Two families - one from Jefferson City and another from Plachy-Buyon, France - swapped houses for part of this summer, to the delight of all.
It all started with a trip Patrick and Becky Lynn, and their two children, took to France. The Jefferson City family loved their time overseas, but spending every summer there isn't exactly affordable for the family of four.
After returning from an especially lovely vacation, Becky longed to return again.
"How could we make it affordable and do this again?" she wondered.
And so she started to strategize ways to make it happen. She convinced her husband that the website, Homeexchange.com, could work.
With 55,000 listings in 150 countries, Homeexchange.com allows families to swap their homes. The website allows interested people to browse through listings and use the site's messaging system to contact other members.
Becky Lynn estimated it cost her about $15 a month to participate. She feels the minimal fee discourages people who aren't serious from participating.
"It makes it doable," she said.
Although exchanging her home with strangers is admittedly nerve-wracking, she persuaded Patrick to give the program a try.
"It's a boat load of work. We spent a year fixing things, organizing things, around the house. We didn't think people would appreciate it, if the house wasn't in order," she said.
Via searches online, she located a family - Sylvain and Valerie Tronche - who expressed an interest in visiting America. The Tronches have children, too, and own a home in the Plachy-Buyon, a suburb of Amiens.
The families trade almost anything that will make the vacations more affordable; the Lynns actually left their car in St. Louis for the Tronches to drive back to Jefferson City.
The Lynns were reassured when they noticed the Tronches had exchanged homes before and always received good reviews.
During their trip, the Lynns visited Versailles and Paris. They explored the beaches of D-Day and the Thiepval Memorial, which commemorates the 72,195 missing British and South African men who died in the Battles of the Somme between 1915 and 1918 with no known grave. They celebrated Bastille Day, visited the home of Jules Verne and dined with new friends.
"The highlight for me was the one I couldn't photograph. The Bayeax Tapestry - 1,000 years old," wrote Patrick on his Facebook page. "Seventy meters long and tells the story of William the Conqueror's conquest of England. I think it's one of the most important artifacts of western civilization."
The Lynns weren't certain that any French families would want to explore Mid-Missouri and were delighted when one responded.
Valerie Tronche said they wanted to visit America, but avoid touristic areas.
"We like that it's a small town," Valerie said. "We like feeling like we're local. Not French tourists."
"It's human-size," her husband, Sylvain, added.
And they wanted a home where other children live.
The Tronches are old hands at home exchanges. They've visited Canada three times, the Netherlands three times and Jefferson City once. They like it because it allows them to stay longer.
Valerie was nervous the first time they exchanged their home. But when it went well, her fears were calmed. She said her French acquaintances share the same qualms some Americans do.
"I hear a lot of people say, "That sounds very nice, but it's not for me,'" she said.
During their visit, they traveled to St. Louis, Columbia and Independence, where they visited sites like Rock Bridge State Park and the National Frontier Trails Museum.
They noticed a few cultural differences: Americans are friendly and driving on Missouri's wide streets is a snap.
"Nobody is shy here," her children told her.
But Americans are also work-oriented. Valerie said she was initially concerned when she learned the Lynns were returning after such a short trip to France, but her concerns were allayed after communicating with Becky.
"Because it was important to me that they are having a great time," Valerie explained.
The French family enjoyed the beauty of the Missouri Capitol and Runge Nature Center. And they especially enjoyed glimpsing Missouri's wildlife.
"We saw cardinals and fireflies," she said. "And a coyote."