‘ingrained work patterns’ (although I definitely have them). It’s more that the things that I do in retirement have become my job (both my passions, and my responsibilities—the exciting, and the mundane). After all, I retired from a position…not from life.

This blog, cooking, house/yard maintenance, dog-walking, budgeting, exercise, travel and taking care of the ones that I love…are all part of my current job description.  It’s a flexible, fluid list that shifts and is modified daily. Still, there are moments when reality strikes me, and I blurt out loud, “It’s true…I really am retired!” Here are few of my defining retirement moments.

Loafing and Puttering: It’s a brand new skill for me…but I honestly believe that I am getting the hang of it.

Realizing that Other People Still Work: When I take out the recycling, I am always surprised to see people walking onto the school bus, or getting into their cars, briefcases in hand. I am reminded that it is no longer a holiday. Seriously, it jolts me every single time.

Does Anyone Really Know What Time it is? I am frequently unsure of what day or date it is (except for garbage and recycling days…because I have an email reminder sent to my phone)!

Casual Friday Anyone?  What I used to wear for “Dress Down Day” at work is now what I wear when I want to dress smartly. Me in jeans is now me gussied up.

Empty Store Syndrome: I now know what the inside of a mall looks like on a non-weekend, non-holiday. There is so much space — it almost echoes! Really, who knew?

Forbidden  Fruit: My Book Club meets on a Wednesdays at…wait for it…1:30 p.m.!  My walking group also meets midweek and midday. In my previous life, I had no idea that this would ever be possible…or allowed. (In a future post, I will mention more about the average age in our small town. Spoiler alert: It’s old!)

How Early is Too Early? Richard and I regularly eat dinner three hours earlier than we did during our work lives. (And I say ‘three hours’ because I don’t want to embarrass myself and admit that it is sometimes ‘four.’)

Open Classroom: On a previous post, I received a very insightful comment from a reader named Marilyn. A lifelong learner, she wrote that one of the best features of her retirement is that she now gets to choose her lessons….and her teachers. This is an aspect of retirement on which I wish to capitalize further.

Task Completion:  Similar to the freedom to choose your own learning, is the freedom to complete your tasks at your own pace. I can binge-task on one day, and play hooky the next. (I also have ‘pajama days’, like today, where I just get stuff done…without ever getting out of my PJs). I can abort an unfulfilling task half way through, or simply shelve a project for a very long time. Ignoring tasks in front of me was an unfamiliar concept to me during my work life.  But, like with loafing and puttering, I believe that I am quickly catching on!

24/7:   I now get to do things in ‘real time,’ with much less need to delay gratification.  A perfect example is the day that our first grandchild was born. He arrived earlier than expected. The moment that I got the call, I was on the next ferry (literally) and was able to meet Charlie shortly after he was born. I plan to do this again when our next two grandchildren are born (this November and December). Now, how cool is that?

So, what are your defining retirement moments (real or imagined)? I’d love to read them!

 

Playing Hooky

Labour Day Syndrome—almost every student and educator has experienced this condition to some degree, even if they call it by another name, or start their school year at a different time. You know, that restlessness deep in your stomach that begins to churn as the last weekend of holidays comes to an end, and a new school year begins. Your mind races with all of the changes that lie ahead. As much as you are caught up in the excitement of that newness, your spirit pleads for just one more day of summer vacation.

This Labour Day weekend my husband and I spent tent-camping at French Beach Provincial Park on Vancouver Island. It was the first camping that either of us had done in over fifteen years. We fumbled along without some important items that we had forgotten to bring. (A comfortable pillow…who knew? An axe that actually had some hint of sharpness…seriously!) Nevertheless, we felt like MacGyver when we were able to make things work with alternate resources…or with Richard’s Swiss Army Knife.

Once we had everything set up, we quickly established a comfortable routine. This included much lounging on the beach, decadent reading time, long dog walks to the general store, and me stubbornly proclaiming that the tracks that we had just seen in the sand were not that of a dog but were most definitely made by a cougar…and quite recently at that! And, if I may humbly add, we had some incredibly delicious campfire meals. Seriously, Anthony Bourdain should have dropped by!

We had booked our camp reservations to include the three days before Labour Day and the one day after (when most other campers would be gone). That meant that the first three days were packed, filled with parents and children cramming in the final days of summer. On the morning of the official Labour Day, I awoke to a child’s screams of “I HATE school”, as his parents hastened to deflate their quickly fading, plastic summer gear and re-stuff it all into their van. Poor guy,  he definitely had a serious case of Labour Day Syndrome.

And then a strange thing happened. I felt guilty. Not quit-retirement-right-now-and-follow-these-crowds-back-to-work-guilt (surely, you jest)! But it was raw guilt none the same.  I know, I know.  I may have mentioned in more than one post that retirement (so far) had been a relatively easy transition for me. And I believe that it has been.

But still, the feeling that I was supposed to be doing something else…like I was currently ‘playing hooky’ was there. And it makes sense. For 53 years, I had experienced a finite last day of summer holidays immediately followed by the first day of a new school year. I acknowledged the feeling, respected it, and then let it pass.

I am now calling upon all retirees, and retirement bloggers, out there. Has retirement guilt caught you by surprise? If so, how have you handled this?

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French Beach Provincial Park is an amazing place to camp, or even just visit for a day hike or picnic lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shout out to French Beach Market and Owner/Artist Christopher Lucas.If you are ever anywhere near Sooke, BC, I highly recommend stopping by. Five dollars will buy you a coffee and muffin (with chocolate spoon included), or a hot shower and towel, or a much-needed bag of ice. And Christopher will gladly give you a tour of his artwork which is incredibly impressive!11400971_1400217626975575_6683808287373456558_n 11400984_1400217610308910_4584297985122178868_n img_9105

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

 

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Maroochydore, Australia, 2006

 

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Phoenix, Arizona, 2012

 

 

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Six Fours les Plages, Southeastern France, 2014

 

 

 

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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).

