Private Vacation Rental Risks – Cancellation

I know a lot of people who use Air BnB, VRBO and Home Away in their travels. I too, have used Air BnB lots of times, all over the world. My first rental was in Vernazza, Italy. My most recent was here in Wentworth, Nova Scotia. In between there have been many in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Bangkok, Thailand, Panama City, Panama, Istanbul, Turkey, Georgetown, Malaysia and many, many others. Most of my experiences have been good, but a couple have been bad.  Now that I’m better educated, I know some of them were also not legal. If you are using private vacation rentals for your travels you need to know the risks, the first one being potential cancellation.

With the recent news about vacation rentals in Oahu, Hawaii shutting down, I think it’s important to address some of the risks you are accepting when you choose to rent from short-term rental sites such as those listed above. You can read the article about Oahu here, for reference (12AUG2019).

While this is just one article about illegal vacation rentals in Hawaii, it is a very real problem that you MUST understand before booking any private rental. This is commonplace in many countries. Private vacation rentals can easily be illegal and still available for booking. It can also be legal and unsafe (not meeting fire code for that country, for example). And of course, it can be legal, safe and wonderful, but how do you know?

Here’s the risk you are taking …

Every time you book a private rental you are taking a risk that they could simply cancel on you with very short notice leaving you in the lurch. In the case of this article about Oahu, huge fines are being enforced as vacation rentals are breaking laws. These are not new laws, as the headline suggests, rather they are old laws, being newly enforced. Due to these fines, vacation rentals are shutting down and cancelling current bookings (on very short notice) in order to avoid HUGE fines which in turn leaves the incoming vacationers in a panic.

Don’t think for a second that even if the rental IS legal that the owner can’t cancel. They can, and they do, regularly. Maybe their septic system needs to be pumped, they have a leaky roof, their fridge went caput, the renters who were there a day before you trashed the place and it needs repairs, or their family is coming to town and they need the place … so they cancel your reservation. Some even list their rental on multiple sites and if someone offers a higher price after you have booked they’ll cancel you to accept the higher bidder from another site.

What are you going to do if your rental cancels the day before you stay there? What if you are in transit and don’t get the notification until you show up and there is no one there to greet you? What if you do get one or two weeks notice, but you can’t find any other rentals in the same price range that are still available? What if everything is sold out because it is high season?

Sure, in most cases you’ll get your money back, but where will you stay for the night and for the rest of your vacation? How much time will it take out of your precious vacation to find a new place? And, how much is that going to cost you on short notice?

Lots of private vacation rentals go perfectly. I’ve had many of those experiences and met many wonderful people around the world! Those are the ones you hear about … the perfect ones. They can be great, but you need to know there are two sides and you need to decide, is the risk worth it for you?

If you’d like to explore vacation rentals that are legal, safe and operated by management companies rather than individuals, get in touch. Sure, they are not quite as cheap, but they do come with more support, more peace of mind and often more charm!

You can reach me by email or by phone at 902 402 7646.

Note: The included photo is of one of my favorite Air BnB rentals in beautiful Buenos Aires when I lived there in 2015.

My Favourite Destinations of 2015 – Part 1

In 2015 I was crazy enough to visit nine different countries (Dominican Republic, Belize, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Turkey, Thailand, The Philippines and Malaysia). That’s kind of a lot, don’t you think? And while they all hold a special place in my heart for different reasons my next few blogs will give you insight into my favourites and why you should visit!

Penang, Malaysia
Funny enough, at the top of my list for places you should visit, is a lovely island that I had never heard of before I went to the Philippines in October / November 2015. In fact, I knew very little about Malaysia at all, other than the bad press Malaysian airlines has had. In the Philippines I met several other travellers who had wonderful things to say about Malaysia and ended up finding out why for myself!

I had no intentions of visiting Malaysia, but when we needed to book a flight out of the Philippines on short notice, Kuala Lumpur was an easy solution. Honestly, it was only planned to be a landing spot and then to take off again for the Thai Islands.

The fun thing about an un-plan though, is that it is fluid and changes as you go. Sometimes (like the aforementioned need for a short notice flight decision), it isn’t so much fun. But, sometimes, you end up falling in love with where you end up!

When my friend Robin and I decided to stay in Malaysia for a few days, seeing as we were passing through anyway, I had no idea I would enjoy it so much. We had planned to go to an island by the name of Langkawi, but it turned out to be a little difficult to organize on short notice. So, in the end we headed to George town on the island of Penang.

