Thursday, January 26, 2017

Travel Adventures 2017 - New York, Belgium, Eastern Canada Drive

The exciting (and sometimes frustrating) thing about trying to arrange our travel plans based on home swap is that we are never sure what opportunities might arise, sometimes at the last minute.  Luckily, being retired means that we are often free to take advantage of these offers and are extremely flexible about switching up or postponing tentative plans in favour of a new swap offer that appeals to us.  For example, for several years now, we have talked about doing a "Rust Belt" driving tour of the USA where we would visit cities like Buffalo, Detroit, Toledo and Cleveland in order to visit their excellent art galleries.  We've gone so far as to plan out routes, itineraries and tentative schedules, but then we would receive a new swap request for a more exotic location that we have not visited before and the driving trip gets postponed again.  It has become our back-up trip for the year that we are not lucky enough to find a good home swap match.

So far most of our home swap opportunities (to France, Ireland, Holland, Italy) have come from us agreeing to offers made by other members on the website LoveHomeSwap.  Despite sending out innumerable requests to people in both United States and Europe, so far only one of our swaps have been the result of a request that we initiated.  In many cases, we did not even get a response (positive or negative), let alone finding a match.  Understandably getting a swap is not easy since you need to find someone who wants to come to your city at the exact same time that you want to go to theirs.  Not everyone else could be as flexible as we were or might be interested in our city.  We have turned down our share of requests too, out of lack of interest for going to the requesting location.

That is why when Love Home Swap came up with the new feature of a "points" swap that would facilitate non-simultaneous swaps, it sounded like the perfect solution.  You are given a starting set of points and can earn more by allowing others to stay at your place while you are away for whatever reason.  In exchange you could use these points to stay somewhere else at another time.  The problem is that we have had as much trouble finding anyone to take our points as we did trying to get a simultaneous swap. 

After many fruitless attempts over the past years, for 2017 we decided that we would temporarily stop sending out home swap requests and would just wait to see what came to us.  If nothing turned up, then we still had our fallback plan. Up until the end of 2016, we were convinced that the Rust Belt tour was on for the following year.  And then out of the blue, we got another new fantastic offer.  We will be spending two weeks in April living in a 19th Century home in Antwerp, Belgium.  From there, we will take day trips to nearby cities like Ghent and Bruges (which I've wanted to visit ever since I watched the Colin Farrell comedy "In Bruges").  Since we will be in Belgium anyways, we will extend our vacation through the first week of May with a one week stay in a rental apartment in Brussels.  The prospect of eating moules frites, Belgium waffles and of course, Belgium chocolate is very exciting to us.

Quite happy with this European trip, we were not expecting anything else to come up when suddenly and totally unexpectedly, one of my many requests from the previous year came to fruition.  There are several cities that are so dynamic and interesting that we would like to return again and again.  One of these places is New York City.  I had sent out dozens of requests for either a simultaneous or a points swap to people in New York and up to now, I have found no interest or received no response.  It has been so long ago that I don't even remember when I made the request, but last week I received notice that one of my many points swap inquiries had been accepted.  We will be spending 7 days in a gorgeous condo unit in the Murray Hill district of Manhattan with a stunning view of the New York skyline. Prior to this I had become convinced that I would never get a points swap, or any type of swap in North America.  I figured that Toronto was not exotic enough for anyone in Canada or the USA to want to bother doing a home swap.  This experience has proven me wrong and has reinforced to adage that "You can't win if you don't play".   I think we increased our odds by picking a place which is a "secondary" or rental home and requesting to swap during the "off-season" when it is less likely that the place would be rented.  I will keep this in mind for future inquiries.

This takes up much of our vacation budget for 2017 and I think that we will be postponing our Rust Belt driving tour once again.  We may consider taking a last minute driving trip across Eastern Canada to celebrate Canada's 150th (sesquicentennial) birthday and take advantage of the free access to national parks, conservation areas and historic sites across the country, offered to mark the milestone.  We would stop in at cities like Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax en route to Cape Breton and hopefully take part in Canada 150 festivities.

2017 is shaping up to be another exciting and varied vacation year for us.  More blogs will follow to document our travels.

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