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Monthly Archives: June 2012

 by Dottie Quick

Some of my favorite childhood memories revolved around the vacations I took with my extended family. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents – at times our group exceeded 20 travelers. When my sister suggested we plan a vacation with our parents and our four children (all under five years), I couldn’t wait to make some memories with our children.

We scoured the web for a family friendly location within a day’s drive from St. Louis, Missouri. My mom (the tripadvisor.com fanatic) and my sister’s friends (the summer rental connoisseurs) agreed. South Haven, Michigan was the place for us. With clean beaches, flavorful seafood and blueberry farms, South Haven had exactly what we wanted. Luckily for us, South Haven also had exactly what we needed – a very considerate emergency response team – because even the best planned vacations don’t always go as planned.

As we drove along Interstate 94 towards Harbor Club South Haven, I wondered if our rental house would live up to its name, the Daydreamer. Our two young children squirmed in the backseat with the kind of anticipation only a seven hour car ride can produce. When we arrived we found the four bedroom, three and a half bath cottage well stocked with games that our children quickly dismantled with their equally enthusiastic cousins. (Did I mention they were all under five years old?) My sister and father were unpacking a ludicrous amount of food from their first of many trips to the market. The gourmet kitchen had already inspired my sister to attempt baking her first blueberry pie from scratch, but first we needed a beach day…

Beach Day One: Coming from St. Louis in July when temperatures regularly reach into the upper 90s, we were completely unprepared for Lake Michigan’s frigid temperature. Unlike our children, couple of big toes were about all the adults could submerge. The kids were in and out of the waves, which seemed to be the perfect size for them, until we decided they had turned an unsettling shade of blue. Beach Day One ended with a trip to the heated pool at the Harbor Club.

The next couple days greeted us with tepid weather. We picked more than enough blueberries at Degrandchamp Farms to fulfill my sister’s goal of making a blueberry pie. Although I have a strong aversion to pie, I can testify that the smell was delicious. I did sample the mint chocolate bark sold in Degrandchamp’s shop. (Yes, we hid it from the kids. Some may call it greedy. We like to think of it as responsible parenting.) Other items on our take home list included blueberry honey, blueberry coffee, blueberry butter and Fire Stix style pickled asparagus. Admittedly, that last item is a bit out of place considering our blue-theme, but it was without a doubt the perfect thank you for our house sitting (and at times fire-breathing) friend.

We made a stop at Barden’s Farm Market and snapped a couple of photographs of their vibrant bouquets. I was intrigued enough by my first encounter with a Plout to purchase a few for us to sample. Unfortunately, this apricot – plum hybrid didn’t wow me like I expected. Luckily, the tomatoes made up for their lackluster market mates.

Beach Day Two: We started this beach day with a visit to Kids Corner Park and were shocked at what we found. The playground consists of a massive wooden labyrinth. Some planks shifted as you stepped on them, others lead to tiny crevices only the children could maneuver through. Macabre faces were cut out of the wooden railings. Slides, tire swings, monkey bars and even an area to perform a song were all part of Kids Corner Park’s main attraction. Despite the fun at Kids Corner, we did make it to the beach. Again we were shocked, but this time it was by the warmth of the water. We all took turns relaxing in the sun and taking the four children into “the deep” as they called it. “The deep” was actually only a depth of about 2-3 feet of water that continued about 50 feet out from the shoreline. This was perfect for our little ones. They jumped in the waves far from the beach, while still keeping their heads above water – for the most part.

Our vacation was topped off by a night at the Black River Tavern. Our waitress recommended the Coastal Cakes, cracker crusted crab, lobster and crawfish finished with roasted garlic and red pepper aioli on pretzel buns. Although seafood rarely makes it to the top of my list, I would travel back to South Haven just for this dish. A few Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandies were the perfect complement to these cakes.

As we prepared to leave the Daydreamer, the children played outside the cottage. They had spent the week exploring a nearby pond, picking wild flowers and pretending to put on shows for each other in what we deemed the perfect place for a destination wedding ceremony. Without warning, their giggles were interrupted by a sharp scream from the front of the house. My sister’s attempt at leaping from the back of her truck left her crouched in pain on the road. We were not completely sure what had happened and when she lost consciousness, we decided to call 911. (Here’s a tip from our experience: learn the exact address of your rental house. “The Daydreamer” and “it’s by a really cute pond” are not sufficient explanations in an emergency situation.) After a quick run to find the nearest street sign, the emergency team arrived. My sister regained consciousness and was diagnosed with a sprained ankle. That didn’t stop her from running a half marathon a couple or months later or stop us from remembering our week in South Haven, Michigan as the relaxing, fun family vacation we had hoped it would be.

Dottie Quick is a writer, artist and owner of PepperedNestDecor living in St. Louis, Missouri. Travels have inspired many of her creations.


by Chris Loud

On the Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan’s lower mitten, Fourth of July Americana runs as deep as the dark red of the cherries that speckle the orchards scattered across the ancient rolling dunes. Small towns light up both day and night, travelers feast on fish and fudge, and the locals party until the sun comes up, all on the year’s most anticipated and celebrated day.

At the tip of the Peninsula (or the Pinky Finger) in the little village of Northport, you’ll find tall red canisters in the local stores and restaurants placed year round to collect money for the next Fourth of July Fireworks, a show that will always catch the newcomer by surprise, and continue to dazzle the seasoned veteran. Dotted with boats containing extra stowaways gazing up at the night sky, the picturesque marinas in Northport and Leland make for the perfect backdrop for the sights and sounds of summer, with chest pounding thuds that echo for miles over the lake.

If you can’t get enough fireworks from Leland’s display on July 3rd, and Northport’s display on the 4th, make your way to a bonfire on a bayside beach or on top of Bramen Hill west of Northport’s downtown, and witness hundreds of firework shows going off up and down the coast in villages and on the private beaches of several capable pyrotechnic amateurs. This will go on for the entirety of the Fourth of July week, capping off with a large display at the base of the bay on the vibrant Traverse City waterfront, ending the week long Cherry Festival from July 7th to the 14th.

