I sometimes get so used to bashing travel suppliers—especially airlines—for the many ways they abuse travelers’ rights, that I often overlook the good they do. Especially during this global pandemic, travel suppliers are doing a lot of good.
From providing free hotel stays for health workers to donating huge sums of money, here are some of the ones we’re seeing step up.
Hotels Stepping Up During the Pandemic
Hotels are offering free or low-charge rooms to communities for housing both caregivers and non-COVID patients. Standout individual hotel offers in hard-hit New York City include those from the Four Seasons Hotel, which was the first hotel in New York City to begin providing free stays to healthcare workers responding to the pandemic.
The Plaza Hotel, Room Mate Grace Hotel, Palace Hotel, St. Regis Hotel, and Yotel are now counted among the hotels hosting health care workers and non-critical patients free of charge. More broadly, the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), a major hotel trade association, notes that more than 6,500 hotel properties that are adjacent to medical facilities across the country are offering temporary housing for health care workers, noncritical patients, and/or the homeless:
“To help match and streamline the process, the [AHLA] is working to create a Hotels for Hope database at the federal level with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as at the local level with industry partner state associations. Local, state and federal government officials will be able to search willing properties based on geographic location.”
Very few are doing it for free, but many are doing it at very-discounted rates. Some are providing food or other support to medical communities. Examples include:
The Sophy Hyde Park Hotel in Chicago has opened its rooms at no charge to medical staff respondiong to the pandemic at nearby University of Chicago Medical Center.
Caesars Entertainment has donated more than 250,000 pounds of food to a variety of food banks and charities, along with gloves, masks, and hand sanitizers.
The Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air have provided hundreds of meals to first responders and medical personnel.
The Jupiter Hotel in Portland, Oregon has arranged with Multnomah County to serve as a homeless shelter.
Airlines Doing Good During the Pandemic
Airlines are also doing their part in fighting the pandemic. As befits their status as the generally top-rated U.S. airlines, Delta has offered free transportation to Georgia, Louisiana, and Michigan for medical professionals, and JetBlue has offered free transport for medical personnel and some stranded college students. JetBlue has also donated a million frequent-flyer points to the Red Cross for travel to support its vital work. United is offering free travel to health workers heading to New York. Airlines around the world have removed seats from regular passenger planes, providing added cargo capacity to ship medical supplies where they are needed.
Airlines around the world have also notably intensified their cleaning and disinfecting procedures to keep their fewer operating planes free of the virus. They’re also rightfully ensuring travelers maintain safe physical distances from each other: A few lines, including American, have stopped assigning middle or every-other seat to maintain social distancing.
And keep in mind that the travel industry is taking a big financial hit from the pandemic. Much of what individual suppliers are doing to minimize effect is as much public relations as it is a public benefit. But, in a difficult time, travel companies are clearly stepping up to help the effort. Kudos to them.
Our Favorite Items for the Home
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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.
If you use Uber, Lyft, or other rideshare services while traveling in new places, there are a few specific safety tips you should keep in mind to avoid dangerous situations. Uber lists some of these on its website under Rider Safety Tips, but the list is incomplete. Here’s what you need to do before, during, and even after your ride to ensure rideshare safety for you and others.
Rideshare Safety Tips for Travelers
Make these 11 rideshare safety tips part of your routine, whether you’re traveling around your hometown or in a new and unfamiliar destination.
Share Your Trip
When traveling alone, especially at night, always share your trip with others. It’s the easiest and quickest way to let someone track your whereabouts in case something happens during your ride. The person you share your trip with will get a notification to their phone and be able to follow along via GPS. To do so, hit the “Share trip status” option with Uber and “Share ride details” with Lyft.
This is an often overlooked part of rideshare safety, but an important step to take once your ride is complete. Post-trip, make sure to rate your driver and leave helpful feedback so you can keep good drivers on the road and bad ones off.
Keep Your Personal Info Confidential
There’s no harm in exchanging pleasantries with your driver, but avoid giving him or her any personal information, like how long you’re traveling for, where you live, your phone number, or any other contact information.
Request Your Ride While Inside
If you can, request your ride while indoors to avoid lingering outside too long with your phone out, which may attract thieves or pickpockets.
Confirm Your Driver and Car Before Getting In
There are some reported cases of scammers posing as rideshare drivers, so always confirm the license plate and name of your driver before getting in, and check their appearance against the photo in the app. And, if you’re getting picked up in a popular area, like an airport, this will also avoid accidentally taking someone else’s ride.
Pro tip: Always ask a driver for the name of the passenger before you get in the car instead of saying your name first. This way, you can be 100 percent sure that person is your driver.
Wear Your Seatbelt
Just because you’re in someone else’s car or riding in the back seat doesn’t mean you’re at less of a risk of being in an accident. Always buckle up—drivers appreciate it. Under Uber’s description of “Your Rating” you’ll find that wearing your seatbelt is listed as an item that helps your passenger rating.
Sit in the Back Seat
If you’re traveling alone, always choose the back seat. According to Dave Sutton, spokesperson for Who’s Driving You?, a public safety campaign from the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association that promotes for-hire vehicle safety, “Many of the incidents that we’ve seen … have happened to passengers riding up front.”
Check Your Driver’s Rating
Both Uber and Lyft allow passengers to rate drivers on a scale of one to five Always double-check that your driver has prior experience and a rating as close to 5.0 as possible (over 4.8 is generally pretty good). Uber and Lyft may deactivate drivers whose ratings fall below a certain standard.
Never Pay Cash
A driver should never ask you to pay cash for your ride. Both Uber and Lyft give you an option to tip through the app after your trip, so there’s no need to have your wallet out during a rideshare.
Know Your Surroundings
If you’re in an unfamiliar city or area, make sure to track your route on your own maps app to ensure the driver is following the correct route. If you’re getting picked up from the airport, be sure to follow the prompted instructions when you open the rideshare app.
This also goes for the neighborhood and time of day you’re requesting a ride. Be smart and aware of open businesses around you and avoid calling rideshares alone late at night. If you’re getting picked up from a bar or restaurant, pay extra attention to these tips.
Call for Help
Both Uber and Lyft have emergency buttons that let you call 911 directly from the app if something goes wrong. The apps will display your current whereabouts so you can share them with the dispatcher during your call.
Hoping to rent a house or apartment on vacation? You’ve got plenty of options—maybe too many. Travelers looking for the best vacation rental sites have to weed through big online travel agencies, small specialty sites, and everything in between. The process can be overwhelming.
Many people aren’t aware that most of the best vacation rental websites are owned by a handful of large companies—so you could find yourself wasting time searching the same inventory on multiple sites.
The Best Vacation Rental Sites
To help you sift through the options, I tested more than a dozen top vacation rental sites to figure out which ones offer the best combination of plentiful inventory, useful filters, informative listings, and fair prices, without too many hidden fees. I discovered that there’s no single best vacation home rental site, but that each one has pros and cons to suit different types of travelers.
For example, some of the top vacation rental websites are better if you’re open to both hotels and rentals, while others are more specialized to suit those who already know they want a vacation home, rental apartment, or private room in someone else’s space. Some vacation rental sites make it easier than others to browse properties on a map or to contact the owner of a property to ask questions before your stay.
The following are the best vacation rental sites I found in my testing, listed in alphabetical order. Scroll down for more in-depth analysis of each.
The name of this site is almost synonymous with short-term rentals these days, and its reputation as one of the best vacation rental sites is well deserved: Airbnb offers abundant listings in most popular travel destinations, and its site is cleanly designed and easy to use. There’s a prominent map of properties on the main listing page, so you can quickly browse by location—or you can turn off the map feature if you don’t find it useful. The main listings page offers useful information right off the bat, including the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, traveler rating, price (both per night and for your total stay), guest capacity, key amenities, and type of accommodation—such as “entire apartment” or “private room in house.” You can also scroll through a listing’s photos right on the initial results page.
Once you click into a given listing, there’s more than enough information to help you decide whether to book, including house rules, bed configurations, cancellation policies, amenities, reviews from past guests, and a full price breakdown (which typically includes things like a cleaning fee and Airbnb’s own service fee). You can also contact the property’s host through the platform if you have questions before you book.