 

On the Road Again: Traveling Through Canada’s Western Provinces

We have now completed our 4,900++ kilometer road trip from Parksville, British Columbia to Winnipeg, Manitoba and back. The primary purpose of our trip was to visit my niece and attend the interior design exhibition that was part of her master’s program. The time spent with my niece, as well as the exhibition, were both totally amazing.

Also during our travels, we were able to watch our eldest son join 42,000 others in the 10K Vancouver Sun Run, catch up with Richard’s best friend from 7th grade, in Cranbrook, BC, and visit relatives both in Edmonton, Alberta and Kelowna, British Columbia.   This trip has helped me to check off all Canadian provinces and territories, except for Nunavut, from my ‘been there’ list. I feel bad about Nunavut, but somehow Richard wasn’t game for us to add an extra 2,382 kilometers to our trip  just to complete my punctilious checklist…harsh, I know!

An unexpected takeaway from our travels was an even deeper appreciation for the sheer breadth and beauty of Canada than my husband and I already had. When planning this trip, we were constantly met by choruses of “Why Winnipeg?” and “Prepare for the most boring drive of your life!”  To the contrary, we were never once bored on our drive. Rather, we were greeted by scenic views of rolling farmlands, statuesque granaries, quaint towns, cool cities and brilliant flocks of Snow Geese en route to nest on the Arctic tundra. We passed two people wearing large signs saying that they were walking across Canada (one of whom was carrying a canoe on his back). We visited Canadian places with funky names that I was totally jealous of when I was in Primary School (Thus, we now have photo ops from Medicine Hat, Moose Jaw, Indian Head and Cut Knife…to name only a few.) We frequently diverged from our main path, whether it was to drive through the curious arches of Russell, Manitoba or to explore a bit of Lloydminster which sprawls across both Saskatchewan and Alberta. Llyodminister is Canada’s only border city incorporated by two provinces that share a single municipal administration (very cool!). And in Winnipeg, The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, along with its current exhibit by blind photographers, was simply incredible…. definitely do not visit Winnipeg without stopping by!

The other bonus of these travels was that we were able to refine our road trip skills even further. During our last long car trip, we struggled to include everything that we would need, and eliminate all that was unnecessary. This time, we more successfully refined our packing, while still preparing all of our own meals (except for when eating with family, or during included motel breakfasts). And before you start imaging horror dinners of Fritos and granola bars…we ate very well with most fare including chicken/turkey, rice, dairy, veggies, bread/pita and fruit/nuts for dessert. These road trip meals were definitely healthier for us, with less time spent trying to find appropriate restaurants or waiting for our orders at the end of a long day, and it was a huge cost saving for our three weeks away.

Our next planned road trip is a much shorter one from Parksville, BC to Seattle, Washington this coming June. Our youngest son will be traveling with us to compete in the Rock N Roll full marathon. As our dog will also be in tow, we will need to reduce and refine our road trip skills even further. All creative car-packing suggestions will be greatly appreciated!

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Taking ‘Vacation’ from ‘Vacation’: Can you Actually do that?

We have recently returned from our three-week driving trip. During our time away, others often referred to our excursion as ‘vacation.’ This small, innocuous-seeming word began to grate away at me. Once people retire, can their travel justly be called ‘vacation’? This word no longer seemed appropriate to describe our trips away (especially this one, which included many of the same tasks and activities that we did at home….only with different scenery and very different weather).

I turned to the Cambridge dictionary.

“Retirement: the act of leaving your job and stopping working.”

And:

“Vacation:  a time when someone does not go to work or school but is free to do what they want, such as travel or relax.”
(http://dictionary.cambridge.org)

You can nitpick these definitions for donkey’s years, but if defined as above, both words center on “stopping working” and the “freedom to do what you want” (at least for a period of time). So in that regard, retirement itself can be seen as a ‘vacating’ of sorts. Hmmm, that means I would be taking ‘vacation’ from ‘vacation.’ This is not to imply that retirement is not a very busy, active and meaningful time (I find it incredibly so).  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but ‘vacation’ from ‘retirement’ just seemed wrong.

I placed the dictionary aside and turned to Google where I was sure I would find a quick answer. After typing the words ‘retirement’ and ‘vacation’ in the search bar, using both narrow and broad phrases to go with my topic, and then scrolling through pages and pages of posts… the closest entries that I found were “retirement destinations,” “cheap ways to travel” and “Elderhostel.” Google totally failed me here (or my research skills have quickly atrophied in my post-work life)! Still I persevered. Several pages in, I was directed to blog posts asking if vacations were important in retirement. I mean absolutely no disrespect here when I say “duh”! My question was not whether one should take trips during retirement, but rather what these trips should be called.

I was about to give up on the whole topic and once again vow not to be so picky (yeah, right), when I saw a freshly posted blog entry entitled “No More Vacations.” In this post, the author argued that retirement brings the “freedom to stop taking vacations from something and instead be able to say “yes, we’d love to,” “yes, we’ll go,” “yes, we will be there.” Eureka!! I totally agree! My trips away are no longer a separation from my regular life, more appropriately they are an extension of my current freedom and exploring. Thanks to Janis my query has an answer to which I am quite satisfied.

As an aside, an amazing bonus of blogging on retirement is reading different retirement blogs and sharing that connection with others who are experiencing similar journeys!

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your point of view.

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Top Photo: A snapshot from our recent road trip                                    Bottom Photo: A snapshot from our daily life