Sunday, November 30, 2008

Benefits of Membership -- penultimate draft

What is Egeria?
Egeria is the name of the first and only Orthodox home and hospitality Exchange. The full name is Egeria Orthodox Home and Hospitality Exchange. The web address is A home exchange agency is also called a 'club'.

Where does the name 'Egeria' come from?
Egeria (eh-JEER-ee-ah) was a fourth century woman pilgrim who was probably from Spain. She travelled to Egypt and the Holy Land and sent detailed letters home about the liturgical practices she witnessed and the holy sites she visited. You can read this amazing document in a book called Egeria's Travels, translated by John Wilkinson.

Benefits of Membership:

Cut your travel costs by hundreds or more per year: Little or no cost for travel accommodation means you can go for less, and stay longer!

The Orthodox connection: The unique Orthodox focus of our club means that wherever you go, you are among friends. Your host can provide information about nearby church services, local pilgrimage sites, and other points of interest to the Orthodox Christian traveller.

Better digs Why stay in one little hotel room? With Egeria you could have the use of a whole apartment or house, plus possible extras like a car, bikes, boats, season tickets -- you never know!

See the world With Egeria you can see at a glance all the amazing places where there are Orthodox Christians who want to share their home and culture with you. You may end up falling in love with a city or country you never even considered before.

Cook your own food Eating out while traveling is fun, but it can get very expensive. When you exchange homes you have the advantage of cooking for yourself or friends whenever you want. This is ideal for those with dietary restrictions or allergies, and for families with children.

Home, pet and garden care Rather than having to arrange for house sitters, you and your exchange partner will be able to look after each other's homes. You may also discuss the care of one another's pets and the watering of plants and gardens.

Work from home in another country If your work is portable, Egeria offers a unique opportunity: exchange homes with someone in a similar situation for an extended period, and immerse yourself in another culture while paying the bills!

Safe Haven If you have grown children going off to study out of state or abroad, you may be concerned about how hard it can be for young Orthodox Christians to maintain their faith under pressure from the wide world. Campus life can be extremely harsh, and even lonely. Use Egeria to find -- or offer-- alternative healthy, friendly and welcoming accommodation for our young Orthodox students!

Child Friendly As travel lovers and parents of young children, this one is close to our hearts. An Egeria home exchange is wonderful for families with kids. Not only does it help make travel affordable, but you will most likely have a lot more room to stretch out than by staying in a hotel. A kitchen means you can cook for your little monsters. Exchange with another family-with-kids, and you'll get child-sized beds, toys, and room to play the way kids need to.

Stay home, raise funds You don't need to go anywhere to use an Egeria membership! You can turn your guest room into a source of income for yourself, your parish or a favourite charity. Just create a B&B profile, which states that you are charging a fee for the room rather than doing an exchange. Other Egeria members will be glad to know that your little Orthodox B&B is there!

Clergy Breaks Just for the Man in Black. Whether you are a city priest with a hankering for wide open spaces, or an isolated mission priest who would love a holiday but worries about leaving his flock, Egeria can help. Trade homes and parish responsibilities for a change of scenery without the worry. Your parishioners might enjoy the break too!

Live like a local, not a tourist: When you stay in a hotel you are cut off from the true character of the place you are visiting, and you are unlikely to meet many locals outside of the tourist industry. With an Egeria home exchange you stay in a real neighborhood among real people and experience real local life. Experienced home exchangers love the authenticity of this type of travel and the learning opportunities it brings. They can get very creative with welcoming their visitors, too-- everything from tickets to a festival left on the kitchen table, to neighbors dropping by with a hot dinner!

Low price of membership: Most home exchange clubs charge between $75 and $500 annually. Others are free, but this can mean that members are not really committed to making an exchange or hosting anyone, or that the information is out of date. The Egeria membership fee is very affordable, and it ensures that your fellow members won't forget that they joined!

Guaranteed use: If you are unable to make use of your Egeria membership in the first year, we will extend it a second consecutive year FREE.

One membership, unlimited swaps: You are welcome to use your Egeria membership for as many stays as you wish during the year or two-year term.

Build Community Friendship among Orthodox Christians of different cultures and backgrounds is one of the greatest ways to build unity in the wider Church. It is one thing to imagine what people from a certain place are like; something very different to have friends in that place with names and faces, with whom one has shared meals, in whose parish one has worshipped. It is our sincere hope that in enabling such genuine friendships to form in a thousand little ways, Egeria will be a blessing to the Church and her people.

Help IOCC With every new membership or membership renewal, Egeria will donate 10% to IOCC -- International Orthodox Christian Charities. This excellent international, pan-Orthodox organization brings aid to suffering people all over the world. Help yourself to a great membership, and help those in need too!

Egeria FAQs -- penultimate draft!

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is home exchange?
Home exchange is the brightest travel idea around. Instead of paying huge hotel bills, two parties arrange to trade homes for an agreed-upon period of time. It is a terrific way to save money, as it can totally eliminate the cost of accommodation from your travel budget. Imagine a beautiful pilgrimage or a fun holiday for the cost of airfare and pocket money alone!

What is hospitality exchange?
Hospitality exchange is a twist on home exchange. Rather than trade places at the same time, hospitality exchangers host one another at different times. This style can offer more flexible timing -- and a built-in travel guide and language tutor! It is a great option for young people, academics travelling for research, or pilgrims in faraway places. It's a friendly light in the window.

What is a B&B (Bed and Breakfast) listing?
This means the member is asking for a donation or charging a reasonable fee in exchange for hosting you. Search the B&B listings for affordable places to stay, or post your own Egeria B&B to raise extra cash and make new friends! Just make sure your B&B fee is not too high, so the B&B listings still offer good value for other members.

