Let’s Buy a Vacation Rental!

teaching new renters to trust
I think we all do it. We’re on holiday in a fabulous vacation rental and decide this must be a great way of investing; reaping the benefits of rental and getting to use the place when we want. So, we spend time exploring the Multi Listings Site and browsing in realtor windows.

I was speaking with a Florida realtor recently and she said that her inquiries are always the highest in the winter when the snowbirds are on the ground and they often lead to impulse buys because they see a ‘bargain’ and want it there and then. Buyer’s remorse can set in very shortly afterwards when the consequences of managing the property from a distance become apparent, and the costs begin to pile up.

Flashback to two weeks ago and I was in the Bahamas doing exactly that. There was a piece of property for sale next to the place we were staying and I got to fantasizing about building a house just like the one where we were staying. But….I have been there and done that before which is how we bought our first place in Ontario. It wasn’t such a bad buy but more research would have had us making wiser decisions.

We’ve bought six more properties since those early days and this is what I’ve learned:

There will always be another bargain
Even if that cute place on the beach looks perfect and the realtor tells you there are others sniffing at it, leave it alone until you have done all your due diligence. This may mean you lose it, but this is not a pair of shoes you can relegate to the back of the closet if they don’t feel comfortable after the first wearing. Once you are burdened with property taxes, insurance, and other fixed and sometimes unrelenting costs, you can’t take it back and change your mind, without the potential of considerable loss.

The time you want to vacation is usually high season for rentals
When people get excited about buying abroad, they are often there in high season. It’s unlikely they have traveled to the Bahamas in hurricane season, or Colorado in the summer; the excitement is coming from being there in prime holiday time which is precisely when the best rates are charged. So, buying a home and planning on being there in the height of the season is not a good economic decision. Plan a trip in the off-season to look at the area. If you still love it, then that is the time to plan to buy a vacation rental and make your property offers.

Keep emotions out of any decision-making
That wonderful holiday feeling as you relax on a sun-drenched dock, take a cocktail on the patio, or look out over the lake or ocean needs to fade before a buying decision gets made. Otherwise practical issues will be overlooked and the heart takes over. Just make sure you engage your brain and give rational thought to all the costs and benefits.

There is more to the cost than the purchase price
It’s important to factor in all the costs and this often gets skipped in the tropical warmth of a Caribbean sunset. “We can afford this” you say as you look at the price of the house that’s for sale down the road. Once the additional costs are introduced that initial figure can grow another 20% or 30% or more. Those costs include:

• Furniture and furnishings – and the cost of importing them if you are on an island or in a South American country. There’s no Ikea in Costa Rica!
• Maintenance – if you are not there to do the changeovers you’ll have to hire a property manager. Then there’s the pool maintenance, someone on hand to fix the plumbing when it goes wrong (it will), do the yard work, change the light bulbs, and on and on. Do not underestimate this cost.
• Insurance – no joking about hurricanes here; in high risk areas the insurance costs can hurt.
• Electricity costs – these can be horrendous in certain countries and the service may be so erratic you need a generator anyway.
• Marketing – There’s no way you can list a vacation rental these days and have crowds beating a path to the door. You have to fight for them every inch of the way, which means time and money spent on listing sites, web sites, blogs and social media.

If you are still eager to buy after all this, it’s time to get going on the research and I wish you luck. It’s exactly what I am doing now that I am back from the Bahamas and still as enthusiastic about buying as I was when I was there. I’ll keep you updated on my progress and would love to hear from anyone that is doing the same.

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A Sweet Valentine’s Day In Hershey PA

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A Sweet Valentine’s Day In Hershey, PA

If you are like me, Valentine’s Day is a family affair, as well as a day to remember your sweetheart. In my house, I have two loves- the one I married, and the one I gave birth to. Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love for us – not just the romantic kind. (And there is always after the kids go to bed for a nice amorous evening and eating dessert in peace.)

A great place to get away for a quick weekend (and how perfect that Valentine’s is on a Friday this year?) is Hershey, Pennsylvania. Of course, the famed park itself is not open, but nearly everything else in the area is- and without the crowds. As this is the “chocolate holiday”, what better time, really?

