15 Things You Don't Know About Vacation Rentals

Although vacation rentals have been around for a long time, it has never been easier for property owners to list lodgings and for travelers to find them — and business is booming. A 2015 TripAdvisor study found that nearly 60 percent of respondents were likely to stay at a vacation rental, up considerably from the previous year.

vacation rental house in switzerland

Reasons included better prices, better amenities, more space, a more home-like experience, full kitchens, pet-friendly lodging and stunning views: all pretty solid reasons to choose any property. Whether you are in that 60 percent looking at rentals or in the 40 percent still holding out in hotel rooms, here are 15 things you might not know about vacation rentals.

Castles, churches, themed homes, cabins, lighthouses, a windmill or an igloo — all are bookable on various vacation rental sites. For examples, check out this Travel + Leisure slideshow of the strangest vacation rentals, FlipKey’s list of 10 unique vacation rentals and Airbnb’s roundup of treehouse rentals.

You can even rent the same place as your favorite celebrity.

If your rental is part of a condo association, or a converted hotel or motel, you may be able to use facilities such as gyms, pools and more. Some even offer housekeeping.

Airbnb gets most of the press, but there are countless other dedicated vacation rental sites, including HomeAway, VRBO (owned by HomeAway with similar listings), FlipKey (powered by TripAdvisor) and Tripping.com (which searches many sites all at once, a bit like a Kayak for vacation rentals). Many other sites cover rentals in certain geographical regions. See Finding a Vacation Rental for more.

In addition, vacation rentals are starting to show up on sites traditionally associated with hotels, such as Booking.com and TripAdvisor.

You don’t need to search them all, but there are enough differences that poking around more than a couple of sites is worth your time.

In my own past searches for vacation rentals, I found that using filters of any kind sometimes hid properties that were desirable, affordable and available. By applying truly zero filters (as when using the “I don’t have dates yet” option), many more properties showed up.

Subsequently I found that the owner had stipulated stays of one week or longer when they first placed the listing, but regularly relaxed that requirement.

This is not a new problem; when searching airfare sites, for example, many experts recommend that you do searches for one traveler even when purchasing fares for multiple people, as the search sites may choose not to show you some fares where availability is limited.

Is a Vacation Rental Right for You?

As with the length of stay filters issue above, you might find that availability calendars and/or photos are outdated. This is because many property owners do not have the time or resources to keep listings on multiple vacation rental sites up to date. Sometimes it will work in your favor, as when a property is allowing for shorter stays than shown or the price has gone down, and sometimes against, such as when a property that appears to be available is already booked.

In my experience, the “sleeps X people” stats can be the most problematic detail in vacation rental listings. This is caused by a few factors:

A. Not all bedrooms may be real bedrooms. Sometimes vacation rental owners stuff a single bed into a walk-in closet, or put up a curtain or divider in a room, or use some other tactic to create “rooms” that anyone else would call a closet, curtained space, etc.

B. When counting sleeping spaces, some owners will count a foldout bed, or a cot that is in the kitchen, or a lumpy couch, or even a loveseat that could only hold a child.

C. You can sometimes figure out the actual number of private-ish sleeping spaces from the bedroom count, but then you are back to Point A above — oof.

Your best tactic: Ask the owner directly.

Note that similar issues sometimes happen with kitchens; is the space just a sink area with a microwave and coffee pot, or is it a full kitchen? Again, be sure to ask.

beach house kitchen

An online listing can’t tell you everything you need to know about a property, but talking to the owner can. Benefits of reaching out directly to the owner include:

– Getting a feel for the person with whom you are going to do business

– Understanding any additional costs (such as cleaning fees)

– Checking on issues such as check-in and check-out times, curfews, whether there’s cable/internet/air conditioning

Over the years, some of the owners I have worked with were noticeably unenthusiastic about renting out their homes; they just needed income and wanted the absolute minimum hassle possible in return. Other owners are simply busy at the time you want to rent and don’t have time to drop off keys or clean up afterward. I even had one owner decline to rent after I sent a single cursory email. You are renting a property, not staying at a B&B, so you may want to temper your expectations for a warm welcome and attentive service.

Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay

Some vacation rental owners are fussy and have rules that can make your stay tricky. No sand, no outside guests, no barbecues, no loud music, no parties, no additional cars … such rules could make your beach house stay a bit different than what you had in mind.

Airbnb has a “House Rules” section on its listings, but many other sites don’t. Reach out to the owner and ask “What are the rules of the property?” before you book.