Our first introduction to George town was our amazing Air BnB host, Edward, who picked us up after midnight on a weekday from the ferry and then stopped at the best little hawker spot on the way home so that we could grab dinner.

Best. Wonton Soup. Ever.

Our next few days were filled with hot hot hot weather, late afternoon rain storms, funky cafes, cheap and delicious street food, the beach, markets, street art, the coolest little postcard shop and a night out with some crazy (fun) new friends.

WHY DO I THINK YOU SHOULD VISIT?
If the reasons I listed above are not enough, here’s the best reason. Malaysia isn’t as much about what you will see, but more about what you’ll learn. In my few short days in Malaysia, I learned of a world where acceptance of one another as humans actually exists.  The Malay people live alongside people from India, China, Thailand and everywhere in between and the all just get along. Their festivals are open for celebration by anyone and it’s nothing to see a young Chinese man having a laugh with an elderly East Indian woman. You’ll see groups of young friends who look like United Colors of Beneton ads and that’s just the way life is. No one questions it. Religion is taken seriously, but does not create a divide between people. Although there are specific areas, such as Little India and Chinatown that have a higher population of one race, there is a culmination of all races in every area. If you are looking for a place where love is the answer no matter your color, you’ll find it in Malaysia.

If you are looking to eat your face off. You’ll find that in Malaysia too. I only wish I had taken more pictures of the drool-worthy delights! Whether you crave Asian-style noodles or curries from East India … if you want your meals presented in a plastic bag or looking like they came from the world’s best chef … you’ll find it all in George town. Go ahead, eat small meals all day … eat, eat and eat some more. The food is delicious, cheap and plentiful!

GETTING THERE:
From Kuala Lumpur, Robin and I decided to travel by land and ferry to Penang. We booked our tickets online two days in advance for about 60 RM each. We arrived at Kuala Lumpur Central Station about two hours before our departure, which proved to be an hour too long.

The trains are new, clean and comfortable (although a bit chilly). The food selection left a lot to be desired, so take snacks with you. We spent about four hours on the train and got off at Butterworth Station. The pedway to the ferry terminal was under construction, so we were taken via free shuttle, which was probably better with my big suitcase as it was a bit further to walk than we expected. We were dropped at the check in for the ferry terminal, paid our 2.50 RM and waited only about 15 minutes to board the ferry. You pay the ferry fee only on the way to Penang, there is no charge for the return trip to the mainland. The ferry crossing itself takes about 15 minutes to the island. We arrived in George town just after midnight and were picked up by our Air BnB host. Although, there were lots of taxis present if you needed to catch one.

THINGS TO DO IN OR NEAR GEORGE TOWN:
Clan Jetties
– Century-old, houses on stilts which are the last remaining old Chinese settlements on the islands. Originally there were seven small villages, but one was lost to fire, so there are six remaining that you can visit.
Sunday Market on Upper Penang Road which becomes pedestrian only from 9am – 4pm on the last Sunday of the month – handicrafts, food, entertainment. It’s a great spot to buy unique souvenirs and don’t miss the coconut ice cream. It was my favourite!
101 Stray Cats – George town is well known for it’s street art, but my favorite installation is the 101 Stray Cats project that was done to bring awareness and promote helping animals in need. Here’s a great little article and map if you want to find them all!
New Lane Hawker Centre – Penang is famous for it’s hawker (street) food. Even our street food guide in Kuala Lumpur raved about the amazing food in Penang! My favorite hawker centre was on Lorong Baru and it happened to only be about a 15 minute walk from where we were staying. About 20 stalls serving up every type of street food you can imagine, with my favourites being chicken satays and won ton soup. Ok ok, I’m not the most adventurous, but it was sooooo yummy! Check out other hawker spots here. I also visited Just Food. It is a food court in a fancy shopping centre. Food is good and almost as cheap as the streets, but the atmosphere is more upscale and doesn’t give you the ‘real’ feel for street food life. However, in the midst of late afternoon rains, it is a great alternative to the outdoor markets.
Bars / Restaurants:
Love Bites – I had delicious pizza baked on a light, flaky crust drizzled with balsamic – yum!  Piknik Everyday – The chocolate waffles – need I say more?
Black Kettle – I had a nice chicken sandwich that was fresh and tasty. Super friendly staff as well.
China House – Great spot to relax and take in some live music in the evening. Apparently their cakes are to die for, but I didn’t try them … you should!
Ferringhi Beach – Known locally as Batu Ferringhi, it is the second most popular destination on Penang Island. We were warned that the beach would be busy because we were there at the beginning of their summer holidays. However, it was far from busy in comparison to beaches in Southern Thailand for example. There was lots of space for everyone in the sun or in the shade. In fact, I wouldn’t have called it busy at all. It was quite tranquil, other than the myriad of vendors selling parasailing. Sadly, I didn’t know about the ‘legendary’ night market, or I would have stayed for the evening!
Penang National Park –  With Jungle trekking, monkey beach and a turtle sanctuary, the national park is a great spot to feel at one with nature and get some exercise. Just make sure you take lots of water, insect repellant and your swim suit!