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What to Do

Have a little time to yourselves? Or perhaps you would like to give your spouse a sweet gift and some “me” time. Check out the Spa at Hotel Hershey. The choices are truly delicious- but what would you expect of a place known as “the chocolate spa”? With dessert-inspired treatments, like the whipped chocolate fondue wrap, whipped cocoa bath, chocolate bean polish, cocoa facial experience, or the “Gentleman’s” whiskey facial, you will not only be relaxed, but good enough to eat when you leave. Kids 13 and older can get in on the action as well.

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You can also pay a visit to Hershey’s Chocolate World. Open from 9-5 weekdays, and 9-6 weekends, they are hosting a month-long celebration of chocolate in February. Each day this month is a new way to enjoy chocolate in all its glory. Leave your diet at the door and enjoy!

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Some of the Chocolate-Covered February Activities Include:

  • Chocolate Dinner Extraordinaire at The Hotel Hershey
  • Chocolate Tea at the Hotel Hershey
  • Chocolate Animal Treats at Zoo America
  • Chocolate-Covered Children’s Teas at Hershey Lodge
  • Hershey’s Chocolate Tasting Adventure at Hershey’s Chocolate World Attraction
  • Wine & Chocolate Pairings at The Hotel Hershey
  • Countries of Origin Chocolate Tasting at Cafe Zooka

You can download the full list at: http://www.chocolatecoveredfebruary.com/

There are also fun tours and activities that you can do as a couple or family, like the Hershey’s Great American Chocolate Tour Ride, where you follow a cocoa bean from its beginnings all the way to your candy bar; the tour is free and includes samples. There are also chocolate tasting adventures, Trolley Works tours, bake shops, and more.

 

samhavesippyA travel and parenting expert, writer, mother, and teacher, Samantha has dedicated her life to children and education. She feels that travel and culture should play an important part in a child’s development and exposure to their environment.

Samantha is a columnist and freelance writer who has been featured on various websites, magazines, and newspapers, as well as weekly radio show co-host. She has several regular columns on travel, products, and parenting. She also writes a multi-award winning blog, Have Sippy Will Travel, and is a Top Ten Ranked Social Media Expert.

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Why You Should Not Miss Moody Gardens In Galveston

MoodyGardens1

photo©Katie Haugland

Why You Should Not Miss Moody Gardens In Galveston, Texas

So, you’re on vacation in Galveston. You’ve settled into the place where you will stay for your vacation, and now you’re wondering…

What is there to do in Galveston other than going to the beach?”

The good news is that there is plenty to do in Galveston. But, there is one place that you really shouldn’t miss… Moody Gardens!

Why not miss Moody Gardens? There is a lot to do there. In fact, there is enough going on at Moody Gardens to make sure that the whole family will be having fun for at least one full day, if not more.

Here are some of the really cool things that you can do at Moody Gardens…

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photo©Katie Haugland

The Pyramids

If you look at Moody Gardens from the outside, you will see three huge glass pyramids. Each of these three pyramids contains a specific habitat that is a lot of fun to go through.

Rainforest Pyramid

Rainforests play a very important role in the ecology of Earth. Unfortunately, very few of us ever get the chance to visit any rainforests. The Rainforest Pyramid at Moody Gardens is probably as close to a real rainforest as most of us will ever get to visit! Here, they have recreated the rainforests of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, including many of the animals and endangered plants that live there.

Some of the interesting birds that you will find there include the long-beaked, orange Scarlett Ibis that you normally find in South America and the Caribbean. Another interesting creature that you will find there is the Cotton-top Tamarin, which is a small monkey, and one of the smallest primates in the world.

What would a rainforest be without frogs and turtles? A cute little frog in the rainforest is the Panamanian Golden Frog, which has an orange-yellow color with black dots on it. Its skin releases poisons to stop predators from eating it.

When you go to the Rainforest Pyramid, see if you can spot a Matamata Turtle, also from South America. The shape and color of these turtles make it very easy for them to blend in with leaves on the ground in the areas where they live.

Aquarium Pyramid

Yes, you guessed it… the Aquarium Pyramid contains a big aquarium that lets you see more of animal and plant life of the South Atlantic Ocean, the North and South Pacific, and the Caribbean.

