Live like a native on holidays… for free!

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Pamplona’s San Fermin fiesta offers something for everyone in the family

Being a part time teacher I’ve always been interested in ways of taking advantage of the long holidays. I read about home swapping in the Irish times two years ago and really liked the advantages that this inexpensive service, lovehomeswap.com offered. We could get to live like a native for free – anywhere in the world.I set about organising our home exchange.

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Our house on a typical Irish Summer’s day

I had to send about 100 emails before I met a family who we could swap with. They were in Pamplona in Northern Spain – the town where my wife is from. We organised a non-simultaneous exchange. Although this process is almost free (it costs €60 to register with the service) it involves a lot of work. We had to take appealing photos of our house. This was not as easy as it seems. The photos’  job was to make our house look appealing to tourists. We had to de-clutter the house before photographing it. We should also have waited for a sunny day to take the outdoor shots of the house. In Ireland there aren’t many of these. I didn’t have the patience and took the shots on a rainy day. At least my guests knew what to expect from an Irish summer. 

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Our apartment (in the background) was close to many great facilities


The resulting exchange gave us many advantages over a conventional holiday. We were able to be close to my wife’s family. But not too close. We had use of the exchange family’s car which – something we usually never have when we go to Pamplona. The children had the use of their children’s
 toys. They even left us their camping equipment in case we decided to venture out into the wild. We stayed in a part of the city that we didn’t know. It was great.

Camino’s (our hostess) apartment was an example of all that is great about high density, high rise living – everything was near. Their apartment was overlooking the central plaza. There was a playground downstairs for the children surrounded by lovely bars and restaurants, wafting out the aroma of pinchos (Navarra’s answer to mini tapas), wine, and (my favourite) egg and chips. We joined the local library, a five minute walk away.

The following summer it was our turn to make our house live up to its description. Fortunately we were able to leave all of our clutter in the garage for a few weeks. We wrote detailed instructions on how to work the various things in the house. This took about a day’s work. It was a bit stressful. 

All in all the home exchange offered us many advantages over a paid holiday. It was in many ways more comfortable than staying in a hotel. But it wasn’t as convenient as booking a holiday with a travel agent. 

Please share your money saving holiday ideas with me. If you have been on a home exchange where did you go? What was your experience like?

Your dream holiday…. for free!

I woke up with a heavy heart. 6:30am was too early to be getting up when I was on holidays. I slowly came to, had a shower and breakfast and we were off. It was a half hour journey to work. It wasn’t long before my mood changed. We saw an Emu, startled by the noise of our approach, race across the road, mystical in the haze. The sky was blue, the road sides were rusty orange. And it was hot – in January. I was with my best friend, Fergus, on our way to work in the Devil’s Lair Vineyard, Margaret River in Western Australia. We were on our way from Perth to Sydney and had stopped to take in the beautiful scenery and find out what it was like to live in such a beautiful part of the world.

Morning in Margaret Vineyard

Thanks to iStockphoto.com

There were many moments like this. I got to know other back-packers, energised by the break from their normal routines and quirky locals. We chatted while we worked in the sun. The air was always full of birdsong: the cuckaburra laughing, gollas warbling.

It is one of the nicest ways to get to know a place: a working holiday. The benefits: a unique, fully paid for holiday with free exercise, healthy eating, camaraderie and perspective.

Now I’m married with children, anchored to Dublin with a mortgage and few working opportunities. Are those days gone forever? No! I’m determined not to let this hold me back.

Teaching in Jaca

Teaching in Jaca

I’m restricted in my choice of working holidays. But there are still some available. My plan for Summer 2014 is to take time off and work in Spain. This time as an English teacher in beautiful Jaca. The children will be 5 and 7. I’ll enrol them in the attached school for Spanish lessons. Its a long way off. But I need to dream. What’s your dream holiday?