How We Stayed in an $8,400 Villa in the South of France for Free

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Home Exchange

Was it magic? Kinda. Was it credit card debt? No. Did I cash out my 401k? No. Was it my rich uncle’s place? No. Did it really cost $0? Yes. Was it magical? Absolutely.

I mention it was kinda magic because I still can’t really believe we are people who do these things. It just never seemed possible. Maybe someday it would be possible, but that was dreaming, that was someday in the future life that I hoped existed, I just didn’t know when it would actually come around. Probably when I retire. It was time to make it repossible and the time was now.

Daily Bakery Runs in Nearby Village

If I were you, reading this article, I’d want to cut to the chase, stop with how glorious it all was, all of the mumbo-jumbo-feel-good-lifestyle-philosophy and get to that secret sauce, those little-known tricks that got us to this palace on the Mediterranean for two weeks of sun and leisure. OK, here goes, here’s the shopping list.

  • Priorities
  • Perspective
  • Perseverance
  • Preparation
  • Timing
  • Luck

Yeah, I figured you weren’t going to like that. Here’s the list you were looking for. In fact, if your were just scanning this article as fast as you could for the quick-fix answer, you’ll probably get here anyway. I’ll even make a big headline so you can get here more quickly:

The Quick Fix Super Secret Solution to a Free Villa in the South of France for 2 Weeks

  • Sign up for a free account at french-riviera-villa.com
  • Enter this secret code: U435heLk*wTp
  • Confirm your email
  • Bring sunscreen

Now that the quick fix seekers have left the party (kicking the flower pot on way out), we can get on with this.

As I’ve been putting together this article and working out how it should best be laid out, the order of the different points, I realized that the way we got this villa on the Côte d’Azur had less to do with the actual methods, travel tricks, and online deals than it did the mindset or the lifestyle that we like to live. Because, plainly put, if we didn’t have the mindset of this type of travel to begin with, none of it would have been even an idea, much less a plan, and never to arriving poolside in June. It also wouldn’t be of much use to you if you didn’t at least understand this mindset. At this point, you might be thinking that we went through a voodoo brainwashing and for only $149, you too can go stay in a fancy house … but your brain will belong to Dr. Evil. No Dr. Evil here. But it might take a bit of a mindset, uh, reset.

Priorities

I’m a huge fan of priorities. #1 fan. Stalker-level fan. I just think it’s everything–or close. It’s how we make decisions, or at least, how we could make decisions if we truly know what we desire. Our desire was to stay for two weeks in the South of France. General vicinity. Maybe in June. How are we going to make that happen? It’s going to be a give and take, sacrifice, and balance. If we wanted to have stayed in a hotel, we could have done that. But since we can’t afford $600/night for villas like this, we would have stayed in the cheapest hotel possible. But frankly, I don’t like staying in hotels. We have two kids, two boys, and they need outdoors, they need a place to pummel each other. Hotels tend to not have trampolines. I went to school in the South of France, maybe I could have looked up an old classmate. Yeah, that’s not going to happen.

It was going to take more sacrifice than that. If I wasn’t going to part with my  hard-earn cash, then we were going to have to part with something else.

No, I’m still not going to tell you.

Lounging by the Pool with the Dolphins

Perspective

Perspective is closely aligned with priorities: it’s how you see things, where you see them from. I also see perspective on the time continuum: what will my perspective be in 10 years? What about 20? 30? Talk to an older person, ask them what they regret from their lives. Ask them what events made them what they are now. I try to keep this in mind when planning an adventure. Of course, if you take it too far, you’ll end up penniless on a barge on the Mekong River, but still, you probably wouldn’t regret it. Perspective can also help you make decisions and if you see your life from the future back to the present, it can help you make the longer-term decisions.

No, we didn’t sell our child for the two-week stay.

