Monday, July 14, 2008

Pet Friendly Vacation Rentals

The first question you need to ask yourself is, will taking your pet with you to your vacation rental enhance your experience, or will it add stress?

Let’s be honest, sometimes pets can be a handful, and sometimes it’s relaxing to have a little time away. Further, think of it from your pet’s vantage point. Traveling is stressful for animals. Comfortable, in-cabin airplane travel is usually limited to smaller pets, and even then it can be a terrifying event in a pet’s life.

That being said, there are more pet friendly vacation options than ever before, especially if you’re not leaving the country. While most hotels and resort-style hotels don’t allow pets, you’ll find a huge number of vacation rentals by owner that are not only pet friendly, but actually run by pet owners who make every effort to ensure you and your pet’s stay is pleasant.

Types of Pet Travel

Airlines generally offer three options for pet travel: checking your pet as baggage, pet shipping, and co-location in the cabin. Cabin fees range from $50 to $200, and while probably the most comfortable for your pet, some with some pretty hefty restrictions. Pets generally must fit comfortably in a kennel that will slide under the seat in front of you. For pets to travel in the main cabin, they must remain in their kennels for the duration of the flight, and there can be no more than one or two (depending on which airline you fly) in each cabin.

Pet travel as checked baggage means you’ll be separated from your pet until you get to your destination, at which point you can travel to your vacation rental together. Strict size requirements for kennels goes into effect for this type of travel, the minimum size usually being so your pet can turn around easily without touching the sides of the kennel. Airlines generally have temperature controlled holding facilities at their hubs, so pets will be taken care in a comfortable environment in the event of a flight delay. Fees for this method of pet travel can be as much, or more, than carry on.

Pet travel as cargo means your pet will not be on the same flight as you, but rather on a cargo plane going to your same destination. They’ll generally be afforded all the perks and benefits of pet travel as checked baggage, and will be delivered to the cargo terminal of your destination airport within 60 minutes of arrival.

Pet Travel Tips

The following list contains tips to ensure your pet's comfort during air travel:

  • Familiarize your pet with the kennel to ease the stress of travel.
  • Keep your pet as calm as possible prior to the flight. Take along a leash and collar for walking your pet prior to departure. Do not place the leash inside the kennel.
  • Include identification tags with your home address and telephone number, as well as the address and phone number of the person receiving the animal at destination.
  • Never send your pet with a muzzle or choke collar on. Both can be dangerous when an animal is alone.

Finding a Pet Friendly Vacation Rental

Don’t panic – it’s not as bad as it all sounds. With one trip under your belt you’ll be an old pro at traveling with your four-legged best friend. Most large vacation rental property websites have options to search with a pet friendly filter on, and I think you’ll be surprised at the number of options. If going somewhere warm and near the water with your dog, look for a leash-free beach where you can both run and play. If going somewhere cold, look for snowshoe or cross country ski vacation rentals so you can get some hiking and good exercise in.

Wherever you end up going, make sure you contact the vacation rental owner before you leave to make sure everything will be ready for you, your family, and your pet when you arrive.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Houseboat Vacation Rental

It may sound a little out of the ordinary, but reserving a houseboat as a vacation rental can be a great choice for a unique, relaxing vacation. Think about it - you're on a floating hotel room with no traffic, no stress, no getting lost, incredible scenery, and if you want, you can bring any number of your closest friends to enjoy it all with you.

Where Can I Rent a Houseboat?
The real question is where can't you rent a house boat? If you do a little snooping, there's house boat vacation rentals all over the country from Washington to Tennessee, from large lakes to the Mississippi River. And don't worry about boating experience - you'll learn before you embark on your voyage. It's not complicated. If you can drive a car, you can pilot a houseboat.

What's a houseboat like?
Again, it's a like a luxury hotel on the water. They have full kitchens, grills on the deck, bedrooms, living rooms, bathrooms, and more. The living quarters are air conditioned and very comfortable. Some even have hot tubs and water slides! Take along you friends and family and you might just get hooked. It's a vacation rental like no other.

So think it over. There's hundreds of lakes and rivers in the United States where you can rent a house boat for a vacation you won't soon forget. I'll leave you with a quote from Boating Life Magazine:

"With its odd rock formations as high as 300 feet above the water surface, and depths plummeting to 200 feet, Lake Powell takes on an unearthly appearance. I've never seen blue like that, contrasting against cigar-shaped pillars and red rock walls 300 feet above the water's surface. From our perch the only evidence of the modern world was the boat, a literal speck on the scene. Though the boat seemed insignificant in the overall scope, without it we couldn't have gotten anywhere near this vantage point - like a small spaceship in the vastness of the universe."