Want to get up close to penguins to see what they eat and how they live? Then you need to go on a “penguin encounter.” They have other “encounters” available too, but keep in mind that they can be somewhat costly. The Aquarium Pyramid has this cool undersea tunnel that you can walk through to get the same view of the ocean that a scuba diver would. Here you can see sharks, stingrays, and a variety of other fish.

Discovery Pyramid

The Discovery Pyramid is all about exactly that… discovery. It contains several exhibits that you can interact with and learn about science. These are usually traveling exhibits from around the country. This means that the museum is sometimes closed to set up the next exhibit. For example, at the time of writing this, the museum was closed to prepare for the Real Pirates Exhibition.

The Theaters

Moody Gardens also has two theaters that show movies that are suitable for everyone in the family.

3D Theater

We all know 3D movies, right? You get special glasses to wear during the movie, and then it looks like the characters are popping out of the screen, almost as if you are part of the movie. Moody Gardens has a 3D theater that shows several excellent 3D movies.

4D Theater

Have you ever wondered what a 4D theater is all about?

Well, it’s like a 3D theater, but the theater can have wind, and even snow. The seats can tickle your legs, and you can even smell different odors. All of these special effects are in sync with the movie to produce an experience you’ve never had before.

The movie that shows there at the moment is a 14-minute version of The Wizard of Oz.

The Paddlewheel Boat

Would you like to ride on one of those old-style river boats with the large paddlewheel on the back? They have one at Moody Gardens that takes people on cruises of about one hour!

So you can see that there is a lot going on at Moody Gardens. Between the three pyramids, the two theaters, and the paddlewheel boat, Moody Gardens provides at least a full day of fun!

Can you afford to miss all that?

JohnElsMy name is John Els. I am the founder and writer of Fun-Things-Texas.com I have been a computer programmer and website developer for many years. In 2006 I decided to create a website about vacationing in Texas, with emphasis on fun things to do in Texas. We enjoy vacationing in Texas, and want others to enjoy it too.

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Celebrating The Chinese New Year In Philadelphia

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Celebrate the Year of the Horse In Philadelphia

January 31, 2014 will ring in the Chinese New Year. To celebrate and learn more about this holiday, take a stroll through one of America’s oldest cities- Philadelphia! Why Philly? It’s a great city, with one of the largest and most active Chinese communities in the USA, as well as one of the biggest Chinatowns, making it the perfect place to steep yourself in the culture, while staying on American soil.

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Recently, on January 12th, The Philadelphia Museum of Art (also home to the famous “Rocky Steps”) gave local schoolchildren the chance to show their stuff, with a traditional Lion Dance by the Philadelphia Suns to open the day’s activities. 3 “Lions” made their way up and down the steps and into the main hall, interacting with audience members the whole time, as Chinese drums pounded rhythmically. As the drums were beaten, the lions danced, jumped, and even went to sleep- much to the amusement of the children watching- waking up as the music got louder, to scratch themselves awake and exit with a flourish.

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There were also guqin performances (a guqin is stringed instrument that lays in one’s lap and plucked with his or her fingers) and folk dances, all performed by the Cultural Treasures Charter School kids. Families and children were also offered activities, such as making origami red paper envelopes (in honor of the new year) with stamp art, creating clay horses (and then going on a “treasure hunt” in the museum to find the horse that matches your creation, complete with map and directions), visiting a Chinese paper cutter artist and seeing his work, and he would even create a special work of art just for you!

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Children were also given colored pencils, stools, and rice paper to draw items they saw in the Asian wing of the museum.

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When your cultural activities were over and you have toured the museum, why not hop on a bus or trolley and head over to Philly’s famous Chinatown for some lunch or dinner and shopping? The restaurants and bakeries are endless in variety, with everything from noodle houses to 4 star restaurants.

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Try a local specialty, and if you have never had a Boba or Bubble Tea before, make sure to give that a whirl as well. This dessert-like beverage is a favorite in many Asian countries, and is becoming one in the USA. Make sure to stop into some of the stores as well – you never know what treasures you will find to remember your trip by. This time of year is a great time to visit, there are some fun, funny, and unique items you will likely never see again.