In my opinion, the fireworks are fun, but the parades are the true slices of Fourth of July apple pie. It’s hard not to love the candy throwing, classic cars, local businesses advertising, kazoos, costumes, bikers, and everything in between. You can catch two memorable parades back-to-back on Fourth of July in Leelanau – Glen Arbor at 12:00 Noon – Leland at 3:00 PM. They are the perfect way to spend an Independence Day afternoon.

Around the Leelanau Peninsula, this time of year is like what Christmas is to the North Pole. So outside of the classic parades and firework shows, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy. Here’s a list of what you can find all over the Leelanau Peninsula around the Fourth of July.

June 30th

Traverse City Wine and Art Festival : Original art on display, music, wine from Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsula wineries, and food from

Traverse City. 3:00 to 10:00 PM.

Kehl Lake Natural Area, Discover Nature’s Richness: 10:00 AM – Experience the many plants and animals of the Kehl Lake Natural Area.

July 1st

Glen Arbor Pancake Breakfast: 8:00 AM to Noon at the Glen Arbor Township Hall.

DeYoung Farm, Inside and Out: Tour the historic farm at 1:00 PM with expert guides.

Polka Lessons: 7:00 PM at the Cedar Township Hall. (Get ready for the upcoming Polka festival, see below)

July 3rd

Manitou Music Festival: Patriotic music performed by the Northport Community Band on the Glen Arbor Athletic Club lawn at 7:00 PM.

Patriotic Hymn Sing: 8:00 PM at the Village Green in Leland, performed by members of the Immanuel Lutheran Church of Leland.

Leland Fourth of July Fireworks: Starts at Dusk at Hancock Field.

July 4th

Glen Arbor Fourth of July: Parade starts at 12:00 AM on M-22 downtown.

Flag raising ceremony at 10:30 AM in Old Settlers Park.

Free bike decorating at 10:30 AM at the Glen Arbor Art Association.

Leland Fourth of July: Parade starts at 3:00 PM on M-22 downtown. Free bike decorating at 1:00 PM at the Old Art Building.

Northport Fourth of July Fireworks: Starts at Dusk at the Marina Park.

July 5th

Cedar Polkafest: (July 5th – 8th) Polka dancing, food, children’s activities. Parade at noon on July 7th.

July 7th

Run for Funds: Run/Walk to benefit American Cancer Society. Meet at the Depot near the Marina in Northport. Race starts at 9:00 AM.

National Cherry Festival Air Show: 12:45 to 3:00 PM on July 7th and 8th over the West Grand Traverse Bay. Performed by the Black Diamond Jet Team, F-18 Hornets. The Cherry Festival continues the whole week through the 14th, capping off with yet another huge firework display.

Chris Loud is a writer and blogger based out of Northport, Michigan and Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter @cfloud.


by Ami Noss

At $200-500 or more, typical vacation home security deposits don’t run cheap—and for good reason: when you rent someone’s home, you’re being entrusted with the care of a major asset, often one that has emotional, as well as financial, significance for its owners. At the same time, it can be nerve-wracking to have a large amount of cash on the line while you’re letting loose and enjoying some downtime. To maintain your peace of mind regarding your security deposit, try following these suggestions:

1. Understand your rental’s required deposits and fees

The first step in avoiding the unpleasant surprise of paying more than you expected to for your vacation rental is to understand your rental’s deposit and fee structure. Some vacation rental contracts include non-refundable cleaning fees and/or pet fees. Best to know this ahead of time.

2. Know your rights

Read up on local laws regarding rental security deposits. Property owners are generally required to return deposits within a given length of time, (typically 14-30 days), and to provide a detailed list of any damages they intend to withhold money to repair. In the US, some states require property owners to provide actual receipts for expenditures they use the security deposit to cover. Also keep in mind that property owners can’t legally charge you for pre-existing damage, normal wear and tear, or for their general inconvenience.

3. Do a walk-through when you arrive

Before you unpack your suitcases upon arrival, tour the house and grounds. Note any issues in writing, and take photos as necessary. Contact the property manager or owner to report any damage that you don’t want to be held accountable for, preferably via email so that you have a dated, written record of the communication.

4. Put away the breakables

While most vacation rental owners are reasonably savvy when it comes to making rental-appropriate décor choices, you may want to stow any delicate or potentially breakable items, especially if you’re vacationing with children. Ditto anything that might invite destructive behavior, such as the decorative bowl of polished stones that your little ones might find perfect for tossing around.

5. Follow the policies outlined in the contract

Many vacation rental contracts allow property owners to keep your security deposit if you violate the house policies outlined in the agreement, regardless of whether or not the violation actually causes damage. Making sure to honor the rules regarding pets and the number of guests who can occupy the vacation rental at any given time is especially important.

6. If you break something, fess up

If you do accidentally damage something, call the property manager or owner as soon as possible. Be willing to replace small, easily replaceable items, or to call in repairmen as necessary. Promptly dealing with any issues will go a long way toward getting you your deposit back.

7. Clean up before you check out

The housekeeper is likely to be the first person to inspect the property after you leave. If you follow the checkout procedures properly, and tidy the home thoroughly, he or she will be much less likely to look for reasons to withhold your deposit—and you’ll avoid “excessive cleaning” fees.

8. Consider purchasing security deposit insurance

If you’re paying an especially large security deposit, you may want to consider buying a travel policy that includes Security Deposit Protection Insurance or Accidental Rental Damage Insurance. Purchasing this type of policy allows you to pay a small, fixed fee for the insurance instead of leaving yourself open for a potentially large rental repair bill if something goes wrong.

Ami Noss works for All Property Management, an Internet marketing service for property management companies. She loves the beach and frequently rents vacation houses on the Oregon Coast.



