For parents around the world, the 2021 holiday season posed an extra difficult challenge. I’ll explain…
A few weeks before Christmas, I thought back to my childhood. I remember sitting around on Christmas morning with my brothers opening a Super Nintendo system (which was like scoring the lottery at that age). I remembered the looks on my parents' faces as they sipped morning coffee and winced at our sugar-filled shouts of excitement. I even remembered the silly little traditions like giving a glass-bottled Coke to anyone who found the almond in the fudge.
But more than anything, here’s what I realized: I still remembered all of these things nearly three decades later. And that’s when it hit me that parents would be making life-long memories for their kids in one of the hardest and most stressful periods in modern times.
Our kids, aged five and three, are the peak age for these forever-memories, and we wanted to do our best to give them what our parents had given us. That’s why we decided to break our routine and do something different. Since we’re far from family, we landed on the idea of getting a Home Exchange in western Canada, only a few hours away from our new home. Our goal was to find something with the following qualities:
- It had to be in the mountains
- It had to be at least somewhat secluded (since we couldn’t socialize much anyhow)
- It had to be a place with lots of outdoor activities to tire out the kids mid-Christmas morning
When my wife, Emilie, told me we had a place, I trusted that it checked all those boxes and was happy to head off to Kimberely, BC, for Christmas week.
Here’s what happened…
Expectations vs. The Reality of This Home Exchange
If you’re someone who loves to travel, you’ve probably experienced a few times where the accommodations you reserved weren’t what you had in mind when you arrived. We’ve had this happen on a few occasions, but never quite like this. Because this time, we couldn’t have really understood how beautiful this spot was based on the photos or descriptions alone.
In a nutshell, here’s what I had expected: a lovely little chalet on a bit of land that had enough bedrooms to sleep two adults and two kids. My hopes were that it would be more cozy than a hotel, would give us access to basic kitchen appliances, and would give our family a great way to spend our holiday vacation together.
Ok, and here’s what we saw when we got there:
Again, the pictures might not totally do it justice. But when we arrived, I felt like we’d been given an upgrade that I hadn’t been aware of. To quote my mother who we FaceTimed with on Christmas Day, “That’s like one of those movie-star vacation homes.” While that may have been a bit of an exaggeration, it was closer to the truth than not.
As it turns out, the owner of this home is an architect who had designed and built this home over the course of five years. As a result, everything had a custom feel to it, and the design was anything but “cookie-cutter.” What particularly made it feel like a luxury vacation home were the giant windows overlooking the mountains. It made for some of the prettiest sunrises, sunsets, and starry nights we’ve had in a long time.
Upstairs there was a large recreational room with music equipment. They left a guitar, keyboard, and drum set out for us to use. But since we were with small children, I made sure we only used my guitar (because if they break that one, Santa would’ve brought me a new one🎅🏻 ).
The kitchen was also fully stocked with all the appliances and cooking tools we could have needed. There were plenty of dishes which we appreciated because, let’s face it, with small kids you can go through an army of silverware. They also left smaller things available like butter, honey, and spices which we’d normally have to buy a lot of (and then pack and repack for the road). All that to say, we never felt like we missed anything for our very amateur-hour culinary needs. Had we been cooking pros, I suspect we still would’ve been just fine.
Finally, the rooms were big and comfortable. The mattresses came with tons of warm blankets which were nice for those western Canadian winter nights. But the highlight was the master bathroom. It had a huge bathtub with jacuzzi jets and large windows looking out into the snow. It was also perfect for letting the kids warm up after a long session from play outdoors.
And that was perfect because, frankly, we were never at a loss for reasons to be outside.
Heading Outdoors With the Kids
Before arriving, my wife had told me something pretty cool–well, at least it was pretty cool for me. “The hosts said we could cut down a Christmas tree from their property, so long as it isn’t along the viewline.” As a kid from suburban California, cutting down Christmas trees just isn’t something we did. We’d get it from a tree lot, pop it up, decorate it, and call it a day.
But now we got to cut one down for ourselves.
So, right off the bat, I figured the house must be on some piece of large land. And I wasn’t wrong. I don’t remember the exact acreage, but there was lots of room for our family to go snowshoeing and explore. We were able to walk deep into the wooded area in the backyard on one side of the property and cut down a proper Christmas tree.
Ok, to be fair, we were a bit shy cutting down a monster tree, so we went something a little more in the way of Charlie Brown, a tree the kids selected:
Still, it was a lot of fun finding and decorating it as a family.
Then, on day two, I noticed the other side of the house had a little slope that we might be able to use for sledding. I found a shovel in the garage and was able to carve out a winding sledding path for the boys (and just a littttttttle for the parents, too):
I don’t know that I’ve seen either of my boys so excited to stay outside in sub-freezing temperatures, but we must have played outside for several hours each afternoon.
A few of the days we also drove into the town of Kimberley itself. It had a really fun, small-town feel with a festive market area. Things were different with COVID restrictions this year, but it was still a wonderful time with lots of boutique shops.
Here are a few things to do while in Kimberley:
- Snowshoe on the Sunflower trail
- Grab a homemade lunch at the Bean Tree
- Walk to the Marysville Falls
- Wander around Kimberley Plaza
Plus, on Christmas Eve, we went a few miles down the road to Marysville where the fire department puts on a parade. They take Santa Clause on the big fire truck through a predefined route that you can track in the town. We got to wave to Santa more than once as we played on a playground in the snow.
All-in-all, we were incredibly lucky to have direct access to so many outdoor activities. Every day led us outside to different hikes, snowshoeing adventures, sled runs, and snowball fights.
Christmas in Kimberley With HomeExchange
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this was one of the best accommodations we’ve stayed in through any home swap or rental websites. It gave us everything we needed to spend the holidays secluded in nature with plenty of fun activities to keep us occupied. The hosts left a guestbook where I shared that this might have been one of the best Christmas vacations I’ve had in decades.
But, remember, the goal for this trip was to give the gift of a forever-memory to our children. So, did we succeed? I suppose we’ll have to wait a few more decades to find out for sure.