Archive for May, 2008

How to Have an Inexpensive Vacation in France

When folks plan a vacation in troubled economic times, they often calculate up all the costs associated with it–like lodging, transportation, and such–and then try to trim those costs to the bone because they think of those things as peripheral to their vacation. Why not look at things the other way around? Why not make the lodging and transportation the point of your vacation?

france vacation rentalTake transportation. I’ve recently had a ball walking the great, scenic vineyards of the Hermitage, located in the Drome département of the Rhône-Alpes region of France. You can get to Tain-Hermitage by train, and walk to your heart’s content. So why not take up a residence near a chateau, perhaps one with a garden to enjoy in the evenings where you can sit and have a drink of the wine that came from the vineyards you just visited? The place over there to the left is called Mas des Adhemar and it’s in a larger town of Montélimar. It’s located right below the Château des Adhémar.

There’s no law that you have to see the great art in the Louvre when you visit France. You can please yourself freely. Walking vineyards is free, the the steep slopes of the Rhone valley are so scenic they’ll raise your spirits–and you’ll be shedding calories instead of Euros when you walk them. All the better, because the food in this region is darn tasty.

French castle vacation rentalOr you can stay in a castle. Yes, apartments are sometimes carved out of real castles so you and your family can pretend you’re privileged and everyone outside is a peasant who wants what you’ve got. The castle rental over there on the right is near Viens, east of Avignon. Four can sleep in an apartment inside, and the weekly rent is darn cheap for four people. Click the picture to find out more.

Trails in France are well-marked and maintained. There are thousands of miles of them; you can walk from just about any town to any other along a marked and maintained path.

So think about renting a spectacularly evocative place, and then do like the medieval people did: get out and walk. If you go in the shoulder season–looking for wildflowers in May or vineyards changing color in October–you can save a bundle on airfares.

Think cheap. Have an inexpensive vacation in France without sacrificing anything. Well, maybe the soles of your shoes…

Things to Remember When Bringing a Pet to a Vacation Rental

Sometimes bringing Fido with you on vacation just isn’t possible, but some vacation rental owners allow you to bring your pet with you. Pet owners should consider this a privilege, not a right, and should treat the vacation home with respect. Here are some of the things to remember when you bring a pet to a vacation rental.

Before You Go
Before you even consider bringing your pet with you, be confident that this is a good idea. If your pet has an oral fixation (i.e., chews on everything), or has bladder control issues, or has anxiety about change, or can’t be trusted to stay off the furniture… Any one of those things probably means it’s better if he or she doesn’t come with you.

What to Bring
Everyone going on the trip needs to pack, and that includes your pet. Except in this case, you’ll have to do the packing for your furry friend. Don’t forget the following:

  • Leash – This is required in most areas, and helps keep your pup close in unfamiliar territory.
  • Toys & Treats – Toys help keep your pet happy in what could be a stressful situation, and you never know whether your pet’s favorite treats will be available at the local market.
  • Pet Bed – This helps your pet acclimate to the new surroundings, and helps keep animal hair on things like the vacation rental’s furniture or carpeting at a minimum. If you’re traveling with a dog who’s been crate-trained, consider bringing the crate as well. It can help calm a dog who’s nervous about a new house, and can be a place where the dog stays while you’re out to dinner or a movie. Plus, it can also serve as a dog bed.
  • Food Bowls – Don’t arrive at the vacation rental expecting to find a couple old beat-up plastic bowls in the cupboard that you can use for your pet’s food and water. Bring your own (there are lots of travel pet bowls available now which collapse easily), and make sure the pet’s food station is on a linoleum or tile or otherwise non-carpeted floor which you can clean up regularly.
  • “Dog” Towels – If your pet is going to be going outside at all, be sure to bring along a couple of towels to help wipe off muddy paws or drying wet fur before it gets shaken all over the place or before Spot lies down on the sofa.
  • Plastic Baggies – Bring lots of plastic bags to clean up after your pup’s morning (and anytime) constitutional. You absolutely don’t want to leave any unpleasant surprises in the vacation rental’s yard!

When You’re There
Establish house rules quickly with your pet, such as staying off the furniture and any other applicable rules that are necessary. Set up your pet’s bedroom area and food station soon after arriving, so they have a “territory” that’s familiar and their own.

Then make sure to clean up after your pet – paw prints on the floor, stray bits of kibble around the food bowl – on a regular basis so you’re not stuck with a major cleaning job at the end of your vacation.

Before Heading Home
Do a thorough cleaning job, especially in the places where your animal has been the most – that may mean a couple of passes with the vacuum cleaner around their bed or food area. Make sure you’ve taken out the garbage, including any of those plastic “goodie bags” – you absolutely don’t want those left indoors! The goal here is to leave the vacation rental exactly as you found it so that the owners won’t reconsider their willingness to allow pets in their property!

And for more tips on what to pack for a long car ride with your pet, see this great article.