Best feature: The site makes it easier to sort through hundreds of properties by identifying Superhosts (“experienced, highly rated hosts who are committed to providing great stays for guests”) and Airbnb Plus listings (“a selection of places to stay verified for quality and design”). Because standards can vary so widely from one vacation rental to another, choosing properties with one or both of these designations can help travelers feel more confident in their selection.
Booking.com lists just about every type of accommodation imaginable, from hotels and B&Bs to vacation rentals and apartments. This is a perk for travelers open to a variety of lodging options, while those who know they want a vacation rental will have to take the extra step of filtering out extraneous search results. (That’s easily done via a “Show homes first” button at the top of the results page.)
Property listings offer plenty of information, including amenities, guest reviews, house rules, and an option to contact the host through the site. The site clearly labels whether your booking is nonrefundable or you can cancel without penalty up to a certain date. (In some cases, you’ll pay less if you’re willing to make a nonrefundable booking.)
Keep an eye out for extra fees, which can be significant depending on the property. For example, one property’s listed price was a seemingly affordable $689 for seven nights in the Outer Banks—but when I clicked “book,” the site added a 12.75 percent tax, $63.11 tourism fee, $105 resort fee, $130 cleaning fee, and $260 property service charge, taking my total charges to $1,406—more than double the original quoted price. However, none of these were Booking.com’s own fees; unlike Airbnb, Booking.com does not charge guests a service fee.
One annoyance: The site sometimes clutters up the search results page with sold-out properties, complete with a little “You missed it!” message. These are probably meant to spark a sense of booking urgency, but many travelers will find it irritating to see options that aren’t actually available.
Best feature: The sheer breadth of offerings on Booking.com means you’re almost guaranteed to find something suitable, even if it doesn’t end up being a vacation rental.
Like Booking.com, Expedia offers a variety of accommodation types, but it has a dedicated vacation rental search page so you can skip the filtering step. The site offers a good selection of results, though for certain searches I got some listings that really didn’t seem like vacation rentals (TownePlace Suites by Marriott, Outer Banks Motel).
Expedia isn’t the best vacation rental site if you prefer to use the map view to browse; although a map is available, it doesn’t have the site’s filter options, so you’ll have to set your preferences on the main listing page first and then toggle over to the map.
Once you click into a listing, you’ll find photos, amenities, policies, reviews, and a list of nearby attractions. However, there does not appear to be a way to contact the owner of a given property. The total price is not visible until you click “reserve,” at which point you’ll see an additional amount listed vaguely as “taxes and fees,” with no detailed breakdown. On many properties, the site notes that you can save 10 percent if you log in as an Expedia member.
Best feature: The site has useful filters such as “Business friendly,” to help you find properties with Wi-Fi and breakfast, and “Family friendly,” for listings that have “in-room conveniences and activities for the kids.”
An industry giant, HomeAway is one of the best vacation rental sites thanks to its user-friendly design and wide breadth of inventory (the company, part of the Expedia Group, also owns other short-term rental sites such as Vrbo and Stayz). Its cleanly designed search results page shows both a map view and detailed listings, including the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, number of guests, user rating, nightly rate, and type of accommodation. (Note that private rooms in someone else’s home, which Airbnb and some other sites offer, do not appear to be available on HomeAway.) You can click through each listing’s photos or save properties you’re interested in right from the results page.
There are many options for filtering your results, including property type, location (oceanfront, lake), features/amenities (pool, Wi-Fi), and the ability to book instantly. Unlike some other vacation rental sites, HomeAway lets you filter your results by the number of bathrooms in addition to the number of bedrooms—which is useful for families or groups traveling together.
Once you click on a listing, you can see a full price breakdown (which includes HomeAway’s service fee), as well as reviews from past guests, detailed information on amenities and policies, and a way to contact the owner through the site.
Keep an eye out for Premier Partner listings, which have owners or managers that provide consistently good guest service.
Best feature: Many listings have a detailed breakdown of what’s available in each bedroom and bathroom (for example: “Bedroom 1: king bed; Bedroom 2: bunkbed; Bathroom 1: toilet, shower; Bathroom 2: toilet”).
The prime advantage of HometoGo is that it’s a meta-search site, which means that you can search many of the best vacation rental sites (including most of the others on this list) with one click. Persistent pop-ups and offers to sign you in with Google or Facebook are annoying, but once you’ve cleared them away you can view tons of properties, visible in a clean listing format or on a map. Each listing features photos you can scroll through as well as user rating, type of lodging, and where you can book the property (such as Airbnb, Hotels.com, or Vrbo).
One handy feature: You can toggle the price filter to show you either the nightly rate or the total cost of your stay, and then adjust your price range accordingly. Other filters include accommodation types (including an “instant booking” option), location, user rating, and amenities.
In most cases, when you click on “view deal,” you’ll be taken to the site where the property was originally listed. However, there are occasional properties where you will go to a HometoGo listing page and fill out a booking request that will then be fulfilled through one of the site’s partners.
I occasionally found that when I clicked over to a deal (particularly on Airbnb), I was not taken directly to the property I was interested in but rather to a list of other rentals in my destination. Unfortunately, travelers will be familiar with this from other meta-search sites; sometimes a given deal simply isn’t available anymore. I also sometimes discovered that the price on HometoGo didn’t match what was advertised on the original listing site.
Best feature: Despite the occasional pricing glitches, this site is the closest thing the vacation rental industry has to a one-stop shop, as it lists inventory from hundreds of other short-term rental websites.
Like Booking.com, Hotels.com lists a wide array of accommodation options, so travelers who know they want a vacation rental have to use the “Accommodation Type” filter on the search results page to weed out hotels, hostels, and other options. I appreciated the honesty of the note at the top of the page: “How much we get paid influences your sort order.” That said, you can sort your results by star rating, distance from a given landmark, guest rating, and price, and refine the list with a variety of other filters.
There is a map view available, though I didn’t find it very useful; it shows properties that don’t meet your criteria by default, and by the time you screen those out, you’re often left with just a few options (even if the site is showing hundreds of listings on the main results page).
The list view of results is better, displaying both the nightly rate and the total price for your stay, as well as guest rating and location information. You do need to weed through occasional “fully booked!” listings, and Hotels.com doesn’t offer the ability to scroll through a property’s photos right from the results page the way many other vacation rental sites do.
Once you click into an individual listing, you can see amenities, policies, photos, guest reviews, and a list of attractions within walking distance. One drawback: There’s no way to contact the owner or property manager directly. While there is a phone number given for “more info” about the listing, this does not put you in contact with the owner but rather takes you to a general Hotels.com corporate phone number. Taxes and fees aren’t visible until you click the “Let’s book” button, and there’s no detailed breakdown of where your money is going.
Best feature: Many vacation rental bookings are eligible for Hotels.com Rewards, so you can count your stay toward a future free night at either a hotel or a rental.
Although it’s best known for hotel reviews, Tripadvisor (which is SmarterTravel’s parent company) also provides vacation rentals thanks to its acquisitions of FlipKey and HolidayLettings. (The sites share inventory, so searching Tripadvisor will turn up properties from the other two sites.) There are plenty of listings, which you can filter by price, number of bedrooms/bathrooms, distance from a landmark, and many other factors. The site also lets you change the order of your results based on nine different criteria, including online booking, traveler rating, and number of bedrooms.
The site has a mix of properties, some of which can be paid for online and others that require direct arrangements with the owner. (The former is generally preferable, as paying with a credit card is the safest way to go—and you’ll be backed by Tripadvisor’s Payment Protection guarantee.)
I found that photo quality could vary widely from one listing to another on Tripadvisor, whereas some other vacation rental sites have more consistently glossy images. Otherwise, Tripadvisor’s listings are generally informative, with traveler reviews, house rules, and an owner profile. Prices and fees are spelled out in detail. However, cancellation policies are not as clearly stated on this site as on some others. There is an option to send a message to the owner through the site.
Best feature: The price on the listing results page is the final price you’ll pay, including taxes and fees—rather than the base rate, which is what most vacation rental sites list. Tripadvisor also lists both the nightly rate and the total cost.