GETTING AROUND:
Download the Uber app on your phone for taxis (use my promo code (sharit146ue) and you’ll get a credit for your first ride!)- It was my very first experience using Uber and we had nothing but success. Cars were clean and tidy, drivers were super friendly, cost was about 1/2 price of the regular taxis and payment is made by credit card rather than having to carry cash. No bartering, no haggling, just simple.

Buses to (Batu) Ferringhi Beach
Cost – 2.70 RM – each way from George town

Inspired to get your travel on? Think Malaysia might be the place for you?
I’d love to chat about my experiences there and help you plan your perfect South East Asian Adventure or Vacation. Get in touch at stucker@tpi.ca

** This is not a sponsored post. None of the suppliers, locations or restaurants have in any way paid to be mentioned. They are just fabulous and I thought they were worth talking about!

Air BnB – I found one – Now what?

You’ve spent hours looking at pictures of lovely homes in the area you want to visit. You’ve read so many reviews from happy travellers that they are all blending together, but now what?

Exactly what do you do once you find a rental that you like?

For me, I save it to my favourites and write a little note about why I like this particular home, what was unique or anything else that caught my eye – good or bad.

For example: Great location – close to train / great reviews / no internet / lots of natural light
For example: Third floor, no elevator / no kitchen / reviews say wifi slow / 20 minutes from town / great host reviews / great view and balcony / breakfast included

Once I’ve exhausted my searching and narrowed down to a little (or large) list of my favourites, I start sending messages to the hosts to check on availability and pricing. This is also your time to ask any questions about any of the rules.

Air BnB does a great job at making things easy for you. Once you’ve written your first message, the site automatically saves it for the next time you write to a host. You don’t even have to copy and paste the message and you most certainly don’t have to start from scratch! Just take a moment to make sure the details of the message are pertinent to the host and property you are interested in and then send away! You might want to update any questions you have about particulars of a specific location such as asking about the size of the pool and how often it is cleaned; this is only relevant if there is a pool!

A big tip prices ARE negotiable. That’s right, you can ask the hosts for a special offer or discount. They can say yes or no, but it never hurts to ask! I don’t suggest trying to bargain like you would at a market in the Caribbean, but asking for a better price is acceptable. Every single host that I wrote, I asked for a discount … in Cinque Terre I reasoned it with ‘because October is low season and I’m renting for five days’ … However, I also found out from several of the hosts that October isn’t low season at all and that they are actually still very busy that time of year! Having said that, almost all of the hosts that I wrote, who had availability for my dates, gave me at least a small discount.

One rental started at $840 CAD and went to $751 CAD for five nights stay.
Another rental started at $463 CAD and went to $407 CAD for five nights stay.

When the host agrees to a discount, they can form a special offer for you with the details / price at the discounted rate and then you can decide to book or decline it. This is all done through the Air BnB mailbox that you will have once you set up your profile. Don’t worry, it isn’t another email address to remember, just part of your Air BnB profile. They can also put a deadline on the special offer so that you don’t take a month to decide when they could be booking up with other people.

If you simply get an email from them stating that they will give you a discount, that is not good enough. In order for it to be official, you need to get the Special Offer from them (a link that you click) and accept it. If it is simply done through email, you could arrive and be expected to pay the original price. You don’t want that to happen!

For Cinque Terre, I wrote to about five different hosts. My favourite home was out of my price range, but I asked the host for a discount and he obliged as I was traveling solo and his location was meant for up to five people. However, in the end I decided to go with a cheaper option (1/2 the price). Interesting enough, the host from my favourite location had also mentioned that he is involved with a tour company that offers wine / boat / cooking tours that he could give me further information on if I was interested. Although I didn’t book in to stay at his rental, I made sure to write him back and get more details on his tour company. I’m working on it now to see if they work with travel agent partners. If they do, I’ll be sure to share the information soon!

