Secrets of success for a serial swapperRomance and travel are intertwined in Patricia Sands’ latest novel The Promise of Provence. The heroine, Katherine, pitches up amongst the summer sunflowers and lavender fields of the South of France. On the spur of the moment she had agreed on a house swap, but will it work out? More importantly, after a year of heartbreak, can Katherine find the key to restart a life blighted by heartache?
Patricia’s charming and insightful novel envelopes the reader in the sights and sounds of Provence as this stranger in paradise struggles to answer the question: Is it too late to begin again?
There is more than a little of Patricia in Katherine, particularly when it comes to home swapping. This gifted, 68-year-old Canadian writer is something of a serial swapper.
“I read an article on home exchange about 14 years ago and did some investigating,” said Patricia when the Reporter caught up with her at a well-attended book signing at Heidi’s Bookshop in Antibes.
“Everything sounded well-organised and the testimonials from experienced exchangers convinced me and my husband to give it a try. We love to travel and were at a point in our lives where longer stays in one place appealed to us. Home exchange certainly makes a difference in travel costs.
“We advertised our two-bedroom/two-bathroom, detached home with private pool in southeast Florida. It’s in a tennis/golf community and a 15-minute drive from fabulous beaches. We use www.Homelink.org but we also are listed with www.HomeExchange.com and Home Base Holidays, which are UK-based.
“Our first experience was three weeks in the Algarve in 2000. We also exchanged cars. When I asked our exchange couple to recommend a hotel in Lisbon, since we wanted to spend a few days there as well, they insisted we use a family condo they had. They picked us up at the airport and we had dinner with them twice in Lisbon.
“This to me demonstrates the attitude of people involved in home exchange – thoughtful, friendly, trusting. We have found this to be the case with every exchange and have remained in touch with most of the people. One couple in France have become good friends whom we see every time we are there.
“Our exchange in Nice last summer was our ninth. Our travel plans for 2014 include a two-week exchange in Switzerland before we go on to another one-month exchange in Nice. We know people who organise exchanges for several consecutive months when they plan extensive trips. It’s important to remember, too, that you can just as easily organise a weekend exchange. It doesn’t have to be long-term.”
What was the best-ever swap? “They have all been great but perhaps the most unique was a lovely villa in the middle of a vineyard in the Var. We were there for two months and joined in harvesting the grapes at vendange.”
Patricia reports only minor niggles from the many exchanges.
“There have been a couple of occasions where the bed was perhaps not as comfy as ours at home or, in the early days, where internet reception was not great. The latter has changed dramatically, which is an important aspect for us due to the nature of my work as an author.
“We have had absolutely no problems with anyone who has stayed in our home. I always have a housekeeper come in right after they leave and arrange for our exchangers to do the same for us. I don’t want to spend the last days of our holiday cleaning a house and doing laundry. Having said that, of course we clean the house daily during our stay as we would our own.
“On the practical side, as well as preparing a booklet about your house with all the info as to how everything works, where to find a doctor, dentist, shopping ... you need to arrange to have a friend or family member be on hand to welcome the people or call the day after they arrive to see if they have any questions.
“I think individuals will decide for themselves whether this type of experience appeals to them or not. Read everything you can about it, check out the websites and communicate clearly with the people to whom you send your enquiries.
“It’s a bonus that you can specify things like ‘no smoking’ and ‘no pets’. My husband has serious allergies so this is very important to us. However, let’s say you have a pet. You can also arrange exchanges with people who have pets that need care and you help each other in that regard. There’s something for everyone”.
In June 2014, Patricia will lead two women’s tours, based on her novel, spending four days in Nice and six in Avignon with day trips throughout the countryside. Nice-based author Ted Jones will be giving talks to both groups. See www.womenstravelnetwork.ca/promenade-en-provence