Have you ever heard of sister cities, counties or states? Sister Cities is an international organization started by President Eisenhower in 1956. Eisenhower wanted to create a network that would foster international peace and cultural understanding. This network has continued to grow and now includes 545 cities counties and states, with 2121 partnerships in 145 countries.
My city Annapolis has official relationships with Wexford, Ireland; Rochefort City, France; Nithsdale, Scotland; Changsha, China; Newport, Wales; Banjul, Gambia; Tallinn, Estonia; and Marsala, Italy.
I was once the Sister Cities Program Manager for both Columbia, Maryland and Annapolis, Maryland. I took a large group from Annapolis to visit 2 of our cities in 2001. I placed an article asking who from the community would like to go with our group. I organized everything myself and the 2 week trip was $1500 all inclusive. It was amazing if I say so myself. We had one night hotel at the beginning and the end, but otherwise we were all placed with locals for accommodation. Some were “given” rooms in bed and breakfasts, some in homes and I myself was in an apartment at the back of a pub (cool). Too bad I don’t drink!!!
Needless to say we were given the royal treatment, tours, parties, performances, etc. – all free thanks to our relationship with the city. I became good friends with two of the travelers on my trip and to this day, we still talk about that trip.
I tell you about this because it’s ONE MORE WAY to stay like a local and stay FREE. Navy Football played Notre Dame in Ireland a couple of years ago. Well they were charging a fortune for the “charter trip” so I worked my magic. I organized a 2-week trip to Dublin, Belfast and Scotland and for my three-person family it was maybe $2500 at the very most. We could have done it even cheaper but splurged a little on dinners and a last minute trip to Edinburgh.
Exactly how did I do it?
I contacted several people on my usual networks of home and hospitality exchange. I found an amazing couple in Dublin (through couchsurfing) and we hit if off immediately – communicating regularly before the trip. I set up a one-week stay in our sister city of Dumfries, Scotland. When I was Director, I hosted the entire Dumfries Male Voice Choir here in Annapolis, organized homestays and hosted a party for all at my home. I contacted the family who stayed with us and asked if we could come stay with them. Of course.
We ended up scrambling a couple of weeks prior because our “friends” in Dublin lost jobs and had to move to Belfast. I got back online, and found a woman through www.homeforexchange.com who was willing to just “give us” her appt. She couldn’t come to US and I said to let me know if she ever made it this way. It was a great apartment on the River Liffey, walking distance to all sites and to the football stadium! We bought groceries, ate breakfast at home and carried snacks. Because we were saving so much we splurged on eating out while we were sightseeing. We could have packed lunches and eaten dinner upon return for the evening if wanted to save more on the trip.
After Dublin, we took the train (very reasonable and close to the apt) to Belfast. We were greeted by our host Carolyn who immediately took us on a tour and her husband had dinner ready when we arrived! We had a beautiful room with a view of the Irish Sea. We had great conversations over breakfasts and dinner and ate lunch in town while seeing Belfast (walking distance). It was perfect!
From there we took the P&O ferry to CairnRyan, Scotland. Our sister city friends John and Nina drove about 75 minutes to pick us up and drove us to Dumfries. It was a great time to catch up on our lives over the past ten years. We spent several nights in the rural town seeing the beautiful countryside, walking the cute little town and enjoying great hospitality and company. One night our host took my husband to the pub for boys night out :-). It really was a spectacular stay. Cost nothing.
I am trying to show you that you can have remarkable travel memories for much less than you ever imagined. Isn’t that what traveling should be about?