Just because something is in the house doesn’t mean you can use it. I once stayed at a waterfront house at which we couldn’t go on the dock, go figure. Things like bikes, surfboards and beach chairs may not be for guest use or may incur an additional charge. Again — ask before using.

At a hotel, you assume there will be parking, that the “neighbors” expect you to be there, that there is air conditioning, that there is a working television, and even that there is electricity and plumbing. None of these are a given with a vacation rental, especially the more unique or remote properties. Check before you book.

In some cases, the person listing the lodging may not have a legal right to do so. This might be due to his or her lease agreement, or condo association restrictions, or areas that have restrictions on subletting. To learn more, read Airbnb and Beyond: Tips for Safe, Legal Vacation Rentals.

Think of a vacation rental like a rental car; if there is a big scratch or something doesn’t work, you would report it immediately, lest you be blamed for it upon return. I recommend doing a full inspection of your rental property when you arrive, even taking pictures if appropriate, and then putting everything in writing in an email, which gives you a record of the time you noticed and reported the problem. This will help in the event of any disputes.

7 Airbnb Problems and How to Solve Them

Pricing on vacation rental sites can sometimes be flexible; as noted previously, property owners are not necessarily updating their listings in real time, setting different prices for off-season and longer stays. Discussing prices directly is often the best approach.

The boom in vacation rentals has not come without its share of disputes and even scammers, so you’ll want to use payment methods that give you some recourse if there is a problem. Avoid cash, wire transfers and other slippery payment methods, and stick with payment by credit card or services like PayPal whenever possible. If it sounds like a scam, skip it.

Have any expert tips for folks looking into vacation rentals? Let us know in the comments!

Go Anyway,

Ed Hewitt

Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

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Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc., which also owns FlipKey.com.

Silk Road in a "Luxury" train

Silk Road in a “Luxury” train

Author: Murat Kunt
Date of Trip: September 2016

The trip runs from Moscow to Beijing in two trains (Golden Eagle – GE – till the China border and Shangrila Express – SE – till Beijing, both operated both by Golden Eagle Luxury Trains Limited.

We liked:

L1) The countries, the cities and the places we have visited. We have now a better idea of their culture, history and civilizations. The excursions were well selected and well organized, although in some places time spent in the souvenir shops could be reduced.

L2) The hotels we stayed in: Kempinski, The Silk Road Hotel, Sofitel and Regent

L3) The professionalism, availability and serviability of the tour leaders on both trainsL4) The arrangement of the GE train with the bar and restaurant in the middle, the decoration and settings

L5) The quality of the service on GE train, at the bar, in the cars and in the restaurant as well as the pianist. The permanent availability of Alexandra and André in our car (No. 3), serving permanently with a smile is highly appreciated

L6) The pain the Chief-cook of the GE train took to decorate the dishes served, that compensated the lack of good taste of the food

L7) Although separate, the shower car in the Shangri la – express (SE) was the only clean place to be.

We disliked:

D1) Pre-tour information was not available enough in advance, including visas requirements. Although we started in June, we barely made it in time. Information received was undated and unsigned. It has been forwarded with some delay by QCNS without any added value,

D2) The poor timing of the entire trip. Our week in China collided with the national Holliday week. Everywhere we went was full of local Chinese tourists, whereas a week later or before would be a far better choice. Very often we were squeezed in lines and waste precious time.

D3) The poor quality of the train cars (in both trains) and of the railways in the running mode. The GE train was shaking laterally almost permanently, in addition to saccadic braking’s and accelerations. The SE train was a bit better in lateral shaking. As a consequence we were unable to sleep properly during none of night we were in the trains. It was like trying to sleep in a giant drink shaker or a laundry washing machine.

D4) The beds on both trains were very narrow. The Gold class lower bed in the GE train is just enough for one person (for a claimed luxury trip). In the SE train, it was even worse, some of us were obliged to sleep on the floor thanks to an extra mattress Tatiana was able to provide.

D5) The location of the safe in the GE train. It required laying on the floor to use it.

D6) The extremely poor quality of the food and service on the SE train. It was below the acceptable level. Wine was served on a drop-by-drop basis. We were refused to have a coffee after lunch. Luckily Tatiana made it herself to serve us. The bar didn’t have more than half of the drinks listed in their price list. We were unable to have a bloody marry or a Bailey’s

D7) The wall-to wall carpeting in the SE train cars was dirty and has never been cleaned although a person sits permanently and watch around.

D8) Although we were told for the SE train that there are two restaurant cars, one for us and one for the personnel, our restaurant car was shared all the time with some “personnel”

D9) On the basis of our experience of other luxury cruises and trips we made, we claim that he SE train has nothing to do with the qualification “luxury”. It is rather an oxymoron.