Free Museum Admission Stretches Your Travel Budget Further

If you’ve been paying attention around here, you’ll have noticed a whole series of articles recently that focus on how vacation rentals can save you money. We’re not trying to beat a good point into the ground so far that you don’t see it anymore, but the fact is that many people this year are finding their purse strings are a little tighter than they’ve been in the past. But rather than have you spend the summer at home moping about how you can’t afford a vacation this year, we’ve tried to offer some suggestions about how you can save money on a summer vacation.

Until this point, however, most of our suggestions have centered around your vacation rental – how cooking in the home can help you cut costs over eating out, how renting a movie is a great relaxing night – but this time we’d like to open your eyes to the idea of getting something for nothing. That’s right, we’re talking about vacation freebies.

Now, what we’re talking about here are the things you can do or see in the town you’re visiting that won’t cost you a penny. Sometimes these will be simple and obvious ideas like spending a day hiking through the woods around your lakeside cabin, or hanging out at the public beach. But there are vacation freebies in other places you might not think to look.

For instance, in many major cities there are certain days each month when admission fees to some museums and art galleries are waived. Some venues offer steeply discounted admission fees at certain times of the day, too, so even if it’s not completely, 100% free it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than it might be otherwise. You can find some information about what days of each week/month Chicago museums offer free admission on this calendar, and this website has information about the New York museums with free or discounted admission days – but any city’s tourist information office worth its salt should be able to give you a list of what attractions are free or discounted on what days or times of the day.

And if you happen to be spending time outside the United States this summer, don’t think that free or discounted admissions stop at the border – in fact, most major cities around the world have certain days/times during which they’ll cut or eliminate admission fees. For example, at the famous Louvre museum in Paris, you can get a discount of 2-3 Euros if you show up on either Wednesday or Friday evenings (this gives you only a couple of hours to check out the museum before closing time, but if you’re quick or you get bored easily in art museums, that could be just perfect). And if that’s not enough, admission is free to everyone on the first Sunday of every month and on every July 14th (Bastille Day). Now, you might be fighting bigger crowds on those free days, but you haven’t paid an entry fee, so that’s a pretty decent trade-off.

(This article about stretching the weak dollar in Europe has some specific Europe travel tips that you might find interesting, too, and some of them apply to other locations around the globe.)

If you’re looking to find budget-friendly short-term accommodation, iStopOver has many listings to choose from. It’s a great way to save money in otherwise costly cities – like Paris! This accommodation is a great hotel alternative. See more short term accommodations in Paris.

No matter where you’ve booked your vacation rental this summer, be sure to check with the local tourist information office of any nearby cities or towns to find out what sights and attractions are always free, offer free days during the month, or offer discounts on admission at certain times.

 

Amalfi Coast: Sweet Garden near Sorrento

I’ve just returned from a visit to the Amalfi coast. Sorrento was my favorite town. Positano my least favorite.

Sorrento - Amalfi Coast - Vacation RentalSure, Positano is pretty, but in an empty headed sorta way, a fact which you discover when you walk up and down its narrow lanes and discover nothing but shops selling expensive items to tourists. There’s not even a cafe until you get all the way down to the beach. Of course, some of you will be salivating over the prospect of giving away a huge pile of your worthless dollars for something made by immigrants employed by a rich and famous “designer” who lends his name to the stuff.  So be it.

Sorrento, on the other hand, has both class and charm. You can still buy overly expensive tourist things, but you can also buy great pastries and pork butts, if you catch my drift. You’ll want to rent a house so you can cook the butts, of course, and one called “Sweet Garden” over there to the right beckons.

You won’t be right in Sorrento, you’ll be out in the wild countryside. That’s the best place to be on the Amalfi Coast, where the sea smashes against the coastal rocks and fishermen work the water with their nets.

Lots of folks worry about driving the twisty road, which is actually quite wide and not dangerous at all, as long as you pay attention to what you’re doing, which presumably is driving the car. Leave the gawking to the others and you’ll be ok.

Things for Families to Remember When Choosing a Vacation Rental

Taking a family trip to a vacation rental is an excellent alternative to spending a fortune at a resort or hotel, or to the dreaded “summer spent at home,” but there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind when you’re choosing a vacation rental property to stay in with children. Some of these things will apply only to those with very small kids, and others will apply to all age groups – either way, considering your kids is imperative before you settle on a vacation home.

Choose a Family-Friendly Destination
While you and your spouse might be itching to spend a week playing Blackjack in Las Vegas, if your kids are coming on vacation with you you’ll want to pick a destination that’s more kid-friendly. Yes, there are some parts of Vegas that kids can and do enjoy, but most of the insides of the casinos are off-limits to anyone under 18 – so while Vegas might look like a theme park, it’s really more of a theme park for adults. You’ll be better off, and your kids will be happier, if you pick a holiday destination that has as much fun stuff for them to do as it does for you.

Know What Extras are Necessary
Obviously you’ll be bringing some kid-related stuff to your vacation home (like diapers, toys, and books), but if you don’t have room to pack a toddler’s playpen or crib in your minivan you’ll want to make sure the vacation rental you choose has those things available for you. Figure out ahead of time what “extras” you’re not planning to haul with you, and then make sure the vacation properties you consider have them listed in the amenities section. (And if the ideal vacation home doesn’t have the things you need, ask the homeowner or rental company whether there’s a service in the town that rents them!)