For more information about Family Programs, visit www.philamuseum.org/education.

Adult admission is $20, kids 13-18 are $14. Children are always free. All programs are free after admission prices.

chinatown in philly

To head to Chinatown after your visit, there are bus and trolley stops right at the bottom of the museum steps. Choose the line you prefer, and make sure you know when the last pickup for the day is so you don’t get left behind! To make a day tour (or more) out of it, Philadelphia Trolley Works and the Big Bus Tours Company both offer guided tours of the whole city, with many on-again-off-again stops you can take at your leisure and convenience. In my opinion, it is the easiest way to get around the city, and you learn about the area you are visiting, as well. The tour guides are always very knowledgeable and willing to help you find where you are looking to go.

For more information, please see http://www.phillytour.com/

or http://eng.bigbustours.com/philadelphia/home.html

samhavesippyA travel and parenting expert, writer, mother, and teacher, Samantha has dedicated her life to children and education. She feels that travel and culture should play an important part in a child’s development and exposure to their environment. Samantha is a columnist and freelance writer who has been featured on various websites, magazines, and newspapers, as well as weekly radio show co-host. She has several regular columns on travel, products, and parenting. She also writes a multi-award winning blog, Have Sippy Will Travel, and is a Top Ten Ranked Social Media Expert.

 

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Best City for Family Travel?

What’s my favorite city to travel to with my family, you ask? It’s New York or Chicago, right? Or maybe it’s Orlando or San Francisco? Yeah, it’s gotta be Orlando, right?

Nope. Not even close.

My favorite city to travel to with my family is Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Now, those closest to me would guess that I’m partial to Minneapolis because both Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’, and the wildly wacky, yet profoundly educational and barrier breaking film, ‘The Mighty Ducks’ were filmed in the City of Lakes. And while the very mention of ‘Minneapolis’ does, indeed, provoke visions of Emilio Estavez fairies dancing in my head, the real reason I enjoy this Midwestern Metropolis so much is because my children do.

Minneapolis offers enough entertainment and culture to keep a smile on the faces of my little ones, and does so at a cost low enough to keep a big smile on mine.

Here are few of the fantastic family attractions in Minneapolis:

1. The Minnesota Zoo
This place is awesome! It’s located on the south side of the Minnesota River, but super easy to get to from downtown.  The large outdoor section of the zoo is populated with the largest bears our family has ever seen, and seeing them in their natural habitat provides a unique appreciation for just how powerful and thoughtful these enormous creatures are. The Minnesota Zoo has many of the traditional exhibits you would expect to find at any zoo, but the feature that really makes it a must-get-to stop is the fantastic IMAX theater. My kids could spend all day inside the IMAX, and most of the films are educational so I have no problem obliging.

Minnesota Zoo

2. Catch some Theater!
Did you know that Minneapolis is second only to The Big Apple in live theater per capita? Never would have guessed it, right? There is some excellent theater in Minneapolis.  Some of the best venues to take in the talent include The Illusion, the Minnesota Dance Theatre, Mixed Blood and the Children’s Theatre Company.  Children’s Theatre Company, or CTC, is our favorite since they stick to catering to and entertaining families.  We saw Alice in Wonderland here a couple of years ago, and it was far superior to a performance of the same play we caught in Chicago a year earlier.

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3. How ‘bout ‘dem Twinkies?
Okay, so the Minnesota Twins haven’t exactly been world-beaters recently. Nevertheless, Target Field is only a couple of years old, and it’s clean and the attending clientele are friendly. What more can you ask for? The stadium is easily accessible from all areas of town, and it’s only the second LEED-certified professional sports stadium in the US – that’s pretty cool, right? My favorite ballpark snack at Target Field is the Buffalo Chicken Mac N Cheese – it doesn’t get any better :)

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4. The Mall of America
It doesn’t get any more American than a mall. I’m not really into shopping, and I certainly wouldn’t characterize my family as a bunch of shop-a-holics. However, we cannot get enough of the Mall America.  It’s not the stores that keep us coming back, it’s the Nickelodeon Universe Amusement Park! This place has over 25 different rides and there’s even an underwater aquarium! My kids could spend hours running around this carousel of capitalism.

