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How would you like to visit Paris in the spring? Sample local wines in Tuscany in September? Enjoy the English countryside in the summer? Sound like a dream? It doesnt have to be.

You can travel to some of the worlds most exotic and beautiful locations, and stay in an Italian villa, a Parisian pied-a-terre, or an English manor and youll only pay for airfare, dining out and tourist attractions!

How? By using a housing exchange service. Some of these companies have been around for 50 years, and are widely used in Europe, Asia and Australia.

It works like this. You pick what country you want to visit, when you want to go, and how long you want to stay. Arrangements are made, and you exchange homes with someone else.

This is a wonderful way to drastically cut costs, and yet see exciting, wonderful places. By staying in a home, youre not paying the high cost of hotels (which can run upwards of $125 a night) or dining in restaurants, saving you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars!

Plus, you get the added benefit of living like the locals do. You enjoy total immersion into the culture, and rather than being treated like a tourist, you have the opportunity to make new friends and participate in your surroundings as a member of the community. With a 'homebase' you have the choice of how you want to explore the region.

You also have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your home is being carefully looked after, your plants are being watered, and your pets are taken care of.

So, how do you get started? Do an Internet search for 'housing exchange.' Find a company that youre comfortable with. Sign up and join the housing exchange list. (Some companies have over 10,000 members!) Decide where you want to travel, when and how long you want to stay. Then, with a click of your mouse, you can find information of other, like-minded travelers, who want to visit your area.

You can look at pictures and read short bios about the homes, to help you make your decision, and then contact the owners to reach an agreement.

Here are some of the things youll want to agree on: Total number of adults and children staying in the home Use of the vehicle and its maintenance What linen will be provided in house, and how will it be cleaned? Care of pets Long distance phone calls

Dont worry though. Your housing exchange company can help you put together a list, and give you ideas for preparing for your guests.

Instead of going to a cold, impersonal hotel room, you go 'home' and are welcomed by your next door neighbor, who gives you the house keys and invites you to dinner the next evening, telling you to call them if you have any questions.

When you enter the front door, theres a bottle of wine and fresh flowers on the table to welcome you. You find a note on the fridge, telling you how to heat the light meal thats been prepared for you. On the kitchen counter is a pile of brochures and maps, giving you insider information about where to go and what to see.

Over the next week, you visit the places youve only dreamed about during the day, making new friends and building memories that will last a lifetime. And every night when you come 'home' you get to relax and unwind, without stress or worrying about anything.

You can have the vacation youve always dreamed about, and save thousands of dollars at the same time! Bon voyage!

By: Selvyn Patterson

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