July 14th, 1789, marked a turning point in French history. Rising up against the ruling monarchical regime, a bloodthirsty mob stormed the Bastille in Paris. It was half past three, and the beginning of the French revolution. The Bastille turned into a battlefield and ultimately, a place of siege. And once the Bastille had been taken, the mob marched straight on to Versailles, to take none else but King Louis XVI himself.

To this day, July 14th is referred to as “Bastille Day,” or “La Fête Nationale” of France. The whole country joins in the celebration, but the two-day stint is most spectacular in Paris. This year, head to the French capital to witness the festivities first-hand, beginning on the eve of July 13th and running into the late hours of the next day.

The Night Before

On the eve of Bastille Day, the “Bal du 14 Juillet” (July 14th Ball) is held at the Place de la Bastille. Every year, a different theme is chosen for the ball, and attendees will dress accordingly.

At 9 p.m., the Fire Brigades open their firehouses to the public for a down-to-earth fundraising dance. You can dance alongside firefighters until the early morning. Late night fireworks can also be heard, and seen, throughout different neighborhoods in the city.

Military Parade

Early the next morning on July 14th, Parisians head to the Champs Elysées for the grand parade. From the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, locals and tourists alike cheer on the procession of the Armed Forces of France. Overhead, you’ll see the French Air Force planes put on a flying show, and on the ground, the Paris Fire Brigade will march to finalize the parade. To fit in, wear red, white and blue, the colors of the French flag.

Republican Picnic all around town

After the parade, tradition has it that Parisians feast on a republican picnic. An ideal place to do so is on the banks of the Grand Canal at the Versailles Palace, for example. Bring your own baskets, and share with others. To get your mouth watering, here are some goodies you could try: quiches, crusty baguettes, poached and fresh fruits, assorted cheeses, scrumptious pastries and, of course, aged wine to go along with it all.

The picnic is a modernized version of the Republican Banquet, which reaffirms the values of the Republic: “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.”

Fireworks

Once night falls, it is a custom to gather by the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe in anticipation of the night’s fireworks. 11 p.m. is when the light show starts, and it lasts for about 30 minutes. It’s hard to avoid the crowds at this point, but if you arrive early, you can catch a comfortable spot on land or along the riverfront. For even closer views, reserve a seat on a glassed-in boat on the Seine.

Non-Bastille Festivities

Participation in the Bastille Day celebrations is, of course, not mandatory. Those interested in art might be glad to know that numerous museums offer free admission on July 14th. Consider the Louvre, Orsay, Pompidou, and the Rodin, to mention just a few.

by Matt Landau

Searching for the perfect vacation rental is not unlike searching for the right pair of shoes: an abundance of places to look, a variety of models to choose from, and only a select few that offer the right “fit.”

While massive growth in the vacation rental industry has resulted in a paradox of choice that can make renters anxious or overwhelmed with so many properties to choose from, growth also gives renters the advantage in getting the best deal on the best rental possible. Here’s how industry experts go about making the right choice when selecting their top places to stay: 

1. Determine travel flexibility

Before you begin your search, determining the flexibility of your travel dates can help weed out rentals that are booked or maximize your savings when it comes to flights or weekday (versus weekend) rental rates. Since many owners offer discounts for elongated or low-season stays, being flexible will get you the best possible rate. 

2. Make your “short list”

Listing sites like FlipKey allow users to tag rentals, once you log in, as shortlist properties. Adding potential properties to your “My Picks” list helps narrow down and organize your choices. It also avoids wasting time trying to revisit rental pages you once liked but forgot to bookmark. 

3. Gauge accuracy of photos

From a vacation rental marketing perspective, photos are one of the most important tools in conveying the look and feel of properties. In general, photos can say a lot about a property: poorly-staged areas or rooms shown with little sunlight tend to reflect poorly on a property whereas clean, crisp, professional images show an owner is serious about maintaining his or her rental.

4. Observe management involvement

It’s important to decide how much assistance you’ll want from the rental’s owner during your vacation. Vacation rentals vary in their owner involvement: from entirely offsite managers with do-it-yourself mantras, to on-site concierge-like managers who are around for travel advice, questions, small maintenance problems…etc. An owner with good communication who’s there when you need him/her can be tremendous insurance for a first-time rental visit. 

5. Research the rental elsewhere

Checking the internet for other reviews or descriptions of your potential vacation rental can unearth out some intriguing information, either good or bad. Be sure to research the property on major search engines and on listing sites to make sure it has received good, unbiased reviews. A rental with it’s own website can speak volumes about an owner’s commitment to the rental as a business whereas a choosing a property not mentioned anywhere online is like selecting your destination blindly.

6. Ask for quotes

Once you’ve consolidated your vacation rental search down to your top two or three rentals, emailing the owners requesting quotes for your desired dates does several things. First, correspondence with the owner will give you a good idea about their professionalism and sense of hospitality, which in turn, says a lot about the property itself. Second, requesting quotes may entitle you to discounts not otherwise promoted online. Third, communicating directly with the owner, you’ll get to ask all relevant questions to the area as a whole (travel, dining, tour advice). A big advantage of choosing vacation rentals over traditional hotels is the inside knowledge your rental’s owner has to offer up. Be sure to take advantage of this resource. 

Instead of choosing your vacation rental in the dark, use the growth of the rental marketplace as your ally. With so many rentals out there, being methodical about your search process and generating transparency about your potential vacation homes are surefire ways to select the best options you and your family. 

 

Matt is a Vacation Rental Marketing consultant helping both owners and renters get the most out of their vacation rental. 



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by Megan McDonough

I have yet to meet a person who returns from a trip to London with less than stellar reviews. Despite the dreary weather, London is full of art, culture and of course pubs. I spent about five months working and studying here during college and I was not thrilled in the least when it was time to return back home.

While in London, I made the most of every moment. I visited museums, saw a play at the Shakespeare Globe, went pub hopping and sang along to more West End musicals than I care to count. Although I had months to do all this, there are certain things any traveler hoping to get a local experience should do on a trip to London.

