This year’s home swap is different for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that our son opted out of the trip for the first time. But with less time away than usual, I’ve reexamined how to approach the trip from a work perspective, and I’ve brought less gear than usual.
I’m going to write about the how’s and why’s of home swapping soon, but the short version goes like this: For ten years now, we’ve spent at least three weeks in Europe each summer (well, except for one year when we went to California when a family from London pulled out of an agreement at the last minute). We use the service Intervac to arrange these swaps, which lets us live in a different place like temporary locals, and not just tourists. The trip has usually been the first three weeks of August, roughly, or one week in July and two in August.
To be clear, this is not a vacation. My wife and I still work while we’re away, as we do from home normally, albeit on a different and reduced schedule. That schedule has varied somewhat over the years, but for the past several years we’ve worked a few hours in the morning, spent the middle of the day out in the world with the kids, and then returned mid-afternoon (3:00 pm in France is 9:00 am in Boston) for a few more hours of work.
This year … Things are different, and complicated by a number of factors. We had a mid-July family wedding (on a Thursday, which is weird, but it was a second marriage for both) that complicated any potential start date. My son is heading off to college much earlier than is usual—he starts August 8—and because we will be driving out to upstate New York with him to get him set up, that complicated any potential end date for a swap as well. Indeed, as recently as a few months ago, we’re weren’t sure if we’d be able to do a swap this year because of these and other scheduling uncertainties. And if we did do a swap, it wasn’t clear if our son, who is now 18, would even want to come along, given that this is his last (truncated) summer home with his friends from high school.
But we lucked out: A couple from Paris contacted us about a potential two-week swap in the second half of July. This is a week shorter than our usual trip, but it fit right into the one hole in our busy schedule this summer. And it’s Paris, my favorite place on earth. I’d been wanting to actually live in the center of Paris—and not out in the suburbs where we’ve stayed in previous swaps—for years.
So we said yes. And my son said … no. I get it, but I tried to get him to split his time, which he now wishes he did, seeing our food and other photos. And I explained he’d have to stay with his grandmother since the people from Paris would be in our home, and that that would come with its own set of rules. And .. he still decided to stay home. So it’s a little different without him here, and maybe a preview of what it will be like when he goes off to school.
As noted, we’re staying in the heart of Paris, in a neat neighborhood near the Opera area. It’s an amazing two-bedroom apartment on the 3rd floor (well, 4th floor to Americans) of a Haussmann-style building with flower boxes in the windows, tons of space, and all of the good and bad of big city living I’d been hoping to experience.
We always make sure that we can work from our home swap locations, and the big consideration is Internet access. Each year we ask, each year we’re assured that, yes, they do indeed have high-speed Internet, and each year there are problems. Normally, those problems involve an incredibly slow upload speed that makes podcasting difficult if not impossible. For example, last year, that 25 Mbps connection in Lyon seemed like it would be perfect. But the upload speed was only 1 Mbps. (I now get 85 Mbps over 85 Mbps at home with FIOS.)
So this year, given that we’d be here only two weeks, and that the Internet speeds always made doing Windows Weekly and What the Tech painful, I decided to simply take this time off from the podcasts. When we arrived, I tested the speed, and found that it is 15 Mbps over … 15 Mbps. 🙂 It would have worked fine for the podcasts. Of course it would.
(Our two week schedule also means that we’re not doing a short side-trip—like Venice last year, or Morocco the year before—as we have in the past. So we’re sticking to “just” Paris. Tough life, I know.)
My wife and I both work off the dining room table that’s next to two huge windows that open up onto a quieter side street. We use this contraption—which includes the mini travel charger strip with surge protection I strongly recommended recently in What I Use: Must-Have Gadgets for Any Trip to power all our stuff from one messy place.
My luggage is likewise as described in What I Use: Must-Have Gadgets for Any Trip: I brought along the Rick Steves Velocé Shoulder Bag as a laptop bag and the Rick Steves Ravenna Rolling Case as my luggage. And since we had direct flight, we carried it all on the plane. (Rick Steves fans will be delighted to know my wife and daughter also carried on Ricks Steves luggage; we’re like a walking advertisement for both him and traveling light.) We have laundry here in the apartment, so four days of clothes was enough.
Most years, I bring at least two computers, and my wife of course has her own (an aging Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook that is desperately in need of being replaced). But this year, for a variety of reasons—the time frame, a desire to travel light—I just brought one, the Microsoft Surface Book, which is on the Windows 10 Insider Preview so I can stay up to date with the latest builds. I also brought an older iPad mini 2 for reading the newspaper and news apps in the morning.
I brought three phones, the Apple iPhone 6S Plus, theGoogle Nexus 6P, and the Microsoft Lumia 950 (also on the Insider Preview). I use the iPhone mostly at home, but thanks to the amazing pricing and capabilities of Google Project Fi outside the United States, I’ve been using the Nexus 6P exclusively here so far, and will continue to do so. I just leave everything (data/cellular) on all the time, as I would at home, and I let my daughter wirelessly tether to it from her iPhone so she can hunt Pokémons in Paris. I will be writing more about using Project Fi in Paris soon: It’s all good news. Great news, really.
The Nexus 6P has also proven to be an amazing camera on this trip, as you can see throughout this article: All of the photos here were taken with this device and none were altered in any way, aside from resizing for publication. I couldn’t be happier with the results, though my wife says she finds it a bit slow to take photos. She’s probably right, but it sort of reminds me of the Lumia 1020 in that regard, and as with that device, I’m so happy with the results, I forgive it.
As for my gadget bag, I will again point you to What I Use: Must-Have Gadgets for Any Trip, as that’s the basic set up. But as always, I customized what I brought based on the needs of the trip. So I left the podcasting gear at home, brought a few gadgets for getting media content on the HDTV here—a Chromecast, which won’t work with the wireless network, a Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter (Miracast) and an HDMI cable—plus some European power adapters, and eye masks and ear plugs for everyone, just in case.
As I write this, we’re about halfway through the two week trip, and it’s time to head out into what looks like another gorgeous and sunny day in Paris. See you in the afternoon.