-Robert Stephens, April 2003

Trading Places

There's a fairly new, interesting way to get a vacation rental in any part of the country, or world, without paying a dime for it. How? Find someone who lives there and trade them -- your house for theirs! Simple, right? It actually isn't as complicated or risky as it sounds. Read on.

Exchange your Home
It's sometimes referred to as a home exchange vacation, and it all start with a broker, or clearing house. People who are interested in the program sign up with a company that serves as an agent. They generally have a website that users search so they can find other like-minded individuals in the area that they want to vacation. Once you find a property you're interested in, you contact the owner and find out if you have a match. It's certainly not a quick process as there's a lot of variables involved, but users have reported that it's a great way to find a vacation rental, meet interesting people, and sometimes make some great new friends.

Trust Me, it'll be a Great Vacation
The home exchange begins by building up trust between the two parties. Remember -- you're both in the same boat. You're both giving over your place of dwelling to a (initially) complete stranger and their family. Getting to know the other party is of utmost importance, and is commonly done with phone calls, emails, family movies, and even face-to-face visits.

My Home is Nothing Special
That's what you think. Remember, someone is interested in your home because of the location, not necessarily because of the house itself. You may have a small, even average house, but it may very well be near an area that another family is interested in finding a vacation rental near.

Still not convinced? Well, it's definitely not for everyone. If you're unsure, check out the movie "The Holiday" with Cameron Diaz and Jude Law. Sure it's just a movie, but it might get you excited about the concept of trading your house for someone else to use as a vacation rental.

Armed Forces Vacation Club

The Armed Forces Vacation Club is a vacation rental program for members of, and those affiliated with, the United States Department of Defense. The vacation rental program prides itself in its high-quality, 7 night vacation package for only $329.

Are they a Timeshare Resort?
No, they're not. Their program deals with excess units at timeshare resorts around the world that the owners are willing to rent out in the off season at a very reasonable rate. Many times the units are available for last minute travel (also known as Space-A, or space available), so those looking for vacation rentals have to be flexible. Again, they are not a timeshare broker, and participants will not be required to attend a seminar or be subject to any high-pressure sales pitches.

AFVC began the vacation rental program to a limited military audience in 1999, and was so popular that it was opened globally to to all seven Uniformed Services, active duty or retired (medical or regular), reserves, and National Guard by the end of 2000.

Additional AFVC Vacation Rental Programs
High demand - This program offers vacation rentals at premium resorts, throughout the year, for a negotiated rate. AFVC claims that this rate is "discounted commercial".

Nightly Getaway - An alternative to their 7 day program, this vacation rental package allows you to rent units by the night, providing more flexibility than a fixed-length option.

Off-Duty Travelers Advantage - This is a discount program affiliated with AFVC that allows general discount booking of flights, hotels, rental cars, and other vacation rental properties.

AFVC Drawbacks
The main downside of this program (providing you're eligible to use it) is the last minute nature of planning a vacation. If you're flexible and keep your eyes open you can find some terrific deals on premier locations worldwide. Also, some of the resorts are all all-inclusive, and the $329 standard 7 night fee does not include the fee for all-inclusive amenities. It comes down to a cost-benefit analysis of how much you think you'll spend on food and drink versus what the vacation rental is charging for the package. Run the numbers and see for yourself..

If you're eligible for this program and flexible with your travel dates, take a look. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better deal on a vacation rental.

All About Timeshares

Timeshare vacation rentals have been around for a long time (well, probably since the 1960's, so not THAT long). Made popular first by the Hale Kaanapali on Maui, these vacation rentals come in different flavors that give the owners varying rights, responsibilities, and clout in the timeshare world.

Timeshare Use
Owners of timeshare vacation rentals can use their "equity" in many different ways. Actually using their allowed usage is one possible outcome, others include renting it out, exchanging time for points, exchanging time for another timeshare unit, or a combination of each.

Exchanging, one of the advertised benefits of timeshare ownership, usually happens through a broker or exchange agency such as RCI or Interval International. These are large holding companies who arrange exchanges, for a fee, within their affiliate resorts. Yearly membership fees are common as well.

Location, Location, Location
This universal rule applies to exchanges in the timeshare community just like everywhere else. A timeshare unit in Hawaii is obviously worth more than one in Rockford, IL, and as such a one-for-one exchange would be very difficult to arrange. Think of it as supply and demand: given that the supply of timeshare vacation rentals in Hawaii is limited, and demand is very high, the units will both sell and trade at a premium.

Not surprisingly, timeshare arrangements come in many different varieties

Deeded Timeshare
This legal arrangement is where the property is sold as real property by fractional ownership. Use of the property is divided into 52 weeks per year, and investors purchase one week blocks that they are interested in. They are co-owners of the property just as if you and your spouse have your names on the deed to your house. It can be complicated, especially in foreign countries where real estate laws may vary greatly.