I’m excited that I will be enjoying my very first Air BnB experience in the lovely little fishing village of Vernazza in Cinque Terre, Italy. As I mentioned above, it was not my favourite rental option, however, it was my favourite within my price range, which is very important!

Eva’s Rooms #3

Maurizia, the host, has been absolutely lovely to correspond with so far and I suspect she’ll be a lovely host on arrival. Of course, I’ll be keeping you posted if you’re following along on my journey!

If you are considering trying Air BnB for the first time, please take a moment to sign up with this promo code. When you book your first stay it will give you $27 off, and I will get a credit as well. Share the love!

*** NOTE: As a travel agent, Air BnB is not a product that I sell or that I can assist you with professionally. They are private home rentals and you enter into an agreement with the hosts at your own risk. I am simply sharing my personal experiences and thoughts about the product because I love travel … just like you!

Air BnB – the ins and outs

When I first decided to really look into Air BnB, I started my Air BnB search with Cinque Terre, Italy. It is series of five fishing villages in the Italian Riviera where there are very few hotels. I’ve been looking for accommodations for two sets of honeymoon clients recently and coming up with nothing acceptable, only very basic or very luxurious accommodations, nothing in between. Both of these honeymoon couples decided to use Air BnB for their stay in this region, but still chose to book hotels with me in other locations, so now I’m giving it a go for part of my travels too!

I started looking through the listings which you can filter by price and various amenities. I found no shortage of great options in all five of the Cinque Terre villages.

What should you look for?
First of all, determine your wants and needs for accommodation and set up your filters to narrow down your search and make it less overwhelming. No point in sorting through 300 options if only 10 of them meet your price range! I set the filters to choose my price range and then in the amenities, only listings with internet as I will be working, not vacationing. I also choose if I want a private room, apartment or entire house, or sometimes I leave all three just to compare my options and the pricing variations.

Just like renting in your home town, if you rent a room from someone within their house, rent is cheaper than if you rent an apartment. And, renting an apartment is cheaper than renting a stand-alone home.

Once you have your filters set and hit search, you’ll be given all of your matches which you should look through thoroughly. They show up with the basic information: a photo, price and location. For me, I look at the main photo of the home on the profile and then I go directly to the written details. I look for what amenities are included (kitchen / internet / Air Conditioning / TV / Cable etc), how they describe the location, house rules, any extra charges (sometimes you have to pay electricity separate on longer rentals) and often if they give discounts for longer rentals it will be mentioned in the profile.

You’ll also want to take quick note of the cancellation policy category. If it is flexible, strict or long term. You can find descriptions for each of these here. It’s up to you, how confident are you that you are making a firm booking on those specific dates? If you are unsure, you may want the flexible option so that you don’t lose too much money. But, understand … not everyone offers flexible cancellation. If folks are in this to make money and you cancel your month long rental two days before you arrive, they may not be able to re-rent it. So, it is understandable if they put partial refund policy in place instead of full.

Further down the page you can check out the reviews. There are two types of reviews you can access. There are reviews on the specific property you are looking at and then there are reviews for all of the properties that the host has. Both are good to check out as you want to verify that the property you are looking at is as it says, but you also want to verify that the host is reliable, personable and honest.

On the right side of the website you can also see stats on the host’s response rate and timeliness. This is a great way to tell which hosts are organized and on top of things. If they have a 90% response rate within one day, you can be pretty sure they are going to get back to you quickly. If they have poor stats, that might be an indication that they will be difficult to track down in destination to get your keys or if a problem arrises. Something to keep an eye on.

One really great thing about Air BnB is that you get the chance to review every place you stay at AND the host cannot delete the review. That means if you give them a bad review, it shows up in their list and they can’t hide it. However, I would say about 90% of the hundreds of reviews I’ve read on various properties have been good. They seem to be more genuine and much less picky than Trip Advisor Reviews which you have to take with a grain of salt.

If the property and the host have good reviews, then I’ll check out all of the photos that they have.

