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San Antonio: Beyond the Typical


San Antonio is city with many sides. Located in south central Texas, it holds the distinction of being the 7th most populated city in the US. However, it feels a little differently than your typical metropolitan area might. Things are just bigger in Texas, so San Antonio is a bit more spread out and less densely populated than many other major hubs in the US. The town has a rich history. It was first named by Spanish explorers in the late 1600s in honor of its namesake, Saint Anthony of Padua. I traveled there this past year for the first time and I’ll admit, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I disembarked the plane. The only preconceived notions I had of Texas were of 10 gallon hats, big belt buckles, cattle ranches, and the like. However, I found San Antonio to be a bastion of culture, filled with rich history and interesting locales.
I was lucky enough to enjoy a stay near Riverwalk, which is a huge center for tourism, dining, shopping, and entertainment. Encircled by a winding river, the quaint cobblestone streets are tucked under the busy downtown traffic, providing a cool oasis and a scenic place to stroll. The first impression San Antonio gave was most certainly the food! It’s the definition of authentic Tex-Mex and each restaurant is sure to put their own spin on the flavor, so you won’t have the same meal twice. The drinks are nothing to shake a stick at either – from prickly pear margaritas to more traditional fare, this is absolutely a town that knows how to eat and drink in style. Even the tucked-away holes in the wall that were well outside of the tourist district did not disappoint, and the prices were surprisingly reasonable for a city of this size.
My visit happened to coincide with their annual jazz festival, which was a site to behold. Throughout the week, I saw signs of several other planned events and festivals. It became quickly apparent that there isn’t any shortage of things to do here. If you’re looking for a culture experience during your visit to San Antonio, it shouldn’t be difficult to find an event that fits the bill. San Antonio blends a lot of culture and history into one town, so expect their festivals to be equally diverse and exciting. Because of the reasonably temperate climate allowing them to operate almost year-round, San Antonio is able to offer more outdoor festivals than many other cities.
If you’re looking for a trip full of rich history, great food and drinks, and plenty of stimulating cultural activities, then San Antonio should be high on your list of places to visit. There are famous historical sites, like The Alamo, that have proven to be timeless tourist favorites. There is certainly a lot of the traditional Texas in this city, but I found San Antonio to be diverse and different, with interesting and unexpected twists almost everywhere you go. From the tourist district to the hidden gems that reside off the beaten path, San Antonio is far more than typical.

Thank you to travel writer Emma Sledge.  