Perseverance

Perseverance is key to achieving a longer-term goal. You have to want it more than the next guy and be willing to do the work to achieve it. Again, if we wanted to spend (or had) the money, this all would have been loads easier: call travel agent, wait on hold, sip drink, book seaside castle, arrive, bask in golden rays. But we don’t have that kind of money. Even if we did, I wouldn’t spend it all on some fancy room with a view. I would spend it on airfare, though.

But it took time. It took my wife many email exchanges working out the details, the dates, arrival times, how many people, the cars, the locations, where to get the key, how to turn on the pool heater. It was this perseverance that got us the place. She was relentless. Not annoying relentless, but determined.

You’ve probably figured out that I’m just not going to tell you until the end. Might as well keep reading. You’ve come this far.

Preparation

For longer-term travel, this is a very important step. This is where we’ll lose lots of you because it just sounds too daunting, too overwhelming, just plain too much work. Let there be no surprises: it might be a lot of work. Where are your priorities? The credit card debt or cleaning out the downstairs closet and making a manual of how the DVD player works? It took several months to get ready with the organizing, but also with the “getting ready to go” on our end. It’s not for the faint of heart or those not willing to put in a little hard work. OK, maybe a lot of hard work.

Timing

We were on things early. We knew when we wanted to go and it turns out that because our school district gets our earlier than most (and certainly earlier than those in Europe), we had an advantage. We played that card and we arrived to Europe before the masses.

Luck

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca

Did you see the section about preparation above? Then the next one about timing? That’s where you make your own luck. We were ready and we were on time–early in fact. But still, I’ll take a bit of luck if it comes our way. No questions asked.

Donald Duck Comics, Sunscreen & Baguettes. Essentials.

Donald Duck Comics, Sunscreen & Baguettes. Essentials.

So there you have it. It wasn’t so hard, was it? I feel like a magician at a kid’s party where he’s saying that he hid the long colorful ribbon but they can all still see it sticking out of his hat. OK, a really bad magician. Because I haven’t really said how we did this, in so many words.

So for the low cost of just $49/month, sign up here and … Kidding, kidding!

We did a home exchange. We exchanged our home in San Francisco with a complete stranger in a small village in a town between Cannes and St. Tropez for two weeks. He came and stayed in our place in San Francisco, we went and stayed in his place. There you have it.

I’ve become a monster fan of home exchange. We have done it several times now and this article will be the first of many on the topic. There are so many benefits to it, each worth of its own story that I’ll happily share in later articles. In fact, as I put this together, I realized that this topic was larger than a single article. But one of the main points is that it takes a mindset switch. Someone is coming to stay in your house. That might seem like a foreign, crazy, even scary concept. Yep, I agree. It was for us too until we did it.

Think about it for a minute: it was scary, it was different, it was unknown, new, foreign. Until we did it. Then it was familiar, friendly, known, an old friend. Before I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing such a thing. It just sounded like one of those “other people did.” Sounded kinda cool, kinda intriguing, but I didn’t do it. Mostly because I didn’t know how. Now we know how, the secret is out. The secret is now ours, we’re part of an exclusive club. In fact, I hesitated writing this as it’s such a special world. But it’s worth sharing, it’s a way for us to get to other places that we might not have ever seen. As the true traveler wants to see things, from the eyes of a local. I’m ready for more. Are you?

  • Possible: two weeks in a villa and pay $8,400
  • Impossible: stay two weeks in a villa for $0 with no effort
  • Repossible: stay two weeks in a villa for $0
Series NavigationHome Exchange is Like a Box of Chocolates >>

7 Responses to “How We Stayed in an $8,400 Villa in the South of France for Free”

  1. John Muldoon January 14, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    Bradley, I can’t even describe how much I love this post. Not only was the writing itself a joy to read, it’s such an inspiring thing you’ve done.

    You’ve made people think about what they really have, and what’s really possible, and question those things! I bet anyone reading this would think “There’s no way!” … but you’ve shown us the way. You have to question what’s possible to do the impossible. Or the repossible. Or something.

    Anyway, I love it.

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