How do I use my membership?
Once you become a member , you are free not only to search the listings but to contact your fellow members and start making plans! Egeria offers three main ways to use your membership:

1) Home exchange
2) Hospitality exchange
3) B&B

Of course, the precise terms of your exchange are completely up to the exchanging parties. Egeria starts the conversation; the rest is up to you!

How much does it cost?
The fee is $59.00 US (or __ euros outside N America) for one year
$90.00 US (or __euros outside N America) for two years

(The first 300 members to subscribe to Egeria will receive two additional years FREE of charge.)

Can I search the listings before I become a member?
Yes, but you will only be able to contact the members once you have signed up and paid the membership fee.

Do I have to be Orthodox to be a member?
No. Although Egeria is designed with Orthodox Christians in mind, it is not meant to exclude anyone. If you're Orthodox, great. If you have a friend or family member who is Orthodox, that's great too. Perhaps you just have a cultural or theological interest in Orthodoxy and you like the idea of encountering Orthodox people around the world. Whatever your reasons for being here, you are welcome.

Does Egeria arrange my accommodation?
Not directly. We provide a central, one-stop place on the web for Orthodox home and hospitality exchange listings, as well as information about some paid accommodation of particular interest or value to Orthodox Christians. You communicate with other members directly and make your own arrangements with them by email and phone. But we are available for contact and support should you need us.

Is home exchange safe?

This is usually the first question people ask when they hear about home exchange. In fact, home exchange is very safe, because you don't actually let strangers stay in your home. By the time you get to the actual exchange, you have sent emails back and forth, spoken on the phone a few times, and gotten to know each other. You have a comfortable rapport. Also:

*The other member will have the same concerns about you in their home.

*You are under no obligation to exchange with, or host, anyone who makes you uneasy.

*Cases of negative experiences with home exchange are extremely rare. Realistically, no one is going to fly halfway around the world just to steal your spoons!

*There is an added element of trust and accountability with Egeria, since most of its members are Orthodox Christians.

What about my valuables?
Do whatever is comfortable for you. Many seasoned home exchangers never lock up their belongings. If you can trust someone to stay in your home, you can trust them to respect the rest of your property. But you can certainly take the precaution of removing or locking up items if you wish. You can also arrange for a friend to stop by and greet/ check up on your guest while you are away.

What if I can't make a match?
Egeria guarantees the usefulness of your membership. If you can't make a successful match during the term of your membership, we will extend it another year free of charge.

Can I list more than one property?
Yes. You can list up to three properties on our site using your membership.

What about house cleaning?
You can either hire a cleaner, or roll up the old shirtsleeves yourself. Having someone come to stay is also great motivator to do some deeper cleaning and those little repair jobs you keep putting off. The house doesn't have to look like a museum, but it should be presentable and comfortable.

What if I rent my home?
This is not usually a problem. You are not letting your house out to strangers, but to someone you have formed a good and real rapport with. It is no different from having friends or a house sitter to stay. If you are nervous about it, you can always talk it over with the homeowner first.

What if my town is boring?

What's boring to you could be thrilling to someone else -- you never know. Also, there could be many unseen reasons for someone to come to your area: to visit relatives living nearby, to go to a conference, or just to laugh at your accent, eh?

What if my house or apartment is very small or modest?
That's fine. Just be honest on your profile that the place is small or homely -- it will still be sought after! People are not always looking for a palace -- most just want a home base while they explore the sights. If you were staying in Rome, would you care what the curtains looked like?

I haven't travelled much before. Is language going to be a problem?
Probably not. If you are an English speaker, you're in luck. English is by far the most-spoken second language on earth. Besides that, you would be surprised how far you can get with a smile, a phrase book and sign language. People are usually very touched by even your smallest and most pathetic attempts to use their language. (I was once tearfully given a whole bottle of retsina by a Greek deli owner in Paris because I spoke with him haltingly in Greek instead of French! He was kind of homesick.)

What about insurance?
Your ordinary home insurance should cover the period of your home exchange, because it is really no different from having friends or a house sitter stay. Check with your insurance provider for any specific information you need.

Can I leave my pet?
If that is what you agree on with your exchange partner, yes. Being able to look after one another's pets, plants and gardens is one of the many benefits of home exchange.

Can we exchange vehicles?
Many home exchangers do swap vehicles as well -- it's a matter of personal preference. For our members' convenience we provide agreement forms detailing what property will be exchanged and the terms and conditions of the exchange. For those who are comfortable with it, car swapping is another great advantage to home exchange. Don't forget bikes and boats, too!

What is IOCC?
IOCC -- International Orthodox Christian Charities -- is an international, pan-Orthodox charity bringing aid and support to suffering and vulnerable people around the globe. They are highly respected and astoundingly efficient, with over 90% of all funds donated going directly to aid. They minister to Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike, shining the light of Christ wherever people are in need. With every Egeria membership or membership renewal, we will donate ten percent of the fee to IOCC!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Look So Far

Hi friends! Here is the screen shot from our working design, and it is pretty much what the main page of the site will look like. Now, the listings you see are still 'dummy' listings -- just there to give the look and feel of the mature site -- but it's kind of exciting to look forward to when those will be real listings. Make sure you are one of them!

The photo of the 'featured exchange' in Hawaii is a bit tongue in cheek -- we were just there last month visiting friends, but I am in discussion with some new friends we met there about listing their B & B suite. We'll work on the free accommodation too and land something eventually, but in the meantime we can provide information for an Orthodox B & B in Kona, as one of our very first listings!

My next posts will be a concentrated overview of what Egeria is, and all the FAQs gathered into one place, because I know this blog is hard to navigate to get at all the answers. God willing, the site itself will be up before long, and it is there that everything will be laid out properly.

Thanks for reading, and please check back periodically as there will be new information.
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