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How to Be Safe and Culturally Sensitive When You Travel

For most free-roaming travelers, some of the things we take for granted are luxuries in many parts of the world. The right to speak our minds, to make innocent mistakes, to travel freely and to be judged fairly under the law are not to be assumed everywhere.

woman in burma myanmar

Nonetheless, there is beauty, understanding and value to be found when visiting pretty much any place on Earth — and potentially a lot to learn by visiting countries and cultures that are less open than our own. If you are considering travel to a culture very different from yours, there are many things you can do to keep yourself safe while allowing you to experience as much of the place as possible.

If I had to sum up this article in a single sentence, this would be it. When traveling in places with strict laws or standards of conduct, try to avoid behaviors that draw attention to you. If you blend in, you are far less likely to be singled out. This applies not only to how you speak and behave but also to what you bring with you, such as expensive cameras, smartphones, jewelry and watches; all have the potential to attract attention to you as a (relatively) wealthy outsider.

How to Blend In with the Locals: 20 Tips

One important consideration is that restrictions on speech and behaviors apply not only to you but to the locals as well — so if you insist on discussing sensitive topics, you could be putting your hosts, guides and people you meet into an awkward or even dangerous position. Even if you leave (or get kicked out of) the country, they have to live there and face any consequences.

Given the complexity and sensitivity involved, it is essential to get online and do some rigorous research, starting with the website of the U.S. State Department (or your own country’s equivalent). See our story on travel warnings and advisories for links to several of these agencies and advice on how to interpret their advice.

Good old-fashioned guidebooks also typically have a thoughtful section or two about local culture, taboos and things to watch out for.

I have found it useful to cross-reference multiple opinions when researching. For example, I saw one website that said to never, ever wear a bikini in the Maldives, while other sites showed photos of people comfortably wearing bikinis on vacation in the Maldives.

Additionally, one region of a country might be tolerant or even permissive, while another is less so (you might see a difference in behavioral standards between big cities and rural areas, for example). Or you might go to a resort where you can dress and behave casually, while outside the resort very different standards apply. Even here in the U.S., going into a Wawa in a bathing suit on the Jersey Shore is pretty common, but doing the same thing a few states inland might get you turned away.

Your research might turn up all kinds of issues. Perhaps taking photos of locals is considered offensive, or the country has rigid blasphemy laws against certain types of speech. Knowing these ahead of time will help you avoid blundering into an uncomfortable or even illegal situation.

The easiest tactic you can employ to blend in and avoid causing offense is to dress modestly and simply, and if possible in a similar way to those around you. This is not to say that you should dress in traditional Muslim garb if you are not a Muslim, but you should certainly dress differently in Saudi Arabia than you would in Daytona Beach.

In general, if you pack neutral clothing — not too flashy, not too skimpy, not too colorful, without slogans and commercial messages, etc. — you can’t go wrong. When in doubt, err on the side of dressing conservatively.

Some simple guidelines:

– Skip tank tops and other clothing that exposes a lot of skin.

– Dress respectfully in houses of worship and other religious places. (A shawl or scarf can be useful to cover your head and/or shoulders in places where this is required.)

– Skip clothing with political or overt cultural references, or with potentially inflammatory language (“all I got was this stupid T-shirt”).

– Consider carefully which valuables you need to take.

10 Things You Should Never Wear When Traveling Abroad

Staying alert to your surroundings is an important skill anytime and anywhere you travel, and even more so in countries where you may be slightly out of place in some way. Be wary of alcohol and drugs, as getting intoxicated can open you up to trouble you don’t need and won’t be able to handle in an impaired state.

glasses of beer

If there are rules or laws regarding curfews, restricted areas, photography and forms of expression, follow them. In many cultures, habits you’re used to at home are less acceptable and can create problems, as with drinking alcohol above.

Rules you might run into: no drinking in public, no smoking during Ramadan, no photos of military installations or personnel, no public displays of affection and no political expression of any kind.

Put some thought into both what you say and how you say it. Saying the wrong thing to the wrong person has gotten many travelers into hot water.

Some locals may want to draw you into discussions about religion or international politics; if this happens, you will want to think on their motives and try to read their body language to determine if they are being confrontational or not (see “Keep your wits about you” above).

If you feel comfortable proceeding, you might find some of these conversations to be very fruitful, but it’s best to start slowly. Consider lightweight or even indirect questions like asking whether the person has visited your country or whether there are any upcoming religious holidays. If you feel uncomfortable, change the subject or excuse yourself from the conversation as needed.