Acquired by HometoGo in 2019, Tripping is another meta-search site for vacation rentals that turns up listings from hundreds of different sites, including many on this list. When I searched HometoGo and Tripping side by side, I found a lot of overlapping properties, but the results did not appear to be completely identical. (A Rome search turned up 8,800+ properties on HometoGo vs. more than 14,000 properties on Tripping, for example.) So even though the two sites are owned by the same company and offer virtually identical layouts and filters, it may be worth your time to check both.
Tripping offers a prominent map view alongside the listings on its main results page. Like HometoGo, Tripping shows hotels and hostels in addition to apartments, homes, and other types of properties, so you can use the “Accommodation types” filter to trim your results. You can toggle between “per night” and “per stay” options for pricing, specify a minimum number of bedrooms, and filter for amenities such as internet, air-conditioning, and washer. And you can scroll through listing photos right from the results page.
Clicking on “view deal” takes you to an external site for information and booking. As with HometoGo, there were occasional snafus in this process; prices didn’t match, properties weren’t available, or (in one case) I got a dead-end error page. But in most cases the listings were as advertised.
Best feature: Both Tripping and HometoGo have a new “flexible dates” feature that lets you search a given length of stay (such as a week or a long weekend) over a selected time period (such as October through December) to see when the best deals are available.
Acquired by HomeAway in 2006, Vrbo (originally called VRBO, which stands for “vacation rentals by owner”) is the better-known of the two brands in the United States. However, as far as travelers are concerned, the two sites are virtually identical. A search returns the same results in the same order with the same prices and filter options. Everything that makes HomeAway one of the best vacation home rental sites is also available on Vrbo, so there’s no need to search both.
Best feature: Like HomeAway, Vrbo highlights Premier Partners that offer great guest service.
For smokers, Las Vegas is a haven—a desert oasis where they can smoke cigarettes butt-to-butt day and night on the casino floor without fear of interruption or complaint.
But while it can be mildly entertaining to watch old ladies whittle away their retirement savings at the penny slots, wearing every piece of jewelry they own while chain-smoking themselves into an earlier grave, all that smoke can be a destination deterrent for non-smokers. And managing a smoke-free Las Vegas trip is no easy task.
Smoke-Free Las Vegas
In 2006, Nevada passed the Clean Indoor Air Act, banning cigarette smoking in public spaces like restaurants, hotel lobbies, and elevators. Yet much to the chagrin of those who value lung health and pleasant-smelling hair, smoking is still allowed in gaming areas—and the eye-stinging stench remains pervasive everywhere else.
Here’s how to avoid the smoke on the Strip and enjoy a smoke-free Las Vegas vacation.
Stay at a Smoke-Free Las Vegas Hotel
Breathe easy. The Delano, Vdara, and some of the other MGM Signature Hotels, such as the Signature at MGM Grand, are completely non-smoking Las Vegas hotels and will fine guests a minimum of $500 for smoking in their rooms.
That means no lingering smell in the elevators, no residual odor from smoking rooms, and no need to plug your nose in the hotel lobby. The non-smoking policy also applies to recreational and medicinal cannabis.
While it is illegal for Las Vegas taxi drivers to smoke or use tobacco products when passengers are present in their vehicles, they are allowed to smoke in their cars when they don’t have riders, which is why so many taxi cabs reek of stale smoke.
Lyft specifies in its safety policy that smoking inside Lyft cars is against community rules because some passengers may have respiratory issues or be bothered by the smell. In fact, if a passenger reports that a driver’s car smells like smoke, that drive can be deactivated.
Generally speaking, the only way to avoid the smoke soup while gambling at some of the casinos is to take advantage of the well-presented sports book and poker rooms. While there are still some hold-out poker pits that remain hell-bent on maintaining Mad Men-era atmospheric conditions, thankfully they are few and far between.
You may want to hold your breath if you go all-in on no-limit hold ‘em or take 11/4 odds on the Cubs to win the World Series, but it won’t be because the air is rife with nicotine emissions.
For the most part, if you want it, in Las Vegas, you can get it. Indoor retail shopping venues are covered under the smoke-free Las Vegas restrictions, so you don’t have to worry about checking clothing for cigarette burn holes in the dressing room. Stick to the major shopping areas that are inside a venue instead of clustered together around the Strip to sidestep any residual smoke.
Retreat to the Pool and Spa
The Delano Las Vegas and Mandalay Bay are both properties of MGM Resorts International and are connected by corridors so guests of the Delano Hotel have all the same access as Mandalay Bay guests to the impressive medley of swimming pool options, including the lazy river and wave pool.
But Delano guests have exclusive access to the Beach Club, a private pool area within the larger pool complex that doesn’t allow smoking. For $30, guests can purchase a day pass to the resort’s Bathhouse Spa to take advantage of the eucalyptus steam room, cold plunge pool, sauna, and relaxation room. Non-guests can access the spa by purchasing a treatment.
And obviously, smoking is prohibited there, too.
Take in Dinner and a Show
As part of the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, smoking is not permitted in restaurants, lounges where food is served, meeting and convention spaces, theaters, arenas, and some other areas. Restaurants inside casinos are non-smoking.
However, your smoke-free Las Vegas experience does not extend to nightclubs and lounges, which are not required to ban smoking as long as they do not serve food or allow minors. So if you’re trying to avoid smoky-hair syndrome, steer clear of those places and opt instead for one of the amazing Cirque du Soleil offerings or a comedy show.
No offense guys, but many of you are tough to please when it comes to travel. While plenty of you are avid travelers, for the most part, women dominate travel decisions and planning. Whether you’re looking for a guy’s trip, bachelor party, solo getaway, or a father-son vacation, here are eight destinations where you can truly have a stress-free vacation.
San Diego, California
Relax and unwind in California while avoiding the hassle of Los Angeles. San Diego makes for a great solo trip or bachelor party destination—with activities suiting both types of trips. La Jolla is a great surfing destination, while downtown San Diego is home to great nightlife. Go to a Padres game, play a round at world-famous Torrey Pines, take a craft brewery tour, enjoy rooftop bars in the Gaslamp Quarter—the activities are endless with year-round mild weather and fewer crowds than other popular California destinations.
For an incomparable European experience, look no further than Rome. From the ruins of the Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Circus Maximus to the lively nightlife, Rome is the perfect guys trip. You can also golf at the championship course, Parco di Roma Golf Club, with the St. Peter’s dome as your backdrop.
Where to Stay: The Rome Cavalieri offers pools, access to Parco di Roma Golf Club, gladiator training in the hotel’s private park, a central location, an Italian Super Car “experience day”, a private visit to the Vatican Gardens and Sistine Chapel, and its own art collection for the ultimate Roman experience.
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Enjoy the desert heat in Phoenix poolside or on the golf course at any of the area’s 185 courses. Depending on the time of year, you can also catch a football game at the University of Phoenix Stadium or a baseball game at Chase Field. Take an ATV tour in the desert, river raft and fish outside of Scottsdale, or rent a boat on Tempe Town Lake (all within driving distance of Phoenix).
Where to Stay: The Arizona Biltmore boasts eight pools, private cabanas, bike rentals, desert jeep tours, Grand Canyon tours, and a championship golf course. You’ll have it all at this resort.
If you’re willing to make the journey, Bali is the best Southeast Asian destination for a guys trip. You can surf at some of the world’s best beaches, relax at countless infinity pools, visit Hindu temples, and enjoy the beautiful landscape of the rice paddies and volcanoes. Once you’re there, everything is pretty inexpensive and the food, nightlife, and culture are well worth the flight.
Where to Stay: Conrad Bali is located on the coast of Nusa Dua at Tanjung Benoa and offers activity planning, golf, a beach coastline, a wellness studio, three restaurants, and multiple pools.
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If you’re looking to go off-the-grid, the Maine Huts & Trails is the perfect adventure trip. The hut-and-trail system is located in western Maine along trails marked by mountains, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. There are four hut stops—Stratton Brook, Flagstaff, Grand Falls, and Poplar—connected by paths accessible via foot or bike. From hiking and biking to fishing, canoeing, paddleboarding, and swimming, the options are endless. And if you’re looking for a winter trip, you can ski and snowshoe.