Think About Safety Factors
Is your vacation rental on a lake or river? Then make sure you either bring life jackets in the appropriate sizes for everyone in your family or can find them locally for rent. Does your vacation rental come with bicycles, or do you plan to rent some during your trip? Then either bring properly sized bike helmets with you or plan to rent those, too. Remember that just because you’ve got kids doesn’t mean that everyone who stays in that vacation home does – so be proactive about getting the right safety equipment for whatever activities you’ll be engaging in. And if you’ve got a really little one who’s got his or her fingers in everything, make sure the property either has child-proofing on the cabinets and electrical outlets already, or remember to bring your own.

Find Out About Local Babysitting Services
Now, even though you love your kids and want to spend your vacation together as a family, you might want to have a romantic dinner for two one night with your spouse – and that’s okay! You can usually find out from the owner of the vacation property or the management company you’re booking through whether there are babysitting services locally that you can take advantage of for a night or two during your trip.

Plan to Do Laundry
You’d want to whether there was a washer/dryer in the vacation home one way or the other, but when you’re traveling with kids you’ll want to make sure you don’t rent a vacation home without a laundry room! Being able to do the laundry in your vacation rental saves you time and money that you might otherwise have to spend in the local laundromat, and also makes your luggage lighter.

Explore Your Surroundings
When you first arrive at your vacation home, after you’ve taken a look at the house itself (and done any child-proofing you need to on electrical outlets and cabinet doors!), take a drive or a walk around the town to see where you can find child-friendly restaurants, movie theatres, video rental places, fun shops, nearby grocery stores or markets, and any area attractions that spark interest. Then you’ve got a list of things to do or see if someone says, “I’m bored!”

Higher Food Costs Make Vacation Rentals an Economic Choice

We’ve mentioned before that one of the major perks of staying in a vacation rental for your upcoming trip is the ability to cook your own meals in your own kitchen. In the past, we’ve focused on this perk primarily because for families traveling with small children it’s important to be able to whip up something quickly that you know your kids will eat, whether they’re just being too picky to try something unfamiliar at a local restaurant in the town you’re visiting or you want to have more control over what they’re eating.

Well, here’s yet another reason why having your own kitchen is a great perk for any travelers, whether they’ve got kids or not – it’ll save you money.

You’ve probably heard the news lately about the global food crisis, and how the cost of food is going up all over the world. While in some places there have been riots and food shortages, in the United States the effect has been largely restricted to a simple rise in what you’re paying for what you’re eating.

Of course, even when you’re shopping at a local grocery store or farmer’s market in the town you’re visiting you may be paying a little more for your food, but this pales in comparison to what you will pay at many restaurants. Restaurant owners are being forced to raise the prices on their menus to help compensate for the added costs they’re being charged by suppliers, so even if you splurge now and then during your vacation for fun, you can really cut costs by renting a vacation property and cooking your own meals most of the time.

So, when you’re hunting for the perfect vacation rental for your summer trip, be on the lookout for two things – kitchen amenities and nearby markets. Knowing what you’ll have to cook with in your vacation home is a great start, and then knowing that there are grocery stores or markets nearby where you can stock up is even better.

New York’s Vacation Rental Market Has “Wiggle Room”

The news on the economy lately hasn’t been great, with lots of people who should know muttering the “R” word under their breath. We’ve mentioned before that choosing a vacation rental closer to home is one way to still have a vacation this summer without spending a fortune or trying to match the low U.S. dollar against stronger currencies elsewhere. Now there’s an article in the New York Times about how many choices are still available for vacation rentals this summer.

According to the article, more and more people are waiting until the last minute to book their vacation rentals in the hopes that prices will go down, but rental agents are saying the prices are staying relatively static as compared to last year.

The article also says that while the vacation rentals at the luxury end of the spectrum have already been reserved well in advance by the people for whom the “R” word isn’t really an issue, there are still lots of vacation homes available in the low- to mid-price range. This is partly due to the fact that people are booking at the last minute, and is also partly because so many people have bought second homes in the past year as real estate investments and then turning them into vacation rentals.

So it would seem that there would be so many new properties available that the prices would come down – but that doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, one expert quoted in the article says, “The demand is still outstripping the supply. We know that people, even in a down economy, still take a vacation.” Although, as the last-minute booking trend indicates, vacationers are being much more cautious about spending their money this year.

Now, the NY Times article is focusing particularly on the New York area market, with more detailed information on the vacation rental market in the popular destinations around New York, but there’s no reason not to extrapolate some of this information from there to other popular summertime vacation spots throughout the country.

For instance, while high-end properties have probably been booked up already, you may find much more choice in the low- to mid-range than you expected to so close to the summer vacation season. You may also want to consider a few money-saving tips mentioned in the article, above and beyond booking a vacation rental instead of a hotel – such as taking a shorter vacation than you might have otherwise, or sharing the cost of a vacation rental with another family. And if you can stand to wait it out, you may find some great last minute deals on vacation rentals, even in holiday hotspots.

Find your perfect accommodation in New York now.


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