Right to Use
As stated above, some in some foreign countries there are strict laws on what non-citizens may own, and as such a deeded timeshare would not be a practical way to manage a vacation rental. Right to use contracts give the holder the use of the property for a predetermined number of years. Once that time has expired, use of the property reverts back to the local property owner.

Fixed, Floating, and Rotating Ownership
Under the two basic agreements discussed above, timeshare use generally falls under a fixed, floating, or rotating vacation rental agreement. With fixed, each owner has the use of the same week every year. In a situation where owners own multiple weeks, a floating arrangement may dictate that owners can pick one week from the prime season each year a one week from the low season. With rotating ownership, right to use weeks rotate through a predetermined list so everyone has a chance at prime time and holiday weekends.

Are timeshare vacation rentals right for you? It's hard to say, and it's something that you need to give serious thought to before jumping into ownership. Talk to other owners and get an idea of what their perceived value is. Find forums online and visit the main timeshare broken websites. Take some time and don't be pressured into ownership without being properly informed on all the options for vacation rentals.

Owning a Vacation Rental

So you want to turn one of your properties into a vacation rental? Here's a few things to think about before taking the plunge.

Make an Attractive Package
Having a great property to rent out is the easy part -- packaging it into something marketable that has its own personality takes a little thought and effort. When people tell their friends where they stayed on their Hawaii vacation, you want the name to be memorable. "Beautiful house right on the beach" is pretty generic. "Oahu Oasis" is something that people will remember, and hopefully look specifically for and find when they're booking their own Hawaiian retreat. to go with your catchy vacation rental name, put together a .pdf brochure that you can send to people who request information, and have a professional graphic designer do it for you. It's not that expensive, and you will more than make up the money you spend on it if it gets you one extra booking that you wouldn't have gotten with your plain-jane email descriptions. Remember -- you're not writing fiction here, you're simply trying to convey a sense of your vacation rental in 2D pictures and text. It's not easy -- let a professional take care of it for you.

Common Vacation Rental Questions
You know what people are going to ask you -- they're the same questions you'd ask ifyou were looking to book a vacation rental. What type of stores are within walking distance? How far to the ski lift? Does it have air conditioning? A wood-burning fireplace? The list goes on. Write them down and answer them, either on your brochure or in a separate document that you can send out with the brochure.

Consolidating it on the Internet
Hosting both your brochure and Q/A list on the internet will cost you very little, and it gives people a one-stop shop to get all the information you need. If you're lucky, you can even reserve a domain name that's the same as your vacation rental title. It doesn't have to be complicated.

Vacation Rentals By Owner

Vacation Rentals by Owner, or VRBO, is a term in the travel industry that refers to an individual renting out a furnished apartment, house, or condominium on a temporary basis in place of a hotel or resort. They are often referred to as villa rentals in Europe, and are more popular there than in the United States. Prevalent areas in the United States include major tourist areas such as Hawaii, California, and Florida.

Difference between Vacation Rentals by Owner and Timeshare
While vacation rentals by owner may seem similar to timeshare rentals, they are in fact quite different. A VRBO is owned and controlled by one person, a where a timeshare is owned by multiple owners who each share part of the financial responsibility of ownership in return for a time period each year where they have sole use of the property. Many timeshares are owned by so-called timeshare resorts who allow owners to trade their alloted time in one unit for time in another unit owned by the resort.

Benefits of VRBO
Vacation rentals by owner were once known as lower-cost alternatives to resorts and hotels. This isn't as true as it used to be, but the savvy traveler can find excellent deals. Further, even at the same price as a hotel or resort, the main benefit of a VRBO is that you can experience the local community of the area you're vacationing in.

Problems with Vacation Rentals by Owner
However, some people view experiencing the local community and forgoing the support structure found in resorts as a drawback. Room service, concierge, problem resolution, and experience staff are certainly an upside to resort life, and something you won't necessarily have in a VRBO. Dealing with property owners directly may pose a problem as well if there's a language barrier or they're difficult to get in touch with.

Vacation Rental Big Picture
When weighing the pros and cons of a vacation rental, the benefits of a vacation rental by owner tend to outweigh the drawbacks, especially if you deal with a management company that acts as a intermediary for the property owners. This type of arrangement will fill in many of the gaps between a VRBO and a resort, with 24 hour check-in, problem resolution services, maintenance, and even maid service in some cases.

Vacation Rental by Owner Management Companies
Frequently, property owners hire a vacation rental management agency to market the vacation rental property. They also handle reservations, billing, maintenance, and any other eventualities that may come up. Look for a company that's part of the Vacation Rental Managers Association.

Vacation Rentals For You

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