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Booking Strategy

7 Airbnb Problems and How to Solve Them

The vast majority of Airbnb rentals go smoothly, but do you know what to do when they don’t? What happens if your host cancels your booking two days before you arrive, or the spacious bedroom shown in a listing turns out to be the size of a closet?

Airbnb problems like these don’t have to ruin your trip. Below we explain how to resolve seven common Airbnb issues, from lost keys to illegal listings.

An important note: These problems aren’t unique to Airbnb, which is one of countless vacation rental sites on the web. However, each site has its own unique policies, so we recommend reading the terms and conditions carefully if you encounter any of the following problems when booking a rental through a different company.

The place isn’t what I expected.

Maybe your host forgot to mention that she owned two cats, leaving you sneezing throughout your stay. Or he optimistically described his neighborhood as “up and coming” when it was actually half a block from a seedy red-light district.

If you show up to your rental and find that it isn’t what was advertised, reach out to your host to see if it’s something that he or she can resolve. If it isn’t, and you don’t feel that you can continue your stay, you might be eligible for a refund from Airbnb as long as you contact the company within 24 hours of check-in. Take photos to support your claim, be responsive to questions, and be sure to use Airbnb’s messaging function to notify the host of the issue (so the company has documentation that you and the host have discussed the problem).

Claims that are eligible for refunds generally fall into one of the following categories, according to the company’s Guest Refund Policy:

– The host fails to provide reasonable access to the booked listing.

– The listing booked is misrepresented (ex: number of bedrooms, location, lacks promised amenities).

– The listing isn’t generally clean, is unsafe, or there’s an animal in the listing that wasn’t disclosed prior to booking.

You’ll either receive a full or partial refund (amount depends on the travel issue) or be placed into another Airbnb property comparable to the one you originally booked.

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Something isn’t working during my stay.

If the dishwasher goes on the fritz or you can’t get the Wi-Fi to work, contact your host directly to get it fixed or arrange for a partial refund. If the host doesn’t respond or isn’t able to resolve the issue within 72 hours, you can ask Airbnb to step in and mediate. You even have up to 60 days after your reservation’s checkout date to submit a Resolution Center request.

Unhappy with the final resolution? Share your experience in a review after your stay. Will it help solve your problem? No, but it may help future guests avoid a similar headache.

I don’t like my host (or another guest).

This might not affect you if you’re renting an entire house and never see your host except to pick up your keys—but if you’re staying in someone’s spare room, the close quarters can magnify even small personality conflicts. (See Toilet Paper Tussle at the Airbnb: How I Survived a Homestay for an example of how things can go wrong.)

Some of these problems can be avoided with a little advance research and communication. Read reviews from previous guests to see what they say about the host. Then read the host’s profile thoroughly and reach out to him or her to ask questions about the listing before you book. Does the host respond quickly and in a friendly tone? You can’t tell everything about a person from a few messages, but you can at least watch out for red flags (such as rudeness or a lack of response altogether).

If conflicts come up during your stay that you can’t resolve, you can reach out to Airbnb for help mediating. Keep in mind, though, that there’s not much the company can do if the issue comes down to “I just don’t like this guy.” In these cases, your best recourse is to minimize contact (most hosts will respect a closed door) and to have a backup plan (such as an inexpensive nearby hotel where you can go if your Airbnb stay becomes unbearable).

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I’m not sure if my rental is legal.

Airbnb has made headlines for legal challenges in cities like Paris, New York, and San Francisco. So how do you know if your rental falls afoul of the law?

It’s almost always okay to rent someone’s spare room if your host is present during your stay. What’s not legal in many cities is renting out an entire apartment on a short-term basis. (This is because cities are trying to preserve the availability of longer-term housing for local residents.)

As a guest, you’re unlikely to be penalized if you stay in an illegal rental. But while the host will take any legal heat, you could be turned out of your rental if the place is raided during your stay. Before you book, do a quick Google search to see what the local laws are in the destination where you’re considering renting. For more tips, see Airbnb and Beyond: Tips for Safe, Legal Vacation Rentals.

The host canceled my reservation at the last minute.

If your host’s plans change, you could be left scrambling for a place to stay just a few days before your trip. Once the host cancels your reservation, Airbnb will let you apply your payment to a new place to stay or give you a full refund. According to the Airbnb site, you automatically get a refund and you’ll receive an email confirming the full refund, with a link to check on the status.

Recently, stories of recent travelers experiencing cancellation nightmares have been coming out of the woodwork. Read more about one editor’s personal experience with this and what to do.

The Hotel Tonight app can help you book last-minute hotels if you’re unable to find another Airbnb rental that you like.

I lost my key (or locked myself out).

Call or text your host as soon as you realize that you can’t access the property. Most experienced hosts will have a spare key readily available, though if they’re at work or otherwise occupied they might not be able to get it to you right away. Note that the cost of a new key and/or changing the locks may come out of your security deposit (if your host charges one).

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The host wrote me a bad review.

Airbnb is unique in that it allows both guests and hosts to write reviews of each other after a stay. If you disagree with what the host says about you, you can share your side of the story in a response that will be posted publicly under the host’s review. Note that you have 30 days to respond to a review.

For more common Airbnb problems, questions, and solutions head to the company’s extensive Help Center.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel Family Travel Holiday Travel

Home Exchange: A How-To Guide for Travelers

For many travelers, a home exchange—also known as a house swap—is an economical, comfortable, and fascinating way to vacation far from home. You arrange to occupy someone’s home at your destination while he or she occupies yours. The possibilities for home exchanges are just about endless.

There are several types of home exchanges. In a traditional exchange, you and your exchange partner travel at the same time and stay in each other’s primary residences. However, another type of exchange has emerged for people who own more than one home. In “non-simultaneous exchanges,” home-swapping partners don’t need to worry about coordinating dates and traveling at the same time. Instead, exchange partners come to stay in a vacation home or secondary residence while the owner continues to live in his or her own primary home. Then the owner can travel to another home exchange property whenever it’s convenient. (IVHE.com is a good resource for travelers looking for non-simultaneous exchanges.) A third type of exchange, known as a hospitality exchange, involves you and your trading partner taking turns staying as guests in each other’s primary homes.

Traditionally, the most popular house swapping services for Americans are two widespread networks, Intervac and HomeLink USA, which have been in business since the 1950s. However, a number of other home exchange companies have also become popular, including the largest home exchange network, HomeExchange.com (as featured in The Holiday) and LoveHomeSwap.com. HomeExchange offers two types of exchanges: One is the classic exchange while the other is called the GuestPoints exchange, where the guests will stay at the host’s home, using a number of his/her GuestPoints. The host will be able to use these GuestPoints to go to stay at another member’s home. Each member receives GuestPoints to welcome them upon registration.

If you’re set on a specific destination, you’ll often find better availability and more options with a smaller agency that’s located where you’d like to stay than with a global network. For example, try Home Base Holidays for exchanges to the U.K. or Aussie House Swap for exchanges to Australia.

Is a Home Exchange for You?

Home exchanging isn’t right for everyone. Some folks love to swap and do it several times a year because it allows them to experience new places without paying for hotels, restaurants, or, in many cases, transportation (the use of the family car is included in many home exchanges). Home exchanges are also a great way to get integrated into the life of a local community since the exchange partner will often leave insider information about the area and introduce the newcomers to neighbors or friends.

However, some travelers are turned off by having to cook and clean on their vacation, while others feel uneasy about having strangers living in their own homes. (In the latter case, a vacation rental might be a better choice.) And keep in mind that home exchanges may be easy or difficult to arrange based on where your own home is located. Someone with a popular apartment near the Arc de Triomphe isn’t likely to want to swap for a home on the outskirts of Columbia, Missouri, unless by odd chance the Parisian is teaching at the University of Missouri for the summer. On the other hand, if you live in a popular destination like Chicago or New York City, you’ll have a much wider variety of offers. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try a home exchange if you live in an out-of-the-way area, but be prepared to work a little harder to find a successful exchange.

Obviously, home exchanging isn’t for the itinerant this-is-Tuesday-so-it-must-be-Belgium traveler, but rather for so-called slow travelers who will stay put for a while. (Most exchanges are for one to four weeks.) Home exchanges make an ideal base for one-day or weekend excursions. Perhaps best of all, house swapping immediately makes you part of a new community. Chances are, you and your swap partner will leave each other introductions to friends and neighbors, which not only provides security but also puts you quickly at home in unfamiliar surroundings and can help you get the most out of an intercultural experience.

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How to Set Up a Home Exchange

Most home exchange organizations charge a monthly or yearly membership fee. Many allow you to search their databases or view sample listings for free before joining. There are also a number of organizations that do not charge a membership fee, but you may find that you’ll get more serious offers as part of a network in which members have paid money for their listing. Home exchanging makes for a great way to save on accommodations for longer trips as well, as at the most you only pay a membership fee.

Some organizations will provide you with detailed guidance on how to arrange a swap or even arrange one for you.

Once you have chosen a company to work with, the best strategy is to plan as far in advance as possible and to be flexible about dates. In your listing and in your offer letter that’s emailed to a potential exchange partner, describe your home and family, your neighborhood, transportation, community facilities, and attractions—anything you can think of to make a swap desirable. You can also usually upload photos of your home to include with your listing. If you’re turned down by a prospective exchange partner, ask to be kept in mind next year.

The more exchange partners you reach out to, the better your chances of avoiding disappointment. But be realistic in your expectations, based on a factual analysis of what you have to offer. Be precise about what you are offering and what you expect: use of the family car, household help, availability of baby sitters, approval to bring a dog, swimming pool privileges, shopping within a short walk, whatever.

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Will Your Home Be in Good Hands?