1. Become a Local by Finding a “Local”

This may sound confusing at first, but it makes perfect sense I promise. By “local” I mean a local pub. In London, because the Tube closes at midnight, many time people stick to a pub close to their flat, therefore calling the pub their “local.” My flat was located in the indie neighborhood of Islington and although I was closer to the Angel Tube stop, my local became a pub closer to the Old Street stop, which was a few minutes walk in the other direction. If you are an Amy Winehouse fan, I suggest exploring the Camden neighborhood and toasting to Miss Winehouse at her old local, The Hawley Arms.

2. Picnic in Primrose Hill

I’m always surprised by the amount of people who have not even heard of Primrose Hill. Granted, the park is not as centrally located as Regent’s Park, Hyde Park or Kensington Gardens, but the views from Primrose Hill are unbeatable. It wasn’t until the last month of my study abroad program that I finally made it here but once I discovered how peaceful the area was, I always recommend it to anyone traveling to London. A quick way to get here is to take the Northern Line to the Chalk Farm Tube stop and simply walk about five minutes until you reach the park entrance. I recommend coming here for a picnic with a group of friends and watching the sunset.

3. Market Shop

Whether you are a shopaholic or you can’t stand a trip to your local mall, London has markets throughout the week that suit just about everyone’s taste. If you are in the city on a Saturday, head straight to Notting Hill for Portobello Road Market. Although the market is an antique-lover’s paradise, there are plenty of other shops worth checking out. I used to go here and buy dresses for only five pounds. This is a steal even when you convert the price back into American dollars. On Sundays, Spitalfields market and Columbia Flower market are two markets definitely worth a visit. Music lovers should head to Camden Market for an eclectic neighborhood experience.

4. Release your Inner Nerd

Everyone has a little nerd inside them. If you don’t think you do then I think you are lying. London is home to some of the most talented writers in history so there really is no excuse not to take advantage of the cultural influences that make this city so special. If you are visiting in the spring, a ticket to Shakespeare’s Globe is affordable and a very unique experience for tourists and locals alike. The Globe is designed exactly how it was during Elizabethan time and you really feel like you have time traveled. Even when shows are not currently in production tours are offered all year round. If you prefer musicals, West End shows offer great discounts for students. I used to get tickets for twenty pounds and if it was a matinee, this got me a front row seat.

5. View the City from a Double-Decker Bus

In just about any city you go to, there is some sort of obnoxious looking double decker bus that takes you to every tourist trap. London allows travelers to do this while feeling like a local. I used to take the bus nearly every day and not only does it offer you an amazing view of the city streets, but it’s an ideal way to observe local life. If you have a few hours of free time, just hop on a bus, go to the upper level and plant yourself in the front seats. You may not know where the bus is headed but sometimes getting lost is the best way to explore a new city.

Megan is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Bohemian Trails, an online travel magazine focusing on global art, culture and off-the-beaten path destinations. Born in Washington D.C. and now based in New York City, Megan is a freelance writer and social media specialist in the travel industry.


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When FlipKey employees aren’t hard at work you never know what part of the world you might find them in. From Tuscany to Aruba we are a company that loves to travel…and what better way to experience the world than via Vacation Rentals?! Here are some of our most recent adventures:

Name: TJ Properties: The Golf Pad & Yepton Estate Cottage Location: St. Andrews & Antigua Price: $808/night & $245/night  

St. Andrews- What was the best golfing you did during your vacation?

Carnoustie was a crowd favorite.  Carnoustie was absolutely the hardest golf course I have ever played, but it was a fun hard. I highly suggest guests of the course (i) get a caddy and (ii) bring a lot of balls.

St. Andrews- Did you find it enjoyable to stay in a larger rental with a group?

We had a group of 8 guys, which the home accommodated perfectly.  The Golf Pad had everything we needed to have a fun time – a huge deck overlooking the River Tay, a pool table and even a massage chair!   This house was built for two foursomes and they got everything right.

Antigua- What was the best natural attraction on the Island?

The beaches in Antigua are world class, but I think we enjoyed the beach bars the most.  Our favorite beach bar was OJs Bar and Restaurant, but we also enjoyed Sheer Rocks which boosted the most amazing views – truly a must visit.  Tell the Chef “Alex” I sent you!

Antigua- Did you take advantage of the beautiful kitchen in this rental or find favorite restaurants that you enjoyed?

We cooked in every morning and two dinners. The kitchen was a big plus and lounging in the mornings while drinking coffee and making breakfast sandwiches might have been a top 5 highlight of the trip. Yepton boasts five cottages, but I felt we had the best one.

 

Name: Eric Location: Eagle Beach, Aruba Property: Superior Condo Price: $270-$520/night  

What types of activities did you do in the local area around the condo?

We spent a lot of time on the beach, rented some bikes to cruise around the island, and hit the local restaurants at night.  Our favorite day was spent on a snorkeling tour off the coast of Aruba.  We had a few cocktails (okay, maybe more than a few), did some snorkeling, sailed around the island, and just had an absolute blast.

How was the process of dealing with the homeowner?

We rented this condo from a local property manager and he was terrific.  The booking process was a piece of cake, and he came over after we arrived to make sure everything was all set and offered some recommendations on restaurants, things to do, grocery stores, etc. Like everyone on the island, he was really laid back.  We had some leftover beer in the fridge that we left for the next guest and he assured us that him & his buddies would make sure it wouldn’t go to waste.

What was the coolest part of your specific home you stayed at?

There were two balconies, one off the master bedroom and one off the living room, which both overlooked the large pool and had a view of the ocean.  Great spot for us to hang out.

Name: Jeremy Location: Kaui, HI Property: Hale Makai Price: $650/night  

What is your favorite part of staying in a vacation rental?