Where to Stay: Book your trip through Maine Huts & Trails, with rates at $90 per night, including three daily meals.
Take on the bourbon trail with your group of guy friends (and SmarterTravel’s handy five-day guide). From the bourbon to the food, Louisville makes for a great weekend or long-weekend destination. Check out the Louisville Slugger Museum and Muhammad Ali Center for some non-bourbon activities.
Where to Stay: 21c Museum Hotel Louisville also doubles as a contemporary art museum, fulfilling your childhood dream of sleeping in a museum. They offer free tours, and a great view of downtown Louisville, all within a few blocks of 4th Street’s nightlife.
You can have any type of vacation in Killarney. It’s a stop on the Ring of Kerry circuit, the start and endpoint for the Kerry Way walking trail, and home to the castles, lakes, and mountains found in Killarney National Park. It also offers access to renowned golf courses and a great culinary and pub scene.
Where to Stay:The Ross is located in the heart of the town center, close to the national park. They also offer an “Off the Beaten Track” guide and cater to whatever activity you decide to do: if you’re golfing, they will store your golf equipment and offer early breakfast, or if you’re hiking, they will reserve guides, pack a lunch, and give route recommendations.
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Lake Louise, Canada
Located in Banff National Park, Lake Louise offers a variety of activities for your guys-only trip in Canada’s “Diamond in the Wilderness.” Come summertime, the area offers hiking, ATV excursions, canoeing, fishing, golfing, horseback riding, rock climbing, and white water rafting. And in the winter, the lake is home to some of the best downhill skiing areas anywhere. Year-round, you can opt for a helicopter tour, glacier walk, wildlife safari, skydiving, paragliding, cave tours, or grizzly bear tour. Make sure to also check out the town of Banff, about a 40-minute drive away for even more activities, bars, and fine dining.
Where to Stay: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise will plan your entire trip through their concierge service so you can enjoy your vacation stress-free. Choose from their seasonal guides and make sure to take one of their GoPros with you to capture your adventures.
I was packed and ready to board my red-eye, transatlantic flight to England when I got the e-mail: My Airbnb had been canceled 11 hours before I was set to check in. There had been a “plumbing issue at the property,” the host told me, and staying there would be impossible given the lack of running water and necessary repairs.
“We’re happy to help you select another property to stay at!” a cheery Airbnb representative told me via phone as I frantically pulled up an Airbnb search page to see that only a handful of properties in London-proper were still bookable at 9 p.m. England time. “I’m not sure what that means,” I flatly replied.
My answer was icy for a reason: This was the second time an Airbnb host had canceled on me less than 12 hours before my arrival. “Plumbing issues” were cited for both. A measly 10 percent discount on a new booking was offered for both.
As Airbnbs go, most people choose them for one of two reasons: affordability over local hotel options (this was my case, as I was visiting London in summer on set dates for a wedding), or for the advantage of staying in homey digs with amenities like a kitchen and laundry. But recent reports uncovering Airbnb scams paired with the company’s fuzzy cancellation/refund policies are reason to consider the possibility that your rental might end up costing you more money, and for far lesser lodging.
In my experience, I had no choice but to rebook one of the few Airbnbs left—a seedy option that was far from the area I had originally chosen to stay in, and that was more expensive than the original, larger, nicer listing I had booked months in advance. The hotels left by then were both astronomically expensive and no better than the second-rate rental option. Sitting on my six-hour flight after the mere hour I had to rebook, I increasingly began to feel like I should be owed something. It wasn’t until I complained to Airbnb multiple times via email (which went ignored) and then on social media that the company refunded me anything.
In a spate of recent reports, Airbnb customers detail being canceled on for similar reasons (plumbing, in many cases) even later in the process than I was. Vice.com reporter Allie Conti recently detailed her Chicago listing being canceled 10 minutes before check-in time and talked to a slew of other customers with similar horror stories. Ultimately, she uncovered an Airbnb scam that spans cities and relies upon fake listings.
Note: I don’t think either of my canceled listings abroad seemed similarly fake, as Airbnb processed the rebooking rather than the owner—but I can say that Airbnb shrugged responsibility for the cancellation and my incurred cost until I publicly called them out on social media.
“For every person who doesn’t receive a complete refund, Airbnb makes money,” Conti said in her story on Airbnb scams. Airbnb is valued at $35 billion, and plans to go public next year. For comparison, hotel chains Marriott and Hilton are valued at $43 billion and $25 billion, respectively.
Yet last-minute Airbnb cancellations seem to be a grim reality for many travelers: A recent poll by airfare deal site Airfarewatchdog.com (SmarterTravel’s sister site) found that 32 percent of over 1,000 respondents had experienced a last-minute Airbnb cancellation, with half of them saying they were given less than 24 hours of notice. That’s 160 cancellations.
Have you ever had an Airbnb cancel on you at the last minute?
If a hotel ever canceled a room on a customer who prepaid with just hours to spare, it would most likely put the customer in an upgraded room, or in a different hotel at no extra cost (if no rooms were available at the original hotel). That’s generally what you’re owed as a paying customer with a binding contract—equal or greater value for what you paid. Or your money back in full.
But Airbnb has long told victims of last-minute cancellations that they simply need to rebook a new property on their own, using the prepaid amount toward a new reservation, or be refunded their money—”which could take several weeks.” I did request a simple refund in my prior Airbnb cancellation, but in the London case I couldn’t because of the red-eye-flight logistics involved.
When all was said and done, for a second time I wished I had just booked a hotel. And next time I will.
Airbnb’s CEO recently announced that the company will take a more hands-on approach to vetting its “verified” listings to guarantee accuracy and safety—without providing many specifics about how. According to travel website Skift’s response to the move: “Guarantees aren’t really anything new to the world of online travel; Travelocity has offered a 100 percent guest guarantee to customers for years, for instance. Platforms like Airbnb, however, have played off a lack of guarantees and skirting local regulations to help grow its platform over the years.”
What to Wear this Season
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If you’re looking to find the least expensive accommodations in a destination regardless of what kind of accommodation it is, you might be surprised to learn that Airbnb isn’t always the cheapest. A new study from Compare the Market shows that hotels can sometimes beat Airbnb prices. The study covered the average Airbnb vs. hotel rates (per night) in 52 important destinations around the world.
Airbnb vs Hotel: Where a Hotel Is Significantly Cheaper
In seven of those cities, hotels undercut Airbnb by an average of $10 or more:
Santa Cruz, CA
San Diego, CA
San Jose, CA
The big California presence on the hotels-are-cheaper list is probably due to those California cities’ decision to limit Airbnbs due to housing shortages. Santa Cruz limits listings to 450 total Airbnbs city-wide to protect renters. San Jose also limits Airbnbs, and San Diego is weighing similar action.
The Airbnb vs. hotel price difference was closer to a draw in six destination cities: Hotels beat Airbnb by less than $10 a night in Berlin, Boston, and Oakland; Airbnb beat hotels by less than $10 in Bologna, Dublin, and Melbourne.
Airbnb vs Hotel: Where Airbnb Is Cheaper
On the other end of the spectrum, Airbnb rates were lower by at least $10 in 39 cities:
New York, NY
Las Vegas, NV
New Orleans, LA
It’s worth noting that some much cheaper Airbnb options are available even in cities with the highest average rates. A nightly average of $243 for Nashville seems extraordinarily high, as does $215 for San Francisco. Overall, average prices for any group of Airbnb accommodations depend heavily on the mix of accommodations involved. Accommodations can range from a couch surf to entire luxury apartments, and there is no way to extract a standardized quality/price subgroup as there is with hotel star ratings.
And on the hotel side, common-sense challenges some of the hotel rates as overly high for three-star; most notably $339 in Providence (RI), $256 in Las Vegas, $198 in Salem (MA), $194 in Asheville (NC), and $266 in Nashville, all cities where rates can be briefly inflated by special events.
My take-away: If you’re searching rock-bottom accommodation prices, you can find both hotels and Airbnb options throughout the price spectrum, and you’ll need to test both sources to find the best deal. In some destination cities, however, extenuating circumstances like housing shortages can shake things up significantly.