Chances are good that your home will be safe, particularly if you’re doing a direct swap because you will be expected to care properly for the home of your trading partner while he or she is staying in yours. Frequent correspondence and/or phone chats between partners before the swap occurs will enhance friendship and trust. If possible, meet in one home or the other to begin the exchange. And be sure that both of you are adequately insured (this includes car insurance if your vehicle will be involved in the swap).

Problems with home exchanges are actually quite rare. The most common issues arise from varying standards of cleanliness. If you have more serious problems with your exchange, you should report them to your home exchange organization, but keep in mind that most of these organizations do not accept responsibility for damages associated with any exchange. At most, your trading partner’s membership may be revoked.

To prevent problems or misunderstandings, you may wish to ask for references before agreeing to a house swap. It’s also a good idea to sign an informal written agreement that outlines the terms of your exchange. Will your exchange partner be allowed to use your computer or your phone? Have you agreed to water their plants? Will the family car be part of the deal? Many home exchange organizations have sample agreements that you can print out and use each time you swap houses. Some platforms also have a verification service and satisfaction guarantee; one of the benefits of the HomeExchange platform is that it has multilingual assistance available 24/7 in case of emergencies.

Leave your trading partner with important contact numbers, insurance information, instructions on how to use your appliances, clean linens, plenty of toilet paper and other household items, and a small amount of fresh food and drink to tide your guests over until they can get to the nearest grocery store. Make sure the house is clean and that you’ve left plenty of drawer and closet space so your guests can unpack and settle in. If you have valuable items that you don’t wish to be accessible to your trading partner, you may wish to store them away in a safe or close off a room of your house while you’re gone.

At the other end of the exchange, be sure to leave your trading partner’s home exactly as you found it—clean out the refrigerator, vacuum the floors, straighten out the main living spaces, and be sure there are fresh linens on the beds. If you enjoyed your stay, consider leaving your trading partner a bottle of wine, a fruit basket, or another small gift as a token of your appreciation.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Categories
Booking Strategy Cities Island

Can Americans Travel to Cuba? It’s Complicated

Some Americans have seemingly been waiting an eternity to visit Cuba, the mysterious, off-limits island just 90 miles away. In recent years, some Cuba travel restrictions were briefly lifted—but many have since been reinstated. So can Americans travel to Cuba? The answer: Yes, but it’s complicated.

In April 2019, the Trump administration announced that it would be tightening restrictions on Cuba travel, and in June, clarified that cruises and people-to-people trips would be banned, effective June 5, 2019. However, “the government said it will allow anyone who has already paid for the trip to go ahead with it,” the Associated Press reported. “Commercial airline flights appear to be unaffected by the new measures and travel for university groups, academic research, journalism and professional meetings will continue to be allowed.”

What’s the Big Deal About Cuba?

[st_content_ad]Cuba is a country seemingly lost in time, with little commercialization compared to other parts of the Caribbean. Chrysler DeSotos and Ford Fairlanes do, in fact, ride down cobblestone streets that lead to historic buildings-turned-hotels. The island’s white sand beaches, sultry music, colorful artwork, and friendly faces only add to the appeal.

The year 2018 saw lower tourism numbers than hoped for by travel companies, airlines, and hotels. Nearly 81 percent of U.S.-Cuba tour operators who responded to a survey performed by the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), a nonprofit research organization dedicated to increasing the positive global impact of responsible tourism, reported a decrease in U.S. travelers visiting Cuba during the first half of 2018, compared to the same period in 2017.

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This is mainly due to safety concerns. In February 2018, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning in light of non-physical attacks on U.S. Embassy members in Havana, as well as damage from hurricanes. Currently, the State Department is recommending that travelers should exercise caution if traveling to Cuba. You can read more on the Department of State’s website.

Although early 2019 saw a spike in bookings and interest in Cuba, the Trump administration’s latest restrictions mean that the number of Americans visiting the country will likely drop.

How Can Americans Travel to Cuba?

Americans’ travel intentions must fall under one of the following categories that are licensed by the U.S. government:

  • Family visits
  • Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  • Journalistic activity
  • Professional research and/or meetings
  • Educational activities
  • Religious activities
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  • Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
  • Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials
  • Certain authorized export transactions
  • Support for the Cuban people
  • Humanitarian projects

Check the Treasury Department website for any updates on the allowed categories. Americans may not visit Cuba for “tourist activities” outside the above categories, so if you’re looking to spend a week on the beach, you’ll have to choose a different Caribbean island. While you don’t need to apply for a specific license for your trip, you must be able to offer proof that your journey fits into one of the above categories if it’s requested by the government.

In March 2016, President Obama announced that educational “people-to-people” trips did not need to be taken with a licensed group; instead, individuals would be able to take educational trips of their own design, without having to get permission from the government in advance. But in June 2017, President Trump announced a ban on individual people-to-people trips. In order to travel as an individual to Cuba in 2019, you must travel and meet the requirements under the “support for the Cuban people” category instead of “people-to-people.”

In June 2019, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that group people-to-people travel has also been prohibited, with one exception: “OFAC’s regulatory changes include a ‘grandfathering’ provision, which provides that certain group people-to-people educational travel that previously was authorized will continue to be authorized where the traveler had already completed at least one travel-related transaction (such as purchasing a flight or reserving accommodation) prior to June 5, 2019.”

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U.S. travelers are forbidden from spending money on activities that benefit the business arm of the Cuban military, which runs many hotels, restaurants, and attractions. You can view the list here.

President Trump has promised stricter enforcement of Cuba travel regulations, so American visitors should be careful to document their activities and be prepared for questioning upon returning to the U.S. Cuba travel records should be kept for at least five years after your trip and should include information on “meaningful interactions” with locals and more.

How Can I Fly to Cuba?

Regular commercial flights operate from various U.S. cities to Cuba. Airlines offering these flights include American, Delta, JetBlue, United, and Southwest. You can book these flights on airline websites and on Kayak.com. Travelers should keep an eye on the Treasury Department website for information and updates on the availability of commercial flights to Cuba.

Where Can I Stay in Cuba?

Many visitors choose to stay in casas particulares or private homes. The easiest way to find and book these is to check sites such as Airbnb.com, CubaBookingRoom.com, and MyCasaParticular.com. Keep in mind that the level of luxury can vary widely from one casa to another and that your host may not speak much English. For bigger groups of families or friends, it’s possible to rent out an entire colonial mansion.

However, there are plenty of new hotel openings happening in Havana and in beach areas like Trinidad. For example, Iberostar has 20 properties in Cuba and in 2019, there are more options than ever for those seeking higher-end properties and boutique accommodations. With this increased supply, nightly rates have flattened a little, according to Collin Laverty, President of Cuba Educational Travel.

If you are considering a hotel, don’t forget to check the list of Cuban government-run properties to avoid; according to CREST, “the prohibition applies to ‘direct’ transactions. Therefore, payments through intermediaries such as tour operators are possible.”

Which Tour Companies Go to Cuba?

Group travel to Cuba under a general “people to people” license will no longer be permitted after June 5, 2019. “No new people-to-people group tours will be allowed, which is how the majority of Americans (who don’t have Cuban family) have been traveling to Cuba,” says Kendra Guild, Director of Product & Operations for smarTours, which ran numerous people-to-people group tours of Cuba during the time they were allowed. “Individuals will still be allowed to travel to Cuba, but they will have to be under a different category of travel, which can be more difficult to obtain. Other travel categories under the general license are more specific and limited in regards to who qualifies and what type of programming can be conducted.”

smarTours has one tour offering, Cuba Up Close, that involves homestays with local Cubans and is categorized under the “support for the Cuban people” clause instead of the people-to-people clause, and is therefore still open to American citizens despite the new restrictions.

Intrepid Travel offers Hola Cuba, a nine-day tour specifically designed for U.S. citizens that also falls under the “support for the Cuban people” category.

Do Any Cruise Ships Sail to Cuba?

Carnival Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Viking Ocean Cruises, Ponant, Regent Seven Seas, Tauck, and more have all operated recent voyages to Cuba, but these trips were banned as of June 5, 2019. For more information, see SmarterTravel’s sister site, Cruise Critic.

In May 2015 the U.S. government approved the service of passenger ferries between Florida and Cuba, granting licenses to several companies, but no vessels have begun running as of yet. Stay up to date here and on the Treasury Department website.

What’s the Currency Situation in Cuba?

MasterCard and a Florida-based bank announced in November 2015 that their debit cards now work for purchases in Cuba, though ATM withdrawals are not yet possible. Most U.S. credit cards still won’t function in Cuba; many restaurants and stores don’t accept them, and ATMs won’t work here either, so it’s essential to travel with cash.

Cuba has two currencies, the peso (CUP) and the convertible peso (CUC); tourists will receive the latter currency when they arrive and change money. Try to bring euros, pounds, or Canadian dollars rather than U.S. dollars if you can; there’s an additional 10 percent penalty for changing U.S. dollars. Money can be exchanged at airports, hotels, and exchange offices.

And if you’re wondering about tipping while traveling to Cuba, consider tipping five or 10 to 20 CUCs (or dollars) for good service.

What Is the Current Internet/Wi-Fi Situation?

Most major cell phone carriers now offer roaming in Cuba and many three- and four-star hotels have Wi-Fi. You’ll even find Wi-Fi in some public parks and areas. Download these two apps that have offline access in Cuba: AlaMesa, which is similar to Yelp (iOS | Android) and Maps.me (iOS | Android).

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Amanda Geronikos Norcross, Ashley Rossi, and Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.

Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel

Where to Stay in Germany: Lodging Tips You Need to Know

With so many tempting possibilities, deciding where to stay in Germany can turn into a dilemma. Should you choose ultra-modern hotels or charm-filled historic properties? Should you dream away your nights at country inns, fairytale castles, or pampering spa resorts? Even if you’re on a budget, Germany’s lodging options include hotels, B&Bs, and hostels that are among Europe’s very best. Or, for a change of pace, you can spend a few days on a farm or a countryside vineyard. Can’t choose? The best plan may be to mix and match as you travel through the country, sampling some of Germany’s best accommodations.

Traditional Hotels in Germany

Germany uses the international rating system of stars for hotels, from modest one-stars to five-star luxury. In one- and two-star hotels, you’ll find smaller rooms and perhaps shared bathrooms. From three stars up, hotels will have an on-site restaurant, luggage service, private bathrooms, and a reception desk that stays open at least 12 hours of each day. At four- and five-star hotels, you’ll enjoy room service and plenty of amenities, including robes and washcloths.

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German lodging standards are very high, and you can generally expect clean and comfortable rooms with breakfast included. Better hotels may serve a lavish morning buffet that includes eggs, meats, yogurt, fruits, and cheese. Many hotels in all price ranges have Wi-Fi, though sometimes for a fee.

Europeans still tend to smoke more cigarettes than Americans do, so if you’re sensitive to smoke, it’s worth requesting a nonsmoking room or floor when you make your reservation. Be aware that in a climate where air-conditioning is seldom necessary, many older hotels may not have it. If you are planning a summer trip, be sure to check.

Keep a copy of your reservation confirmation with you to make sure the promised rate is honored. Always check hotel sites directly for specials and deals, such as low weekend rates in cities when business travelers go home. During major events like Munich’s Oktoberfest or the Frankfurt Book Fair, rooms are scarce and rates can double or even triple. You can also find great deals on Germany hotels via TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) and Hotels.com.

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Germany’s Romantik Hotels

While star ratings tell you about amenities, they do not measure charm, and many older European hotels have great appeal. Among the most enjoyable places to stay in Germany are the aptly named Romantik Hotels, found in Germany’s major cities as well as in its smaller towns. The hotels in this group are all in historic buildings and owner-managed.

Another romantic experience is to choose a schlosshotel, or castle converted into a hotel. Germany has more of these special accommodations than anywhere else in Europe. You can find many of them listed at TripAdvisor, and at a site called Castle and Palace Hotels.

Note that some of Germany’s older hotels do not have elevators, so if stairs are a problem for you, make sure to request a room on the ground floor.

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Germany’s Country Hotels

The German countryside has so much beauty and so many attractions that it is well worth your time to plan part of your itinerary in Germany away from the cities. This will give you the chance to experience delightful places to stay such as gasthofs and gasthauses, atmospheric country inns that also serve good local food.

For a different experience, spend time at a countryside bauernhof, a farm that offers rooms for travelers. These are great fun for families, especially for city dwellers. You can also stay amid scenic vineyards at a winzerhof, a winery guesthouse. A site called LandReise is an excellent source for these types of lodgings (though it’s only in German; use the Chrome browser for translation). Bavaria alone boasts more than 1,000 farmstay listings, along with its own association and website to help find them: Farm-Holidays.com.

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Germany’s Spa Hotels

Ever since Roman times, visitors have been coming to Germany to “take the waters” in health spas surrounded by hot mineral springs said to have healing properties. “Bad” means bath, and hotels in cities such as Bad Reichenhall, Wiesbaden, and chic Baden-Baden share access to the coveted spa waters. Many of these cities also have diversions like casinos and fine eateries. Hotels vary from modest to super-luxurious. Check listings in each town to make your choice, as well as Booking.com.

Germany’s Budget Hotels, B&Bs, and Homestays

For those who are looking for a well-priced hotel in Germany, booking services like Expedia and Hotels.com offer good values in all price categories. Another good source is Best Western. The chain’s listings in Europe are not motels as they are in some parts of the U.S., but rather small hotels that have been inspected and are reliable. If you’re willing to stay outside the city center and take public transportation to get around, you can often find lower rates in better hotels. Just be sure that quick connections are near the hotel.

Germany has its full share of economical bed and breakfast choices, as well. B&Bs, also known as pensions, may be small hotels, but most often, they’re private homes with live-in hosts. They are a far more personal experience than staying in a hotel. The best way to find listings is by contacting the local tourist offices in the areas you plan to visit. You can also find listings at international online services such as BBOnline, BnBFinderBedandBreakfast.com or, of course, Airbnb.

At the lower end of the lodgings scale in Germany are zimmer, meaning simply “rooms,” in private houses, offered by families that have a spare bedroom or two. These can be especially handy if you’re looking for an overnight while touring the country by car. Watch for signs that say “Zimmerfrei” (room available), check with the local tourist office for locations, or try Homestay.com.

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Germany Vacation Rentals

Apartment and home rentals provide more spacious quarters and can be less expensive than booking multiple hotel rooms when traveling with family or a group of friends. The agencies and websites that specialize in offering these types of properties have listings ranging from studios in the city to villas in the country. Among the sources to try are AirbnbHomeAway, and TripAdvisor’s vacation rentals page.

Ask for references or read reviews from people who have previously rented the property that you’re considering. Be sure that someone will be on call to help in case of emergency, like a lost key or a plumbing problem. If you’re hungry for more information before making your reservation, read up about what you need to know about booking a vacation rental.

If you’re planning to stay in Germany for a week or longer, you could consider a house swap. A German family might be delighted to trade their home or apartment for yours, saving each of you a lot of money. Specialized agencies such as HomeExchange or Intervac have listings all over the world, including many in Germany. As with rentals, references from others who have stayed in the property are invaluable. Not quite sure how to arrange this type of accommodation? Read more about how to set up a home exchange.

Hostels in Germany

Germany helped pioneer the idea of youth hostels, and today has more than 500 hostel properties that are among Europe’s most modern. While they still offer the bunk rooms that are popular with thrifty students, many hostels also offer private double rooms and family-style rooms that appeal to budget-conscious older travelers. Rates are modest and often include breakfast.

The best hostels book up fast, so reserve well in advance. Find listings at the German Youth Hostel Association or via Hostelling International, an organization that covers countries around the world. You may also want to consider investing in a Hostelling International membership, as this will allow you to stay worldwide at deeply discounted rates.

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–original research and reporting by Eleanor Berman

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy

Where to Stay in South Korea: Lodging Tips You Need to Know

Considering a trip to South Korea? Set aside that spicy bowl of kimchi for a moment and settle in for a crash course about where to stay in South Korea. As a major East Asian tourist destination and convention hub, South Korea is home to an array of accommodation options that includes everything from the luxurious and modern to the cozy and conventional to the downright bizarre. Indeed, South Korea lodging options will suit every budget, and virtually every fancy.

Hotels in South Korea

The most obvious place to begin your time in South Korea is at a hotel. Hotels in South Korea are largely the same as you’ll find at home, and just like those, vary in standards and service. An average room can be quite inexpensive outside of major tourist destinations like Seoul, Busan, and Jeju Island, but prices may skyrocket depending on the time of year or local events.

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You can browse hotel listings throughout South Korea on review sites like TripAdvisor, SmarterTravel’s parent site. Avoid hotels branded as “tourist” or “business”; quality is often subpar at best. Agoda is also an excellent website for hotel booking in South Korea.

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South Korea Luxury Hotels

You’ll find plenty of luxury hotel options in South Korea, operated by many of the same global hospitality chains that you’re familiar with back home. If you’re willing to splurge, you’ll have an opportunity to experience legendary Korean hospitality, a king-sized bed, swimming pools, and all the other modern amenities you could ever want. Standouts include the JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul, where the impeccable rooms include marble bathrooms and floor-to-ceiling windows; the Conrad Seoul, known for world-class service and hospitality; and the Lotte Hotel Busan, the most luxurious place to stay in the southern part of the country.

South Korea Resorts

The resort experience in South Korea can be incredibly unique. For example, you can cruise (but not really) aboard the Sun Cruise Resort, a giant ship firmly affixed to solid ground in Donghae, offering a faux deep-sea adventure for the consummate land lover. South Korea is home to myriad quirky resort properties such as these.

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South Korea Jjimjilbangs

On the other end of the spectrum from the luxury brands are Korea’s ubiquitous saunas, also known as jjimjilbangs. For about the cost of a fast food meal at home, you can sleep on the (heated) floor in a community bathhouse.

Hang on—this is not nearly as bad as it sounds. In fact, jjimjilbangs, almost always open 24 hours, are an excellent option for weary travelers who are simply looking for a place to rest awhile. These social gathering places include access to steam baths and saunas, so despite sleeping on the floor, you may actually come away feeling rejuvenated.

Listings are difficult to find online and typically only in Korean. The Visit Korea site, however, does supply a good listing of Seoul’s jjimjilbangs, as does TripAdvisor.

South Korea Motels

Travelers beware: Not all motels are created equal. More often than not, South Korean motels double as houses of ill repute. “Love motels,” as many of them are known, are usually rented by the hour—your first clue that you’re not in Kansas anymore.

That said, if you’re in a pinch or you arrive late to a destination that is otherwise sold out, motels actually aren’t a bad option in South Korea. Beds are usually large (surprise, surprise), and most rooms are clean and well appointed. If you don’t mind sleeping next to a condom dispenser or walking across a floor of velvet, a love motel could suit you.

Love motels aren’t usually listed on sites like TripAdvisor, and rarely advertise; the easiest way to find one is to learn to recognize the Korean symbol for love motel, and then inquire within. Don’t worry, they’re easy to spot; most marquees and logos include a heart shape somewhere.

