Skip the Mona Lisa and Try These European Gems

When you plan a vacation in Europe on a holiday exchange, you may put on your list several tourist destinations, such as the Louvre or Buckingham Palace. While both of these places are fun and interesting to visit, you may have visited them before, and want something new. If you’re looking for a new destination for your European vacation exchange, try some of these hidden gems!

Gloucester Cathedral

Photo used under Creative Commons from Flickr user Ell-r-brown
Photo used under Creative Commons from Flickr user ell-r-brownr

If you are on a home exchange in England, consider visiting Gloucestershire. You’ll find the country beautiful and quaint, with a number of things to see or do. For instance, you can visit the Gloucester Cathedral, which has stood for nearly a thousand years. Being witness to this much history is a great way to spend the day. Visitors are welcome to attend a service or event put on by the church, with a coffee shop available for guests to relax with a cup of tea or coffee. You’ll see architecture and art that dates back to the middle ages while you tour the grounds. One highlight of your trip will be seeing the Great East Window in person, which features an entire wall of glass from the 1350’s. It once was the largest window in the world, and features depictions of popular Christian figures including Jesus and Mary. There’s also more recent art as well, because the cathedral regularly commissions new works from artists.

Wilton’s Music Hall

If you’re visiting London, take a trip to a unique hidden gem known as Wilton’s Music Hall. It’s the largest music hall in the world and is an operating performing arts venue. Thanks to its faithful supporters and volunteers, the heritage of the hall is preserved with loving detail. The sightseeing tour is less than 10 pounds, and highlights the magnificence of the building. You’ll learn about the history of the building, including its original life as a pub and how it survived the London Blitz. In December, an Arthur Conan Holmes-inspired show known as “Mrs. Hudson’s Christmas Corker” will be available. Definitely seek this spot in Graces Alley. Some visitors online have remarked they had trouble finding it, so ask a local if you need to, but be looking out for signage!

Freightliners Farm

London has gardens aplenty, but have you ever visited a working farm? Freightliners Farm is an urban farm with chickens, sheep, cows and more. It’s also a charity, and works to educate its visitors about horticulture and sustainable living. The name of the farm comes from the fact that the animals once lived in railway goods vans, but now they live in proper farm buildings. You can find workshops and other events at the farm, and it’s a favorite with school age children.

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11 Free and Cheap Souvenir Ideas for Your Child’s Next Vacation

One of the most fun aspects of going on a vacation for children is the ability to get souvenirs. Whether it’s a shell plucked from the sand of a beach, or a ticket stub from a favorite theme park, children like to collect souvenirs as a reminder of a favorite trip. If you’ve ever been to a gift shop while on vacation, you know prices can be steep, particularly in popular tourist destinations. However, you can get free and cheap souvenirs for your children (and maybe even yourself!) on your next house swap vacation. Read below to find out your best options!

Photo used under Creative Commons from Source

Photo used under Creative Commons from Source

Stamped Pennies

Many theme parks, such as Disney Parks, have stamped penny machines. These machines take a common penny, and for the typical price of $.50 to $1.25, will flatten, elongate, and stamp a penny with a random image. Did you know that you can find these machines all over the United States? Next time you decide to take a vacation with a home exchange, look for a penny stamping machine. Websites like will provide you with a list by state and country of penny machines, so you can visit one or several machines on your trip. Once home, you and your child can arrange the pennies in a frame, and maybe include a note about where you got each penny. If going overseas, having a few pieces of the local currency is always a good way to get a souvenir as well.

Pins and Buttons

I like to collect a pin from every place I travel, whether it be a theme park, zoo, museum, or just a new city. I display my pins on a lanyard on my walls, where they’re a patchwork of memories of fun vacations. Encouraging your children to opt for a small souvenir, such as a pin, saves room in your suitcase (and avoids you having to pay pesky overages!), and lets you stretch the souvenir budget. Most pins range between $3.99 to $8.99 in price, and some locations will have a variety of designs, so you can choose your favorite. Next time you visit a place on a house exchange, consider purchasing a pin so you can remember your trip to Dallas, Texas or Venice, Italy, or wherever you may end up! Once home, you can display them on a lanyard, or try putting them in a piece of cork board. If you frame the cork, you have an attractive display of souvenirs that are cheap, fun, and small, yet eyecatching! Your visitors will comment on the clever display and ask you questions about where you’ve been – it’s a perfect conversation piece for adults, and fun for kids.

Photo used under Creative Commons Source

Photo used under Creative Commons Source


Magnets are another option for a cheap souvenir while on a house swap. Some travelers love to cover their fridge’s surface with magnets for every place they’ve been, while others like to just buy a few as they travel. Whatever your “style,” you can rest assured you will find a magnet for any place you travel, if there’s a gift shop handy! For your kids, you can issue little challenges when collecting magnets, such as “for this trip, collect magnets that feature animal” or “choose a magnet for your favorite stop on the vacation.” You can also get a dry erase board with a magnetic surface, hang it up, and display all of your magnets there.

Brochures, Pamphlets, and Menus

Souvenirs don’t have to be expensive. Are you visiting a number of good local restaurants and attractions? Why not just collect the brochures and various other “ephemera” to bind up in a scrapbook? You can collect them for your child, and then when you get home, you can make a scrapbook together. Let them decorate the pages with stickers, photos, and drawings illustrating your vacation, and write about why they liked each place. It’s a personalized souvenir that didn’t cost you anything, except maybe the materials such as crayons, etc. Your next home exchange with The Vacation Exchange will probably provide plenty of options for this souvenir type!