Mall-of-America

5. The Chain of Lakes
Minneapolis is a beautiful city, and the people that call the City of Lakes home appreciate and respect that beauty. The Chain of Lakes is a series of parks consisting of Lake Harriet, Lyndale Park, Lyndale Farmstead, Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, Cedar Lake (my favorite) and Brownie Lake. I spend a lot of time on my bicycle, and Cedar Lake provides a great venue for a nice cruise. Lake Harriet is pretty cool, too, because there’s often live music and a super cool bird sanctuary.

So, there ya’ have it! I’m telling ya,’ add Minneapolis to your must-visit list and you won’t be disappointed – Dontcha Know!

 

 

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17 Incredible Vegas Shows You Need To See To Believe

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photo© Moyan Brenn

If you have never been to Las Vegas, it is time to plan your next trip. This city is unlike any other because it is completely centered on entertainment. The shows here are over-the-top, artistic, magical, and something you have to experience in real life to appreciate. While you might have seen a few magic shows, acrobats, or singers on TV, being there in person takes it to an entirely different level. The first magic show I ever saw was unlike anything I had ever seen; it was so incredible that I literally couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. I wanted to see it again. That is exactly what Las Vegas shows do; they have you wishing for more. The best part is the variety of shows Vegas offers. From comedy to magic, there is something for everyone in the family. Yes, even kids! Here are 17 performances you will not be disappointed in and you truly have to see to believe.

#1 “O” Cirque du Soleil

This is listed number one for a reason; this show is amazing. From trapeze performers high above, to dancers swimming in the water, there is an entire circus laid out before your eyes. With millions spent on this production at the Bellagio Hotel, every detail is complete perfection. It definitely fits the Cirque adrenaline-charged style.

#2 Blue Man Group

This group of three men has been performing for years from New York to Las Vegas. Now settled in at Monte Carlo, they continue to impress their audience. While no words are spoken the entire time, they gesture, play music with pvc pipe, and get the crowd involved. It is a technological show with robotics and an almost futuristic feel. Perfect for those looking for family-friendly shows.

#3 Le Reve

This is an artistic show where a woman’s dreams come to life with music, fire, water, acrobats, and daring stunts. This performance is played at Wynn Las Vegas and its combination of beauty, grace, and adventure make it a favorite for many. There is so much that goes on.

#4 ABSINTHE Las Vegas

This is an adult circus show at Caesars Palace that is completely unique in a fun and slightly dirty way. The performers are brave and do performances that will have you biting your nails and on the edge of your seat.

#5 The Beatles: Cirque du Soleil Love

I have a soft spot for The Beatles, but even if you don’t listen to their music you will enjoy this show played at the Mirage Hotel Theater. While the music plays, characters come on the stage to bring the music to a completely different level.

#6 Terry Fator and His Cast of Thousands

If you have ever watched America’s Got Talent, then you have already gotten a small taste of Terry Fator’s talent and hilarious act. After winning the show as a ventriloquist and singer, he and his many puppets started his show at The Mirage with complete success.

#7 David Copperfield

Watching David Copperfield on TV is certainly entertaining, but seeing his magic in real life at the MGM Grand Hotel is completely inspiring. I love a good magic show, and if you haven’t seen one outside the typical box, then his is the one to see. You will want to go again and again.

#8 Elton John’s The Million Dollar Piano

His piano is certainly the most impressive musical instrument you will ever see, but Elton John is a performer with a voice that will blow you away. He has returned stronger than ever as a performer at Caesars.

#9 Human Nature

This is a fun, light, and entertaining performance at the Venetian by Motown. Singing popular songs like, “Baby I need your loving” you will want to sing along and join in on the music.

#10 Jersey Boys

This is a touching show performed at Paris Las Vegas that brings songs and story to life about the members of the band Four Seasons. Each member of the band shares his hard and difficult life story along with their most popular and very famous songs.