As an industry, people focus on the price, space and privacy benefits of vacation rentals versus hotels.  Those are all great benefits, but one that’s often overlooked is location.  Hale Makai is on the oceanside of Lawai Road in Kaui — close enough to watch sea turtles playing in the surf break through the sliding glass doors in the living room.

What is the biggest difference from being in a hotel?

If you stay in an incredible vacation rental, there is really is no comparison to a hotel.  When we arrived at the house, staff from the rental manager, the Parrish Collection, had already been at the house to let in a chef and welcome us with island drinks.  Anna and I sat down on the deck to what felt like a ten-course meal and watched the sunset, feeling really fortunate to be there. We enjoyed this rental even more than the Four Season in Maui, which is one of the best in the world.  For the two of us, it was just really relaxing and felt like home to pull into the driveway after exploring the island.

The House itself:

This house is unusual because it’s smaller than the average vacation rental, but that’s why we chose this house.  Simple but special – with a mix of Asian and modern detail and a great location.  We didn’t miss a sunrise or sunset the entire time we were there.  The bank of sliding glass doors that face the ocean and span the kitchen, living room and bedroom were awesome. This is one of the nicest spots in Kaui, directly between Popui Beach and Sprouting Horn beach, which you can watch from the backyard as waves break and the rock formation shoots water into the air like a geyser. The Parrish Collection did a great job and I can’t recommend them enough.  The staff was at the house for our arrival, coordinated the private chef and other concierge services.  Our flights were delayed and rerouted, but there was no need to worry about the house because they were in contact with us and coordinated.

Name: Kelly Location: Florence, Italy Property: Albatros Price: $143/night  

Did you think this was a good location in Florence?

The location was amazing!! We were steps away from the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – Duomo and many lively squares. I remember passing the cathedral on our taxi ride to the apartment and saying; that’s on our list of things to see! Basically as soon as I said that, the driver pulled over and I thought she had misunderstood. When I said oh no, not now, just at some point, she laughed and responded, I understand, but you are here! It was awesome! The Ponte Vecchio and Uffizi Gallery are also a stroll away and there was certainly no shortage of outstanding cappuccino, food, and wine nearby, but that’s just Italy for you. 


What was the highlight of your trip to this destination?

The highlight of our trip by far was our full day bike tour through the Chianti wine region provided by http://tuscany-biketours.com/. We walked to their office, just 2 blocks from the apartment, hopped in a van at 10am and headed to our home base – a medieval castle that now produces some of the best olive oil in Italy. We toured their wine cellar and then were treated to an oil and wine tasting. After one too many samples, we got fitted for our bikes and headed for the hills! The scenery was breathtaking and the May weather could not have been more perfect. We stopped half way through for a family style lunch and consumed more wine, pasta, and gelato than is probably recommended before jumping on anything with 2 wheels, but it was SO worth it! The tour guides were hysterically funny and made this day one that I will truly never forget.

Name: Carl Location: London, England Property: Long Acre Price: $1,697-$2,344/week  

What was your favorite part about staying in the West End?

The central location. London is an enormous city, with attractions spread out everywhere.  It was great to be able to walk right out of my flat near Covent Garden and easily get to wherever I wanted to go, be it by foot or by Tube.  

What was the coolest part of your specific home you stayed at?

The nice little secluded open air patio out back.  I was staying in one of the world’s busiest cities yet I had my own private little outdoors respite when I wanted it.

What was the highlight of your trip to this destination?

I’m a beer geek, and London has a fantastic history of brewing.  Thus I was able to follow a couple of wonderful CAMRA pub trails to simultaneously embrace the city’s culture and enjoy a few pints of Real Ale. 

Name: Koryn Location: Cabo San Lucas Property: Villa Grande Price: $1,480-$2,563/night  

What is the biggest difference from being in a hotel? 

Hands down the fact that you have privacy and are surrounded by only the people in your party. But it didn’t hurt that we could grab a soda from the fridge without paying $4. As I said before, the house gave everyone space to do their own thing – sit on a balcony and read or watch a movie, take a nap, lay by the pool, make lunch, exercise on the treadmill – but kept everyone connected.

What was the highlight of your trip to this destination? 

You know on shows you see a bunch of girls go running into a place, squealing in delight? We did that! The pictures don’t do this place justice and everyone was dumbfounded by how amazingly gorgeous the house was and that it was all ours for the stay. Other than that, the fact that we could sit around the pool all day long, surrounded only by our friends, was a huge bonus. I will definitely go back to Cabo, and book through this rental manager again, maybe even at the same place! –I honestly can’t pick just one part of this rental. If I could go back tomorrow, I would! The balcony off the master bedroom was pretty great and had amazing sunrise views. The pool/hot tub area was also pretty phenomenal. A lot of the girls have husbands/kids and the house offered free VOIP so they could call home to the US for free – that was a big hit.

Name: Kurt Location: Moretown, VT Property: Vermont Guest Cottage Price: $125/night  

What outdoors activities did you do while you were there?
We were there in early November and did a lot of hiking and walking around downtown Montpelier. Our rental was in the perfect location for this, and there were even a lot of great places to explore on the property. There was a river next to the rental that ran along the road, which created the need for the several covered bridges that led to the rental.

What was the coolest part of your specific home you stayed at? 
It’s difficult to decide between the loft, the enormous yard going up a mountain, and the hot tub.  If I had to pick one it would be the hot tub, its very secluded and you can hear the river from it, and look up at a completely clear sky. The most enjoyable part was the time spent in Montpelier.  There were a lot of unique things to do there, and everything was very scenic.

Name: Kerry Location: Tiverton, RI Property: Tiverton Four Corners Schoolhouse Price: $150-$295/night  

Did you choose to stay in this rental because of its history as a schoolhouse?

We did not originally choose to stay at this rental because it was previously a schoolhouse but that aspect did turn out being very cool.  The owner had lots of old history books and pictures and the schoolhouse theme was present throughout. We chose the rental because of it’s location near town and the vineyards and also the chef-quality kitchen! We love to hang out and cook together and a staying in a Vacation Rental is perfect for this.

