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Ask the experts: everything from house swapping and hotels in Avignon

Our panel answers all your questions, including how to begin house swapping, where to see orangutans and where to sleep in Avignon

By National Geographic Traveller (UK)
photographs by Getty Images
Published 9 Apr 2019, 00:21 BST
Pont d'Avignon
Pont d'Avignon
Photograph by Getty Images

I’m thinking about house swapping for a holiday this year, but don’t know much about where to start. Can you help? 
Home exchanges can revolutionise the way you travel. Along with the obvious benefit of saving money on accommodation, one of its much-loved features includes the chance to stay in different types of homes in varied and unique locations. Participants also love the sharing aspect — the chance to share intel on great places to eat and play. Families, for example, appreciate the chance to share things like toys, books and bikes; kit you might not pack, but can really enhance the trip.

It’s key to find a swap service with plenty of choice. There are lots out there, but HomeExchange is the largest with 400,000+ homes in 187 countries. Listing your home is a straightforward process and the more information you add, the better in the long run.

You can even try it out without having to swap your own home to begin with. In addition to commonplace reciprocal and non-reciprocal exchange, the site also offers guestpoint exchanges, where new members are gifted guestpoints when they first register. This allows them to see how it all works before inviting guests into their own home.

For those who are happy to dive straight in and go for the much-loved ‘I stay in your home, you stay in mine’ reciprocal exchange, once you’ve found a house, communication with your exchange partner is crucial. This can be done through the website, but you may also want to have a phone call or FaceTime. Communication helps build trust and gives both parties an opportunity to ‘meet’.

One of most common concerns is whether your house has to be pristine. I personally ensure my place is clean, but it doesn’t have to be immaculate. You can get short-term holiday home swap insurance, but as your household insurance is unlikely to cover missing personal possessions, it’s best to remove any valuable items. And if you don’t want your best china used, let guests know. Be clear about your requirements from the outset, and you’ll find it’s a respectful community that opens up a world of travel opportunities. Kelly Marsden, from HomeExchange

I want to see orangutans, but Borneo seems expensive. What are my options?
Many travellers heading to Borneo choose to visit the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre to get their orangutan fix. As the first established orangutan centre in Borneo, Sepilok is famous for its great apes and is perfect if you’re heading to Sabah and have more budget to play with. However, if you want to keep the costs down, but have your heart set on Borneo, there’s another option that will be cheaper and has the added benefit of being less crowded: the Semenggoh Rehabilitation Centre in Sarawak. Semenggoh is a temporary home for various endangered wildlife from the Sarawak region, especially orangutans that have either been orphaned or rescued from captivity. Here, they’re taught the survival skills they’ll need in the wild and it’s worth visiting in the morning to see them being fed.

Outside of Borneo, Sumatra is the only other place in the world where you’ll find wild endangered orangutans. It’s a perfect destination for adventurous travellers — we recommend opting for a wildlife trek through the Sumatran jungles of Indonesia. In the rainforests of Gunung Leuser National Park, you can go for a hike with a guide to spot these semi-wild apes in the treetops. The guides know the orangutans and their habits and can take you to all the best spots. Miles Page, Indonesia and Borneo specialist at Rickshaw Travel

I’m getting the Eurostar to Avignon for a long weekend in June. Where can I stay that’s affordable, but still classic Provence?
For an easy stay, check into Cloître Saint-Louis, a short walk from Avignon-Centre train station (change train at the TGV station just outside the city). This four-star hotel is tucked away from the bustling city and set around the medieval cloisters and courtyards of a former Jesuit seminary. Rooms, which cost from €94.20 (£81.82) with breakfast, offer tasteful, understated decor with cooling terracotta tiles and crisp white fabrics. There’s also an outdoor pool and a restaurant.

As with most tourist hotspots, the better-value accommodation is a little further from the action. Over the river in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, an easy walk from Avignon’s famous sights, there’s the Hôtel de l’Atelier. Set in a former silk factory, this atmospheric hotel offers 22 characterful rooms that cost from €85 (£74) on a bed and breakfast basis.

To combine your visit for a foray into the Luberon countryside, hire a car and try the Domaine de Rhodes. This beautiful guesthouse is set in a former 16th-century hunting lodge, which is five minutes’ drive from the city centre. It has five bedrooms in the main house, three garden cabins and a ‘roulotte’ gypsy caravan in the surrounding parkland — the ideal spot to relax in the shade of ancient plane trees. There’s also an outdoor swimming pool, so you can cool off after a day sightseeing in the glorious Provençal sun. Bed and breakfast costs from €100 (£87). Carolyn Boyd, freelance writer

If I have two flights booked with separate airlines on a long-haul journey, with a very short stopover in between, and miss the connection, do I have to pay for a new flight?
The short answer would be yes you probably would have to. Bear with me — I’ll explain why.

Since you purchased two separate airline tickets, they’re legally unconnected, and if you don’t make your connection the second airline will treat you as a ‘no show’ with a 100% cancellation fee. Even if the original flight was delayed due to a fault of that airline, this wouldn’t make the relevant airline responsible for your subsequent cancellation costs.

If you miss your connection through no fault of your own after having left plenty of time to transit the airport, you may be able to claim on your travel insurance for subsequent losses.

However, there are other ways around this. Booking a package holiday is one obvious option. In this case, the tour operator would be obliged to get you a replacement flight at their expense. They’ll do all the hard work searching out replacements, reorganising your ground arrangements if necessary and basically leaving you with the opportunity to treat this entire episode as an unscheduled side trip on your journey.

Alternatively, book a ‘through ticket’. This is where both flights are connected and treated legally as one contract, even if you’re booked with two different airlines. If you’re not sure how to do this, use a decent travel agent and they’ll book one for you. If you miss your connection, the original airline will be obliged to get you a replacement ticket.

Bear in mind, though, there are recommended transit times for airports. If you book a package or a through ticket, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have only a short period of time to make your connection. In some airports, transit times can actually be fairly lengthy — Miami’s airport is a prime example.

ABTA often has to deal with disgruntled passengers who have been caught out. They’re generally independent travellers, but they still come to us for help. After the event, however, there’s very little help we can give them.

So, if you still prefer to buy two separate tickets that aren’t part of a package, I’d suggest you consider an overnight stay! Sean Tipton, from ABTA

Published in the April 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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