#11 Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil

This is a heart-stopping circus performance shown at the ARIA Las Vegas. These performers come together in unthinkable ways to tell the story of the magician Zark who lost his magical powers after losing his one true love. Cirque Du Soleil goes above and beyond with this stunning show.

#12 KA by Cirque du Soleil

Without the performers you are left with a detailed artistic stage with equipment and props that are unbelievable. Then you add in the acrobats and dancers, and you are given an unforgettable show. Played at the MGM Grand, this is definitely a show that cannot be missed.

#13 Donny and Marie Osmond Las Vegas

They’re back! Donny and Marie Osmond come back to Vegas and that means you can’t miss their classic show. Done at Flamingo Las Vegas, you will be taken through their most popular songs on an elaborate stage.

#14 Celine Dion

Celine Dion has a way with words, and her beautiful heat-warming lyrics are brought to life with her fantastic voice. Performed at the Colosseum, she brings musicians and dancers together to make her show shine.

#15 Penn and Teller

Located in Rio Las Vegas, the Penn and Teller show is all about magic and making you laugh. This is unlike any other magic show out there because these two break the golden rule of magic, and reveal a few of their tricks.

#16 V—The Ultimate Variety Show

The title says exactly what this show is, variety. It might be acrobats, ventriloquists, magicians, dancers, or even a hilarious comedian. It has it all. Played at Planet Hollywood, this show has short performances that will keep younger children entertained. It is the ideal show for families and kids of all ages.

#17 Zumanity

This show is certainly not for children as it is completely, but tastefully, centered on sex. Performed at New York, New York, it has the circus acts, comedy, and short scenes to continually keep you entertained.

 

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9 Things That Make Your Home Away From Home

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photo© William Warby

I always loved going to hotels when I was young. It was a time to escape the house, jump on the beds, and drive my parents insane. However, as the end of our trip would draw closer, I always wanted my own bed, blankets, towels, and room. Homesickness can set in fast no matter who you are, and it can completely ruin a trip. The days will seem long and you will be counting down the moments until you can get home. The little activities you have planned can be deflated with a case of homesickness. Now that bed jumping is behind me, creating a homey environment in my hotel or rental is at the top of my list. I want to feel like I am home and on vacation! There are a few things I have learned along the years that I simply have to do. Digging through a suitcase for clothes and washing my body with scratchy hotel soap are the first things I don’t do. While you may want to be away from home, you can relax and enjoy a vacation much easier in a comfortable room. Here are nine things that will make you feel at home no matter how far away you are.

1. Unpack your suitcase

It took me several years to figure this one out, and after unpacking my suitcase once, I have never not done it. Whether I stay for two nights or ten nights, I always unpack and put my clothing and belongings in the hotel or room dresser. It keeps things clean and makes me feel much more relaxed.

2. Make the room yours

Bring a photo from home, rearrange the furniture, untuck the sheets, open the curtains, and set out your makeup, books, hair products, or accessories on the counter. This will make the environment feel a little more like your home.

3. Pack soft comfortable clothing

This is a must for me. When I am having a lazy day at home, I pull on my sweats and snuggle up in a chair. My vacation deserves the same treatment. So grab your comfiest clothes and pack them for the days you need to feel the most like yourself.

4. Have a book

It is always hard for me to find time to read at home, so when I am on vacation, I always end the night with an hour of reading. It makes me feel so relaxed and prepares my brain for sleeping. If you struggle sleeping in a different environment, this can help calm your mind; a boring book will have you snoring in no time!

5. Relax

While it is good to get out and about while on vacation, don’t over plan your days. Too many activities can not only exhaust you, but make your hotel room nothing but a place to sleep. Relax, play some music, and enjoy your room a little each day.

6. Fill the fridge with food

This doesn’t mean go grocery shopping for everything you can find, but it does mean buy a few comfort snacks. Fill the fridge with yogurt, string cheese, water bottles, grapes, and your favorite drinks. Grab a snack while taking that relaxing break in your comfy clothes.

7. Stay connected

Call your family, check your e-mail, and post some fun pictures of the things you did during the day. This will make you feel like you are living the best of both worlds.

8. Pack toiletries

Unless you enjoy dry hotel soap and stinky shampoo, don’t forget to bring your own from home. The trips where I have left my shampoo and conditioner at home are the trips that my showers are two minutes long and completely unpleasant.