The findings were compiled by London-based comparethemarket.com, a website that compares prices for a wide variety of consumer goods and services. I converted original data from pounds to U.S. dollars, so prices are approximate; at time of writing the exchange rate was 1.21 dollars to pounds, a lower pound value than Compare the Market used at its compilation time. The data show average rates for stays in May and June of 2019.
Average Airbnb rates were (and can be) sourced from AirDNA, a Denver-based specialist in vacation rental analytics. Figures are for the average daily rate (ADR) over a month’s worth of rates and fees. Average nightly hotel rates are for 3-star hotels, as posted by Kayak.
Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.
With rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft taking over, you might be wondering where in the world it’s still possible to take a cheap taxi. Cabs aren’t dead, yet: These countries still heavily rely on them.
And keep in mind that where there are cheap taxis, there’s often a comparable competing rideshare. A look at the cheapest countries for taxis could also have some insight into where you can and should be using a rideshare service—and the most expensive places for a taxi are where you should consider relying only on public transit.
A three-mile taxi ride in Egypt, the top country for a cheap taxi, costs under one U.S. dollar. That’s according to a report by Taxi2Airport.com, which analyzed 2019 data from Taxi-Calculator.com. The top 10 countries for cheap taxi fare are:
Countries with the Most Expensive Taxis
At the other end of the scale, the most expensive rate by far is in Switzerland, where a three-mile trip costs an astonishing $25. Other expensive countries have rates ranging from $11 to $17.50, with the next most expensive countries being Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, New Zealand, Great Britain, France, and Sweden.
Basically, that means most Western European countries plus Japan are not home to cheap taxis. While the tabulation did not include U.S. data, similar reports on taxi prices have come to about the same conclusion about taxi pricing across the globe in recent years.
I’ve always been wary of country-by-country cost comparisons, but relative taxi costs are a bit different: They may not influence your choice of destination, but they do influence your choice about how to get around in a destination you visit. I experienced this effect a few years ago in China, where I found that taxi fares are so low you can pretty much forget about public transit. While public transit is good in China, the hassles of coping with crowds made taxis an easy choice. On the other hand, in Western Europe and in Japan it’s a good idea to stick to trams, metros, and any suburban rail services.
And although taxis are nominally very cheap in many countries, drivers can and do take advantage of tourists. Just about everybody recommends negotiating a price—or at least reliance on a functioning meter—before you get into a cab. And even then you have to watch out for circuitous routes, or, as some call it, “taking you for a ride.” That practice is not limited to developing countries, either: New York cabs are notorious for adding a couple of miles to a LaGuardia trip by taking the Triborough Bridge rather than a more direct tunnel, and Las Vegas taxis routinely take a long way out of the airport to the Strip.
The report does not include other non-taxi options ranging from Uber to pre-booked independent car services to shuttle vans, but it’s worth checking which cities have an equally cheap rideshare competitor that might be easier to pay for and track via smartphone. For example, the top country for a cheap taxi, Egypt, hosts cheap rideshare services Uber and Careem. And the ride search system RideGuru includes pricing estimates for both Uber and independent car services, along with conventional taxis.
The take-away from these results is that before leaving home, it’s a good idea to check out local travel costs wherever you want to visit. That includes checking taxi fares and Uber rates along with local transit costs and ticket options.
What to Wear on Your Next Vacation
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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.
SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon also contributed to this story.
If seeing the seven wonders of the world is on your bucket list, then group-travel operator, Contiki, wants to help you achieve this dream by paying your rent while you do it. With the company’s new Jordan trip, it now has itineraries to all of the “new” Seven Wonders of the World. To get the savings, book each of Contiki’s trips to the seven wonders (these are individual trips that visit the Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China, Christ the Redeemer, Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu, Petra, and the Colosseum) and then prove your rent amount with your rental agreement. Contiki is offering a savings of up to $2,840, the national average of rent for two months.
The Fine Print:
You must be between 18 and 35 years old to book Contiki trips.
You still have to pay your actual rent … Contiki will apply the amount of your two-months rent to your trip.
You must book each of the seven individual trips, with a $200 deposit on each.
Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 2001, get a bad rap. Blamed for ruining something in almost every industry: taxis, the housing market, hotels, and even vacation time, this younger generation is, without question, shaking things up.
And when it comes to travel, the average view is that millennial travelers are cheap, selfish, social-media obsessed, and have high expectations. By definition, I myself am a well-traveled millennial (a big part of this is my job) and feel the need to set the record straight on our travel habits.
Many millennials are doing more travel than our parents did—whether it’s by studying abroad, volunteering after graduation, or stretching flight savings—all before having a family.
Why is this ‘bad’? Spoiler: It’s not. Here are the myths about millennial travelers you shouldn’t believe.
Millennials don’t like traveling with random people.
While traveling with friends and family is an important vacation-driver, differing budgets and schedules make this idyllic vacation harder to plan. But, millennials are still planning to take more vacations in the near future—10 percent more—than the amount they are currently traveling (more than any other generation), according to marketing consultants MMGY Global.
This is where solo travel and group tour travel comes into play. Solo travel has become popular among millennials, with many group tour operators capitalizing on the safety and trip planning they can provide to those going it alone.
I’ve been on three group tours as a solo-traveler millennial, two with a group of people spanning ages 18 to 65, and one restricted to ages 18 to 29. And both have honestly been among the best trips of my life. Travel is more enjoyable with people who are there for the same reason you are, and it’s a great way to bond with people, whether they’re your own age or someone older and wiser to learn from. I’ve even added destinations to my bucket list just from talking to other travelers on tours.
I wanted to see what others think about group tours as well, so I got in touch with some fellow millennial travelers, plus tour companies and tour leaders interacting with this type of traveler every day.
“I always gain a different perspective when engaging with another age group,” says Samantha Smith, who visited Iceland with G Adventures National Geographic Journeys-Explore Iceland Tour. “In this case, since we were on an adventure trip, I was surprised at the number of other solo travelers and how many went on even wilder tours than this one. It was like looking into the future. In my mind, I thought, ‘well I’ll probably be with a lot of couples,’ but really, we were all very much alike. Everyone to some degree had left their families at home to explore a country on their own, and I was inspired by that.”
SmarterTravel’s Jamie Ditaranto echoes this experience: “If you’re worried about being too young for a group tour, consider it a chance to broaden your horizons and open your mind to hanging out with people a generation or two removed. You’ll probably learn a lot and come away with new friends.”
And if you’re worried about not having time to do things on your own, there’s typically personal time built-in (especially on millennial-focused tour operators like Intrepid’s 18 to 29-year-old trips, Topdeck, and STA Travel).
Conclusion: Myth busted. Group tours are adapting to millennials’ travel habits and there are tons of millennial travelers out there, especially solo ones, looking for the safety, ease, and security of a group trip with other travelers—whether they’re the same age or not.
Millennials are cheap travelers.
Yes, the price is a huge factor in what drives millennial travelers to book, after all, they’re old enough to have been affected by the 2008 recession. But this doesn’t mean millennials are only traveling on a budget. Instead, millennials care more about value, which is why many group tour companies are advertising prices as “per day” instead of the total sum and offering payment plan options.
Take Iceland, where tourism numbers are staggeringly high thanks in part to Icelandic airlines offering free stopovers, which millennials look at as added value. They’re willing to spend the money on activities and hotels deemed worthy of their vacation days but are also looking to save where they can and without compromising on their core values: experiences over material things. According to the Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report by Resonance, millennials are willing to spend on experiences and save for travel instead of buying a house or making other traditional investments.
And as Millennials start making more money with age, their spending habits are changing. “Millennials have shifted from low-spending backpackers and spring breakers to being experienced, well-traveled adults,” says Jacob Marek of IntroverTravels, a small group tour leader. And many millennials (half) now have their own children and are starting to travel with their kids.
It turns out that price isn’t even the top concern for millennials. The Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report found that safety (57 percent) is a more important factor when choosing to go on vacation over price (52 percent).
Conclusion: Myth busted. Millennials are by no means frivolous travelers, but they do care more about value and safety than finding something that’s “dirt cheap.”