More simple guidelines:

– There is a reason the old saying not to talk about religion, politics or money has endured for so long; it will serve you well here.

– Skip exclamatory or inflammatory words, particularly those with religious implications (“Oh, my God!” for example).

– Just tone it down; common sense goes a long way in cases like this.

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This should go without saying, but here it is anyway. Engaging in vandalism, taking daring or potentially disrespectful selfies, wandering around unfamiliar neighborhoods after dark, having and using illegal drugs, and engaging in otherwise risky behavior is just asking for it. You can easily get yourself and people around you into difficult situations through mere bad judgment. If you know better, do better.

If you’re not sure whether you can go inside a place of worship, or if you can take someone’s photo, or if your attire is appropriate, ask someone. There are many who can help; try folks at the front desk of your hotel, tour guides, people working at the local visitor center or fellow travelers who know the location better than you do.

Not all types of travelers are welcomed equally in all parts of the world. Single-sex or interracial couples could be denied lodging or face harassment (or worse) in many cultures, while women traveling alone may feel more at risk in some places than in others. Of course, some of these situations can be an issue even in societies we often view as more open or tolerant. As noted above, it’s up to you to research these issues before you go and take appropriate precautions.

What advice would you offer to travelers visiting places where speech or behavior is restricted? Do you have first-hand experience to share? Let us know in the comments.

Go Anyway,

Ed Hewitt

Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

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New England

New England

Author: Harrison Goldstein
Date of Trip: October 2016

Very enjoyable visit back to NY for one of the finest months of the year, Octobwr Fall season in full bloom / peak color of the trees…
Tandem causes of a class reunion and seeing f&f in both upsate NY and then down in the big city included several beautiful local hikes w/in 30-45 minutes drives in nearby mountains for a couple weeks, and then the solid contrast of a week down in the city… Weather began Fall-like w/pleasant 60 degree temps, rose to a nice final 80 degree heatwave for a couple days, and then finally veering down to average chilly temps around 50.

Having f&f to reside with is certainly an ideal situation to enjoy a low cost pleasant stay… plenty other reasonable options do of course exist for others requiring or desiring full privacy. Fall season in New England includes plenty wonderful attractions, festivities and plenty hustle and bustle, with no lack of interesting choices to remain engaged in all levels of life.

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Good Travelers Behaving Badly

Travel misdemeanors are committed on every flight and during every hotel stay, and even the most honest and restrained travelers have probably committed some minor offense at one time or another. Case in point: A survey by Hipmunk found that fully 60 percent of travelers admitted to nicking food from the hotel breakfast.

lost traveler with map

The survey includes some less familiar sins — a question about eating “non-FDA-approved foods, like certain French cheeses” seems stripped from a comedy routine — but otherwise many of us will recognize ourselves and fellow travelers alike in confessions of getting up when the seatbelt sign is on, swiping a hotel towel, plundering the cleaning staff cart and under-reporting the number of guests when making a hotel reservation.

Even if we’re not among the worst offenders, all of us are likely a bit guilty of behaving badly from time to time in our own travels. Here is a small sample of stories shared by my own friends and family that prove that “travelers behaving badly” stories never really land that far from home.

A few years back, I met a friend from the West Coast for a prowl around New York City, including a stop at the Museum of Modern Art, which includes many famous paintings on permanent display. We went up to the fifth floor to see Monet’s “Water Lilies,” which as you may know can be an overwhelming experience when viewed in person. My friend stood well back from the painting, then got closer, and closer, and closer, until he was inches from the painting. A security guard was watching (as was I), but surely thought (as did I), “Nah, this guy isn’t going to touch it” … and then the two of us watched as up came his hand, as if in slow motion, and he put a finger right on the painting.

When the security guard blasted over to him, my friend was so surprised and apologetic that the guard just left it at a brief scolding, and we scurried off.

A Connecticut surgeon visiting Florence was not so lucky, however, as a similar (albeit more damaging) mistake resulted in an arrest when the man broke a finger off a centuries-old statue.

A Chinese teenager made headlines a few years back by scratching out “Ding Jinhao was here” on an artifact at the Luxor Temple in Egypt. Scandal ensued, and his parents made a public apology.

How to Be Safe and Culturally Sensitive When You Travel

A couple of decades back, a family member was a caretaker at a spectacular lighthouse hostel in California. The lighthouse had a two-person hot tub overlooking the ocean, with a sign reminding guests that, despite the au naturel location, bathing suits were required. Each night lighthouse staff would venture into the area and crash around a bit to telegraph their presence — lest things got a little too hot in the tub.

