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.

32 Replies to “How to Plan An Affordable, Last Minute Winter Escape”

    1. Thanks, Kate – This entire trip, as well as preparing for it and booking it, went much more smoothly than we ever dreamed. Unfortunately, the weather at home is now even worse than before we left. Makes us hate to go back so soon!

  1. Donna, sounds (and looks) like an awesome trip! Great photos! I especially like the one of your husband having a beer in the pool 😆.
    How you found a flight from BC to Orlando for $250 usd is amazing! Unheard of!

    1. Thanks, Marion – I was surprised about our luck on getting such an expensive flight as well. I began by checking sites like Booking.com and Trivago. As soon as I saw that Delta had a relatively affordable flight there – I then went directly to their site and found the cheapest day and time to travel…that coincided completed with what we were looking for. If we had taken the same flight the day before or the day after, the cost would have been double.

  2. What a fantastic break and escape. I now understand the “pasport program” a bit better. Where did the owners go in the meantime? Communicating and virtually meeting each other ahead of time is very important, plus trusting your gut. It is the same with house and pet sitting assignments.

    1. Hi, Liesbet – The owners used the balloon that we gave them to stay in Atlanta for the week. Ted has work there once a month so they are always looking for balloons that they can use in Atlanta.

  3. I really admire the way that the two of you are comfortable making quick decisions like that! I think one of my problems is I spend too much time agonizing and so opportunities get lost. Thanks for all this great information on home exchanges… one of these days we’ll put it to use for sure! In the meantime, I’d like to hire you as my travel agent! 🙂

    1. Hi, Marty – Thanks for commenting. I haven’t been to Florida for 24 years. I forgot how beautiful it can be.
      PS – For some reason your comments always get routed to my spam folder — not sure why.

      1. Huh. I must admit that I don’t get the “regular” notifications from your blog either (although you do at least show up in the Reader). Let me know if you think I need to make some kind of switch on my end.

        1. Hi, Marty – I found this comment in my spam folder as well. I tried to compare it to the other comments received but I could not find the difference. The only other valid comments that sometimes appear in my spam are Pat’s (from RetirementTransition). I believe that Pat’s get sent there due to having an extra link. Not sure what the answer is, but I will be sure to check my spam file more regularly. Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  4. Your enthusiasm for home exchange is starting to work on me, Donna. When I read your earlier post about it, I thought “Nah, that’s not for me.” I’m used to a lot of hotel living from my travels for work and quite liked the anonymity that gave me after long days in front of hundreds of people.
    But now that I’m retired and would like to spend longer periods of time in one place when I’m travelling, I can see the benefits of home exchange. Your clear explanations of the process and your obvious success with the results are inspiring me. Thanks for the post.

    1. Thanks, Karen! I find that home exchange is like so many things–you need to try it once to know if is for you. For us, we tried it first ‘unofficially’ with a colleague that I knew (through a Middle Years Association that I was involved with at the time). That home exchange went brilliantly…and I have since been forever hooked!

  5. How lovely! Timely for me to read this and be extremely jealous! The pic of your hubby in the pool is priceless. My hubby and I move around a lot in Spring and Summer, going to the delta for windsurfing and other water sports. With my teaching schedule and his crazy work schedule making his summers hard for travel, we rely on the month of January for a winter escape. We need to plan one every year, so I can survive 🙂

    1. Thanks, Terry – I was going to give myself a break from blogging this week…but after catching a glimpse of Richard reading in the pool, this post came easily!

  6. Bonus! Not only did you get away for sun and fun, you found a perfect landing spot!! Sometimes I’m inclined to think that the last minute, spur of the moment activities, are the ones that are more fun-filled than the trips that are meticulously planned 🙂

    1. Thanks, Joanne – This is another big bonus of retirement — being able to pick up and go when opportunity knocks!

  7. Donna, I am so glad that the two of you got away for some sun and fun. Dolphins in the lagoon, and a reading (beer) table in the pool — outstanding!

    1. Hi, Laura – Nice to meet you through MB’s Monthly Meet Up. Thanks for stopping by. I agree–that little table in the pool was tons of fun…and came in handy more than once! I am off to check out your blog now!

    1. Hi, Pat – Congratulations on your retirement. We can swap retirement transitions stories and tips! If you have any questions on home exchange, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I am happy to answer them as honestly as I can.

    1. Hi, Joanne – Nice meeting you at Grandma Dee’s Link Up. If you have any questions regarding Home Exchange, I’d be happy to answer what I can. I am not an affiliate of any home exchange programs which helps me to answer your questions as honestly as I can.

    1. Hi, Grammy Dee – Thank you for hosting a terrific link party. I met many like-minded bloggers and did notice a definite increase in traffic!

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