California Dreaming by TotoKnits..

Posted on March 1st, 2011
Categories: News

It’s that time of year- time to buy our tickets for our annual States trip. I joke that the annual trip is part of our prenup- it is very good for the soul (read: essential) to get out of Kenya at least once a year to gain persepctive, regain an appreciation for life here and remember what traffic lights are actually used for. We get to go for 4-6 weeks each year to San Francisco- often with stops along the way- and I spend the other 11 months of the year dreaming of vietnamese food, walks on windy beaches, burritos and Trader Joe’s. And worrying about how the kids will behave on the 30 hour journey, where we will stay and how we will carry back all the irresistable loot not available here. Expats will be familiar with this mixed bag of emotions. Looking forward to all the excitement that the first world promises- the shopping, paved roads (by that I mean all-the-way paved, not just haphazardly), the cornucopia of choices – restaurants, grocery stores and on- is usually shadowed by the dread of long haul flights with children, visa applications (for some but more on that another day) and for most, it involves some sort of couch hopping- staying with relatives and friends and trying to make a family of four, or five, or more- and all the luggage and gear that comes with the children seem inconspicuous in hopes of being able to come again the next year. The trepidation of violating the three day rule- lest one end up smelling like rotten fish- is mixed with the hopes of being able to stay just a few days longer to avoid having to pack up aforementioned ever expanding cache of luggage once again. The exhaustion of everyone being on their best behaviour, melding in with the host family’s schedule and all the while trying to seem like you are taking up as little space as possible. (I still cringe when I remember staying with a family in Germany and the kids were not used to the morning light so woke each dawn at 4:30- four of us in a room with a pre-rational, pre-empathy two year old. Not pretty.) My mother’s house is too small for the four of us to stay with her. Although she has kindly offered to let us put up tents in her garden, I remind her I’ve come for a taste of the first world and would rather not be on safari. We’ve bounced around before- house-sitting, renting a place and staying as guests- but after the long plane trip to California, we’d much rather stay in one place for a while. Last year we did our first house swap through HomeExchange.com. I’d researched a whole bunch of sites but this one seemed to have the most listings in San Francisco, near my mom’s house, whichour main criteria. We soon discovered a world of people who only, or mainly, travel through exchanges- also called swapping but that sounds a little 70′s orgy to me… It’s defnitely a certain type of person who likes to travel like this- although there are many ways to do it (long term/short term, simultaneous exchange or second home exchange, etc.) and many different types of people. We’re sort of boring in that we can only take one big trip a year and it has to be to San Francisco but I’ve gotten emails from all over- Japan, Mexico, France, Sapin, Ireland, Hawaii- and I do spend a fair amount of time now daydreaming of croissants in Paris, sushi in Japan and the world of opportunities home exchanges can bring. (Especially the food.) The premise is so simple- although finding people who match the exact destination and dates takes time and diligence- and it makes so much sense for families like ours. Most of our budget is spent on the airfares so it really helps to have accomodation sorted – for free! Economics aside- travelling with kids is so much easier when you know you have your own space (for sleeping and eating on your own schedule rather than having to shush them 12123289423 times between 4:30 and 7am…) Last year we got a car in the exchange and gave our car and driver as part of our swap. There seems to be an unspoken rule of exchanging in that you suss out how equal the exchange is with the photos and amenities. There are no hard and fast rules but we figure while our house is rustic- to say the least- part of the exchange is the cultural experience of living the post colonial lifestyle -so getting a housegirl/cook, a driver, monkeys and warthogs in the garden outweigh not having central heating. (Or does it?)

We were lucky to have some recent photos of our house taken by a professional which was a nice touch and the onlycost was the annual subscription fee- $75 onlycost was the annual subscription fee- $75 .

We had a great time last summer thanks in large part to the great neighbours and their kids.  We went from Nappy Valley (our road is overrun with tots and strollers) to Sesame Street- a very friendly little enclave in the middle of San Francisco with tons of kids, friendly shop keepers and token gypsy fortune tellers downstairs. We were known as the family from Kenya and while I’m a San Francisco native,  I didn’t dare contradict anyone as it seemed to give us a special allure!

I’m already looking forward to this year’s swap-  getting to know San Francisco with fresh eyes, in a new neighbourhood, finding new restaurants  (can’t say I’m all that keen on cooking on holiday)  and parks and more. The kids loved the public library- which is great on blustery ‘summer’ days, the museums and the San Francisco past time- feeding the parking meter.  Doesn’t take a lot to thrill these Kenyans!  Deep down though- I’m hoping one day we’ll get the chance to explore the many other swap offers we’ve had. It’s a great way to travel with so many ways to do it.

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