Discover home exchange with stories from our members.
Whiney tells us about her family’s very affordable trip to France this past summer. Apparently, according to Whitney, it is possible to take a family of 6 to Europe for under $800 – of course, GuesttoGuest and frequent flyer miles were used. 😉
I LOVE to travel. And in the three years that my boyfriend and I have been together, we’ve taken some fabulous trips. But this year, we wanted to include his children in our vacation. And inviting his two sons also meant inviting their respective girlfriends. So, that brought our group to up to six people. Can I brag a little bit as to how we were able to fly 6 people round trip from California to Europe and back, get access to comfortable accommodations and a car for 2 weeks, all for less than $800?
Of course, it helps if you are a planner…maybe even a compulsive planner. For the past few years, I have been obsessed with collecting frequent flyer miles. Through some pretty careful credit card management, I was able to get enough frequent flyer miles to get us all over to Europe and back. Of course, you need to be flexible – I couldn’t get us all on the same plane and we all flew coach, but for about $700 in airline taxes and fees, we all were able to over to Europe and back. Not bad, huh?
While we were collecting miles, we started looking for a family in Europe who would want to swap their home for ours, here in Southern California. We were pretty flexible about the place, but we needed an exchange that could accommodate 6 adults and preferably would include a car. About a year in advance we found our exchange – a lovely French family with a house in the town of Wambrechies, on the French – Belgian border.
Although we had never heard of the town of Wambrechies, when we saw it on a map, we knew this would be perfect. There were so many great cities to see within 1 or 2 hours’ drive! This is actually our favorite way to vacation. We come up with a list of day trips and wake up each morning asking ourselves “where should we go today?”.
We finalized the GuesttoGuest exchange with our French exchange partners, Stephanie and Francois, that Gary back in about Sept 2016 and begun to plan. I also love the planning aspect and think of researching possible day trips as part of the vacation itself.
When negotiating an exchange, anything is possible. Stephanie and François, seasoned exchangers themselves, suggested that we spend a day together, at are our house in suburban Southern California, to get to know each other and go over the workings of the house. We are so glad we agreed because we enjoyed meeting them so much and now feel like we have new, lifelong friends.
In the end, Randy (my boyfriend) and I had more vacation time from work than our kids did, so we flew into London 3 days before them. We did this because Randy had never been to London and wanted to see it, plus, that was where we could get the best deal in terms of availability of award space with our frequent flyer miles. And, we were able to use some additional miles for our hotel in London.
After 3 whirlwind days in London, we took the train directly from London, England to Lille, France, about 5 miles from our Wambrechies home. We found the little town of Wambechies to be the quintessential little French town and fell in love immediately.
Our two sons were flying into Brussels the next day so we spent the day in Antwerp, stopping at the beautiful Antwerp train station and made the 30 min drive from Antwerp to Brussels to pick them up.
The girls would not arrive for 2 more days, so the four of us spent a lovely day in Ghent (because I had always wanted to go there) and another day in the Belgian village of Han-sur-Lesse because there are caves there, which our sons love! As well as a wildlife park, which Randy loves! We were even able to squeeze in a quick trip to the town of Lens, where there is a branch of the Louvre. We loved seeing pieces from the Louvre collection without the throngs of tourists that seem to always be at the Louvre!
One of the best parts about traveling through home exchange is the personal contacts. Our hosts, Stephanie and Francios, had asked their friends and neighbors to “look after us”. They took such good care of us that they invited us to dinner at their house! We feel they (Olivier and Murielle) are also our new friends and we are already hoping we can find a way to visit them again.
By now it was Saturday, and the girls would be flying into Paris. By using GuesttoGuest “points” we were able to arrange a non-reciprocal exchange for 1 night in Paris. Once the girls arrived, our kids all began to feel like European locals as we explored this city.
After we all promised ourselves to come back to Paris one day, we all piled into the car for the two and a half hour drive from Paris to Wambrechies.
Now that all six of us were together, time seemed to fly even faster. Using frequent flyer miles again, we were able to get a hotel in Amsterdam for 2 nights. We filled our time with sampling the local cuisine, canal rides, guided walking tours, Van Gogh museum and even a trip to the Royal flower auction on the outskirts of town, which we had seen on a Rick Steves show.
We then went to the home and had 2 more day trips – one to Bruges and another to Brussels before we had to head home to California.
And then, one of the nicest touches we had, was when our exchange family offered to come pick us up at LAX!