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South Korea Guesthouses and B&Bs

Koreans are famously hospitable. Staying at a family-run guesthouse is a great way to peek inside Koreans’ everyday lives; a night at a guesthouse often includes a community breakfast, tea time, and more socializing than you’re probably used to when traveling. Guesthouses are similar to Western bed and breakfasts, though the term “B&B” is relatively new to South Korea. A property advertised as a B&B is probably recently opened and more expensive than a guesthouse.  To find these types of accommodations in South Korea, try Agoda or TripAdvisor.

South Korea Hanok Lodging

A hanok is a traditional Korean building; think clay-tiled roofs, massive wooden support beams, overhanging eaves, and plenty of peace and quiet. Sparsely styled, a hanok will usually feature ondol (traditional home) standards, beautiful paper doors, and manicured gardens. More expensive than a guesthouse, a hanok stay is a uniquely Korean experience, and worth the inflated price.

Some of the best hanok experiences include Rakkojae Andong, at the Hahoe Folk Village; Rakkojae in Seoul; and the stunning Hyangdan Hanok Guesthouse in charming Gyeongju. For many guests, the best part about staying in a traditional hanok is the blissful disconnect from the everyday. No TV, no Wi-Fi, no distractions—not something you can say often about visiting South Korea.

South Korea Temple Stays

The only type of accommodation more unique than the hanok is the temple. A Korean temple stay is a charming experience; imagine waking up at dawn each day and watching monks in saffron-tinted robes wander about a perfectly manicured garden while lost in thought. Join them in prayer, enjoy simple meals, meditate, and reconnect with your spiritual self at any one of South Korea’s many overnight temples.

Tapsa Temple is an outstanding option for first-time visitors looking for an experience that won’t overwhelm. Originally built by a Buddhist hermit in a valley near Maisan Mountain, Tapsa features dozens of stone pagodas (some more than 30 feet tall), each constructed by hand over a period of years. The temple has an almost ethereal air about it, especially at night. For more information and to book temple overnights in South Korea, check a website called Templestay.

South Korea Yeogwans

Yeogwans were once the most common type of accommodation in Korea. These simple rooms are notable for their ondol stylings; instead of a bed, you sleep on a mattress on the floor, which is sometimes heated, sometimes not. The supposed explanation? Koreans like to travel in groups. By removing the bed, you can get more people into a room.

Whether this is truth or myth doesn’t matter much: Yeogwans were the standard in Korean travel for generations, though they’re far less popular these days. A night in a yeogwan is pretty cheap, but be prepared to share restroom and dining facilities. The cozy minbak (see below) is a step up from the yeogwan. Want to try staying in one? Yeogwans are frequently listed alongside hostels on major lodging websites, including TripAdvisor.

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South Korea Minbaks

Cheaper than hotels, a minbak is a family-run outfit that offers modest accommodations. Expect a simple room that may or may not feature a bed. If your room does not come with a bed, make sure that the floor is heated. Restroom facilities may be shared, and kitchens are often provided. Minbaks vary wildly in comfort and size, so it pays to have a look at your room prior to booking. Looking to book one? Minbaks are often listed alongside hostels on sites like TripAdvisor.

South Korea Hostels

South Korea’s range of hostels is no different from what you might expect to find in other parts of the world. The best offer tidy dorm rooms, shared kitchen facilities, clean bathrooms, and community living spaces. Most of South Korea’s hostels are in Seoul; jjimjilbangs (see above) are far more popular in other parts of the country. Looking to book a hostel in South Korea? Try HostelWorld or Hostels.com.

More from SmarterTravel: 

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–original research and reporting by Flash Parker

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Adventure Travel Booking Strategy Experiential Travel Sustainable Travel

Where to Stay in Belize: Lodging Tips You Need to Know

When deciding where to stay in Belize, many travelers choose to split their time in this beautiful country between the jungles of the interior and the sunny Caribbean coast. This means that you could spend the first half of your vacation staying at an ecolodge deep in the rainforest, and the second half overnighting at a laid-back beach resort. Other lodging alternatives in Belize include small hotels and guesthouses, spacious vacation homes, and affordable hostels. Which one is right for you? Read on.

Belize Jungle Lodges and Eco-Resorts

Staying in an ecolodge is the best way to immerse yourself in the lush Belize jungle. The best of the bunch offer upscale amenities such as spas, pools, fine dining restaurants, and air-conditioned guestrooms, while others are decidedly more rustic. Most jungle lodges can help you arrange a variety of nature activities including hikes, birding or wildlife excursions, canoe trips, and visits to nearby caves or Mayan ruins.

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Keep in mind that no matter how luxurious a property you choose, being in the heart of the rainforest means that nature might intrude on your stay, so expect to see a few bugs here and there. It might also take effort to get to some of the more remote lodges. Chan Chich Lodge, for example, is located on a private wildlife reserve in northwestern Belize, and can only be reached by charter plane or 4×4 vehicle.

Rates at jungle lodges can be high, but in many cases, they include at least some meals and activities. Double-check what’s included—and whether the rates are per person or per room—before booking. Note also that many lodges do not offer television or Wi-Fi. For some travelers, this is part of the charm; if that’s not the case for you, be sure to check ahead.

If sustainability is important to you, read up on the lodge’s conservation practices. Does it employ locals from the community, incorporate solar power, have a recycling program, minimize water consumption, or take other steps to reduce its impact on the environment? Lodges that do these things will often highlight these green practices on their websites. You can also check Green Globe, which has recognized several Belize properties for their eco-friendly practices, as well as Slickrock Adventures’ map of Belize jungle lodges.

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Belize Beach Resorts

Belize has numerous beach resorts catering to honeymooners, sun worshipers and those who simply want to switch gears after a few days in the jungle. Many of these resorts are on Ambergris Caye, the country’s largest island, which is popular with honeymooners and snorkelers; others are on southern Belize’s Placencia peninsula.

The beach resorts here are not the massive all-inclusive complexes you may have seen elsewhere in the Caribbean; most have fewer than 25 rooms. This intimate size lends itself to more personal service and a casual, laid-back vibe. Most resorts offer dive packages for those looking to explore Belize’s famous reefs.

Chabil Mar is one of the more luxurious options, located on a patch of private beachfront at the end of the Placencia peninsula. Accommodations include 19 villas and a honeymoon suite, all with sea views. Guests can relax in one of two infinity pools or dine alfresco anywhere on the property—including on their own personal veranda.

On Ambergris Caye, Xanadu Island Resort is a well-appointed and eco-friendly resort south of San Pedro. With 20 suites ranging in size from studios to three bedrooms, the property offers complimentary kayaks and bicycles for guest use, as well as a nature walk and waterfall.

Belize Hotels and Guesthouses

International chain hotels are extremely rare in Belize. Instead, many visitors will find themselves staying at one of the country’s numerous small hotels and guesthouses. Most are simply furnished and affordable by Western standards. Breakfast is sometimes included.

Wi-Fi is an increasingly common amenity at properties across Belize, though the connection can be iffy and you may have to pay an extra fee. Read reviews of the property ahead of time to learn more about the internet connectivity there, if that’s important to you.

Many less expensive hotels and guesthouses are not air-conditioned. While opening windows and turning on ceiling fans may be more than enough to keep you comfortable, it’s worth checking ahead, especially if the hotel is overlooking a road where traffic noise might be an issue. For more information about accommodations in Belize, you can check the Belize Tourism Board’s official website, as well as TripAdvisor’s Belize page. (TripAdvisor is SmarterTravel’s parent company.)

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Belize Vacation Rentals

You’ll find the majority of Belize’s rental homes along the coast, particularly in the beach towns of Placencia and Hopkins and on the offshore islands of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. Websites such as Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO can help you find everything from a small spare room in someone’s home to an airy villa overlooking the sea.

Vacation rentals are most appropriate for families, groups, or anyone looking for a little more space than a typical hotel room. A rental could save you money over the cost of an equivalent local hotel, especially if you plan to use the kitchen to cook instead of eating out every night—but the most luxurious properties are priced accordingly.

Amenities can vary widely, so you’ll want to check the property listing for Wi-Fi, air conditioning, linens, television, dishwashers, and laundry machines. If your rental is part of a resort community, you might be able to use on-site facilities such as pools, fitness centers, or tennis courts.

Reach out to the host beforehand with any questions, such as, “Where is the nearest supermarket, restaurant, and bank?” and “How can I contact you if I have any problems during my stay?”

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Belize Hostels

Affordable hostels are scattered around Belize in the most popular tourist spots including Caye Caulker, Ambergris Caye, San Ignacio, Belize City, and Placencia. Travelers can choose between dorms and private rooms, and between shared and ensuite baths. In addition to saving you money, hostels often have communal kitchens and lounges where you can meet other travelers from around the world. Check ahead to see whether Wi-Fi, breakfast, linens, and towels are included in your nightly rate. Your bext bets for finding hostels in Belize are sites like HostelWorld and Hostels.com.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Budget Travel Cities Money

New York on a Budget: 25 Ways to Save on Travel

The Big Apple has a reputation as a pricey vacation destination, and that’s not entirely undeserved. The average rate at New York City hotels is a whopping $254 a night, according to a recent Statista report—America’s most expensive average nightly rate. With prices like that, visiting New York on a budget may seem impossible.

But pricey hotels aside, New York City is actually a surprisingly attractive destination for budget travelers, especially if you’re willing to do a little advance planning. Read on to learn how to save money in New York City, including tips for dining on the cheap, getting discount tickets to Broadway shows, saving on public transportation, and finding the city’s best free attractions and events.

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Planning a Trip to New York on a Budget

[st_content_ad]1. Get out the map. Group the sights that you want to see by neighborhood, so that you visit one area of the city each day (for example, visit the Statue of Liberty and Wall Street one day, and Central Park and Times Square another day). This will make the most of your time and save you money on the subway, and on Uber and taxi rides.