Travel Tales of Travail New York City Airports


As you might imagine, I love travel!  Why else would I be a travel writer?  Though some of the highlights of my life have been on the road or abroad, I have also experienced one too many “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” moments. That is why I am starting a series of “Travel Tales of Travail” blog entries. This one is just a smattering of what I have experienced driving to, flying from, flying to and within New York City Airports:
Front against Front
It was a dark a stormy night (I joke not) upon my first arrival at JFK.  There were swarms of people due to delayed flights because of the weather.  I was initiated into New York City living when I was crammed into an elevator with numerous others from all over the world with various travel aromas wafting through the enclosed space.  When people began to complain about their fronts being smashed against other people’s fronts, from within the crowd came a New York City accent declaring, “What do you expect?  This is New York, New York.”  And indeed it was. 
When I finally reached outside to the line for cabs, it was so long, I was almost cried.  Again, amongst the crowd I heard a New York City accent declaring in front of a bus (he was not an employee of the bus company), “We’ve got Manhattan, Manhattan, everybody Manhattan.”  It was then I decided to take the bus into the city and not a cab.  The ride was long and slow, but at least I had been initiated into the front against-front problem—there were many more to come in crowded subway trains with some not-so-gentlemanly types taking advantage of the situation. . .
La Guardia via Harlem
I ended up moving to Manhattan.  As you might imagine, it is difficult to bring everything you need and want on one flight so my brother-in-law Patrick, who is a pilot, had a flight scheduled to La Guardia and agreed to bring more of my things on the plane.
At the time, I was short on cash and was determined not to take a cab to La Guardia; therefore, I decided to take buses and trains via Harlem to La Guardia to pick up my things.  Having spent most of my life in Salt Lake City, you can imagine that I tended to dress on the conservative side, and I was, so to speak, fresh off the boat.  I looked like a porcelain-skinned Christmas doll when I arrived for the first time in Harlem.  I was the only white person I saw for blocks.  I came upon what I thought was the next bus stop.  I stood faithfully by the sign when I started to notice something strange—there was no one else at the bus stop.  I saw a bus nearby, but not near the bus stop when a nice young man and his girlfriend called, “Miss, Miss, not there!  Get the bus here!”  He asked the bus driver to wait, ran over and helped me with my empty suitcase, and helped me onto the bus toward La Guardia.  These are the strange, unwritten rules that a native doesn’t know; you don’t catch the bus at the bus stop, but somewhat away from the bus stop.
I made it to La Guardia, and picked up my things my brother-in-law had left for me.  Near the check-in counter was a beautiful, blonde man with a slight Southern accent.  He started to chat with me when he was notified by the airline employee that he would not be making his flight.  It was after this bad news, that he became decidedly friendlier, putting his arm around me and pouring on the charm.  At first I was flattered, but as soon as my brother-in-law called to make sure that I picked up my things, and Prince Charming heard me say my brother-in-law’s, name “Patrick,” he was gone.  It was then that it dawned on me that Prince Charming simply wanted a free place to stay and company for night; because of this, he was easily scared away . . .
Pulled over by the Police in New Jersey
Let me just start out by saying that New Jersey gets a bad rap.  In an American history class in college, I learned that part of the reason this all started was that across the Hudson River from New York City, there was a pig farm in New Jersey that stunk to high heaven, and when the wind blew just right, the good people of New York City also got a whiff of what the pigs had to offer.
Regardless of what the pigs had to offer centuries ago, New Jersey is beautiful.  Known as The Garden State, it is not only physically stunning, but some of the most gentrified folk and old money in the United States are in New Jersey.  This is where I spent some of my time.  My old boyfriend, “J” taught at a liberal arts college next to an idyllic forest and across from an old-money estate.  What could possibly wrong? One might think.  Somehow I not only had boyfriend trouble, but also travel trouble on the way to and from the Newark Airport not far from Manhattan. 
It was Christmastime after 9/11 and I was glad to be flying to Salt Lake to see my family.  I faithfully gave myself as much time as I thought I needed to get to the Newark Airport and boarded the bus.  The traffic was horrendous, and I missed my flight to Salt Lake.  When I told my sister Carolee, she simply laughed and said, “That is so you.  These things always seem to happen to you.”  Undeterred, I took a bus back to Manhattan and then headed again to Newark the next day.  This time I made my flight, and spent Christmas in Salt Lake.
Because of the recent events of 9/11, security was tight everywhere.  When I was in the Salt Lake airport, security asked me a few questions and brought me to the front of the line.  “You must be on some security list,” the guard said frankly.  Though I was questioned a bit, the good part was that they waved me on through when they were done; I had bypassed most of the line.
One would think that after that most of my travel troubles would be over.  Not true.  After I flew into Newark, my boyfriend, “K” (“J”, “K”, “L” . . . there were far too many boyfriends until I met my husband, “Deke”) was late picking me up, and I began to panic.  We were at the do-or-die stage of the relationship and I feared that in my absence “die” had won out (It was “die” three weeks later—splat—dropped from the 42nd floor of a Manhattan skyscraper).  He arrived late, and back we went on the bus to Manhattan.  We were about halfway home, when we heard a siren.  The New Jersey Highway Patrol had pulled over the bus driver!  I had never even seen that.  One thinks of bus drivers as being so careful and good at their craft.  Apparently, he had committed some minor traffic violation (the New Jersey police were notorious for pulling over vehicles with New York license plates).  We were sitting on the side of the freeway for a while when we heard the officer return.  Apparently, there was also some sort of licensing problem with the driver.  The officer dressed down the driver and his company then left for a long time.  The passengers began to get restless.  A man stood up and said, “What the hell is this?  We all have things to do!”  A child began to cry—not whimper—but cry so loudly it nearly shook the bus.
“Ma’am, “said a woman, “Could you please keep your child quiet?”
“Oh please,” responded the mother.
A well-meaning woman in the seat behind the child offered the boy a piece of candy, and his mother said, “He can’t have candy.”
By this time there was a veritable chorus of complaints directed both at the bus driver and the mother.  “K” closed his eyes and appeared to be going into a Zen-like state to deal with the situation.  I wish he would have done that more in general—it would have helped the relationship a lot.
After about forty-five minutes, the officer returned with a citation for the driver, and finally we were on our way.
The Lesson?  Always Give Yourself Plenty of Time to Reach a New York City-Area Airport
I went on to miss another flight from JFK to Florida, and barely made two overseas flights.  When you travel to New York, please give yourself plenty of time to make your flight—more than you’ll ever think you’ll need.
While International Vacation Home Exchange can’t foresee every travel mishap you may have, they can help you find the perfect luxury exchange home.  See how this works, and read testimonials.
Join me for my next installment of Travel Tales of Travail when I discuss delayed and lost luggage.

Thanks to travel writer Sona Schmidt-Harris – Follow her on Twitter @Sonag2000

Which Canary Island is for you?


Tourists from all over the world flock to the Canary Islands each year.  They are drawn by its stunning beaches, balmy weather and volcanic landscape.  The Canary Islands are a grouping of Spanish islands located just off the coast of Africa.  The weather is favorable year round, making it one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations.   Each of the islands takes on a personality all its own.  There are seven main islands to choose from and if you can’t seem to pick a favorite you can always take excursions to visit neighboring islands.  Why not visit them all!  Here’s an overview of what each one has to offer its tourists. 

Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands.  It boasts sandy beaches and an active nightlife.  The interior of the Tenerife is home to Mount Teide which is the 3rd largest volcano in the world.  Touring around the island you’ll come across a variety of banana plantations and parks to explore.  When considering where to stay on holiday, view this luxury presidential suite available for home exchange through International Vacation Home Exchange

Lanzarote is known for its volcanic terrain.  The Timanfaya National Park is one of the main attractions on Lanzarote.  The landscape of the island is most intriguing and may leave you feeling as if you just landed on the moon but rest assured the coastline has some of the most breathtaking views.  There’s an abundance of fabulous restaurants and bars to choose from with many offering some amazing views of the Atlantic. 

Gran Canaria is often referred to as a “continent in miniature” because of its variation in terrain.  The northern part of the Gran Canaria is green and leafy, the interior of this island has a mountainous terrain and there is dessert terrain to the south.  Needless to say there are lots of beach and water activities on Gran Canaria to enjoy.

Fuerteventura is the best choice for beach lovers.  This island boasts 150 beaches to explore.  Visitors can enjoy an abundance of water sports.  It’s a major holiday destination for surfers and windsurfers. 

There are 3 lesser known islands to explore on your holiday.  La Polma being the greenest and has the clearest sky, perfect for star gazing.  La Gomera and El Hurro are well known for their forest trails.

Looking for additional information on what a Canary Island holiday has to offer?  Contact one of  IVHE’s Personal Travel Researchers to help plan out the best way to get the most out of your island hopping holiday.

Thank you to travel writer Lisa Medeiros.  Follow her on twitter @lisamedeiros_


Pleasures of Traveling Alone


As a woman who married later in life, I have done a great deal of my traveling alone.  I found that there are many pleasures that traveling single affords.  I have been surprised to learn that many people won’t travel unless they have a companion.  I believe that this occurs in part because people aren’t fully cognizant of the benefits of traveling alone.
Your Agenda is Your Own
When traveling with others, you must consider their agenda, wants and personal quirks.  Not so when traveling alone.  Do you want to take photos for five hours straight?  What about leisurely meandering along the back streets of a favorite city?  None of this is a problem when traveling alone.
It’s A Wonderful Way to Meet New People
Whether you are looking for romance or just companionship, traveling alone makes you more approachable.  In Banylus-Sur-Mer, France, I enjoyed a fun conversation with some Australians at dinner.  On my way to Copenhagen, I met a lovely woman from New Zealand on the ferry. 
Regarding romantic interests, I had a potpourri of delightful men approach me (well—some not so delightful and this was when I was younger and cuter).  I met a sophisticated Italian gentleman on a train to Paris, and though there were no future encounters, I still remember his refined manner of speaking (in English and German) and how he made a long ride more enjoyable.
Hotels Will Sometimes Offer a Discount on Your Room
I didn’t know this was a possibility until I stayed at a Bed and Breakfast in Vermont.  The proprietor simply offered me a discount for occupying a room by myself.  When you think about it, it makes sense.  Generally, one person requires half of the maintenance of two.  Be sure and ask if a discount is available for single occupancy,
Talk About Me Time!
It’s all about you when traveling alone—your wants—your needs—your comfort.  What a change this is for most of us! 
Catch Up on Your Reading or Other Solitary Pursuits
I found that traveling alone was a wonderful time for me to pursue my interests in writing, reading and photography; there are few distractions on a plane or train for long periods of time.
It’s Both Rejuvenating and Relaxing
When is the last time you had as much time as you wanted to work out or just lie in the sun?  One of the most relaxing times I had was in French Catalonia sitting outside in a café drinking coffee—watching and listening to the waves of the Mediterranean.

Are you ready to treat yourself?  IVHE has this luxury exchange home in Paris—perfect for the single traveler.  See how this works and read testimonials.
Thanks to travel writer Sona Schmidt-Harris – Follow her on Twitter @Sonag2000