Disrobing in a semi-public hot tub seems mild in comparison to the apparently longtime tourist fad for getting naked at Machu Picchu, which resulted in arrests and the establishment of new rules in Peru.

If you are considering joining this club, you might want to ask yourself first if you want your name in the news describing a new public nudity law. There are plenty of places it is accepted and even encouraged for people to appear in the buff; ancient ruins and the hot tub fellow guests are going to use right after you don’t have to be among those. Please — keep your pants on.

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A close friend was traveling on a very early New Year’s morning flight, having celebrated a bit the night before — always a dangerous combination. She navigated her way through the airport and the boarding process without any trouble, but soon after take-off, just as the seatbelt signs were turned off, she wasn’t feeling well and got up to go to the restroom.

Her next memory is a view under the seats of her fellow passengers from her new vantage point of lying face down in the aisle, surrounded by flight attendants.

“I think I got a little motion sickness,” she told the flight attendants looking down at her.

“Yes, that must be it, dear,” one attendant said diplomatically. They helped her back to her seat, where she gratefully slept it off.

drinks plane

A survey conducted by Triposo found that 60 percent of respondents had partaken in some sort of misbehavior fueled by alcohol. It’s not hard to imagine why the docket of “travelers behaving badly” naturally includes a lot of folks who imbibed a bit (or a lot) too much; people do a lot of things when intoxicated that they wouldn’t even think about when sober.

As Ernest Hemingway (no stranger to either travel or alcohol) said, “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”

To compile a list of travelers behaving badly under the influence would require its own website, but sometimes the outcome is all too appropriate — like the guy who passed out on a luggage belt and traveled around the airport like a lost bag.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

When you are out in the world, whether messing up priceless artwork, running around with no clothes or getting inebriated, other people can usually turn away to go live the rest of their lives without you and your antics.

This isn’t possible on a plane. All those other people are trapped in a small canister with you until the pilot tells them they can leave. If there is one place to be on your best behavior, this is it.

It’s not always that easy.

A family in my neighborhood had three children at fairly wide intervals, resulting in the household having a teenager, a middle schooler and a preschooler all at the same time. As a result, the preschooler was exposed to some things that not all preschoolers might be — including the television program “Family Guy.”

If you were to click rapidly past the show, you could easily think it was a kid’s cartoon, but if you watch it for any interval, you realize it is anything but. The teenager in this family liked the show and sneaked in views while the preschooler absorbed it all.

Fast forward to the next family trip, when the preschooler is parroting the worst of “Family Guy,” blaring “SHUT UP, YOU @#$%&” over and over while boarding the plane. The harried parents are trying to get three kids and all their carry-ons onto the plane as quickly as possible so one of them can sit next to the little one and explain why it is inappropriate to repeat stuff he saw on television. Oof.

How to know where to draw the line between making yourself comfortable on a plane and becoming a nuisance? For me, it comes down to common courtesy — like not reclining your seat unless everyone is sleeping, not bothering seatmates with unwanted small talk and keeping your stuff within the bounds of your own armrests.

Let’s face it, if you end up like this guy — who was duct taped to his own seat after an out-of-control rampage — you probably went too far.

11 Things Not to Do on a Plane

On an overseas trip a few years ago, I figured out shortly after checking my bags that I did not have my passport. I had been dropped off by my family, so called on my cell phone to let them know; since we had arrived at the airport pretty early, there was a slim chance they could get home and back before the flight took off. Long story short, by the time I got to the gate, the airplane doors had already been closed, and baggage handling staffers were standing outside the door bemoaning the fact that they were going to have to unload the whole plane to get my bags off.

As I came running up, they knew immediately that I was that guy, and they sent me sprinting down the boarding ramp. Everyone else on the plane was seated and buckled in, and got a really good look at the guy who had held up the plane — me. Talk about stink eye.

Despite the glares, I do take solace that I wasn’t among these 21 absurdly inconsiderate airline passengers — yeesh!

Which travel sins have you committed?

Go Anyway,

Ed Hewitt

Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

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LIVING LIKE THE LOCALS

LIVING LIKE THE LOCALS

Author: Valerie
Date of Trip: September 2016

We are a retired couple living in England and have just completed a “reunion jaunt” with brother and sister in law (also retired) from Atlanta Georgia. We spent three wonderful weeks in Italy and enjoyed every minute.
We wanted to avoid the usual tourist destinations, so planned the trip ourselves. (Helpful that two of us understand Italian!)