2. Expand your reach. Spend at least part of your trip exploring residential neighborhoods like NoHo, Tribeca, and Greenwich Village rather than sticking to the tourist traps. You’ll get to see the real New York without paying out the wazoo.

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How to Save Money on New York City Attractions

3. Purchase a tourist pass. If you know you’ll be packing in a lot of popular attractions into your stay, you may be able to save with a city pass. The New York Pass gives you entry into dozens of attractions over a set number of days for one fixed price. Another option is CityPass, which includes admission to either three or six museums and sights, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Empire State Building, over nine days. Passes such as these not only save you money, but also let you skip the lines.

4. Look for reduced admission. Check the websites of museums you plan to visit to find out whether they offer any free or reduced-price admission days. For example, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is free every Friday between 4:00 and 8:00 p.m. Some museums also offer coupons or discounts on their websites, so make sure to check before going.

5. Take advantage of freebies. Some attractions are free all the time—including Central Park, where there are almost always street performers and musicians roaming around, and the High Line, a public park recently created from an old elevated rail line. The Downtown Boathouse offers free public kayaking programs.

6. Stock up on coupons. For discounts on food, shopping, spas, and attraction admissions, search discount sites like Groupon and LivingSocial. Those who know they’ll be traveling to New York City can stock up on some good deals prior to visiting.

7. Take the ferry. Skip the touristy (and pricey) harbor cruises and take the Staten Island Ferry instead for fantastic views of New York Harbor—it’s free!

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How to Save on NYC Shows and Entertainment

8. Find low-cost events. Travelers visiting New York on a budget should take advantage of the many free or inexpensive concerts, readings, art exhibits, and other events happening all over the city on any given day. The only challenge is finding them. For a start, try the “Free in NYC” page of New York’s official tourist board.

9. Save on Broadway tickets. The popular TKTS booths are great places to check for discounted Broadway tickets, but they’re not your only option. There are often even better deals to be had on discount ticket websites like BroadwayBox.com.

10. Go to the source. Theaters will often sell leftover tickets (for as little as $25) a couple of hours before shows at their respective box offices—but sometimes it’s standing room only, or seats may not be together if you’ve got a group. Some theaters may give discounts to seniors or students with ID; it never hurts to ask.

11. Get a subscription. Theater lovers who visit New York regularly or are planning a lengthy trip should consider an Audience Extras membership. For a yearly fee, you get access to last-minute tickets for local shows and concerts that have empty seats to fill. Tickets are free, other than a small ticket service charge. The membership pays for itself after just a few shows.

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How to Save on New York Transportation

12. Buy a subway pass. If you’re planning a longer trip to the city, it’s often cost-efficient to buy subway passes that give you unlimited rides for a week or longer (depending, obviously, on how long you’ll be in town). This is especially true if you don’t know where you’re going because if you make a mistake and have to redirect, it may involve swiping your card several times more than you anticipated.

13. Consider driving. If you’re coming into the city with a group of people, it might actually be cheaper to take a car (though also more annoying). Say you pay $40 for parking, $15 for tolls and $10 for gas—it might be less than $30 x 4 for train tickets into the city. But be sure to weigh that against the convenience of taking the train.

14. Plan your parking. If you do decide to drive into the city, print out coupons or a parking pass ahead of time that will allow you to park all day for a flat rate, rather than paying horrendous hourly fees. One good option is Icon Parking, which is well known throughout the city and has several locations. On its website, you can enter the dates and times of your arrival and departure—give yourself a buffer of a couple of hours each way, in case you arrive early or get tied up and leave late—and choose your parking garage location using the map. It’ll then give you a printable confirmation that guarantees your flat rate for that time frame. You can either pay in advance online or get a coupon to bring to the site.

15. Use your feet. Manhattan is very walkable and you’ll see a lot more on foot than you would by public transport or taxi. Plus, it’s free.

16. Hop on a bike. Biking is a fun and inexpensive way to get around the city—just be sure to wear a helmet and stick to bike lanes for safety. There are some wonderful cycle routes around Manhattan, especially along the Hudson and East Rivers. New York has a bike-share program called Citi Bike; for a very small fee, you can borrow a bike for anywhere from 30 minutes to three days.

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How to Save on Meals in New York City

17. Follow the young folks. If upscale lounges and fancy restaurants aren’t your thing, skip the touristy Times Square area and eat where the students eat. Neighborhoods with colleges and universities—such as the East Village near New York University—often have unique local eats at fantastic prices.

18. Hit the streets. In a city renowned for its street food, you’re missing out if you eat all your meals in restaurants. From familiar hot dog carts to trucks bearing every kind of ethnic fare you can imagine, you can eat your way around the globe without ever leaving the Big Apple—or paying more than a few bucks at a time. A thorough site called New York Street Food highlights some of the best options.

19. Explore ethnic neighborhoods. Areas like Chinatown, Little Italy, and Little India are a great bet for authentic meals at affordable prices. One of my favorite dining experiences is to get up early on a Sunday and head to Chinatown for dim sum. Locals far outnumber tourists in the busy restaurants there, which offer small tapas-style plates for just a few dollars each.

20. Don’t worry, be happy. To save money at the bar, go out early and take advantage of happy hour prices and less crowded venues.

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Where to Stay in New York on a Budget

21. Stay outside Manhattan. Thanks to New York’s comprehensive public transportation system, there’s no need to pay through the nose for a Midtown hotel when you can stay in one of the other boroughs—or in New Jersey—and take the train wherever you want to go. Even after factoring in the cost of extra transportation, the savings can be significant.

22. Consider alternatives. There are plenty of other options besides hotels, including apartment rentals, home exchanges, couch surfing, and hostels, many of which offer private rooms in addition to shared dorms. For more ideas, see Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay. (Note that rentals through Airbnb and other vacation rental sites are not always legal in New York City; to protect yourself, read Airbnb and Beyond: Tips for Safe, Legal Vacation Rentals.)

23. Share a bathroom. If you’re willing to sacrifice a little comfort for a better location, consider staying in a hotel or an inn with a shared bath—it’s often one of the best ways to find a truly budget rate in the most popular Manhattan neighborhoods.

Shopping in New York on a Budget

24. Hit the flea markets. Spend your Saturday or Sunday shopping (and haggling) at one of the city’s flea markets, where you’ll always find something unique. Consider GreenFlea in Manhattan or Brooklyn Flea in Brooklyn.

25. Shop in the right spot. If you’re looking for great deals on purses or jewelry, skip the street corner vendors and head to Canal Street, where you’ll find bargain basement prices.

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Carrie Gonzalez, Ashley Kosciolek, Shayne Rodriguez Thompson, Dan Askin, Carolyn Spencer Brown, John Deiner, and Erica Silverstein contributed to this story.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer Peer-to-Peer Travel Travel Trends

Now, Earn & Redeem Hyatt Points for Stays at 2,000 Homes

World of Hyatt members may now earn and redeem points for home-share stays.

Specifically, WOH members may earn and redeem points for stays made with Oasis, “a global leader in serviced home rental accommodations that offers more than 2,000 personally vetted homes across more than 20 destinations worldwide.”

Two items of interest here. First is the very fact that Hyatt sees fit to associate itself with a segment of the lodging business, home sharing, that currently threatens to destabilize the traditional hotel business. So this would appear to be an effort by Hyatt to get ahead of the curve.

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Second is the scale. Hyatt is by far the smallest of the major chains, with around 600 hotels in its network. The Oasis network, by contrast, boasts more than 2,000 available homes. It’s not like adding 2,000 more hotels to the Hyatt hotel chain, but it does expand Hyatt’s reach, in many cases into cities where Hyatt has no property.

For purposes of points earning and redemption, Oasis properties are treated just like another Hyatt brand. Earning rates, elite bonuses, and so on remain as normal.

To promote the tie-up, there’s a bonus offer in place for Oasis stays completed between March 1 and June 30: 1,000 bonus points per qualifying night.

Reader Reality Check

Is this of interest to you?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Experiential Travel Peer-to-Peer Travel Travel Trends

Airbnb’s 10-Year Plan to Rock the Travel World

Airbnb recently revealed a road map designed to jump-start the company’s annual guest count to more than 1 billion by 2028.

The 10-year plan includes multiple elements, including more rental types and a consumer loyalty program.

First, the low-hanging fruit: Airbnb is adding filters to allow customers to search for new categories of lodging, including vacation homes, unique accommodations, bed & breakfasts, and boutique hotels.

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Next, Airbnb is adding new tiers to its product lineup, Airbnb Plus and Beyond by Airbnb. The former is a collection of more upscale homes, for those with Champagne tastes and the budgets to back them up. The latter “will offer custom designed trips of a lifetime, including the world’s finest homes, custom experiences and world-class hospitality.”

Another addition: Airbnb Collections, “perfect homes for every occasion.” Launching immediately are Airbnb for Family and Airbnb for Work. Later this year will be added collections for social stays, weddings, honeymoons, group getaways and dinner parties.

Airbnb already has a Superhost loyalty program for its hosts. This summer the company will test-launch the Superguest program for guests. Details weren’t disclosed, but perks might be expected to include lower prices and access to fitness centers for heavy Airbnb users.

If Airbnb is to meet its lofty 10-year goal, it will be in large part at the expense of the traditional hotel industry, which isn’t likely to take losing market share lightly. Sparks will fly, and travelers will (should) be the beneficiaries.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

[st_newsletter]

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Peer-to-Peer Travel Travel Trends

Think Millennials Prefer Airbnb? Think Again

Millennials—those in the 20- to 36-year-old age group—seem to be the primary focus, sometimes the exclusive focus, of all manner of consumer product and service companies. Sure, that’s partly because they’re expected to spend $200 billion in 2018. But it’s also because they have a lifetime of spending ahead of them.