Free Activities in Florida


While traveling is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding and exciting hobbies around, it can also easily be counted amongst the most expensive. It is certainly possible to vacation for a reasonable price, but between the costs of travel, meals, lodging, and incidentals, it does add up quickly. One of the best ways to offset the costs of taking a trip is to seek out free attractions when you travel. Luckily, there is no shortage of free outdoor attractions and activities to do here in Florida that can help you keep a little spending money in your pocket without sacrificing enjoyment or excitement.
If you’re looking for a great free activity in Florida, the first place you’ll want to look is out to sea. With over 2,000 Kilometers of coastline, Florida boasts some of the most gorgeous public beaches in the world. You can easily spend the day catching a tan, swimming, and checking out the marine life at no extra cost. No matter where you go in Florida, you’re never more than a day trip away from a beach, so it has remained a staple of our great state. Each beach is different here as well, so this activity can be done multiple times in multiple places without losing its novelty. You’ll just have to spring for sunblock and drinks, but it’s not hard to find free parking and enjoy a day for minimal cost.
Another perk of visiting Florida is gaining access to the vast numbers of parks and trails in the area. Despite loads of development over the years, Florida has still maintained much of its wild roots and you will seldom find yourself very far from a nature trail or a park. There are actually over 5,000 miles of hiking trails alone in the sunshine state. While the federal and state parks do cost money to visit, the fees are negligible and will hardly break the bank. However, it’s also completely possible to get enjoy nature without any price tag. Most areas of Florida boast at least a few scenic trails, local parks, or preserved natural areas that don’t cost a dime to visit. You’ll have to research the area you plan to travel to in order to find out what options are available, but hiking or nature watching is a great free activity. You will never have the same experience twice, as the flora and fauna are constantly changing.
Festivals and local gatherings offer another option for those looking for a low-cost addition to their travel itinerary. One of the benefits of visiting Florida is getting to enjoy our temperate climate. The weather here is seldom harsh, meaning we have festivals and outdoor attractions almost year-round. These vary by location and the time of the year, but if you keep your eye out you’re very likely to find something that would appeal to you. Common local outdoor freebies include arts festivals, movie screenings, concerts, food truck rallies, and educational/wildlife presentations. These activities are family friendly and offer a real glimpse into Florida culture.

Overall, Florida is one of the absolute best vacation destinations when it comes to finding free outdoor activities. Whether you’re more into relaxing in the sun, getting some exercise in nature, or having a cultural experience, you’ll find what you’re looking for here. IVHE also has loads of wonderful vacation properties that are in keeping with a luxurious vacation without breaking the bank. There are plenty of other things you can spend money on during your trip, save a little bit and consider finding some free outdoor activities when you plan to travel to Florida!

Thank you to guest travel writer Emma Sledge.  

Find Your Beach in Cabo San Lucas


I was in my midish-20s when I boarded the plane for my first international trip. And we almost didn’t make the trip. The folks at Frontier Airlines had heartburn that my husband’s name on his ticket (Steve) didn’t match the name that wasn’t on his passport (Stephen). Security was still kind of tight back then. After some arguing, and possibly a phone call home to mom, we finally got on the plane for our trip to Cabo San Lucas.

Cabo San Lucas is a resort city on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. The city is known for its beaches, restaurants, and bars. It is arguably one of the most popular tourist cities in Mexico and because of that, Cabo still remains fairly safe. We traveled to Cabo to attend a friend’s wedding so we were in good company. In fact, maybe an hour after we landed in Cabo, I was already in a swimsuit swimming with fish (literally) at a private beach owned by the hotel we were staying at. Yes, Cabo is that awesome. Did I mention I was swimming with fish?

The next day, the wedding group jumped on a boat for a tour of the harbor and some snorkeling. Up until this point, I was sort of a virgin when it came to snorkeling. An hour after exploring the Pacific Ocean with my head underwater, I think of myself as a pro. Okay, maybe more like a novice, or amateur. But what an experience! We saw fish and even an octopus during our snorkeling tour. A year or so later, I would go snorkeling along the beaches of Hawaii. Though fun, it wasn’t the experience I got while snorkeling in the waters that embrace Cabo.

A few days later after this trek, another adventure: swimming with dolphins. If you bring children with you on your trip to Cabo, this is a must do. We went to Cabo Dolphins and for an hour, we got to touch, kiss (or be kissed), and swim with dolphins. If you know me, you know that I am slightly obsessed with dolphins. They are magnificent creatures in my mind. So this experience was a dream comes true!

So let’s review all the things you need to do while in Cabo:

Find your beach to swim, surf, or just simply relax and read a book.
Go snorkeling. Enough said.
Swim with dolphins.

Here are some other things to check out if you plan to visit Cabo San Lucas anytime soon (or need an excuse to travel to Cabo).

Visit El Arco de Cabo San Lucas. You don’t need a translation. You will, however, need a boat if you want pictures or an up close look at the arch.
Find yourself in a food coma. We are talking about some serious authentic Mexican food. So be sure to check out the local eateries.
Take a stroll along the marina boardwalk. You can visit local shops and meet some the locals who will all be more than happy to sell you something.
Visit neighboring San Jose Del Cabo.

There is really not a bad time of year to visit Cabo. I will say while we were in Cabo, there was a hurricane some distance off the beach. We left a few days before the hurricane made landfall which made for some exciting phone calls from my relatives. But it was fine. It is a tropical location after all. Another thing to watch out for is when you first arrive in Cabo. You may find yourself unwilling talking to someone about timeshares. Just say “no” and go about your day.