Did you try any of the roadside stands or ice cream shops that the homeowner suggested? If not, what was your favorite part about the area you stayed in?
The owner left us information on the local restaurants and shops and we did walk down to the stores in Four Corners one morning.  We bought some gourmet cheeses and snacks to enjoy at the house. We also explored the farm next door to the rental for a bit (until we were chased by chickens!) Our favorite part was the vineyard (Sakonnet vineyard).  We went on the winery tour and then we also did a tasting.  We bought some of the Sakonnet wine and enjoyed it with the cheese we bought in town earlier that day. 

Name: Jon Location: Ellenville, NY PropertyEmerald Forest Bungalows Price: $140-$180/night  

What is your favorite part of staying in a vacation rental?

Having a kitchen to cook healthy meals for my family. Having extra room and space to relax after the kids go to bed. It was a nice mix of being out in nature and still having most of the comforts at home that make managing small children easier.

What was the highlight of your trip to this destination?

The second night we were there it was raining so we took our kids next door to the other cabin on the property where two families with small children were staying. The kids played and the adults all talked and hung out. Turned out that we all had similar interests. We ended up having dinner together combining what food we all had into a strange but nice meal. The owner of the property stopped by and a few of the guys (including the owner of the property) played songs for the kids. We turned a rainy day that was going to sort of be a wash into a great day and night.

Name: Meg Location: Madrid Property: Madrid Central Design Price: $202-$218/night  

What was your favorite part about staying in a Vacation Rental?

My favorite part of staying in a vacation rental was probably having a room all to myself. I was in Madrid visiting my brother who was studying abroad there at the time so I’m sure that I would’ve had to share a room with my brother if we had stayed in a hotel. Also, my brother actually had caught a virus traveling in Morocco the weekend before we arrived and was pretty sick while we were there, though, so it was convenient having the option to come back to a full apartment for him to nap/recover when needed.

How was dealing with the homeowner?
 The homeowner was great! He met us in the neighborhood at the crack of dawn when we arrived to give us the keys and show us around. He’d also provided tips and suggestions of things to do/places to see in the area via email before we arrived. My family and I actually missed our flight back to the US and had to wait til the next day to come home and had to go by way of NYC
then drive a rental car back to Logan Airport. We had been in touch with the vacation rental homeowner regarding key drop and closing up the apartment that day and when he heard of the situation, he offered to let us stay an extra night free of charge. He was very helpful and we appreciated the offer but ended up sleeping in the airport McDonald’s to make absolute sure that we didn’t miss our flight the next morning.

The apartment itself: 

The apartment that we stayed at was in a great location in the center of the city surrounded by fun things to do and the metro was easily accessible. That being said, it was very quiet and easy to sleep at night – most of the apartment faced into a little courtyard surrounded by the other buildings on the back side of the building so there wasn’t much noise.

by Reannon Muth

Gone are the days when a wedding was as simple as ‘goin’ to the chapel to get married’.  Today, many couples are ditching tradition and with it, the Chapel of Love, opting instead to get hitched on glaciers, rollercoasters or as was the case with Pamela Anderson (who married a shirtless Kid Rock while wearing nothing but a white bikini), a yacht.  One Illinois couple went as far as to tie the knot in their favorite fast-food chain. Trading wedding bells for a Taco Bell, the bride and groom were pronounced ‘Man and Wife’ as Taco Bell diners cheered and employees passed out hot sauce packets with the words “Will you marry me?” inscribed across the top.

While plastic purple trays and processed cheese may not be everybody’s idea of a winning wedding combination, for some off-beat brides and their beau’s, a non-traditional wedding venue makes for a perfect place to start a fun and excitement-filled life together.  The following is a list of nine unique wedding locales for those wishing to make their ‘big day’ a big adventure.

1. Animal Farm

The Toronto Zoo, Toronto, Canada

When Good Charlotte singer, Joel Madden, and Nicole Richie got married, one of the guests in attendance was an elephant. While incorporating a four-ton African mammal into your ceremony is certainly one way to ensure your wedding is a memorable one, finding one to borrow isn’t easy.  Even if you’re able to convince someone to rent you their elephant for a few hours, trying to keep said elephant from inhaling your wedding cake or sitting on your great-uncle Jim-Bob can prove tricky.  But luckily, there’s always the zoo.  Many zoos have wedding venues available for reservation and some even include a few furry guests as part of the package (and that’s excluding your great-uncle Jim-Bob).  Some zoos will give private guided tours and many allow guests to feed the animals (the Toronto zoo, for example, will let guests pet and pose with reindeers, camels, alpacas and even a boa constrictor).

2. Winter Wonderland

The Ice cathedral in Quebec City, Canada

As Billy Idol once sang, sometimes, “It’s a nice day for a white wedding”.  That’s certainly a belief taken to heart by those who choose to marry in the ice cathedral in the Hotel de Glace (located 10 minutes from downtown Quebec City, Canada). The cathedral is small (it seats a maximum of 40 guests) but what sets this venue apart isn’t its size, but rather, the unusual material used to construct it.  Resembling the hollowed out inside of a giant igloo, the cathedral is made entirely of ice and snow.  To keep everyone warm, animal skins are spread over the seats (which are also carved out of ice) and the bride is outfitted in a white, fur-lined coat or cape and has the option of wearing a long-sleeved wedding dress specialty-made for the icy temperatures.

3. Under the Sea

An Aquarium in Long Island, New York

As romantic as a wedding by the water may be, it’s hardly unique.  A wedding under the water, however, is.  At the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, Long Island, not only can couples wed while swimming with the fishes, but they can add an element of danger to the experience by doing so in a shark tank.  After suiting up in scuba gear, the couple are secured into a cage and lowered into the shark-infested aquarium.  Their scuba gear is rigged with a wireless communication system, so the couple and the minister (who officiates from a safe distance above water) can communicate with one another throughout the ceremony.  Guests can watch and listen from the other side of the glass.