Fill Up a DIY Passport

Why can’t kids have a “passport” of their own? There are multiple printable versions online for your child to use on your next home exchange. You can take the example of this crafty mother and make your own. Sit and browse with your child online, looking for things to do, places to visit, and restaurants to visit on your trip. Then fill in the journal with each “thing” and let your child illustrate the “passport” throughout. If you want, you can even purchase inexpensive stickers to give to your child for each destination. As you visit each place listed in the book, they get to collect a sticker. At the end of the trip, they’ve checked off the places, added their drawings, and have a sticker to commemorate the events. This version of a souvenir is a much more personal option than a gaudy gift shop stuffed animal or plastic toy, and also won’t take up room in the suitcase.

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5 Exciting Places This Winter for a Vacation Exchange

As winter arrives, you may be thinking of a good destination for a home exchange vacation. While Aspen is one of the most popular winter vacation destinations, if you’re looking for a new set of ideas, we’ve got plenty. Consider a house swap vacation in one of these exciting spots this winter.


Have you ever visited Michigan in the winter? The state is known for its ample amounts of snow and an abundance of activities. It’s time to consider Michigan for your next house swap, because we have plenty of options for you to explore the state.

Frankenmuth is known as Michigan’s “Little Bavaria” and is less than three hours from several of our Michigan home exchange properties. This charming town features has things to do for adults and kids alike, including indoor and outdoor activities. The town has a magic about it, and you’ll feel you’ve been transported to a quaint German village. Tourists and residents love watching the clock tower at noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m., and 9 p.m. daily as the landmark plays a 35 bell Carillion and then depicts imagery from the Piped Piper of Hamlin folk tale. A Christmas museum, and Frankenmuth’s famous fried chicken are just a few of the reasons to visit for a quick day trip.

Photograph used under Creative Commons - Flickr user eepaul

Photograph used under Creative Commons from  Flickr user eepaul

If you’d like to indulge in winter sports, you can’t go wrong with Michigan. Tubing, sledding, skiing, and snowmobiling are just some of the options for this great state. Nubs Nob is known as a great ski destination for families, and features 43 slopes. For a departure from winter sports, consider a little cultural exploration. Do you love exploring wineries? Suttons Bay has several wineries for you to visit, such as Black Star Farms, L. Mawby Vineyards, and Longview Winery. If museums are more your taste, Michigan has several throughout the state worth seeing, including The Henry Ford Museum, Great Lakes Children’s Museum, and the History Center of Traverse. When the snow is falling, you can take in art and history at your leisure at these attractions.

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An Update from The Vacation Exchange Network’s New North Bimini Ad Agency

We at The Vacation Exchange Network have always believed that our uniqueness speaks for itself.  But thanks to one of our members, it no longer has to….

When Berne and Sam Webb were on a home exchange vacation in the Bahamas, a conversation with a few couples from Miami, Florida quickly turned into a lively presentation about the benefits of The Vacation Exchange Network, complete with a hands-on demonstration!

The Webbs have been Vacation Exchange Network members for a few years.  Last year, they traveled to Sanibel Island, Florida on a non-mutual house swap.  Berne tells me the Sanibel home was beautiful.  Located a few blocks from the beach, it also had a pool in the backyard.  Perfect for an afternoon swim or as a backdrop to evening cocktails.

North Bimini Island in the Bahamas was the Webbs’ vacation destination this year.  This home exchange was mutual and non-simultaneous; the owners of the home in Bimini plan to travel to the Webbs’ home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts at a different time — when the weather in Cape Cod is at its best.

So, how did we convince Berne to serve as our remote marketer?

No convincing was necessary.  Sitting in a North Bimini Island cafe, Berne and Sam struck up a conversation with a few couples sitting at a nearby table.  “What brings you to the Bahamas?” they asked each other.  Berne’s response that she was on a home exchange sparked wide eyes from the other couples, so Berne went on to provide them with a lively description of home swapping with The Vacation Exchange Network.  With her fellow cafe goers’ interest piqued, Berne opened up her laptop, fortunately remembering  her PIN, and took her captive audience on a tour of the Vacation Exchange website.  The other couples were laughing and clapping along with Berne’s enthusiasm.  Apparently, she didn’t even need the white board and film projector we offered to send her!

One of the Miami couples was particularly interested in traveling to Italy, so Berne showed them The Vacation Exchange Network’s homes in Terracina, Rome, and Teramo.

Teramo Italy Vacation Home Exchange

Berne tells me that she raved about the travel opportunities afforded by vacation home exchanges.  Since the Webbs’ children are grown, their travels no longer need to be tied to school vacations.  Like our other members, the Webbs enjoy the freedom and flexibility afforded by the non-mutual and non-simultaneous home exchanges that are the hallmark of The Vacation Exchange Network.  The Webbs can travel when and where they’d like to travel, without the necessity of finding someone else who wants to use their home at the same time.

While hiring a public relations firm to do publicity about The Vacation Exchange Network might get us a few lines in some travel magazines and allow us to garner invitations to a few fancy cocktail parties, having members like the Webbs is much more rewarding.  Our thanks to the Webbs,  and to all of our other members, who speak so graciously about our service.

Please visit The Vacation Exchange Network’s site to join our home swap network, to learn more about how home exchanges work, or to refer a friend to The Vacation Exchange Network.

Have you had an opportunity to tell someone about The Vacation Exchange Network or about your home exchange vacation?  We’d love to hear about it.  Use the comment box below orcontact us via email.  We look forward to hearing from you!