Let’s talk home exchanges. International Vacation Home Exchange as a few properties in both Cabo San Lucas and neighboring San Jose Del Cabo. You will either need to rent a car or hire a taxi to get from the airport to these home exchanges. Just talk with your IVHE coordinator. And as always, safe travels.


Thank you to travel guest writer Carla Pruitt. You can follow Carla on Twitter at @crobscarla 

Two Countries and Three Water Falls: Niagara


The United States and Canada share more than just a border. The two countries also share a spectacular sight that attracts millions of tourists every single year. And it all started with the last Ice Age some 12,000 years ago. When the ice began to melt, it created a geological wonder of what is now called Niagara Falls.

I promised that I would one day write a post about Niagara Falls. And here it is! Comprised of three waterfalls – American Falls, Horseshoe Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls – Niagara Falls is fueled by water from the Niagara River, which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. An average of four million cubic feet of water falls over the crest line every minute! You can view the falls in either the American side or the Canadian side. If you live in the states, you can simply fly into Buffalo, New York. Or if you have Toronto on your travel list, you can check out Niagara Falls during your trip. A reminder, you will need a passport to cross the border into both countries.

The cities surrounded Niagara Falls tend to get busy during the summertime, when temperatures are warm enough to see the falls during both the daytime and nighttime. In fact, from the Canadian side, floodlights will illuminate both sides of the falls for several hours after the sun goes down. There are several paths that you can walk along to see the water falls and Niagara River. The oldest tourist attraction at Niagara Falls is the Maid of the Mist boat cruise. During this cruise, you will get an up close and personal view of all three waterfalls. Cruise boats have been operating since 1846. You can also book helicopter tours or even a helium balloon ride.

If you want to avoid the crowds and don’t mind cold (and I mean bitter cold) temperatures, you can certainly tour Niagara Falls during the winter months. The snow and freezing temperatures only enhance the beauty of Niagara Falls. Many of the abovementioned tourism options may not be available during the winter months. However, the trails are still open so you will be able to walk around and enjoy the serenity of Niagara Falls during the winter without the herds of tourists. Just be sure to dress warm.

After you have taken 500 photos of the Niagara Falls, there are other places around the falls that you should definitely check out during your trip.

·         Experience a unique view of the falls from the Niagara Sky Wheel. The 175-foot tall Ferris wheel is located in Ontario, Canada.
·         Walk through the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory. The conservatory is also located in Ontario.   
·         Take a hike through the Niagara Glen Natural Reserve and explore the Niagara River.
·         Take an elevator to the observation deck to Skylon Tower.
·         Get some ideas for your garden with a tour of the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens.

If you need a place to stay during your visit to Niagara Falls, there are two International Vacation Home Exchange properties in Toronto. You can drive, or take a bus or train to get the water falls. Both the bus and the train have several departures during the day. Just be sure to purchase your tickets in advance. And as always, safe travels (and take me with you).


Thanks to guest travel writer Carla Pruitt. You can follow Carla on Twitter at @crobscarla

Perfect Guacamole for Your Beach House Holiday


Nothing celebrates summer like a freshly made bowl of guacamole paired with a nice frozen margarita or an ice cold beer.  It’s the perfect starter to enjoy while you fire up the grill at your summer home exchange.  If you’re anything like me, you are constantly on the hunt for a quick and easy recipe that’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser.  You might call this one my “signature dish” and I’m happy to share it with you. 

Ingredients:
2 avocados
2 limes
3 Tbs diced red onion
2 Tbs finely diced jalapeño peppers (remove the seeds)
1/3 cup tomato (diced with seeds removed)
3 Tbs cilantro
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 tsp pepper

Squeeze the limes into a bowl 
Cut the avocado in half and remove the seed.  Scoop out the avocado into the bowl and cut it into pieces. 
With two forks mash the avocado into chunky bits.  Add the sea salt, garlic salt, and pepper and combine.  Next add in the onion and jalapeño peppers and mix together then gently fold in the tomato. 
Top with the cilantro, serve with chips and enjoy! (don’t forget the beverages)
The real secret to great guac is a perfectly ripened avocado.  The only way I know of to check ripeness is to squeeze them in the stores but this causes bruising and ruins a perfectly good avocado.  To avoid this, you can choose an avocado that’s not yet ripe and let it ripen at home but that requires a lot of patience.  I haven’t yet come across a fool proof way to check for ripeness without bruising.  If you know of any tips that have worked for you in the past I’d love to hear about it in the comments sections below.