Things to look for when you are reviewing the photos of a property:
1. Do they show all of the rooms? Kitchen / bedroom / bathroom / sitting areas / outside the property / pool
2. If it is listed as a two bedroom, do they show photos of both bedrooms or just one?
3. Do they show two or three photos of the kitchen (for example), but you notice that each one has different cupboards or layout? Then you need to ask which photo is correct for the property you are enquiring about. Sometimes it is a mistake, other times the same host has two apartments to rent within the same facility so they post photos of both. If you notice discrepancies though, it is in your best interest to ask before booking.
4. Do the photos match the amenities listed? If a pool is listed, is there a photo? Is it a full size pool or a lap pool? In the bedroom if you can see the entire room, is there only a fan or can you see an air conditioning unit? Does the kitchen have fridge / stove or cooktop / microwave? Or, is it just a kettle and a sink?

If everything seems to match your criteria for a good rental, then save it to your favourites and move on to the next one. Hopefully there will be a handful of really great options that become your favourites and a few others that would work if your top choices don’t pan out.

Air BnB – What's that?

Just what is this Air BnB thing that you hear your traveling friends raving about? I’ve been hearing people talk about it for about the last year, but I’m sure it has been around much longer than that. There’s a long list of sites that offer similar (yet different variations) of private home rentals, Air BnB is one of them. Other variations are couch surfing, home away, flip key … the list goes on.

Since I started working in the travel industry and also running the Hello World meet up group I’ve been hearing great feedback about Air BnB. So, here’s the low-down for those of you who don’t know anything about it.

Air BnB is an online database of privately owned homes or rooms for rent around the world. Just like the real world, the homes vary in every way you can imagine! People can choose to rent out a room in their house or they can rent out their entire house. The ‘house’ could be an apartment, condo, shack, hut, mansion, castle or even a two person tented hammock.

As a travel agent, this is not something that I sell as it is dealing directly with private homeowners, so as an agency, we have no contracts in place for business partnerships with these individuals. It is something that you do *at your own risk*.

Air BnB is an online company dealing directly with homeowners, real estate agents or property management companies. They are not hotels or franchises of any kind and to my knowledge, do not work with travel agencies. They are simply homeowners like you and I … (oh wait, I sold my condo so I could go travel! So, not like me, but maybe just like you!)

People rent out their homes or a room for all different reasons …
1. To meet new people with similar travel interests and help travellers out.
2. To make money. They may own two or more homes, live in one and rent the others out. Or, they may be in the Property Management business.
3. To pay their bills. Maybe the owner is traveling, but has a place they have to pay for. Renting it out while they are away helps offset bill costs.
4. To boost their other travel related businesses. Many of the Air BnB hosts also run tour companies and although I haven’t found them pushy at all, they are certainly interested in having you try out their tours while you are there.

It is up to you as a traveler to decide what type of accommodations you are looking for and what price you are willing to pay. Do you want to be immersed in the culture and live with a local family? Do you want the privacy of your own apartment with the ability to cook meals? There’s a lot of variety out there, now it’s time to start sifting through it all.

The Air BnB website is very user friendly. I started browsing options immediately and only created a profile when I was starting to narrow down options and wanted to save them to my favourites.

Now, just why is a travel agent with access to thousands of hotels booking a product that she doesn’t even sell? Well, it’s pretty simple actually …

1. There are some places in the world that are very difficult to find hotels in.
2. I love to live locally and meet the people of the community. Hotels aren’t very social, usually. And, because I travel with so much equipment (camera / laptop etc), I can’t really stay comfortably in hostels for safety reasons.
3. Hotels can be incredibly expensive for a long term trip like my own, so for some parts of my trip, I’m doing Air BnB rentals to save money both on accommodation and on not eating every single meal at a restaurant.

Having said all of that, my fall trip is 80% hotel accommodations. I’m using Air BnB for my rental in Cinque Terre because it is a difficult location for hotels and I’ve chosen a rental in Dominican Republic that is an apartment with kitchen as I will be there more than a month. Doesn’t hurt to have a little variety throughout your travels!

Just in case you want to give Air BnB a try for somewhere you are planning to go, you can sign up with this special promotion link and we’ll both get a discount on our next booking! $27 off could be one free night for you AND for me!

Just keep in mind that Air BnB is not a product that I sell through the travel agency. We have no affiliation with it and take no responsibility if you have a bad experience. This is to be undertaken 100% at your own risk. This blog is purely from my personal perspective on traveling.

If private rentals just aren’t up your alley or you want a combination of hotels and private rentals, I’d be happy to help you out with finding great hotels / tours and packages for your next adventure!