But if a white wedding with great whites sounds a bit extreme, many aquariums provide space for ceremonies and receptions in front of a fish tank instead of inside one.  The aquarium in Seattle, for instance, offers a wedding package that includes a sunset wine tasting overlooking the bay, a guided educational tour of the aquarium and even an animal feeding show.  A floor-to-ceiling fish tank, in addition to being a beautiful background for wedding photos, can be an engrossing source of entertainment for both children and adults.

4. Up in the Air

In mid-air in Las Vegas, Nevada

While making the commitment to remain married until ‘death do us part’ can be scary, making the commitment while suspended in mid-air can be downright terrifying, which is why booking a wedding through the company “Marriage in the Sky” isn’t the best bet if anyone in the bridal party is afraid of heights.  But for those ready to throw caution to the wind, they can opt to marry 150 feet in the air in any of 40 countries the Marriage in the Sky company is located (which includes Las Vegas and Tampa, Florida in the United States).

How it works is this:  Guests are strapped into their seats, rollercoaster-style, on a small platform that’s attached to a crane.  The crane then lifts the entire platform into the air and the couple (who are standing in the center of the circle of guests) exchange vows and share their first dance.  After the ceremony, the newlyweds are buckled into their seats and dinner and cocktails are served.  In some locations, couples have the option of then taking their wedding vows to, ahem, new heights, by taking a celebratory bungee jump.   While not for everyone, hurtling towards the ground at 50 miles per hour certainly provides a uniqueway for newlyweds to take the plunge into married life.

For a reception venue with a little more breathing room, the Wedding Ranch, a vacation rental in Southwest Las Vegas, has parking space for 50 cars, a covered patio, pool, hot-tub, an eight-room mansion and acres wedding-ready lanscape.  With a treehouse and a trampoline in the backyard and a pool and poker room inside the house, the Wedding Ranch has no shortage of wedding reception entertainment options.

5. Farm Fairytale

On an organic farm in Gray, ME.

As barn weddings become increasingly popular, finding an outside-the-box locale that still holds an air of elegance and charm can be a challenge. Enter Caswell Farm. Family-owned and operated for three generations, Caswell Farm offers a refreshing change from the average run-of-the-mill country style wedding. With an antique 300-year-old barn, strewn bunting fairy lights, and over 50 acres of privately owned land nestled on a serendipitous country road surrounded by fields of flowers, Caswell Farm is the perfect blend of rustic and romance for the non-conventional couple looking for an authentic and down to earth wedding experience. 

6. Into the Woods

In the forest in North Cascades, Washington

“Well, it’s set way back in the middle of a field” the B-52’s singer Cindy Wilson once crooned in a song about a love shack.  “Just a funky old shack and I gotta get back!”  For the young-at-heart couple, a ceremony in a forest ‘love shack’, campground or treehouse might be the perfect place for a playful, quirky wedding.

With its tall moss-covered trees and thick foliage, the forests of the North Cascades region in Washington, make for a whimsical and photographic setting for an outdoor wedding.  Two miles outside of Bellingham, Washington and overlooking a creek, is a five-bedroom ‘Cedar Tree House’.  Set on four acres of land, the property has an outdoor bonfire pit and a yurt, which has heated-bamboo floor, dimmable lighting and a sound system; an idyllic location for some post-banquet dancing.  Wedding guests can stay in the cabin (which sleeps up to 24 people) or at the nearby Inn (which is a one-minute walk away). 100 miles away, in Leavenworth, Washington, is the seven-bedroom ‘Riverside Vacation Home’ which has a sand volleyball court, a hot tub, and an outdoor fireplace.  The property even features a private river-side sand beach; perfect for a waterfront wedding.

7. Bare Necessities

At a Nude Beach in the French Riviera

A clothing-optional wedding is a good choice for those looking to save on expenses or to simply take the focus away from the lavish table settings or sequined wedding veil and focus on what’s most important: love, commitment and tanning away those ugly bikini lines.  And what better place for a free-spirited couple to wed sans swimsuits, but at a beach in the country where the Bohemia movement began?

While nudist beaches and resorts can be found be the world over (from Rio to Ibiza to Miami Beach and San Francisco) the French Riviera is notorious for folks baring all and sunbathing in their birthday suits.  The most famous of nudist beaches is Cap d’Agde, which is in fact, less a nudist beach and more a nudist town.  In the ‘Naked City’ as it has been dubbed, people can (and do) sunbathe, shop, bank, dine and even wed, in the nude.  But if this bare-bones ceremony is more risqué than you’re ready for, the coastal cities of Nice or Cannes have equally-beautiful but slightly more conservative beaches (where full-nudity is more the exception than the norm).

8. Night at the Museum

At a library in St. Paul, Minnesota

There’s nothing quite like declaring “I do!” while a giant T-Rex or humpback whale looms in the background, but the price tag for that experience can oftentimes be nearly as big as the T-Rex himself.  The American Natural History museum in New York is a good example of that.  While it’s the most famous of museum wedding venues, it’s also one of the most expensive.

But there are less pricey options.  An hour outside of Salt Lake City, in Springville, Utah, for instance, is an art museum that for just 950 dollars will allow couples to rent out their entire museum for their wedding ceremony and reception.  Couples can chose to wed inside one of the art galleries or among the sculptures and fountains in the garden outside.  And in St. Paul, Minnesota, for under 4,000 dollars, the bride and groom can begin the next chapter of their life with a wedding in the James J. Hill reference library.  With tall marble columns and two floors of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, the 90-year-old library’s stunning architecture earned it the 2011 Bride’s Choice Award for the second year in a row.