They are the future. And what they want, the rest of us will get.

So what do they want? A new report by Resonance Consultancy, an advisor in real estate, tourism, and economic development, surveyed more than 1,500 U.S. millennials to find out. And some of its findings are surprising.

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According to the Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report, although 52 percent of millennials use home-share services like Airbnb at least occasionally, it was actually among their least favored lodging options. Here’s how their preferences broke down:

  • Full-service hotel (53%)
  • Stay with friends/family (42%)
  • All-inclusive resort (41%)
  • Upscale luxury hotel (35%)
  • Camping (33%)
  • House/villa rental (32%)
  • Cruise ship (29%)
  • B&B/small inn (23%)
  • Apartment/condo rental (23%)
  • Limited service/economy hotel (21%)
  • Boutique hotel (20%)
  • Own vacation home (20%)
  • Timeshare condo/home (17%)
  • Hostel (15%)

According to those findings, reports of the imminent death of traditional hotels are premature if not downright false. And the widely held assumption that millennials prefer Airbnb-type accommodations looks to be laughably off-base. They’d rather sleep in a tent than book Airbnb.

To be sure, Airbnb is relatively new compared to other lodging options. There’s still time to increase its share of the millennial market, and reason to believe it will do so.

But at this point, millennials have expressed a strong preference for the luxury and comfort provided by full-service hotels (their first choice), all-inclusive resorts (third choice), and upscale hotels (fourth choice). This is in spite of the fact that a recent Federal Reserve survey determined that the net worth of U.S. millennials was between $2,093 and negative $38,915. That’s low, and as they gain firmer financial footing, they should be even more disposed toward higher-cost traditional hotel stays.

Reader Reality Check

What’s your prediction for Airbnb: dominant player or niche service?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

[st_newsletter]

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Business Travel Experiential Travel Family Travel Group Travel Money Peer-to-Peer Travel Road Trip Romantic Travel Senior Travel Solo Travel Student Travel Travel Trends Weekend Getaways Women's Travel

The Secret to Financing Your Travels in 2018

A new year means new travel goals—and a new way to fund your 2018 travels: Airbnb.

Financing Travel Is Easier Than You Think

Earning extra income as an Airbnb host is even easier than it sounds. You can share your house, apartment, or just a single room, and you’re in total control of availability, price, house rules, and how much (or little) you interact with guests. The money you make from renting your space as an Airbnb can mean extra cash in hand to finance your own travels.

Host Perks

[st_content_ad]Beyond earning extra income (go ahead: calculate your monthly earning potential), you also have the opportunity to meet with people from all over the world. It’s like traveling without leaving your home. Warning: your guests may double the size of your bucket list.

You can even earn extra income while you’re traveling. Just send instructions on how to enter, like a door code, to your guests.

The best part? It’s free—not to mention super simple—to list your property.

Peace of Mind

With nearly a decade of experience and more than 200,000,000 guests, Airbnb has perfected the art of protecting its hosts. First, your property is covered up to a million dollars. Second, you get free Host Protection Insurance that protects you from liability claims up to a million dollars.

And finally, you have access to 24/7 host support.

Editor’s note: This sponsored post is brought to you by Airbnb, which lets you share your house, apartment, or just a single room and earn money for travel.

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Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Experiential Travel Peer-to-Peer Travel

Rent a Frank Lloyd Wright Home for Your Next Vacation

If you’re going to be using an Airbnb-like service to rent someone’s home during your next vacation, why not upgrade your accommodations by renting a home that has architectural significance?

That’s the premise of PlansMatter.com, the online service that connects travelers with owners of historic properties.

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Options include the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kinney House in Lancaster, Wisconsin, available to rent for $395 a night, with a minimum two-night stay, and Rudolph Schindler’s Mackey Penthouse in Los Angeles, available for $220 a night, also with a two-night minimum.

You could easily pay that much for accommodations at a generic Marriott or Hilton.

The site currently lists 39 properties, in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia. Most are modernist in design; all are worthy to be covered by Architectural Digest (and most have been).

You could use PlansMatter the same way you use Airbnb, as a convenient way to find and book lodging outside the traditional hotel ecosystem. But the prospect of a few nights in a home designed by a renowned architect also raises the possibility of an entirely new category of travel: architectural tourism. Trips arranged with the specific purpose of experiencing first hand life in a designer home. Or, in the words of the site founders, “travel planned around significant architecture rather than a specific country or city.”

The destination becomes the journey.

Reader Reality Check

Would you plan a trip around a stay at an historic home?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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How to Be a Good Guest: 14 Vacation Rental Tips

Not so long ago, non-traditional lodging sites like Airbnb, VRBO, and Couchsurfing were mainly for budget travelers and adventurous types, but that is changing fast. These days folks traveling for work, families traveling for vacation, people staying near aging parents, and even aging parents themselves can all find great places to stay in apartments and homes listed on these lodging sites. This change makes it more essential than ever for a traveler to learn how to be a good guest.

Be a Good Guest with These 14 Vacation Rental Tips

[st_content_ad]Despite being termed “guests” at a hotel, most travelers are accustomed to treating a hotel mostly as a private place to flop, invisible to anyone save the time-pressured cleaning staff. But Airbnb apartments and Couchsurfing spare rooms cast travelers more as actual guests in someone’s home—in which the host may be staying at the same time.

To make sure you don’t wear out your welcome, you’ll want to follow these tips on how to be a good guest in the home-sharing era.

Read the Listing Carefully

Being a good guest can be as much about knowing what to expect as it is about how you behave. Before you book, make sure any given property is a good fit for you, your travel party, and your plans.

A quick scan of a listing can be misleading. For example, does a place that supposedly “sleeps four” have two bedrooms with queen beds, or does it have space for two in a bedroom, one on a couch, and one on an air mattress on the living room floor?

Also, note that many of the things you take for granted at a hotel may not be available in non-traditional lodgings—such as Wi-Fi, parking, towels, toiletries, breakfast, coffee, and even bedding.

Showing up to a vacation rental with unrealistic expectations about the space or amenities can start you off on the wrong foot with your host.

[st_related]Are Vacation Rentals Right for You?[/st_related]

Ask Questions

If a listing is at all unclear, use the lodging site’s messaging system to reach out to your host. Not only will you get answers to your questions, but you’ll also be able to establish a rapport with your host in advance of your stay (or figure out that you and the host might not be a good fit after all).

Don’t Fudge Your Information

When interacting with your host, be a good guest before you even arrive by being honest about the size of your travel party, whether you have pets, and other critical details. The host deserves to know what to expect from you as much as you deserve to know what to expect from him or her.

Get a Sense of Whether Your Host Is Active or Passive

Some hosts want to show you around, share their experience in the area, or even just hang out. Others are completely hands off. If you are social and gregarious, the former will work well; if you just want peace and quiet for a few days, the latter is a better situation. Swap those up, and you might be the wrong kind of guest for your host.

[st_related]Airbnb and Beyond: Tips for Safe, Legal Vacation Rentals[/st_related]

Be Clear About Your Arrival Time

Although you are a paying customer, most hosts aren’t on the clock in the way a hotel front desk person is; they are often fitting you into their daily lives. Be considerate of their time by keeping them apprised of your arrival status.

Also, if you know in advance that you’ll be arriving at an inconvenient hour—for example, you have a flight that isn’t scheduled to land till 11:59 p.m.—consider staying at a hotel with a 24-hour front desk for the first night. You can then move to your vacation rental the next day at a time that’s more respectful of your host’s schedule.

Leave Things the Way You Found Them

While many hosts do hire cleaning professionals, others take up bucket and mop and do the cleaning themselves. You don’t have to leave the place spic and span, as you will likely pay a cleaning fee, but leaving the remote, the coffeemaker, bikes, and other items more or less where you found them is a courtesy—and could save you disputes over the condition of the property upon departure.

Ask About House Rules—and Follow Them

Do the hosts prefer you take off your shoes before entering the house? Is there a curfew? Do they want you to lock the doors at all times or park in a certain spot? Be a good guest by asking about these rules and then following them (or working with your host to figure out a compromise if necessary).

[st_related]10 Important Items That Can Make Any Vacation Rental Feel Like Home[/st_related]

Share Your Schedule

If your hosts will be in the house with you, it’s considerate to let them know if your schedule might impact them. For example, if you’re an early riser or a night owl, tell your hosts that you might be up and moving at times they will likely be asleep.

You might also want to let them know when you plan to come and go during the day, in case they need to get things done (such as mowing the lawn or having a visitor stop by) at a time that won’t impact your stay.

Don’t Lean Too Heavily on Your Host for Travel Tips

While many hosts happily share advice on local attractions and secret spots, they don’t know you well enough to guide you to your perfect visit, and their idea of a great outing might be your idea of a wasted afternoon (and vice versa). Also, not all hosts want to be your concierge. When in doubt, stick to simple stuff and logistics, like where to buy groceries, get coffee, get a decent breakfast, or buy gas.

Keep Some of Your Opinions to Yourself

Folks tend to like the places they live, so if you find their town boring, drab, or worse, keep it to yourself. No one wants to hear a guest say, “I don’t know how you can live here, it is so ______,” even if they secretly agree with you. Be a good guest by keeping your tone positive and treating your host’s hometown with respect.

[st_related]7 Airbnb Problems and How to Solve Them[/st_related]

Respect Your Host’s Neighbors

While you can expect some level of interaction with your hosts, their neighbors might not be as interested in interacting; some could even resent that the property accepts paid guests, so you might find yourself less than welcome. Talking to the locals is usually part of the fun, but be aware that not everyone is onboard.