9. Do your daily routines

Start with your typical morning routine and end your day with a night routine. This is different for everyone, but can make all the difference in a vacation from home. It is a must, but especially important for families with young children.

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Owners Should Get the Guest Experience

teaching new renters to trust
Every year I go to a vacation rental with my husband, son and daughter-in-law.  This year we added a grand-daughter and there will be another next year so as you can imagine the experience is different every time as the family grows.  We are owners of vacation rental properties ourselves so it’s always interesting to see how others do it as we search, make our inquiries, book, travel to the property and enjoy our vacation.  Although we are familiar with all the processes, we’ll always come away with some learning points and AHA moments. In fact we have incorporated new procedures, replaced items and bought new products based on what ‘wowed’ us on our last stay. The guest experience can be very educational.

Search – Of course the search is where it all starts and we begin with a criteria of location, budget, property size, that is pretty much fixed, but after that it comes down to what captures our attention the most.

Learning Point 1 : Images must be spectacular, showing great looking bedrooms, immaculately clean kitchens and bathrooms, and attractive exteriors.  We have rejected properties that had bedrooms with ugly bed coverings and only two pillows; or a photo of a deck taken on a rainy day.  We’ve been swayed by an image of a table laid up for a meal, or a photo of a bookcase packed with paperbacks.  It’s interesting what will move us (an ordinary family) to book one place over another.

Communication – I tried to book a beautiful villa in Orlando for this past summer and sent an email to the owner asking about availability as it showed open on the listing.  I got such a curt response saying it was already booked – it felt like I had been told not to bother the owner – I would never think about booking it even if it became available. This guest experience opened my eyes to the value of great communication.

Learning Point 2: Make a point of being as helpful and friendly to everyone who inquires, even when you are fully booked.  These are the folks who may come back to you in a lean year so deserve as much attention as the ones who got in early.  Be polite, welcoming and encouraging, and you could get a customer for life.

Booking Process – We don’t really care how we book, as long as it is streamlined and doesn’t take effort.  We don’t want to be wiring money or going to the bank for a check to be sent in a different currency.  Credit cards, or Paypal works best for us.

Learning Point 3 – Either use a third party booking process or make sure your home-grown one is effortless for your guests.  Don’t make your guests do things they would not normally do such as faxing documents, going to the post office or bank etc.

The vacation:  We have been so fortunate in the past three years going to Maui, Costa Rica, and the Bahamas in that every place we have stayed has lived up to and mostly exceeded our expectations.  Each place has supplied a ton of information on the local area and offered contact with local people who could answer our questions.

Learning Point 4:  The people staying at your vacation rental probably don’t have any idea of what to do and where to go when they get there.  Help them plan by providing plenty of information before they go so they can book activities and events well in advance.

Have you been a guest in a vacation rental and used the guest experience to improve what you offer your guests?  What did you learn?  Let us know in the comments.

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Get to Know Geronimo!

Geronimo
It’s the ‘Giving Season,’ right? So we couldn’t think of a better time to introduce you to our friends at Geronimo! Geronimo provides a service that helps travelers, help property owners and benefits the community all at the same time.

Geronimo provides a platform where property owners and managers with vacant weeks can advertise their rental(s) at a discounted rate to travelers looking to save a few bucks on their next vacation. At least 50% of the rental costs will be donated to a charity of the traveler’s liking. Geronimo is calling this approach a ‘Win, Win, Win’; the property owners ‘win’ by filling vacant weeks, the travelers win by getting a discounted stay, and the charities win by receiving a donation. What a great concept!

Geronimo is the brainchild of Mike Last and Michael McFadden. McFadden is a veteran of the vacation rental industry, and he wanted to fill a void that he had identified long before. Mike Last had been working on a similar idea with Charity Helpers, LLC and when the two connected Geronimo was born.

Today Geronimo has a bunch of great vacation rentals all over the world. All the listings are free for owners, and there’s never any commission costs! Geronimo first makes any payments to the owners to account for the operational costs (cleaning fees, taxes, etc) and then the agreed-to percentage is sent to the receiving charity. Hassle free and heart warming – what a great combination!