You haven’t made any summer plans yet?  IVHE.com has luxury homes around the world available for home swap.  There’s sure to be a property wherever you plan to dip your toes in the sand this summer.  Check out this fabulous home on the Jersey Shore or this beachfront luxury California home.  Plan a family reunion at this luxury, oceanfront property in North Carolina.  One of the many benefits of home exchange is having a full kitchen at your disposal.  There will be plenty of room in the fridge for stocking up on all the guacamole ingredients, margaritas and cold beer.  You’ll be able to sit back, relax and try out this easy, crowd pleasing recipe.  There’s no better way to cap off a full day of sun and beach activities. 
Thank you travel writer Lisa Medeiros.  Follow her on twitter @lisamedeiros_

Cape Cod – A Massachusetts Tradition


Jutting out to one of the most easterly locations in the United States is Cape Cod.  As if hesitant of reaching out too far into the Atlantic, the peninsula suddenly turns in an a northerly direction and then points back slightly toward the Eastern Seaboard like it does not want to completely forsake its motherland.  Yet reach out away from the continent it must.
The geography of Cape Cod has been a formative factor in its character.  At the very end of the Cape is Provincetown.   The first white settlers, the Pilgrims from England, arrived in 1620.  Though they were off-course, Provincetown Harbor proved to be further east and have calmer waters than the mouth of the Hudson River.  Since the first white non-conformists arrived, it has been a Mecca of non-conformity ever since (though the Native Americans there were ever non-conformists on the world stage).  The Pilgrims eventually settled north of Cape Cod, but the Cape remains an important part of American history. 
Provincetown had a vibrant whaling industry, and adventurous souls sailed from the harbor to join the hunt. The whaling industry soon faded, and in the early twentieth century, artistic souls began migrating to Provincetown.  Arrivals of such notables as novelist Susan Glaspell, Eugene O’Neill and others caused The Boston Globe in 1916 to declare Provincetown, “The Biggest Art Colony in the World.”  Visual artists and actors also settled in the community.
In 1940, Tennessee Williams arrived in town.  In more recent history, American Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz was an active member of the literary community.  I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Kunitz in New York City; he was a true mentor for poets.  He was 100 years old when he died and in his later years portrayed a kind of prophet-poet image—very rare for a modern poet.
A discussion about lively Provincetown would not be complete without mentioning how gay-friendly it is.  When I was there is the early 2000s, it was a sunny, beautiful, breezy day; I still see the many rainbow pride flags blowing in the wind backlit by sunlight.  It was the only place I have been in the entire world where as a heterosexual, I felt like I was the minority.  Provincetown remains an enclave of quiet, artistic rebellion and acceptance—maybe more now than ever.
There is more to Cape Cod than just Provincetown.  The island of Nantucket is a favorite getaway.  Refined and distinctive vacation homes abound.  IVHE has this classic luxury exchange home in Nantucket sure to please the most discriminating of vacationers.
One of the wonderful things about Cape Cod is the variety of people.  For some reason, New York psychologists and psychiatrists flock there in the summer; this is what in part inspired the comedy, “What about Bob?”  Maybe I will go there in August the next time I need to head shrunk (all too frequently I must confess).  While New Yorkers and other vacationers flood the Cape in the summer, there are salty, year-round residents who give the place its character and are the backbone of the community.
Just as varied as the people in Cape Cod are the restaurants.  You can get Cape Cod’s famous lobster in everything from fancy to casual environments.  I had lobster in a very casual restaurant and it was tasty!   
Come enjoy the iconic beach houses and fences so indicative of this special place.  View these IVHE luxury vacation homes, and see how it works.

Thanks to travel writer Sona Schmidt-Harris – Follow her on Twitter @Sonag2000

Vacation Washout - try games!


There are many things you can control while you travel and there are things you can’t control. Weather is one of those things. I’ve been on many trips where plans were washed out – literally. When my husband and I traveled to Hawaii in late 2008, Oahu was experiencing some of the worst flooding in recent memory. So instead of spending the first part of our vacation on the beaches of Waikiki, we were watching Christmas movies from our tiny hotel room. Even after the rain went away, we were still a little limited on what we could do since many of the beaches remained close because of damage caused by the rain showers and flooding.

Flash forward a few years ago, we now have a small child. So when we travel, we have to plan for a few hours every day at our home exchange for naps. I will be honest; I get really bored sometimes while waiting out a nap. Anyone who travels with (or without) kids knows that boredom is something you can’t always control, but you can plan for before you even leave your house. Smartphones and the iPad can certainly help pass the time. Though you should try to unplug while on vacation. Another option to help curb boredom (whether you have kids or not) is with some good old fashion board games. Board games, or really any game, is a great way to bring friends and family together while you are on vacation. This is especially true if you are traveling with children and can’t head out during naps or after the kids go down for the night. Or if the place you are visiting is experience historic rain showers.

Some vacation home exchanges may already have board games available for you to use. You can check with your International Vacation Home Exchange host. You can also pack some games to bring with you on your trip. Here are some of my favorites!