We met in London and took our low cost flights to Pisa and hired our car. We drove to the coast to Quercianella,
South of Livorno, to a pre-arranged address. Claudio the owner of the villa was there to meet us and show us around, giving us the low down on the local popular eating spots. We were to spend a wonderful week, relaxed and making our own timetable, exploring parts of Tuscany, shopping, eating and sampling the wonderful wines of the region. Some days we were happy to stay in “our” garden, playing cards and chatting.

After a week we drove to Livorno to take the Grimaldi ferry to Olbia in Sardinia, taking our rental car with us.
We then drove from Olbia to Cala Liberotto, on Sardinia’s East Coast. Here we were met by Antonio and Simone who were lending us their beautiful villa underneath the pine trees. They also gave us all the information we needed about the local area. This is a seaside resort with private villas, shops and restaurants, with a choice of lovely beaches. Of course we spent some time exploring the region, visiting wonderful seaside restaurants or medieval towns like Bosa and Orosei. The scenery is breathtaking, rugged and rocky with cork oaks and huge cactus plants, soft and sandy with oleanders, or striking and astonishing like the marble quarries.

At the end of the week we drove to Cagliari where we left the car and took a low cost airline to Bari, back on Italy’s mainland. Picking up a second rental car, we then drove to the beautiful Selva di Fasano, on the hill overlooking the Atlantic coast. This time our villa belonged to Barbara and Giuseppe, who were of course there to meet us.
We strolled around their beautiful garden, admired the swimming pool and learned how to turn the heating on if the nights got cool. They didn’t, we were spoilt with the lovely soft Italian Indian summer, again exploring the region, admitting the thousand year old olive plantations, sampling the locally produced food and wines.
We spent a week here before taking our last low cost flight back to London, to spend the last three days together before our fellow travellers flew back to the States.

This was a holiday on a budget, the flights were inexpensive, the rental cars well worth the cost when divided by four and all the accommodation was free. As we have a small apartment in London, our Italian friends will use it when it suits them, on a non simultaneous basis. Of course we will offer them the same warm welcome and there will be no charge for their stay.

The planning of this trip was also enjoyable, making contact with other “exchangers”, many of them, like us have been holidaying in this fashion for several years, and each time is as enjoyable as the last. Highly recommended!

Now, planning the next trip South for Christmas – renewing acquaintance with New Zealanders who have already been to London and are ready to offer the “rain check” we took out. Happy holidays!

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How the Airlines Have Made Elite Status Even Harder to Reach

Anyone who has used airline miles to upgrade or pay for a flight knows the satisfying, equitable sensation of the transaction: You have been loyal and reliable, sticking with an airline through trips both good and bad, and an upgrade or free flight is the airline’s way of saying thanks for all your money, time and trust.

Now it just wants your money.

woman looking out window on airplane

In summer 2016 American Airlines overhauled the terms of its AAdvantage frequent flier program to include several important changes, the best-known of which is a switch from mileage-based awards (the distance your flights covered) to fare-based awards (how much you paid). This went into effect on August 1.

While it got American a lot of press, the airline was merely following Delta, Southwest and United, which had already instituted similar cost-based mileage accrual on their own loyalty programs. (The airlines are not alone in this trend; Starbucks did something very similar last spring as well.)

The new policy obviously punishes folks for finding lower fares, so to counter this American offered the carrot for folks who have already attained elite status that each dollar spent will be worth a bit more in mileage credits the higher up you go in status. While non-elite program members will get five miles per dollar spent, Gold members will receive seven miles per airfare dollar, Platinum nine miles and Executive Platinum 11 miles. The higher you go, the more your dollar is worth. It is an odd formula, but arguably does reward loyalty to some extent.

However, the most difficult new requirement is a minimum dollar amount spent to attain elite status. In a similar requirement to its competitors, as of January 1, 2017, American will require a minimum yearly spend of $3,000 to attain Gold status, $6,000 to attain Platinum, $9,000 to attain Platinum Pro and $12,000 to attain Executive Platinum — irrespective of the mileage accrued.

In plain English, you need enough miles, plus to have spent enough money. So even if you have enough miles to earn elite status, if you bought mostly cheap fares and didn’t spend enough money, you won’t get that status.

18 Best Airport Hacks

Doing the math, you need 25,000 miles (or 30 flight segments) on American to attain Gold status. That is about five roundtrips between San Francisco and New York. If you got those flights for under an average of $600 each, though — no elite status.

Even if you were willing to pay $600 for a cross-country flight, there’s one brutal reality in the fine print. As Cruise Critic senior executive editor Colleen McDaniel found out, the miles accrued apply only to the actual fare, not to taxes and fees.

