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Editor's Note- This is quite long, but the unedited input from Lian's
children and husband are well worth reading. Enjoy!

by Lian C.S. - Kent, England (listing #596)

We had a fantastic, relaxing 3 weeks' summer holiday in America, and yet it is the least expensive holiday we ever had. We swapped houses which made our  holiday cost  the price of the air-tickets plus expenses!

It was our first home exchange and we were very nervous at first. My son worried that the other family would trash his room and remove his precious collection of figures and CDs. I was worried that the other family would find my garden too small and untidy. I received a lot of offers for exchange from  Canada and America and we set our minds on a visit to Boston.

Janice, who lives in West Newbury said her house had two bedrooms and not very spacious. She offered to pick us up from the airport and that her three children would stay with friends and relatives because we would start our holiday 3 days before theirs. I was so touched by Janice's open, kind, warm and friendly attitude that I decided to swap homes with her despite that the children would have to share a bedroom. We sent photographs and provided each other with local tourist and neighborhood information. I felt that I knew Janice already by the time we finally met. I knew  we made the right choice.

Janice's house is not quite as spacious as our house, but it was comfortable for the family, particularly when you compare we would have to share hotel rooms. A large bonus is that we had use of Janice's car too. Janice was really helpful, and left us loads of leaflets about local events, and one thing, which was great, was that she marked a route for us to go to Niagara Falls. If she had not done this I am sure it would have taken hours longer to get there.
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A surprise was Janice didn't manage to catch her cat before she left for London. Every night the cat was meowing outside the house. I have a thing about dogs and cats, so I emailed Janice, wanting to know what to do with her cat. I contacted Janice's friends, Jan and David, who were very helpful and friendly. They brought us cat food and invited us to their home in Newbury Port for dinner.

I liked the open space and the forest greens around Janice's home and the pretty harbour in Newbury Port. Everyone seemed so friendly. We went to Lowell's folk festival, which was fantastic. It is the USA's largest free folk festival. I remember Mike's wallet fell out from his back pocket when we were watching the Del McCoury Band, and a kind man behind us tapped Mike's shoulder and said, "Excuse me sir, your wallet is on the floor". We just couldn't get over the fact that Janice left the two bikes outside the house unlocked. They would have gone a long time ago if it was left like that in London.

We stayed in Martha's Vineyard overnight. We booked two rooms in a lovely hotel in Oak's Bluff. Despite the fact that the hotel was very nice, the children appreciated Janice's house as a result, because of the space.
Janice and I have remained  friends and email regularly. Isn't this holiday better than a tour company? My family is now looking forward to next summer's home exchange. Even though we hope to visit Canada or America again I am open for offers and hope I will explore regions or countries with a taste for the real cultural discovery not possible in a hotel stay.
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Andrew (age 14)
When my mother told me we were having a home exchange, my first thoughts were along the lines of 'they'd better not trash my room'. A week before the eventual flight, I began to wish we had booked a hotel, as Mum wrote out huge lists of chores to do every day with my sister. Clean the house we did. Take out the dry foods from the cupboards we did. Clean our rooms we did. When it got to 'Hoover the garage' and 'sweep the shed floor' I suspected my mother was a little too much caught up in the whole cleaning business. It was a week of non-stop work.

Finally, everything was done. All the rooms were spotless, the surfaces gleamed, and our house looked new. We dragged ourselves onto the plane.
My first thought of the Americans' house was wood. Not afraid to emphasise the wood aspect of the house. It was a bungalow with five rooms and a basement where the traditional washing machine went. There was almost an empty video drawer, with films like 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' resting inside, which was the single bad thing about the house. I wondered how they would feel as they saw our film collection. Their beds were nice and cosy, as was the feel around the house. It was quite cool, so there was no need to have an air conditioner. The family also had broadband Internet (a rare thing in England) and a huge fridge, which were the best things about their home. Their house was fantastic.

Compared to a hotel room, their house was infinitely better. It had better everythings. There was no need to pack a huge amount of clothes for our stay, as we washed dirty ones. We had a much bigger fridge than a hotel room, and a cooker, so we could have proper meals at home. The best thing about staying in a house was that we didn't have to pay the huge sum of money needed to stay in a hotel, so our staying in America was largely free, which was the real reason for doing this in the first place.
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I found the idea of swapping houses with a family who I had never met strange at first, but Lian was determined to try it and worked hard at persuading me. Inevitably I agreed and am very glad now that I did, in fact I would prefer to never stay in an hotel again.

It meant quite a bit of work preparing our house. Much of the interior decoration needed redoing and we had also decided to add a conservatory to the back of the house this year, so that also had to be finished before we could swap. This is a real bonus about house swapping, as of course, our freshly decorated and spring-cleaned house was there waiting for us on our return from the holiday and we managed to get so much more done because of the motivation of the swap.

Now of course Janice and her family are no longer strangers. We've lived in each others' houses and swapped our cars. We got to know each other before through e-mails, photos, telephone calls and kept in touch during the holiday and afterwards.

It is a great way to spend a holiday in another country. We felt part of the neighbourhood and met some of Janice's friends who were really good to us.
Once I got over the strangeness of the idea, I really looked forward to the holiday and it really lived up to all my expectations and I am now looking forward to our next experience.
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This article has been generously contributed by Lian C.S. , a member of Digsville since December 2000
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