I was a serious, shy, and very romantic young girl who from the time I began taking advanced middle school French, at about age 12, began day dreaming of traveling to Paris. Unfortunately, that dream took a very long time to come to fruition, 33 years to be exact. The reason it took me so long to fulfill such strong desire was quite simply a lack of opportunity, real and perceived.
I was born to young parents, one of which was sadly afflicted with severe mental health issues that ultimately wreaked havoc on our family finances and emotional well-being. That coupled with my naturally cautious personality affected my perception of myself, my options, and my early Paris dreams. This was unfortunate because the mere thought of visiting beautiful, exotic, foreign places made me dizzy with desire.
Unfortunately I just assumed, from a young age, that I was not affluent enough or entitled enough to make my Paris dream a reality. Eventually, I put aside my dreams, like my favorite where I am living in Paris and walking along the Seine with the confidence of a parisian. I believed I simply was not the type of person who could afford those types of dreams. Foreign travel was for the wealthy; too rich a passion for someone like me.
Fortunately, my mother was insistent that her children attend college; and because she worked at a major university, we were able to get free tuition. I graduated college with a degree in Accounting, and by the age of 27, I began making quite good money. I finally got to travel to Europe for the first time.
In 1992, I took what is currently known as a “Big Bus” tour, where you travel with a large group of tourists, usually a large busload full. It was a “Club ABC” Tour, to be specific. The tour took me and a girlfriend to Spain and Portugal for 15 days. It cost about $1,500 including airfare and most other expenses, such as food and entrance fees. I could well afford this trip at that time. My friend had already traveled to Europe and had been to Paris, so she wanted to go someplace she had not been before. So, while not Paris, I was ecstatic to go anywhere in Europe. I could not believe my good fortune when I arrived in Spain, and during the next two weeks I regularly stopped and thought to myself “I’m in Spain, in Europe”. I actually felt I fulfilled a long and heartfelt dream.
When we arrived in Madrid after the long flight, and unpacked in our hotel room, I was ready to explore immediately. Unfortunately, my friend did not share my enthusiasm and insisted on a very long nap; so I waited most impatiently for her to wake up. I couldn’t believe my friend could sleep with Madrid just waiting outside our hotel room. Despite this being a dream of mine, I was too fearful to venture outside on my own, knowing barely a word of Spanish, and incredibly shy about using the few words I did know. I was completely terrified of getting lost in a foreign city. At that time I did not do any trip research; I just planned to be escorted pretty much everywhere I would want to go.
After Madrid, as we rode the “Big Bus” through sparsely populated Andalucía, I relished every Olive Tree we drove past (thousands of them). My girlfriend slept when we traveled these long distances on the bus; yet, I barely blinked, thinking I might miss something. Every time I spotted a little white hill town peeking out of the olive groves, I would shake my friend awake to make sure she did not miss it. She’d awaken momentarily, mumble something, and then go right back to sleep. Despite, my friends lack of unbridled enthusiasm, I enjoyed that trip immensely!
At that time, and even now, I still believe that tours to Europe are wonderful for those too cautious or fearful or otherwise unable to travel independently. I may even go back to touring when I get to an age where I don’t think I can manage travel on my own.
I consider myself fortunate to have met and married a man with European roots. My husband was born in Italy and moved to America at the age of two with his immigrant parents. His parents never learned English, owned a Pizzeria, and kept the Italian culture very much alive for their four children. My husband is as passionate about European Travel as I am – hooray! A definite step in the right direction – future travel.
So my first un-escorted European trip was to Italy on our honeymoon. My husband after all, spoke the language. We visited Rome, Florence, Venice (which was the setting of my first and most hilarious travel story) and the magnificent Amalfi Coast (coincidently, very near to where my husband was born in Sarno, Salerno).
Two years later, my husband and I returned to Italy, this time accompanied by my mother, my husband’s sister and our baby boy, Matteo, who turned one year old on this trip. We spent one week with my husband’s cousins in the town he was born, and then another in a rented villa on Capri, an island off the Amalfi Coast. My son was kissed by a girl for the first time, his Italian second cousin, age one like him. It was a wonderful trip.
Our traveling days ended for a while. We had another child and I left my full time career, and my nice salary, for a more flexible career which would allow me to be home more with my children. My husband’s career took some unexpected turns, and he transitioned from Engineering to Computers and finally to Education, teaching Technology. Traveling was not an option for about 10 years. It seemed money would again stand in my way of fulfilling my dreams of further European travel.
However, once my husband became a teacher, a wonderful opportunity presented itself and it did not take me long to capitalize on that opportunity. Summers Off! With summers off, it occurred to me that we could and should travel in the summer. Domestic travel in USA didn’t excite me very much; but European travel still made me go weak in the knees. I had a “light bulb” moment in which I realized I needed to make European Travel a reality for myself, my husband and my children. I wanted my children to experience what I pined for and never got to experience at their age.
Honestly, I don’t even remember where I found out about home exchange; but boy, am I glad I did! I’m also glad that I had no qualms about it; like most people who hear of it seem to have. I can’t believe how remarkable it is. The phrase “nothing in life is free” simply does not apply to home exchange. Not only is the home free, but it usually comes with other amenities such as pools, cars, and your own personal travel consultant (your home exchange partner). With a home exchange, as opposed to hotel, you experience the area like a local, not like a tourist, and this makes for a much more enjoyable, culturally enriching experience.
If what I just described is what you are looking for; and it is absolutely the way I have grown to enjoy my travel, then you must give home exchange a try. When I visit a wonderful place, it is not enough for me to see it; I want to immerse myself in it and become a part of it, for a little while. Extended (two weeks or more) home exchange vacations allow us to relax into a place and really savor it. Take a peak at each of the wonderful homes we have been privileged to live in, and from which we immersed ourselves into its distinctive surroundings and culture.
If you already share or are intrigued by our style of travel, we encourage you to read some of our families travel stories. In the last five years, our family of four (and sometimes more) has spent a combined total of fifteen glorious weeks in Europe (Spain – 2 weeks; Italy – 4 weeks; England – 2 weeks; France – 7 weeks). We have been privileged to visit numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites; but have also been delighted and enriched by the simple pleasures of living like temporary locals. We even find shopping at the local grocery store exciting and occasionally challenging! Traveling in the manner that we do, we stumble upon the type of off the beaten path experiences that most tourists never do, like local festivals, concerts and even bull races in the most unexpected places.
One final note: If you crave anything in life, such as I craved to travel Europe, find a way to satisfy your craving. Otherwise, you may live with regret. You will be amazed how good you will feel about yourself when you accomplish something you never dreamed possible!
It is my desire to help others satisfy their dreams for foreign travel. So, I have been working on a book for the last year. My hope is that my book will help your family get to experience the thrill of traveling abroad as my family has. My book was published on Amazon today and the official launch is scheduled for May 15, 2014!
Order it Here: http://amzn.to/1nowYrh
It offers all the guidance your family needs to afford, plan and realize the most fulfilling, culturally enriching, and incredibly memorable family vacations that you, if your anything like me, never thought possible!
Take that leap of faith, stop speculating, and start savoring the phenomenon that is International Home Exchange. I can tell you with sincerity that it is both richer and less expensive than any other style of travel, and it is not too good to be true.
If you want to learn more about me, my family travels, international home exchange and my upcoming book, please visit and follow me on http://www.trustingtraveler.com