Millennials are only traveling to post on social media.
There’s no way around it: Millennials are obsessed with their phones and all the apps that come with it. But there are some different ways to look at that truth.
According to the Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report, free internet access and Wi-Fi is the most important hotel amenity millennials look for when booking. But, this group of travelers is checking email and texting more while on vacation than they are posting photos.
There’s no refuting the power of social media and how it influences millennials … and love it or hate it, that’s why there are influencers. According to a recent survey from Avis Budget Group, millennials (94 percent) are more likely than any other generation to be influenced and inspired by outside sources when making travel decisions—specifically by social media personalities (millennials 32 percent, v Gen-Xers 23 percent and Boomers 16 percent). The Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report also found that 24 percent consider social media postings by friends and family to be extremely important when it comes to deciding on a vacation destination.
Being this tuned into to social media isn’t always a bad thing, as Michael Muyres, founder of Amsterdam Untold says, “Thanks to the connectivity enabled by mobile phones, millennials have developed greater spontaneity … they want an experience that feels fresh and original.”
Conclusion: Myth partially busted. This generation doesn’t want to unplug, and that’s clear, but millennials are using social media to not only help their peers discover the world but also as a way to learn more about cultures and destinations.
Millennials are irresponsible travelers.
As Muyres puts it, “You might think millennials are selfish and preoccupied with how their egos look on social media, but I think that’s not true at all. Millennials care deeply about having a conversation with local cultures they visit … they also are very aware of the unique value every individual has and they are eager to learn from each other and participate on a trip in a relaxed, unconventional way.”
According to a new study commissioned by Intrepid Travel, 86 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds consider it important when booking a trip for the company to offer sustainable travel options, and 90 percent consider the travel company’s commitment to ethical travel important.
Johannes Reck, CEO of GetYourGuide, says his tour company caters to millennials differently. Since millennials care a lot about authenticity, “guides speak to millennials as individuals, and try to create more of a two-way conversation vs. a one-way information dump … guides strive to make each tour unique, whether in the specific sights seen, the path taken, or facts shared. Millennials have a keen appreciation for what lies beneath the surface of a culture, and want to have the curtain pulled back for them.”
Andrea Beltran Garcia leads foodie tours with Barcelona Eat Local and caters her tours towards millennial travel behaviors when applicable. “Millennials are really interested in sustainable ways of practicing tourism … they just look for quality and real stuff. Instead of going to a Michelin starred restaurant they prefer to eat cod-fritters from the hands of a vendor who has been selling them for 50 years at a local market.” She also emphasizes that younger travelers ask more questions, interact, and appreciate personal engagement over being more observational travelers like non-millennials.
Conclusion: Myth busted. Millennials clearly care about their experiences being local or cultural activities that practice sustainable and responsible tourism.
Millennials only want to stay in an Airbnb.
Airbnb is definitely an appealing option for millennial travelers; 52 percent of respondents to the Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report have used vacation rental sites, and many millennials consider this a less expensive way to travel in groups. The concept matches all the core values of millennial travelers: authenticity, convenience, and value.
And while there’s no doubt that Airbnb has forced major hotel chains to rethink their amenity offerings (hello, free Happy Hours and cookies), factors like design, location, loyalty programs, and more mean millennials still greatly prefer full-service hotels and resorts over Airbnb, according to the report. When booking travel, more millennials even use a travel agent than they do Airbnb.
This could change, but it’s going to take a long time for Airbnb to replace the safety, comfort, and amenities that come with hotels and resorts. Airbnb rentals are not available everywhere due to laws and regulations, and there is some concern about the sustainability of its model since more volume of short-term rentals can contribute to housing shortages and increased rent in major cities.
Conclusion: Myth busted. The data doesn’t lie. But for now, you can thank millennials for free Wi-Fi and perks like happy hours at your favorite hotel brand. #yourewelcome
You can find cozy, convenient places to stay for $50, $20, or even for free, in destinations around the world—as long as you know where to look. Aside from airfare, lodging is typically the expense that takes the biggest bite out of a vacation budget. But there’s no need to rack up hotel stays for $100 to $200 a night or more. If you’re willing to consider alternatives to hotels, you could pay a fraction of that price—or nothing at all.
Below, we review 10 hotel alternatives and evaluate the pros and cons of each. Read on to see if these affordable alternatives to hotels are something you’ll dig or want to dump.
Short-Term Room Rentals
This is a popular and ever-growing trend in the travel world—a cross between vacation rentals and homestays. Using websites like Airbnb, Homestay, and 9flats, you can rent a room in someone’s house, a cottage, or a private studio apartment for low nightly rates—it’s not uncommon to see prices under $50 per night. It’s a way for hosts to open up their homes and make a little extra money, while giving travelers a great deal and a local’s-eye view of a destination.
Do you love the chance to meet people, see how they live, maybe play a midnight game of Scrabble or Call of Duty? Although you may score a cottage all by yourself, the cheaper options are usually a small bedroom with a shared bath. If that’s cool with you, a short-term room rental could be your thing.
If uncertainty keeps you awake at night, you may sleep better at a chain hotel.
Depending on where you’re traveling, there may be affordable lodging offered by religious organizations, such as convents and monasteries in Italy (check out Monastery Stays), or Christian or Jewish guesthouses in Jerusalem. An internet search or a visit to the local tourist board’s website can help you find these options.
If you’re looking for a calm, quiet environment—perhaps even with a private bathroom, as Monastery Stays promises—religious housing may be for you. Many even welcome children with open arms, and often have larger rooms set aside for families.
Your room will be clean and functional, but if you want luxury, look elsewhere. Same goes if your kids are hellions, accustomed to running up and down halls screaming at the top of their lungs. Also, if you’re a night owl who likes to party into the wee hours, chances are you’ll miss curfew and be locked out. Finally, not all religious accommodations will accept unmarried couples.
Though they’re commonly known as “youth” hostels, these can be an excellent hotel alternative for budget travelers of any age. Even if you’re not up for the cheapest option—a bed in a shared dorm—you can often get a basic private room at a hostel for significantly less than the cost of a low-end hotel.
Hostels are perfect for the unscheduled traveler or backpacker, and for those who are up for an adventure—read: those who don’t mind plenty of company. They often have communal kitchens for those interested in making their own meals.
Some hostels can be sketchy—lacking not only privacy, but also safety. Consider checking sites such as TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) or Hostelworld for reviews and recommendations. Also, check whether the property is a member of Hostelling International, a U.K.-based nonprofit organization with thousands of properties worldwide that meet a minimum standard of cleanliness and safety.
Sleeping in someone’s spare bedroom, or on a living room couch, is by far one of the cheapest ways to travel. In many cases, it’s free, and it’s also a great way to meet locals. You can organize a homestay through long-established hospitality networks like Servas International, or check out sites like Couchsurfing. For more information, see our guide to homestays and farmstays.
If “life is an adventure” is your motto, then this mode of traveling is for you. You stand the chance of meeting interesting people and getting a close-up look at local life. Servas International is social and socially conscious, encouraging members to get involved in their hosts’ communities. Just super-social? Go with a Couchsurfing-type option.
You must be trusting and trustworthy, flexible and friendly, for homestays to be an appropriate choice for you. You also have to be patient—the Servas interview process takes about three weeks. CouchSurfing is looser and much more in touch with social media, providing plenty of opportunities to connect with locals and other travelers.
A Paris apartment, a villa in the Caribbean, a log cabin in Vermont … vacation rentals offer unique and affordable lodging around the globe. Because they tend to be more spacious than hotel rooms, they’re a particularly good bargain for families and groups who can divvy up the cost. And having your own kitchen can save you big bucks on restaurants. Sites to try include TripAdvisor and HomeAway. And make sure to read up about whether vacation rentals are right for you.
The many options in the vacation rental world means that this choice is great for a variety of trips. If you appreciate the convenience and savings of having a kitchen and a laundry room during your trip, then a vacation rental could be for you. And if you’re traveling with a group of friends or family, having everyone gathered in one home can be priceless.
If there’s going to be a fight over who gets the master suite, avoid holiday havoc by checking the floor plan of your rental and deciding ahead of time who gets which room. A rental agreement is a binding contract, so if there’s a chance your vacation plans may change, stick with a cancellable hotel reservation.
