Enjoying all the comforts of home
From left, Rotarians Joe Donachie, Jim Costello, Dick Anderson, and John Mensinger answered questions about the International Home Exchange Fellowship of Rotarians at their booth during the 2009 RI Convention in Birmingham. Photo courtesy Joe Donachie
Joe Donachie, of the Rotary Club of Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada, enjoyed the 2009 RI Convention in Birmingham, England, while staying at home. Someone else's home.
Donachie, a home-exchange veteran, took advantage of the comforts of a Birmingham Rotarian's house while Birmingham Rotarians enjoyed a homestay in his Nova Scotia community.
The principle of the home exchange is simple. "Basically, it's 'You stay in my home while I stay in yours,'" said Donachie, a Rotarian since 1961, who admits he was reluctant about the concept at first.
"I had read about home exchanges, but I didn't like the idea that there was no evaluation [of the participants]." Then Donachie found out about the International Home Exchange Fellowship of Rotarians. "I had been a Rotarian a long time at that point, so I gave it a try," he said.
Donachie found comfort in knowing that he was in a group with fellow Rotarians. Since 1987, he has been on 18 exchanges all over the world through the fellowship, which has about 400 members.
"With home exchange, you can vacation at minimal cost, but there are many other intangibles," he said. "Living in a private home is considerably better than living at a hotel. And the Rotarian has usually arranged for family, friends, and fellow Rotarians to be with you and make you feel welcome, so you live like a local rather than a tourist."
Donachie said that after the convention, he went on another home exchange in Normandy, France, staying in the home of a Rotarian who had hosted his Group Study Exchange team in 2008. He encourages Rotarians interested in home exchanges during the 2010 RI Convention in Montréal, Québec, Canada, to learn more about the fellowship and consider joining.
The home exchange fellowship was one of several to have a booth in the House of Friendship at the Birmingham convention. Members of the International Caravanning Fellowship of Rotarians planned a number of rallies and stopovers on the way to and from the event. The group had about 91 caravans a few miles away from the convention site.
Fellowship of caravaners
Like those who participate in home exchanges, the caravaners say their Rotary Fellowship enriches their travel experience. "It's pure fellowship -- it's wonderful. We call ourselves the best-kept secret in Rotary," said Eric Matkins, of the Rotary Club of Sevenoaks Amherst, Kent, England.
The fellowship members travel in caravans (known in North America as recreational vehicles or RVs) and sightsee on their own during the day, then get together in the evening.
"We caravan in small groups of about 10 to 12 couples. We don't travel together, but we keep our units in the same place for about four to five days," Matkins said.
The fellowship, founded in 1967, holds about 40 events each year. It has about 1,400 members in Great Britain and Ireland, but there are smaller groups of caravaners from France, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Sweden. Trips are planned throughout the year, even for New Year's.
"We usually have two to three European trips, and in February we went to California. It was brilliant," said Matkins.
Learn more about Rotary Fellowships and other Global Networking Groups.