“Even if you pay $600, you only get credit for, say, $450,” she notes. “It’s really frustrating. I have enough miles to qualify for gold on United, but I don’t have the minimum spend for even silver.”

busy airport

While we have become used to having any and all air travel miles end up in our personal accounts, irrespective of whether it was booked by our employer, a travel agent or some other person, there are times when this might not happen.

The most common case is when booking through a third-party agent such as a cruise line airfare department; in these cases, the agent may book bulk fares that do not accrue points or miles.

This can also occur when booking through travel agents, particularly when they are making a reservation for a large group such as a company trip, or entire events, as when a single agent makes all “preferred pricing” bookings for a sporting event, group trip or the like.

This is a bummer, although in truth it is already the case with most hotel reward programs. Most hotels do not grant points when you don’t book the reservation directly with the hotel itself. But by following suit, it’s yet another way the airlines are making themselves less customer-friendly.

With these program changes, airlines are making it clear that they don’t care if you fill their seats; they only care how much you fill up their bank accounts. Certainly, there is a logic to this; why should folks paying less get the same benefits as those paying more? Well, one problem with this is that the airlines are “punishing” folks for buying fares at the price the airline itself has set.

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The fact that most airlines make your miles expire a certain time after your last flight or award redemption is one that sticks in the craw of a lot of travelers. This is nothing new, but does make it difficult for those who don’t travel at a high frequency to maintain the rewards they’ve accumulated.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to keep miles from expiring:

– Take a flight (obviously)

– Buy miles

– Use miles for a hotel stay or car rental

– Transfer miles to another program member or donate them to charity

– Accumulate miles with a cobranded mileage credit card

How to Choose the Best Travel Credit Card

Most airline programs determine status by two time frames: the qualification year and the membership year.

The qualification year is the year in which you earn your status, which is usually within a given calendar year (January 1 to December 31).

The membership year is the year in which you are granted the benefits of the status you earned the year before. This tends to start a little bit into the year after your membership year; American, for example, has a membership year from February 1 to January 31.

Other airlines, such as United, will give you benefits immediately upon reaching a high status during your qualification, with benefits lasting through the subsequent membership year.

Once the membership year is over, though, the airline looks at the same year to determine status for the next membership year. Even if you’ve flown with an airline regularly for a decade or more, once you have a calendar year in which you don’t quite travel as much, you will find that, the following February, your high level elite status is history.

Talk about what have you done for me lately.

Have recent frequent flier program changes affected you?

Go Anyway,

Ed Hewitt

Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

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Costa Rican Trip

Costa Rican Trip

Author: Danielle Toland
Date of Trip: August 2016

My trip to Costa Rica
By writing about a travel experience, a person can gain a lot of insight. During this writing, I hope to further my own knowledge about the place that I visited and to explore more deeply the things that I learned in another country. Reflecting back on what the local people learned from me can teach me how to be a better, more considerate tourist by taking into account the feelings and reactions of the locals to the things I did or things we saw. Reflecting back on all my experiences will help me get an overall better understanding as to how I behave and how I should change my actions and the next steps I should take to become a better tourist.

In August of 2016 I took a vacation with my mother to Costa Rica. My mother, Jennifer, chose this as the destination. She was celebrating getting a new job. We booked our vacation through an online travel agency that designs custom itineraries. We went to the volcanic area of Arenal, the mountainous forest of Monteverde, and the beach and jungle Manuel Antonio. We were in Costa Rica for about a week. We didn’t research the country much before going, but we knew there were a few things we wanted to do; see a volcano, sloths, rainforests, and ziplining. We just told the people at the tour agency our requests and they chose the places. We went by plane from Miami to San Jose (the capital of Costa Rica), and once there we took pre-hired cars and taxis.

First we went to Monteverde, high altitude area. We were picked up from the airport in the evening by a hired car to drive for three hours on what the tour company promised would be a “scenic ride”. Perhaps it would have been scenic if it were daytime, not pouring rain, and we had a driver who wasn’t racing to our destination like a bat out of hell. At first when we started driving up the winding mountain path, we thought he was playing some joke on us because there was no possible way a car could go up there. But it got worse when we got higher up and we could see over the edges of the mountain sides on which we were driving that the drop down grew significantly larger. And there was no guardrail either, so if we went of the side, the car wouldn’t just roll over a few times, it would plummet a long, long ways down. The rain also didn’t help as we passed signs that read “warning, landslides” and I eyed the steep piles of dirt that I imagined were eroding from the rain at that very moment. Also, we had some close calls with other vehicles on this road when we had to make was for tour buses unexpectedly coming around the blind corners or vehicles coming from behind us that also probably contained other tourists who were anxious as heck because their drivers would also pass our car going fifty miles per hour (I’d guess), or at least way too fast for a mountain road. The ride there was overall very precarious and made me sick at the thought of having to go back down that path.