1)      A deck of cards. This really should be on every travel itinerary. You can play everything from poker and Black Jack to Go Fish and War. You can even bring a deck of cards on the plane with you to help pass the time while you are in the air.
2)      Catch phrase. I will admit, I am terrible at this game. But it is one that the whole family can play. If you are traveling with a large group, you can break into teams. The game is about the size of a small plate, so it will be easy to pack.
3)      Ticket to Ride. There are different variations of this game (Ticket to Ride Europe, Ticket to Ride India). And the board game is a fun way to teach kids about different countries around the world.
4)      Cards Against Humanity. If you haven’t played this game, you are missing out. I should mention that this game is for a mature audience. Once you play it you will understand why.
5)      Monopoly. This timeless classic has morphed into several variations (Star Wars Monopoly, The Wizard of Oz Monopoly). A perfect game to kill time for both kids and adults.
6)      Pictionary. Another game that I am terrible at since I can’t draw. But that is half the fun. All you need is a piece of paper and some adult beverages (or juice if the kids are playing). You can even brainstorm some prompts for everyone to try and draw.

If you don’t want to pack a game or two for your trip, a good old fashion game of charades can also help pass some time if you find your plans washed out while on vacation.

What are some of your favorite board games while you travel? Let us know by leaving a comment below. 

Of course if you are on a home exchange vacation, chances are the host family will have plenty of fun things to do right in the home you are visiting.  Thank you to guest travel writer Carla Pruitt. You can follow Carla on Twitter at @crobscarla 

How to Sightsee With Kids and Keep Your Sanity


We’ve been fortunate enough to travel extensively with our children over the years.   My kids have passports filled with stamps to prove it but I can remember a time when the mere thought of sightseeing with kids in tow was more than just a little intimidating.  Here are a few tips I’ve acquired over the years that will help make the travel more enjoyable for both kids and parents alike.

Ask About Children’s Activities
When touring places like abbeys and cathedrals, I’ve found they usually offer some fun activities to keep kids busy.  This might include a scavenger hunt, a checklist or some other activity that when completed the child can turn in and receive a prize.  It’s worthwhile to inquire at the ticket counter if they offer any of these activities or you can come up with some on your own.  They have always proven to be great family fun and you can even learn a few things yourself along the way. 

Book Private Tours
Always try to book private tours whenever possible.  Large group tours are tough on the little ones.  They have a difficult time seeing and hearing what the guide is saying and can lose interest easily.  When you book a private tour you can tweak the agenda to suit the age of your children and move at a pace that keeps the young ones interested. 

Purchase Tickets in Advance
It’s a good idea to not only purchase your tickets in advance but to book any Fast Track or VIP packages that are offered.  The cost is a bit more but you’ll save a bundle in stress and aggravation.

Limit the Walking
Little legs can only walk so long.  Most major cities around the world offer some type of city bus tour.  I think we’ve been on every one of these types of tours in just about every European city.  They are a great way to give the kids a rest (grownups as well) and still learn some history or facts about the area.  They also provide an easy, economical way to get around the city.

Treats and Rewards
A well-deserved treat is always in order after hours spent touring the sites.  Gelato, a toy or the promise of a dip in the pool has always been a few of our favorites.  Staying in a home exchange property with a pool is great way to travel with kids.  IVHE.com has many luxury homes all around the world and many are available with pools. Check out the amazing pool offered at this vacation home located just outside Paris or jump into the pool located at this exclusive property in Siena after a full day of sightseeing in Italy.  What kid wouldn’t endure a 3 hour Vatican tour if he knew he’d be doing a few cannonballs in that pool at the end of the day?

The most important thing to remember is that planning ahead is key when traveling with young children.  Sadly, the days of “just winging it” on holiday are long gone but if you put the time into a well thought out and organized holiday you can enjoy a trouble free get-away and be able to show your children what most kids only get to read about in history books. 

Thank you travel writer Lisa Medeiros.  Follow her @lisamedeiros_

Travel Safe and Smart


I was working the morning of September 11, 2001. I was a young video editor for a local television station in my hometown of Medford, Oregon. We were right in the middle of the morning newscast when we saw the live feed of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center. Shortly after our show ended, I had to edit hours and hours of video from both planes slamming into the World Trade Center, as well as the images from Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. Four months after 9/11, I boarded a plane to Portland. I had a panic attack in the middle of the flight. Now nearly 15 years later, I still occasionally get panic attacks when I am 20,000 feet in the air. There are some images that you will never forget.

That fear of flying hasn’t gotten any easier to overcome lately with recent incidents involving airplanes. I was flying through LAX when news of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 broke on news networks around the world. I was at the airport, awaiting a flight to San Francisco, when I heard about Flight MH17, the plane that was shot down in the skies above Ukraine. Now here we are, just days before I leave for Denver, and another plane has gone down. EgyptAir Flight 804 was heading to Cairo from Paris when it vanished from radar. It is believed the plane crashed somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea with 66 people aboard at the time. I also believe I have the worst timing when it comes to flying.