Consider Bringing a Gift

Many hosts offer their guests a small remembrance of their stay—the host of a camper my family stayed in near Fredvang, Norway, gave my son a locally styled hat she had made especially for him—so you may want to stow a couple of simple gifts in your suitcase. Even if the host doesn’t offer you anything, offering a small gift is a nice way to show your appreciation for your stay.

Gifts that reflect your hometown can work well. If possible, lean toward things your host can use and not have to store forever, like local tea, coffee, or food items.

[st_related]15 Things You Don’t Know About Vacation Rentals[/st_related]

Treat Your Host’s Home as You Would a Friend’s

Your friends don’t expect you to clean up after yourself when you visit, but neither do they expect you to trash the place. When I visit my friend Greg, sure, I’ll leave some dirty dishes in the sink, but probably won’t leave them on the couch. Be a good guest by treating your vacation rental with the same respect.

Let Your Hosts Live Their Lives

Although they are your hosts, the property owners are most likely still going about their day-to-day lives. They are not on vacation, as you may be, so they still have to go to work, get kids to school, go shopping, and get enough sleep. Do your best not to get in their way.

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Ed Hewitt is a seasoned globetrotter who brings you a biweekly glimpse into the latest travel news, views, and trends—and how they could affect your travel plans.

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8 Things You’ll Need to Turn Your House into a Vacation Rental Home

Ready to make some vacation cash by transforming your place into a money-making getaway? Not so fast. Turning your house into a rental is easier said than done, and some of the dough you rake in should go toward guest-proofing your vacation rental home. Here’s what to buy before your home goes on the rental market.

Turning Your House into a Rental: What to Buy

A Combination Dead Bolt

 

[st_content_ad]The first step in turning your house into a rental is forking over your keys, which can be hard to do if you work or want to travel while the property is in use. The solution is a combination door lock, which allows you to simply let the renters know an access code. This password will have to be temporary or changed between guests, but it’s safer and easier than making key copies and relaying them to strangers. Invest in a durable combination dead bolt—preferably one that allows you to set multiple combinations and even temporary codes, like Kwikset’s 10-digit version.

Price and Where to Buy: Kwikset Contemporary Electronic Keypad from $60 on Amazon

Nest Home Monitoring

 

To help you stay in the loop on your property when renters are there (and when they aren’t), Nest thermostats, smoke detectors, and security cameras are accessible via smartphone for some on-demand peace of mind. Whether you want to see who’s at the door or be notified if something goes wrong, Nest has home-monitoring gadgets you can tailor to your needs. Install security cameras outside, upgrade your smoke alarms, or opt for a remote thermostat. Who knows if your guests will leave the air conditioner blasting when they leave? You will.

Price and Where to Buy: Nest cameras, thermostats, and smoke alarms from $99 on Amazon

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Wi-Fi Locks

If you’re worried about your combination-lock codes getting out, consider a Wi-Fi lock you can control remotely and/or open in person with your own key. This can be an extra safeguard in case the combination lock is compromised, or simply a way to lock up if your guests forget to. Some pricier locks offer the best of Wi-Fi and combination locks in one, like Schlage’s Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt that can be locked via code, smartphone, or Amazon Alexa.

Price and Where to Buy: Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt from $180 on Amazon

Basic Toiletries

Don’t be that host who snubs the small items. Inexpensive bottles of shampoo and conditioner in the showers go a long way for anyone who doesn’t bring their own, and other bathroom items like soaps and mouthwash are a nice touch. Buy in bulk, or stock up on travel sizes on PackSimply.com and leave a basket of goodies in the bathroom.

Price and Where to Buy: Travel-sized toiletries from under $1 each on Pack Simply’s website

[st_related]11 Things You’ll Need to Pack for a Summer Vacation Rental[/st_related]

App-Enabled Garage Door Opener

Ever leave the house and forget to close the garage? Your guests might do the same. The Chamberlain MyQ-Garage Door Opener uses your home Wi-Fi to notify you if your garage is left open so you can close it remotely via smartphone app.

Price and Where to Buy: Chamberlain MyQ-Garage Door Opener from $99 on Amazon

A Safe

 

You should declutter every inch of your property, down to the closets, if you’re turning your house into a rental—but some small items might need to stay in your vacation rental home and be locked away. Install a safe box or two that can hide any items you don’t want your guests to have access to, like tools, spare keys, and valuables. Mounted wall versions like Paragon’s Electronic Wall Safe could be hidden behind wall features and save you lots of grief. For an easier fix, attach another combination dead bolt to a closet to reserve it for off-limits storage.

Price and Where to Buy: Paragon 7750 Electronic Wall Safe from $67 on Amazon

[st_related]7 Discreet and Portable Self-Defense Tools Under $20[/st_related]

Insurance

 

While vacation rental home sites like Airbnb and HomeAway will usually cover damages, you should also have your own rental insurance in case something goes awry that the service won’t cover. Airbnb now covers hosts for up to $1 million if guests damage the property or get hurt, but certain incidents like personal injury or terrorism aren’t covered. Talk to your insurance company about turning your home into a rental, and ask what additional coverage you might need.

Plenty of Sheets and Towels

Don’t skimp on the necessities: Keep an abundance of sheets and towels on hand in your vacation rental home in case you need extras for new guests. Having plenty of linens means you can get away with doing laundry a little less often. Plus, a lack of sheets and towels is sure to get your listing some negative reviews.

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Editor’s Note: Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product. If you have any questions or comments concerning our reviews, or would like to suggest a product for review, please email us at editor@smartertravel.com.

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Solo Travel

A Home Exchange in Finland

Author: LSKahn
Date of Trip: July 2009

If you don’t like unstructured travel, you would not like a trip with me. I do a lot of research in advance and have an idea of what I would like to see, but what I actually do once I arrive is largely dependent on how the spirit moves me. It helps that I generally travel solo, as there is no one to negotiate with about what I do and when.

This trip began in the fall of 2008 when I received an email through a home exchange site to which I belong inquiring whether I would be interested in Finland FOR CHRISTMAS! I emailed back that I did not want to go to the North Pole for Christmas. While the cold would not bother me (you could dress for that), the limited hours of daylight would. Also, in winter many of the tourist sites in Finland would be on limited hours and/or be closed. I counter offered saying I would be delighted to swap during the summer and the Finnish family accepted.

I left the United States on July 18th and arrived in Finland the following morning. My home exchangers met me at the airport and drove me to the house. They then left — as prearranged for their other house (the husband and wife had jobs in different cities and there was a house — which I used — as well as an apartment (I was left a key to that apartment as well, but never used it). One of my home exchangers has a job with Finnair and the family had to wait several days to get seats on an airplane before flying out (They just pay taxes).

The first couple of days were largely spent sleeping and just getting adjusted to my surroundings in Lahti, Finland. Lahti is a town of about 100,000 located about an hour north of Helsinki. It is not a major tourist site, but is located on a lake. In fact, much of Finland is located on a lake, on the Baltic or on the Gulf of Finland. Boating is a great entertainment there. The family kindly left me a GPS for Scandanavia. It made life a lot easier. In Europe there are always signs to tourist sites, but there is never one that says “You live here.” The first few days of a home exchange you can get lost just finding where it is you “live”.

Home exchange is not for everyone. I have been doing it since 1990. I belong to both the Homelink and Intervac services. I suggest that anyone interested in this method of travel check out a number of sites on the internet before deciding which one to join. I rarely solicit home exchanges. Since I live just outside Washington, DC, I constantly get inquiries about exchanges. My policy is generally to take the first one that arrives that is serious. To be a successful exchanger, you must be open to going places you never thought you’d be interested in.

Basically, my home exchange home was used as a base for traveling and not as the destination itself. I would go out for a few nights and then do a lot of day trips where I could come “home” at night. It is always great to have a washer and a dryer and my Finnish home was the closest thing to an American home I have ever had in Europe — complete with a large size refrigerator and washer and dryer. Of course, I had a sauna (I never used it as I had no idea how it worked). There are 2 million saunas in Finland and 5.2 million people. The Finns love their saunas and jumping into the lake at their summer homes stark naked afterwards.

My first trip out was to Savonlinna — east of where I was staying. Every summer Savonlinna has an opera festival. I arranged for a ticket to “Madame Butterfly” in advance as well as housing some distance outside Savonlinna where the hotels were somewhat cheaper. I soon found out that outside the large cities in Finland, accommodations were usually rustic cabins and/or campgrounds. More on the campgrounds later. The “hotel” was rustic and not someplace I would return to but it served its purpose.

The opera was done inside the castle of Savonlinna (“linna” means “castle” in Finnish). That, for me, was the chief attraction of attending the opera there. Where else could you get the chance to do opera in a castle? My ticket — one of the cheapest in the house — cost 85 euros (1 euro is currently $1.40 so this was a big splurge). For that I got a really unsatisfactory seat. The good seats are well over the equivalent of $200 American. I probably wouldn’t do this again, but I am glad that I went. Since I was all the way over to the side, I could stand to see better when I wanted to without disturbing anyone. There were subtitles in English and Finnish. However, the subtitles were located in such a fashion that it was difficult to look at them and still keep your eye on what was going on on the stage. Having said all of that, it was an experience. As you walk over to the castle, there are lots of restaurants where you can eat before the opera — and I did.

The following day was spent driving to position myself for whitewater rafting. The main town near the rafting is Lieksa. It is in eastern Finland very close to the Russian border. When I arrived, I discovered the town was in the midst of something called “Brass Week”. The only accommodation was something described to me in English as a “hovel”. I blanched when the guy at tourist information said that and explained what that word meant in English. In fact, there really is no translation for it. Basically it was a little hut in a campground that had 4 beds (2 sets of bunks) in it and almost nothing else. I paid extra to rent sheets. Most of these places are located near lakes and Finnish people love to vacation this way. Some stay in the cabins and some in tents. It is the sort of vacation I would never call a “vacation”. Nevertheless, that was the only option and it turned out OK. Not all experiences on a holiday are 100% what you would like. The campground was, however, located in the best position for the rafting the next day. The rafting was the next day at Ruuannakoski (“koski” in Finnish means “rapids”). It was a lot of fun, but, compared to some trips I have been on in the US and elsewhere, very tame. They fed us a lovely lunch of local food. I had these Karelian pastries that are filled with rice and eaten with butter mixed with hardboiled eggs. We also roasted sausages over an open fire — something Finns do everywhere during the summer. It was great!