When students go home for the summer, many colleges and universities open their dorms to visitors. Expect very affordable but very basic accommodations (bathrooms may be down the hall, for example). There are few central databases of these type of lodgings—UniversityRooms is one to try—but it’s worth calling a few local campuses directly to see if anything might be available during your trip. Your destination’s tourist board may also be able to help.
Restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues often surround college campuses, so there should be plenty of action nearby.
Most college kids are hard on their dormitories, so you shouldn’t expect shiny new carpets, furniture, or finishings. Elevators and air conditioning are uncommon in older buildings, too.
B&Bs with Shared Bathrooms
Bed-and-breakfasts can often save you money over hotel rooms, especially if you’re willing to use a bathroom down the hall. And it may be less inconvenient than you think: Sometimes the room you’re supposed to share a bathroom with might not even be booked—giving you the facilities all to yourself.
The coziness and camaraderie of a B&B appeal to many travelers—enough to overlook the possibility of having to share a bathroom. You’ll save not only on accommodations, but also on meals, since breakfast is covered.
B&Bs, especially those with shared bathrooms, may lack modern amenities such as flat-screen televisions or multiple outlets for charging electronics. And for travelers who aren’t particularly social, having to show up at a group breakfast with strangers can feel like a chore.
From rural B&Bs to working ranches and cattle farms, this type of stay can cover a wide range of accommodations—and you don’t necessarily have to be willing to milk a cow to take advantage of it. Farmstays are particularly popular in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Learn more about homestays and farmstays.
If you think you might enjoy waking with the sun to feed a bottle to a lamb or cornmeal to chickens, a farmstay may be right for you. You could enjoy a hearty breakfast, learn to make cheese, or spin wool. The quiet, bucolic setting is perfect for relaxation, catching up on reading, or finishing handicraft projects.
It can get very quiet, especially in the evening—so if you’re a night owl, your only companions may be the mice. These types of lodging can vary widely, though if you’re traveling in Europe or Down Under, you’ll have more choice than in the United States. If you need to know exactly what you’re getting, then farmstays may not be for you.
Sleeping under the stars can be a magical experience, and it’s one of the cheapest options on this list, especially if you cook your own meals over a campfire instead of eating in restaurants every night. And don’t worry, you can opt for cabins or luxury tent camps (i.e., glamping) if you’d rather not be slapping mosquitoes away all night.
Camping is a great choice for anyone seeking a digital detox. A campfire beneath the night sky can be relaxing and mesmerizing; you won’t miss your TV or tablet. And you can’t beat a perfectly toasted marshmallow as a bedtime snack.
Cooking a meal over a camp stove or fire, washing dishes in a bucket, waking up to rain-soaked sleeping bags—those who choose camping should be open to doing without a few comforts and conveniences.
Swapping houses with another traveler is an ideal way to enjoy the comforts of home while traveling, and it’s practically free. To become a member of a home exchange network, you’ll typically pay an annual fee that costs about as much as a night in a hotel room, so after the first couple of nights of your vacation, your membership has paid for itself and then some. Learn more in SmarterTravel’s how-to guide to home exchanges.
All the conveniences of home—kitchen with all the gadgets, laundry with detergent, Wi-Fi—and usually, a location away from tourist traps and traffic. What’s not to love?
There’s always a chance something might happen (power outage, burst pipe, the homeowner’s angry ex banging on the door at 3 a.m.) and there’s no one around to take responsibility except you. Home exchange isn’t for the worried traveler: Will I break something? Will they trash my house? Am I safe in their home? Is my grandmother’s china safe in my home? If these concerns keep you up at night, do yourself a favor and sleep in a hotel.
Born out of the knowledge that destinations can only truly be brought to life through authentic local connections, Trafalgar’s Be My Guest experiences have reshaped travel.
Why Home Visits Are the Secret to Truly Authentic Travel
Put simply, nothing connects you to the soul of a place like being invited into the home of a local. Whether it’s exploring a 1,000-year-old castle with an Italian aristocrat before enjoying some of his organic wine and a farm-to-table meal, or tasting olive oil with a local Sevillian family, connecting with locals is at the heart of real travel experiences.
And Trafalgar’s Be My Guest hosts are at the center of every one.
Looking for a new way to foster real, powerful connections for guests that enabled them to capture the true essence of a destination, the first Be My Guest experience took place in Italy—still one of Trafalgar’s most popular destinations—at a Sorrento lemon farm owned by the Esposito sisters, relatives of a Trafalgar Travel Director. Over a home-cooked meal and some limoncello, with the scent of lemons in the air and a coach full of delighted guests, it was quickly apparent that the sisters’ farm was just the kind of powerful, sensory travel experience guests were after.
[st_content_ad]Fast forward a decade: Trafalgar offers all its guests the opportunity to experience Be My Guest around the world. With the exception of a handful of cruise or city-focused itineraries, every Trafalgar guest gets to experience the magic of Be My Guest for themselves, guaranteed. Each one-of-a-kind experience brings out the essence of a destination, one of the brand’s richest travel highlights.
With so many vacation options, Trafalgar’s offering is truly unique. By choosing Trafalgar, travelers will experience truly authentic local connections in a way no other brand can offer. Guests love the fact that these experiences set Trafalgar apart from other travel companies and provide life-changing experiences.
There’s never been a better time to take a trip with the world’s most-awarded travel brand.
With over 5 million happy guests and a 97% independently reviewed satisfaction rating, this award-winning company is the world’s leader in travel. Ready to book your vacation with Trafalgar?Click here.
If you’re not already following us on Instagram, maybe it’s time to start. Each day, we bring gorgeous travel inspiration to daydreamers, storytellers, and photographers. Here are 11 reasons to follow us on Instagram and let us help you find your travel bliss.
If you want to immerse yourself in the local landscape and like to feel as much at home while traveling as possible, vacation rentals offer a formidable alternative to the standard hotel stay. But whether you choose a single bedroom in a bigger home or the whole house itself, a vacation rental is quite different than a hotel—so you need to employ slightly different tactics to get the most from your stay. Here are 10 vacation rental hacks to help you tap into this growing market.
Scrutinize the Listing
Few vacation rental property owners manage their properties full time, and the info you find in a listing is not always accurate, up to date, or true to life.
[st_content_ad]In particular, property photos may be deceiving; for example, an oceanfront condo may have photos of the beach that are not taken from the actual condo, or a photo of a whole house may accompany a basement apartment. I once stayed at a house that had people jumping off a dock in the photos, but it turned out that the part of the house we were staying in did not allow access to the dock. Reading reviews from past guests and reaching out to the property owner directly can help you catch such inconsistencies.
You’ll also want to keep an eye out for “sleeps X people” numbers that don’t line up well with the number of bedrooms. If you’re not looking to pack a couple of people onto a sleep sofa in the living room, view these numbers with caution.
I’ve found that rentals marked as available are often booked, and rentals marked unavailable may actually be open. There is one property I have rented on multiple occasions that almost always registers as unavailable—and thus does not show up on date-specific searches—but when I write the owner directly, I have been able to book it every time.
Reach Out Before Booking
Due to the issues noted above, reaching out to your host directly before booking may be one of the most important vacation rental hacks there is. Beyond any questions you have, ask whether there’s anything in particular you should know before your stay; beds may have been removed, the pool might be empty, air conditioning might be limited, parking may be non-existent, or there might be other renters in the same building that might not be a good match.
It’s worth asking if the owner or others will be at the property. I once rented an upstairs floor in a beach house where just after arriving we were told that the owner’s elderly relative was staying downstairs, so could we please refrain from walking around after 8 p.m. so she could sleep? This was obviously not in the listing.
Not all properties include the actual address, so ask for it and then map the location. This will tell you a lot, including helping to avoid the “just minutes” ruse about distances to the beach, restaurants, downtown, and the like.
While you’re at it, pull up the street view to get a realistic look at the area. Another of my favorite vacation rental hacks is to look up the area on Realtor.com, zoom in on the property, then switch to satellite view; in many places, Realtor.com uses actual aerial photos along the lines of those that used to make Bing Maps so useful.
