Thursday, February 19, 2009

Home Exchange for a Head Start

While you’re waiting for your 401K to come back to life, how about a little free advice for some free adventuring?

Home exchanging seems a little too Mayberry RFD for our current threat-level reality, yet sane people do it all the time.

Well-meaning friends ask “How do you know people won’t steal your stuff?” I say, “How do they know I won’t steal theirs?” Hospitality, 21st century-style.

We’re still new to home exchanging, but it’s been around for decades. While not exactly an outback expedition or Adirondack ice climb, swapping houses does require a certain amount of adventurous DNA. Flexibility comes in handy, too. Whether it’s squeezing around a queen-size bed in a full-size room, in the dark, or suffering caffeine withdrawal while fiddling with a French press, living in a stranger’s home is...strange. And that’s the beauty.

At a Christmas-time home exchange sojourn to Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., Rick and I marvel at the life-in-miniature 500 square foot apartment we have borrowed. “Do you think it would be possible for us to live in a place this small in, say, Paris?” I ask Rick, who takes up the entire mini-couch in the dollhouse living room. “For, like, six months?”

“No. Definitely not.” says my husband, definitively. Brief pause. “Paris? Well. Maybe.”

Free travel makes for accommodating travelers.

When it’s cold out, especially, I spend hours online, dreaming about possibilities.

“We are open to any destination!” say the Moroccan owners of an elegant riad in the heart of the Marrakech medina.

An Australian attorney and his wife, a horticulturalist, have a Fulbright scholarship and want to spend two months in Washington. Their 3-bedroom penthouse overlooks Sydney Harbour.

A single mom in Guadeloupe would like to show her young sons the U.S. East Coast, and offers her oceanfront Caribbean apartment in trade.

At our D.C. home exchange each evening we wander, get to know the neighbors.

“Hey! Topiary!”

Rick laughs, shaking his head in disbelief. Sculpted tree-deer, complete with wood antlers and white Christmas lights, stand just off 24th Street. Odd choice of lawn ornament for this neighborhood. But, then, it’s an odd neighborhood: third-world embassies in regal row houses, lit by a haphazard toss of twinkling bulbs; alleyway markets with signs warning “No Beer Sales After 10:00 PM!;” pricey, candlelit wine bars. And, now, topiary.

I laugh, too; I can’t help it. I’ve never known my husband to go gaga over gardening. Getting out of town, pretending in someone else’s space, we reveal ourselves and move closer.

Not expat life per se, but a really nice jump start.

Photo (c) Rick Collier
(Riad photo from listing 37245)
(Guadeloupe photo from listing 99368)

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