It was a long drive home and I ended up stopping at a bed and breakfast called Niemilomat that was signposted along the road. This place is located on Route 23 on the right side as you drive from Joensu to Varkaus. It is down a dirt road after you make the turn at the sign. This is a terrific place! I have to tell you that there are not a lot of bed and breakfast accommodations in Finland — unlike the Continent where they are all over. It is just not a Finnish thing (and not much an American thing either). Gorgeous place and about $65 American for the night. Bathrooms are shared between two rooms. The place is an old farm. The family cannot make money farming anymore, so they have turned to really classy accommodations. More information can be found at anneli.hamalainen@niemilomat.com. I was offered a sauna there — and I wish I had done it because it was the real thing next to the lake, but I was exhausted after the night in the campground and simply crashed. I thought I was sure to have another sauna opportunity later but I never did. Who knew?

Driving the rest of the way back the next day, I stopped in Varkaus to see the Musical Instrument Museum. This was basically a player piano museum — with a few other similar instruments. The sound of the player violin hurt my ears! The guy who owns it gave a tour simultaneously in Finnish, Swedish and English. He was hilarious! The last room included a lot of Obama merchandise. I had an Obama t-shirt with me and gave it to him (telling him he would have to wash it because I had worn it). He was thrilled and gave me a CD of all his “instruments” in return. I am not certain I will play that CD very often but it was a nice souvenir.

From Varkaus, I went to Mikkeli and saw a military museum and then the World War II communications headquarters for Finland. It was located in a cave! I then went “home” to Lahti to do laundry and spend a few days on day trips.

From Lahti I did a lake cruise to Heinola. You go through 2 locks. I liked the area around the Vaaksy lock so much I returned there to hang out later in my stay. I met an American woman of Finnish extraction on the boat (she was visiting family) and we commiserated about our credit cards not working at the discount gas credit card machines. We were both glad to know we were not alone in having that problem.

Also, from Lahti, I went into Helsinki and stashed the car in an expensive parking garage. I then took the ferry over to Savonlinna where I visited the fortress. The college student who gave the English language tour there was absolutely terrific! The tour takes about 11/2 hours and I would have had no idea what I was seeing without it. There is good commentary about how Finland has spent a large part of its history being fought over by Sweden and Russia. Finland, by the way, has only been independent since 1917. It gained its independence during the Russian Revolution (who knew?). Before that the Russian Tsar was the Grand Duke of Finland.

Speaking of Grand Dukes, I took a day trip to Kotka and saw Tsar Alexander III’s fishing lodge called Langinkoski. It is adjacent to some rapids (remember: koski=rapids) and the Tsar used to enjoy fishing for salmon there. Nicholas and Alexandra visited the lodge once as well. It actually is quite a simple place. Also in Kotka there is a terrific museum shaped like a giant wave. I saw an old ice breaker (very important to keep the shipping lanes open in winter!). Another part of the museum dealt with everyday life in Finland in the past. This was the best museum I saw anywhere in Finland. In the evening I went sailing in the Gulf of Finland. The sailing cruise was arranged through the aquarium (I did not visit the aquarium except to sign up for the sailing).

One other castle I saw was that of Hamenlinna — the closest one to Lahti and also the site of an excellent military museum. You can spend the day there.

After several days of day trips I began to agonize over whether to go to Lapland. Ultimately, I did not go there because I felt it would be a lot of driving to just get to where Lapland begins in Roviemmi. Going beyond that into the real Lapland would mean the dreaded campgrounds. Since I was traveling solo, I did have concerns about there being no one to commiserate with if I had a car breakdown, etc. So, no reindeer.

I went instead to Turku, where I stayed 2 nights at the Sokos Hotel. I stayed in the least expensive of the two buildings (across the street from each other). The low end building means the sauna is in the other building. The room was teeny but sufficient. I saw the linna in Turku the first day and ate at a Viking themed restaurant called Harald’s. The food was OK, but the restaurant was a hoot. On the next day, which was a Monday, my priority was seeing the handicraft museum — highly touted by The Lonely Planet (The Bible for travelers to Finland). What I saw was a bunch of disappointed tourists holding The Lonely Planet saying the museum was open on Mondays. Common with many museums in Finland, it was closed on Monday, so I never saw it. I went instead to a Maritime Museum (Forum Marinum). It was not as interesting as the one in Kotka, but it did have some old sailing ships that you could go on and examine. I always enjoy those. After visiting there, I went to a museum called Abo Vetus devoted to an archeological dig in Turku. Everything was well explained and even made interesting for children. I also visited the cathedral.

In a vacation of many highlights, what occurred the next day has to rank as the absolute best. For 33 euros, I took the Silja Line boat to Mariehamn in the Aland Islands and return for the day. The cruise takes all day. You switch boats in Mariehamn and return to Turku. The boats go back and forth between Turku and Stockholm stopping in Mariehamn. The whole idea was just to see all the islands. There must be at least hundreds — many uninhabited. I had spectacular weather for the cruise. I spent most of the time on top although the boat had many things to do on it (activities for kids, duty free shopping, restaurants, etc.). My 33 euro fare included a fantastic buffet lunch. I was really glad I did this and somewhat consoled for my decision not to go to Lapland.

Returning to Lahti, I did several more days of day excursions. I visited the National Museum of Finland (Kansallismuseo) in Helsinki on one of my few bad weather days. The museum has exhibits from prehistoric to modern times and is quite interesting if you are a history nut as I am. It was a good place to spend time on a day when the weather was “iffy” outside. The day ended in a colossal thunderstorm and I had a long slow slog back “home” in the torrential downpour.

I also visited Sibelius’ home Ainola and a couple of other interesting museums near it including one devoted to women in the military (Finland currently has a woman president, by the way).

My exchangers had arranged for me to meet a friend of theirs who lives near Jyvaskyla at the opposite end of Lake Paijanne from Lahti. I drove up there to meet her to do a hike and got majorly lost. We eventually hooked up and had a very nice day. I treated her to dinner afterwards in Jyvaskyla. Then she took me over to the town of Muurame where she lives and we went to the Sauna Museum — only in Finland. Basically they have collected a huge number of old sauna buildings from all over Finland and turned it into a museum. The museum was closed so we thought we’d have a look around. Our “look” was cut short when we realized a group of naked men were sitting outside one of the saunas. I took a photo of their rear ends (rather quickly and it is out of focus — drat). We left. I then drove back to Lahti.

On my last full day in Lahti, I went to Tampere, Finland’s second largest city. I went there to the Vaprikki Museum in old factory buildings that once housed a cotton mill. Believe it or not, I saw a huge exhibition on the Indian Sitting Bull. Yes, I went all the way to Tampere, Finland, to see an exhibit about American Indians. I didn’t go there for that exhibit (I went for an exhibit about Finland during the Russian Revolution when Finland had its own civil war between Reds and Whites), but I ended up spending a lot of time on the Indian exhibit. The exhibits were from European collections, so, even if I live outside Washington, DC, and have visited the Museum of the American Indian many times, I would not see those items there. I bought the poster from the exhibit as a conversation piece. Of course, the poster cost all of 2 euros. It will not cost 2 euros to frame. Isn’t that always the way it is?

I went in Lahti to a restaurant along the lake harbor called Casselli’s where I had the best meal of the trip. I ate reindeer in a blue cheese sauce. I am not a fan of blue cheese but I have to say that the reindeer was delicious.

Also in Lahti I had the worst pizza of my entire life. I was in a restaurant in the harbor area and everyone was ordering pizza. Wrong decision! I had eaten at that restaurant earlier in my stay and had these tiny herring that one eats whole with mounds of mashed potatoes (I did not finish the mashed potatoes). The herring were delicious. By the way on the menu they were called “vendace” — which was supposed to be the English name. Every here of “vendace”? I have heard of herring, but not “vendace”? I also ate excellent salmon several times on my trip. I never ordered pizza again in Finland!

I also spent a day tooling around the monthly market and just basically doing nothing. The market is held on the first Wednesday of every month and basically sells the usual European assortment of junky merchandise and food. The market on other days was mostly people drinking coffee and eating ice cream. The Finns love their coffee and I drank plenty of it. Ice cream is also plentiful and I developed a taste for the pear ice cream. While I was in Lahti, Lahti hosted the Master’s Championship in Athletics. Tons of elderly athletes from all over the world! They were all very fit and thin. When someone asked me if I was competing, I laughed and said my event was watching TV. Adjacent to the events where the competitions were held are 3 ski jumps (You can’t miss them because they dominate the Lahti skyline). I watched the ski jumpers on my first day in Lahti, but, alas, I got no photos. What I discovered was that my American camera had died. I had to buy a new one in Lahti!

Serious shopping in Lahti was done at the Sokos Department Store. I got two pieces of Kalevala jewelry. Basically it is jewelry inspired by Finland’s national epic, “The Kalevala”. On market day, they had free coffee and people playing traditional Finnish instruments dressed in folk costumes. Fun!

Finally, my home exchangers returned and I was dropped off at the train station for my train to Helsinki. I would spend five days in Helsinki at the end of my stay. That trip report — will be posted separately.

My home exchange in Finland was sadly at an end, but it had been terrific!