The Arena in Verona

.. REGULAR FEATURES “HAVE YOU BEEN OVERSEAS AGAIN?” ASK OUR FRIENDS ENVIOUSLY. “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN THIS TIME?” “HOW CAN YOU AFFORD THREE MONTHS AWAY?”

No, we are not millionaires, but like many retirees we have gone some way to solve the dilemma of being time rich, money not exactly poor, but vastly insufficient to put us in the jet-setting class. We have discovered the joys of Home-swapping! The theory is simple: You live in Brisbane and want to go to the UK during September/November. You need to find someone in the UK who wishes to visit Brisbane around the same time.

You then swap homes. You live in their home and they live in yours, often using each other’s cars. As well as overseas swaps you can arrange to exchange within your own country, useful for visiting adult children and grandchildren. In order to find your perfect match, you enlist the help of a kind of Introductory Agency, one of the many Home Swap Organisations. To find them simply put Home Swap into your Google Search Engine and you will find several organisations.

Having paid your money and signed up you then vet the possible exchanges yourself. It pays to be flexible. Remember Spring can be just as lovely as Autumn, perhaps Cornwall is unavailable at the right time but consider Yorkshire. Don’t shillyshally; most people want to feel that plans are secure and most important of all, having made an agreement, don’t renege unless there are compelling reasons such as serious health problems.

The first home swap you do you can be excused for being nervous, but once in you will find the water is lovely! Most common worries are centred on security. Will your new friends wear masks or balaclavas and make off with all your prized possessions? If really concerned, you can get friends to call around and count teaspoons but I assure you it is not really necessary….in fact, if you are into teaspoon counting perhaps home swap is not for you. Accidents can sometimes happen, so if Grandma’s vase is irreplaceable, maybe give it to a friend for safekeeping for the duration of your holiday.

It is also permissible to request that the contents of the display cabinet are not to be used during their stay. Another common worry is that somehow or other your home is not grand enough for the folk offering you their castle. Ask yourself, which you would rather stay in? A clean and tidy modest home or one requiring the up-keep of acres of dove-grey carpet. You are on holiday for Heaven’s sake! The one mansion we exchanged with, we lived in the kitchen anyway, being far too nervous to enter any other rooms besides those of a strictly utilitarian nature. It is usual to leave your new friends a potted guide to your home. This is well worth some time and thought.

We have had so many problems with English showers that we always ask for instructions as to how to turn them on. I believe they are devised as a fiendish form of I.Q. test which Don and I were doomed to fail. Explain in detail how your air-conditioning works and hope they have revealed the mysteries of English heating. Each home has its own idiosyncrasies so if your dryer needs an encouraging “pat” to whirl into action write it down in the troubleshooting part of your vade-mecum.

Leave an emergency number of a good friend who knows your home well; preferably one who knows which of the seven remote controls operates the T.V. Maybe even enlist their help to welcome your guests if you cannot do this yourself. It is also a good idea to leave maps, bus and railway time-tables and brochures about the local tourist attractions to get your visitors started. Do not forget that the emergency number for your country could be different to theirs!

A crisis is no time to be looking! It usually takes a couple of days to feel at home in your new surroundings. With no expenses for accommodation and in many cases car hire, you can afford to splurge on meals out, the local fish and chip shop, or just the Pub. Alternatively, after an exhausting day spent sightseeing, you can paddle round in your pyjamas and eat sardines on toast, falling asleep in front of the Television…..not behaviour you can indulge in whilst staying in hotels or even with friends or relations.

No washing one’s smalls in vanity basins, you have a washing machine at your disposal which vastly cuts down the problem of how much to pack, although the friends of ours who have done thirty or more trouble-free swaps may have taken this to an extreme. They pack his sailor kit bag; he left the Navy many years ago but he is still seeing the world, and that’s it for both of them! To be continued…..

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