9. On the Right Track

Aboard a train in Napa, California

Start your marriage off on the right track with a wedding on a locomotive.  A ceremony or reception aboard an early 20th century train is not only unique, but romantic and nostalgic as well.  The Napa Valley Wine Train in Northern California hosts receptions on its restored vintage train, which can accommodate up to 300 guests (seated through three different train cars).  Like the name suggests, the Napa Valley Wine Train gives daily 3-hour, 36-mile tours of the famous Napa Valley vineyards which, depending on the time of day, include a four-course gourmet dinner or formal lunch.  Couples can opt to include a few scheduled stops in their tour so that guests can explore the vineyards or take an after-hours tour of a winery.

Afterwards, the newlyweds can honeymoon at a Napa Valley Bed and Breakfast or continue the festivities with the entire wedding party with a weekend in a Vineyard Villa.

Tourists walk on a street leading to Kiyomizu Temple

So you’re traveling to Japan! Lucky you. Japan is a fabulous country with a unique culture, fascinating language, and amazing natural beauty. Before you leave, we’ve prepared a list of 30 tips for first time travelers to Japan.

But first, one thing you might need to figure out beforehand: where will you stay? Enter FlipKey. FlipKey offers thousands of vacation rental properties throughout Japan. A rental offers great value, whether you’re traveling alone, with friends, or with family. You’ll enjoy a full kitchen, extra living space, private outdoor areas, and located in the heart of local Japanese culture. After you’ve found your accommodation from FlipKey, read our do’s and don’ts below!

Proper Japanese bowing technique

Proper Japanese bowing technique

  1. Bow to greet a person; bend your body 15 degrees for ward for a casual bow. When you meet elders, bow deeply from your waist.
  2. Before eating a meal and after finishing it, be sure to thank your host for the meal and their company with a small bow. This is considered good table manners.
  3. Get Suica cards to travel the subway, metro, Japan Rail and also to pay for items in convenience stores. You can load them up with Yen as you go along.
  4. Don’t use your cell phones on trains and buses. Don’t talk to anyone on public transport either. People usually sleep, read or listen to music quietly.
    Tip: Drive and walk on the left in Japan

    Tip: Drive and walk on the left in Japan

  5. Drive and walk on the left side – it’s the opposite driving direction when compared to the US. Park on the left and use the left side of escalators and elevators.
  6. Food is expensive, so best to avoid restaurants and Starbucks. Rather, buy bread, spreads, rice cakes and noodles from small local shops, as these are less expensive.
  7. When you finish eating at a bar, put your bowl up on the counter with your glass and wipe down the counter in front of you with a damp towel.
  8. Water is safe to drink – whether it is tap water or bottled water. You can refill at any public fountain without worry.
    Tip: Buy a map that indicates the names of destinations both in Japanese and in English

    Tip: Buy a map that indicates the names of destinations both in Japanese and in English

  9. Buy a map that indicates the names of destinations both in Japanese and in English. Carry a Japanese to English translation book to manage small phrases.
  10. Carry tissues or hand towels with you – most of the public bathrooms don’t have hand-drying facilities, unless you want to use the toilet roll.
  11. Carry at least 10,000-20,000 yen in cash with you. Most Japanese ATM machines don’t accept foreign cards. Also many establishments don’t accept credit cards.
  12. Always carry a notepad with you along with a pen or pencil. You may need to write down what you want, or even draw it if someone doesn’t understand you
  13. Write down the full address of your hotel or destination to show someone in case you’re lost. Get it written in Japanese as well.
  14. When you’re ready to pay your bill at a restaurants, cross your forefingers together to form an ‘X’. The waiter will come to you with your check.
  15. When you want to point towards someone or something, point with your open hand. Pointing at anything with your forefinger is considered rude.
  16. Don’t tip anyone; even waiters will be offended if you do so. Other than in the Roppongi area, tipping is considered unacceptable.
  17. Public transportation is available only till midnight; if you’re stranded after midnight, wait for it to resume at 5 A.M. Avoid expensive taxis.
    When entering a Japanese house, place your outdoor shoes at the doorway.

    When entering a Japanese house, place your outdoor shoes at the doorway.

  18. When entering a Japanese house, place your outdoor shoes at the doorway. Wear the slippers your host provides.
  19. Remove your house slippers when you enter a room that is covered with tatami flooring. You can step on tatami mats with your bare or socked feet.
  20. When you visit the toilet at somebody’s home, wear special toilet slippers. Do not wear house slippers in the toilet.
  21. When you visit a Japanese temple, throw a coin into the offering box and fold your hands in prayer. Burn incense and wave your hand to extinguish the flame; don’t blow on it.
  22. Take photos only in areas where they’re permitted. Watch the signs, and ask locals if you’re not sure. Don’t offend by taking pictures inside temples.
  23. If you’re not sure what to order at a restaurant, indicate one of the plastic food replicas that are displayed near the front of the restaurant.
  24. If the restaurant waiters don’t lead you to a table, it means you can sit anywhere. Wait for a few moments for them to lead you otherwise.
    If you’re not sure what to order at a restaurant, indicate one of the plastic food replicas that are displayed near the front of the restaurant.

    If you’re not sure what to order at a restaurant, indicate one of the plastic food replicas that are displayed near the front of the restaurant.

  25. In a traditional Japanese restaurant, take your shoes off at the entrance and kneel at the low Japanese table. Wear nice socks.
  26. During formal traditional meals or tea ceremonies, men can sit cross-legged while women must fold their legs neatly under their hips.
  27. You can give your host, business partner or friend a gift while meeting, parting or during a special occasion. Make sure you pack it in simple brown paper.
  28. While exchanging cards, stand up, bow slightly and hold your card facing the others with the fingertips of both hands.
  29. When you receive someone’s visiting card, be sure to examine it with pleasure and carefully place it in your wallet. Don’t shove it in your back pocket.
  30. Do not blow your nose in public; try to discreetly wipe your nose or just snort or sniff to control your cold if you have one.

Cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Park

We hope these tips for first time travelers to Japan will make your trip even more memorable and enjoyable!

See all Japan rental properties from FlipKey!