Helping your favorite charity is a great way to start 2014. So, if you’re the owner of a vacation rental, and the idea intrigues you check out Geronimo.com and start giving back today!

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11 Best Vacation Spots To Escape Winter

beach

photo© Dottie Day

Winter in the north can make for a beautiful painted white landscape, but it comes with a price. It is cold! Even while wrapped up in blankets and snuggled up against the fire, the cold still manages to seep to your bones, leaving you begging for the warmth of the sun. Escape the snow and enjoy the tropical breeze on an island or beach. Soak up the sun for a few days or even weeks, so when you return you will be warm enough to make it through the rest of winter. It may not always be greener on the other side, but it certainly is sunnier! Grab your sunglasses and a bottle of sunscreen and book your trip to one of these 11 best vacation spots. You can even save money on your vacation if you plan ahead of time, stay in the state, and make it a road trip.

1. U.S Virgin Islands

I love traveling, but I have to admit that foreign places can make me a little uncomfortable at first. That is why the U.S Virgin Islands are the ideal place to visit if you want to leave the country and enjoy a tropical paradise while still enjoying the luxuries of paying with US dollars. The beaches and service will have you living like a king.

2. Los Angeles, California

With sunshine year-round, the Hollywood flair, and beaches all around, it is an easy and affordable place to escape the cold for a few days. Don’t expect it to be hot though! Los Angeles has a slight breeze but combined with the ocean air, it is the perfect temperature to keep you comfortable and not too hot.

3. Jamaica

The first words that come to mind when I hear “Jamaica” are energetic and sunshine. Jamaica gives off a warm energy the winter is truly the best time to enjoy the beaches, blue waters, and scenery. Many people start to get the winter “blues” after the holidays and need to escape the cold; Jamaica weather is ideal from December to April.

4. Orlando, Florida

Three words: Walt Disney World. It is the place where dreams come true for young and old. If you are a family hoping to have a week or two of fun together, then Orlando is the perfect place to fill up every minute of your days off without having to leave the country. Even if you don’t visit Disney, you still have an amazing, sunny, and adventure filled city for everybody to enjoy.

5. Sydney, Australia

The wonderful thing about Australia is their summer weather is during our winters. Take a visit to the famous Sydney Opera House located right on the harbor and snap some photos with your friends or family. Stroll the beaches and splash in the warm waves, or rent a boat and go sailing. Walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and be awed by the ocean views.

6. Honolulu, Hawaii

Welcome to paradise! Millions of people travel here every year to enjoy the year-round perfect temperatures, the pristine beaches, crystal-clear water, and scenic volcanoes. A plane flight across the ocean and you will be enjoying a dream vacation, or at least my dream vacation.

7. Dominican Republic

Take a visit to Santo Domingo, the capital, and experience an entirely “New world.” I mean that literally; Santo Domingo is thought to be the first Spanish city ever built in the New World. With ancient buildings and architecture it truly is a fulfilling experience.

8. New Orleans, Louisiana

If you are looking for a place to sit back, relax, soak in the sun, and indulge in delicious food, well you found it. After hurricane Katrina the city is stronger and more alive than ever. Bourbon Street, museums, art, and the vast culture are just a few of the reasons to visit New Orleans.

9. Las Vegas, Nevada

If you are looking to have fun, well you definitely found it here! Las Vegas is a city built to entertain people. From magic and music shows, to gambling and sight-seeing, Vegas has it all.

10. Miami, Florida

The best time to visit Florida is during the winter months to enjoy the sun but not be completely boiled by it. The beaches are silky, smooth, and white, and the water is comfortably warm. Between the beaches, Cuban food, and friendly people you can relax and have fun.

11. Costa Rica

The beaches are like nothing you have ever seen before. They aren’t just tan or white grains of sand, they are black, gray, and even orange. The peaceful ocean along the jungle makes a beautiful backdrop to enjoy while you indulge in some delicious food. It is a great vacation for the traveler who wants to fit in as many exciting activities as possible, and the one who just wants to take a break and relax thanks to the many places to explore, relax, and discover.

 

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