It is hard to escape the headlines. Right now, I am looking at a headline on CNN that states: “Is flying more dangerous than ever?” The next article I see: “Is It Safe to Fly?” Recent incidents involving airplanes certainly begs these questions. However, the headlines and news reports are misleading and tend dilute the statistics. According to data released by the International Air Transport Association, more than 3.5 billion people flew safely on 37.6 million flights in 2015. The odds are certainly in your favor. Air travel is still relatively safe even today. There are a lot more car crashes then plane crashes. However, automobile accidents don’t get the same kind of coverage compared to a plane crash. So it is easy for anyone to reach the conclusion that flying is dangerous.

But what about terrorism? That’s a fair question considering recent events. Unfortunately, we live in a time where terrorism is our new normal. The events of September 11 taught us that lesson. And remember even before 9/11, there were incidents of planes that were brought down because of terrorists. It is because of this reality that you get to stand in long lines at security checkpoints (and if you are flying through large airports, these lines can last for an hour or more). This reality should never keep you from flying. Again, 37.6 million planes flew safely around the globe in 2015. I’m honestly more worried about that pesky Zika Virus when I travel.

There are a few things you can do to keep your mind at ease the next time you board a plane for your International Vacation Home Exchange.

1)       Pack smart. Be sure to check and see what you can and cannot bring onboard a plane. It will save you some hassle at the airport.
2)      Check alerts. If you are traveling abroad, look and see if there are any travel alerts that you should be aware of in the country you are traveling to for vacation.
3)      Arrive at the airport early. Security is incredibly tight and that means you will likely face long waits at security checkpoints.
4)      Be patient. Long waits and random checks can get frustrating. Be patient and let security officials do their jobs.
5)      Report anything suspicious.
6)      Listen to instructions from crew members onboard the plane.

Most importantly, have fun. Your next trip is going to be fun and a memorable one. Don’t let recent events convince you otherwise. And as always, safe travels.


Thank you to guest travel writer Carla Pruitt. You can follow Carla on Twitter at @crobscarla 

Interesting Facts about London’s Iconic Black Cabs


Everyone’s familiar with the Black Cabs seen around London but if you think they are the same as any other taxi service around the globe then think again.  Many would argue the London’s Black Cabs are the most reliable and professional cab service in the world and there’s good reason for that.
Anyone interested in perusing a career as a Black Cab driver will need to pass a grueling test known as “The Knowledge of London” or “The Knowledge” for short.  This test has been given to prospective Black Cab drivers since 1865.  Most candidates spend anywhere from 2 to 4 years in preparation for this intense exam.  Candidates must know 25,000 streets, 100,000 landmarks and 320 main routes.  They are required to know every minute detail within the 6 miles radius of city center.  You won’t find any GPS or Sat Nav devices in any Black Cab. Your driver will know the city well enough to know the best route to your destination, how to avoid traffic and will get you there in record time.  No need to google an address to give to the driver either, just let him know where you are heading and rest assured he’s familiar with the location and will know the best route to get you there. 
You’ll find these elite drivers to be a wealth of information.  They are a great source for information about the city, travel advice, recommendations or just to hear a few amusing stories.  You are always guaranteed an interesting conversation on your journey. 
The look of the traditional Black Cab has changed in recent years.  Today not all Black Cabs are black.  You’ll find many in an array of colors or multi colored.  Often they are covered in advertising.
Almost all Black Cabs are owned by the driver and operate as their own independent business.  When you step inside a Black Cab it’s almost as if you’ve just entered the driver’s home.  I’ll never forget the look on a driver’s face the time I hopped in a cab with a friend visiting from New York when she began unwrapping a turkey sandwich she had in her bag.  After being scolded for her lack of Black Cab etiquette, she argued that she always eats while riding in NYC cabs and couldn’t understand why there was an issue.  I’m sure he got a lot of millage out of that story by using it to entertain his next several passengers. 
With all those years of hard work and preparation Black Cabs are, needless to say, not the most economical way to get around London.  If you are trying to stick to a budget on your London holiday then there are a host other more cost effective ways to get around the city but no trip to London is complete without at least one Black Cab adventure. 
Experience London as a local by choosing one of International Vacations Home Exchange’s England properties for your next home swap.  Stay in this contemporary waterside flat or this central London 2 Bedroom flat and after a day of sightseeing you can trust a Black Cab to get you home safe and hassle free.  Just be sure to never eat your lunch on the ride, it’s a dead giveaway you’re a tourist. 

Thank you travel writer Lisa Medeiros.  Follow her on Twitter @lisamedeiros_

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