My three week GoCambio exchange in Madrid is over and it’s time to sum up the experience, which was overall fabulous. I enjoyed an immersive taste of Spanish life while making new friends and spending very little money. In fact I’ve been raving to my friends about this experience and several of them have already signed up to search for a GoCambio swap of their own.
GoCambio is a website that facilitates trading labor for lodging, specifically focusing on the exchange of teaching (languages, music, cooking, etc.). Most of the listings are for language exchange but cooking and music lessons are also popular requests. In my case, my host was looking for someone to help improve her English. In exchange she offered a bedroom with a private bathroom, and dinners with her family. I’ve already reported on the negotiations and my initial impressions of this exchange.
In the end I had a great experience, and I think my host and her family were also very happy with the exchange. I had the opportunity to explore Madrid and the surrounding area in much greater depth than I would have as a tourist just visiting for a short time. And my host and I spent at least two hours a day talking in English, while I offered some gentle corrections and help with vocabulary and sentence structure. And with most of our evening English discussions we managed to incorporate a nice walk in the neighborhood around her home. It turns out we both really like to walk.
After so many hours talking about whatever came to our minds, my host and I found that we had a lot in common, and are leaving the experience as friends. I hope to see her in San Francisco some time in the not too distant future and she’s invited my wife and I to come back to Madrid for a visit.
While my host was at work during the day I spent many hours spent wandering the streets and parks of Madrid, and also getting my own work done at the desk in my room and in coffee shops and bars in the city.
I got to know the city bus system, traveling from the suburbs into Madrid most days, but almost never used the metro as I found the city itself to be very walkable and not particularly large. (Though you should take that with a grain of salt as I think nothing of walking 10 miles a day.)
I also visited eight villages outside of the city (and now understand the distinction between a village, a city, and an urbanización) as my host family devoted their weekends to taking me on excursions to visit Toledo, Segovia, and other adorable and interesting spots within 100km of the city. We spent these visits walking around sightseeing and chatting in English. And a few evenings my host met me in the city after work and showed me around her favorite neighborhoods.
In addition to the tourist activities, I attended an event about violence against women featuring four short films and a panel discussion, as well as a meditation workshop, both events my host was planning to attend and invited me to tag along. These were interesting and a good challenge for my Spanish, and I thoroughly enjoyed the post-event meals, drinks and discussions (in Spanish).
While I think the English exchange helped my host spend more time with her family than she would have if she attended a nightly language school, it was also obvious that by the last week of my stay her youngest son (8 years old) was ready for my visit to end. For the last three days of my stay, each evening he asked his mother if she was going to go off with me, clearly sad that she was not spending the time before dinner with him.
If you’re looking for an interesting way to travel to other countries and save some money while meeting interesting people, consider signing up for GoCambio.