Realtor.com and Zillow.com can also offer information on official square footage as well as bedroom and bathroom count as reported to local authorities, offering another way to get around fudged or optimistic property descriptions.
You can count on most hotels to provide things like shampoo, conditioner, soap, and other toiletries as needed. This is not so at many vacation rentals, so you’ll want to pack your own.
Older homes or apartment buildings may have limited places to plug stuff in, so packing an extension cord or power strip (or both) will help keep your stuff charged.
You might also want to bring your own coffee if it’s not mentioned as an inclusion in the listing. Sure, you could go to a local cafe, but as a friend of mine who regularly stays at vacation rentals says, “It is the first morning that you have to worry about. You are on vacation staying in a nice house, and you don’t want to have to drive around looking for your first cup of vacation coffee.” Enough said.
Finally, if you are concerned at all about the count or comfort of the sleeping arrangements, bringing your own air mattress can help. The better versions of these can be quite comfortable, but they are often bulky, so these are best saved for road trips.
Much as you would do when renting a car, do a walk-through of the property upon arrival to check for damage, missing amenities, non-functioning appliances, and other issues. If the owner is not present when you arrive, register all concerns immediately by phone, text, or email. Do not leave pre-existing problems for which you could be blamed upon departure.
Get a Cell Phone Number
Make sure to ask for your host’s cell phone number, ideally before you arrive. Not only does this help ensure a smooth check-in and key exchange, but it could also be useful during your stay in case of plumbing problems, access code errors, setting off alarms accidentally, or other unexpected issues.
When renting a house for a group on a recent work trip, I offered to purchase groceries ahead of our arrival using my Instacart account. The other folks frowned on the idea, but I went ahead with it anyway for my own purposes, and when the load of milk, cereal, peanut butter, English muffins, fruit, chocolate, coffee, and a fire log to put in the fireplace arrived, everyone got onboard.
Most such services (Instacart, Peapod, Amazon Fresh, etc.) allow you to have more than one delivery address on file.
Despite my experience noted above, it might be best to wait until after arrival before placing an order to see if you will need paper towels, toilet paper, coffee filters, sugar, salt and pepper, and other items that might not already be on the premises. You can also use your Amazon Prime account to get this sort of product delivered quickly.
Look for Fun Stuff
Vacation rentals can offer all kinds of benefits that you can’t get at a hotel without paying extra—think bicycles, a private pool, dock access, kayaks, surfboards, a trampoline, playsets, strollers, even ski passes.
If you see such amenities in the listing, ask your host how to get them. There may be pool access codes, shed or garage lock combinations, and other impediments to keep the general public from plundering the resources of a given rental property. If the rental is in a condo complex or gated community, you are often eligible to use all facilities available to owners, so you’ll want to ask where they are and how to use them.
There may not be another renter coming in right after you, and property owners or caretakers don’t always arrive to clean the property immediately as would occur at a hotel, so checkout times may be flexible. If the owner gives the OK, arrive early and stay late to extract the maximum enjoyment from your vacation.
Do you have any vacation rental hacks I missed? Post them in the comments.
Every industry seems to be changing post-#MeToo—travel included—by taking a look at its relationship with women. Hollywood is reckoning with harassment and a massive wage gap, restaurants are acknowledging rampant sexual misconduct, and airlines are addressing in-flight sexual assault for the first time ever.
As industries find opportunities to make the world a better place for women, they might want to look at travel companies that cater to those who identify as female. Women now dominate the travelsphere, the George Washington School of Business recently found: Nearly two-thirds of all travelers are female. Maybe that’s why some tour companies have long offered women’s travel options—and more are joining in.
Here are just a few examples of women’s tours to try if you’re seeking a new and inspiring way to visit your bucket-list destinations. Your entire travel group could be women, down to the tour guide.
[st_content_ad]Women High on Adventure, or WHOA Travel, has taken women-only groups on an exhilarating array of trips since its birth several years ago—from conquering Mount Kilimanjaro alongside local women to paragliding and hoisting beer steins at many an Oktoberfest in Bavaria. WHOA’s women’s travel itineraries are designed to support local female-run businesses and nonprofit women’s organizations.
For a unique India experience that flies in the face of the country’s complicated gender issues, WHOA takes all-women groups on a colorful journey of cooking, Bollywood dancing, and yoga across Rajasthan that includes a stop at a cafe run by survivors of acid attacks. The visit benefits an effort to stop such attacks not only in India but also across the globe. WHOA cofounder Allison Fleece tells me the experience is true to the company’s ethos of “women coming together to support other women.”
WHOA also offers trips to Everest Base Camp, Machu Picchu, and Iceland—but many departures book up within weeks of becoming available. Group sizes depend on the destination. Keep an eye out for the company’s new 2019 options, which Fleece says will be announced soon.
A female-run women’s tour option that’s been operating for more than 35 years now, AdventureWomen offers one- to three-week trips for women over 30 years old. Its 22 destinations for 2019 include Vietnam, the Galapagos, Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railroad, and Morocco. Like WHOA Travel, AdventureWomen’s tours also include rare opportunities to connect with incredible local women—from female beer “sommeliers” in Canada to women Ama free-divers in Japan famous for collecting pearl oysters.
New from the company are its mother-daughter adventures, which will head to Mexico for glamping and surfing next February, and to Iceland for horseback riding and national park waterfalls next June. Other new 2019 itineraries include cycling through Puglia, Italy, and a 10-day trek through Patagonia.
An outdoor retailer turned travel company, REI is ramping up its all-female REI Women’s Adventures offerings after its 19 female-led women’s tours outpaced expectations last year. REI has revealed exclusively to SmarterTravel five of its new Women’s Adventures for 2019 (which won’t become available online until later this year). Stateside options include a Sedona women’s adventure, women’s backpacking in Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and on the Olympic Coast, and women’s kayaking in the Carolinas.
REI Women’s Adventures travel outside the United States as well, including to Peru, South Africa, Greece, and New Zealand. All trips employ local women as travel guides—which, across the globe, is a male-dominated profession.
A smaller operator that lets you choose an age group of ladies you’d like to travel with, Femscape Sojourns offers women’s travel options for a few different audiences: women over 40, women in their 20s and 30s, and mother-daughter pairs. Current offerings include seven- to eight-day itineraries to Mallorca, Buenos Aires, and Marrakech, with another upcoming itinerary slated for Barcelona summer 2019.
Visiting Middle Eastern countries as a solo female traveler can be daunting, so why not experience the gems of Jordan, Morocco, and Iran on an all-women tour? Intrepid Travel launched a line of women’s travel expeditions to all three countries this past International Women’s Day that focus on local women in each destination.
In line with Intrepid’s effort to double its number of female guides across the globe by 2020, each one is led by a local woman. Arab cooking classes, hammam spa relaxation, souks, yoga classes, and desert treks await—and for a more affordable price point than you might expect: Morocco departures start from $890 per person.
Wild Women Expeditions
Offering more countries and departures than any other women’s travel company in the world, Wild Women Expeditions operates in 26 countries and focuses on active itineraries. Camping in Bhutan, cruising the Nile River in Egypt, and biking, trekking, and rafting through Chiang Mai, Thailand are just a few of Wild Women’s options. The multi-sport adventures can also include visits to female-focused organizations like a women’s cooperative craft market in Belize and the Vietnam Women’s Museum in Hanoi, Vietnam. Wild Women trips typically accommodate eight to 12 travelers per group.
Looking for a group of like-minded black female travelers? Black Butterfly Journeys offers meditation and wellness retreats once per year. This October Black Butterfly Journeys’ departure to Haiti will focus on Haitian cuisine, historic sites like Citadelle Laferrière, colorful art in Port-au-Prince, and, of course, the beach.
Another travel company that launched a line of female-only women’s tour departures this International Women’s Day, Exodus Travels is now offering cultural, wildlife, walking and trekking, and cycling itineraries for all-female groups. Discover Myanmar’s temples and villages over 14 days, bicycle through Nicaragua to Costa Rica and Panama on a two-week itinerary, or head to Cape Town for a ladies-only safari over 20 days.