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THE ROAD TO OUR FIRST SWAP 

by Ken Hampel  Ottawa, Canada and Campbell's Bay, Quebec, Canada (listing #564 and #616)
Just wanted to share the beginning of our families first home exchange experience  - not only because it is new to us, but because we know it will be such a great way to travel anywhere in the world and instead of staying in the middle of the usual tourist areas (and "traps"), we will be able to stay in an area where all the local people actually live and go about their day to day business.....and you meet the nicest people!!

We have never been involved in a home exchange - once a year our local newspaper always did an article on the "home exchange" concept and I always read it with interest and had always said to my family that I was going to submit a membership, with a fee, and receive that "magic book" with all those homes and destinations that I wanted to see and read about !!  This was back in the days when the internet, with all it's advantages and easy access did not exist, and all the potential home exchangers were listed in a "catalogue" - I can't say much more about it as I never did become a member !  I had always been interested in the idea of exchange, as I never did like hotels and their "cold" surroundings and we always loved to meet and talk with new people - especially from other countries.

When our children were younger we always went on our annual camping trip at the school years end, and this was where we first met all those honest and friendly people who were all so interesting to talk with and always wanted  to share their travel experiences with you and wanted to know about your local sights and places of interest....then they would tell us of their home area and their attractions...many times we exchanged home town addresses. As time went by, the "home exchange" idea seemed like a logical step to "upgrade'"our accommodation facilities and still get to meet all these "nice" people - and all this would be available to us, but with no camping gear to pack and carry!
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We may be swapping sooner than we thought... 
Still, no steps were taken until our 16 year old daughter was nearing her last year of high school and we decided to give her a choice as to what trip she would like to take with the family, as a way to celebrate her graduation from high school.......not taking long to answer, with a grin she said Europe! We had always talked of going to Europe, but it was always mentioned as a trip that my wife and I would plan to do after our retirement, when we would hopefully have more spare "time and money"!!  We told her that would be a nice trip but we would probably have to go with a second choice - plus the fact that her 15 year old brother would also be joining us - the cost of 4 people going to Europe in high tourist season (and we knew of the cost of hotels in Europe, from our friends who had just returned from a holiday there) - was enough to make us think of alternate plans for a vacation... 

At that time I was just beginning to use the internet and it's "search engines", to look at travel options and destinations, (this was March 2000), and that is when I came across the "home exchange" web sites....it was very interesting, especially to see pictures of the homes of the people who were wanting to exchange and their desired destinations - but to be able to get in contact with them, you had to become a member and that could cost up to, and possibly over, $100. (don't forget we are Canadians on a U.S. web-site !) It is not just the idea of spending the money, but it is the idea of entering into something that you are not sure will work - as we did not know anyone at that time that was a member of an exchange network.

At least that was the way, until friends of ours,  who knew of our interest, told us about the Digsville- home exchange site with all of it's "extra" and informative ideas. Of course I went to that web site and found not only all the listings that were there to look at, but it also had all sorts of information on the "home exchange" idea and tips to get started. I spent my spare time over the next few days checking out the desired destinations of the Digsville home listings and found several that looked like a good match.
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Making initial contact
I started one evening by sending out about 10 emails, stating my interest in their home listing......most people responded over the next few days and I found that one was very interested, several may be interested in the future ( I had asked that specific quesion), and the rest declined, giving their reasons - usually that they had already planned their next exchange.

I felt very positive about the response I had received, and with that in mind I sent out some more emails the next week....after all this, I now have 3 to 4 very positive responses that have expressed a lot of interest in wanting to visit our home area and would consider an exchange in the future....... The exchange that we have agreed upon for this July 2001, is with a family in Germany - and now, after writing so many emails back and forth (we have exchanged Xmas cards by  snail-mail), this family now seem to be like old friends with us and now we have made plans to over-lap our holidays back in here in Canada, so we can spend the last week of their holidays in Canada, with them at our home!  When we first agreed to this exchange, I must say that we were nervous - this is all new to us..... -  we have just booked our flights to Germany, and now I would say that we are more excited, than nervous, about our trip this summer. I have read somewhere, that to make one successful home exchange, on average, it takes a person to send out 20 to 25 letters of interest - don't know how accurate these numbers are, but just wanted to mention that, so no one should not get too discouraged if they do not get a positive response in the first few contacts that are made..... Exchanging the Digsville Way

Needless to say, we cannot say how much we are really looking forward to this holiday in July - not only because it is an entirely new way for us to be taking a vacation - but because it is a trip that we are able to take, years before the time that we thought we would be in a position to do so.....and as a big bonus, we are taking our children along with us, which is something that we had not thought of in our original plans - and this is all made possible because of the "home exchange" idea.....needless to say, we have now listed our two homes on the "Digsville.com" home exchange site and we are hopefully looking forward to many exchanges in the years to come !!  And just to add - the Digsville staff certainly make you feel at ease when you decide to enter your home listing on their web site - they are fast and efficient in the work that they do and they give you that personal contact and interest that makes you feel that you really are an important part of their home exchange network ... fulfilling your desire to travel the "home exchange" way! 
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This article has been generously contributed by Ken Hampel, a member of Digsville since March 2000.

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