The biggest thing that I learned about Costa Ricans from my experiences was that they really love having tourists there. They really show that they love their tourists. Every Costa Rican we met seemed genuinely eager to show or teach us something. For example, one taxi driver of ours pointed out every school we passed during our six hour drive and told us the name of every town we went through. Even though he spoke no English, he tried to be as hospitable as possible. He stopped to show us a bridge with hundreds of huge crocodiles under it, which turns out to be a famous site, the “croc bridge” on the Tarcoles River. While we were stopped there, we visited a fruit stand nearby and the guy that worked there told English jokes, practiced my Spanish with me, gave us free fruit, and taught us about new fruits that we had never seen before. I learned just how big tourism is in Costa Rica; it seems like everyone’s lives are touched by tourism in some way. For example, I remember this trio of young boys, about eight or ten years old, who met our bus down by the lake to help transport the tourists’ suitcases from the bus to a boat. They had probably skipped school that day because they knew the tour bus schedule and knew that they can make money there. The boys arrived and went up to the tour bus driver and tour director and greeted them and shook hands. I was amused by how they acted like little businessmen. My mother gave them five dollars and they were so happy. Even they, at their young age, are involved in tourism and use it as a way to make money. All the Costa Ricans kept reiterating to us that they were so happy to have us tourists there and that they love their tourists. It really showed because I cannot remember a single bad experience involving the natives.

The Costa Rican saying is “Pura Vida” which means pure life. They embody this motto by being happy with their lives, being gracious for what they have, and living slowly and relaxed. I learned to be a little more gracious from them. I saw the way other tourists treated the local people, and that the Costa Ricans are so happy even though they don’t have a lot. The Costa Ricans treat the environment there with much care because it is their biggest commodity. All the people were excellent at spotting animals. They would stop the car to show us a sloth.

I believe that local people may have learned a bit about false stereotypes from me. They were shocked by the fact that I am near fluent in Spanish because I don’t look like someone who would be. They had probably rarely (if ever) encountered a little sixteen year old, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl that knew Spanish. Often when we met a new native person, they tried to scare us a little by pretending like no one at the resort or restaurant spoke English. They gave a speech in Spanish telling us this, then I would reply back in Spanish that it was okay because I spoke Spanish. Also, in a few restaurants, the servers were delighted that I spoke Spanish. I remember in the restaurant of the Springs Resort and Spa in Arenal that was exclusively full of white people, a server brought us bread and held the basket out for us to choose one. I pointed to one kind and asked, “que es esto?” and he looked surprised by gave a long speech about what kind of bread it was. After he gave us our bread, he went over to his other server friends and must have told them that I knew Spanish, because one-by-one, all the waiters in the restaurant came over to me and questioned me in Spanish about my life. Since this hotel was an expensive, five star hotel that was filled with white people, I figured these waiters didn’t get much opportunity to speak Spanish with their customers. Many people were not very gracious to the Costa Ricans and didn’t bother learning any of their language. At one restaurant, the hostess greeted the people waiting in front of us with “buenas noches” which the Americans either didn’t understand or just ignored. One of them replied by holding up two fingers and saying “two” as is the hostess had asked for how many people.

During my time there, I had some memorable interactions with local people. I remember the Taxi driver, Davίd, who was the one white guy there and the only person I met who didn’t speak English. All the Costa Ricans really tried to help me with my Spanish. One waiter at the hotel restaurant that we went to about three times we got to know very well. When we had to tell him our room number so they could bill us, he wouldn’t accept my answer in English and pretended like he couldn’t understand English so it would force me to speak Spanish. The people even remembered our names. When ziplining, there were about fifteen young men who secured our lines for us. I was surprised when one young man said, “are you having fun, Daniela?” to me because I sure hadn’t remembered his name or even his face, but he remembered both my and my mother’s names.

Even the housekeepers were admirable. My mother, a florist, really liked the flower arrangements that were set up in the rooms at Arenal. They changed the arrangement every day. When we were walking down a corridor at the resort, we saw one of the housekeepers in a room making the flower arrangements. My mother went up to her to try to praise the woman’s work; however, my mother did not speak Spanish and the woman didn’t speak English, but I knew the housekeeper understood and appreciated the gesture.

On the critical side, I quickly learned that some aspects of tourism in other countries aren’t up to my American standards. The hotel at Monteverde didn’t speak much english, and all hotels were in inconvenient locations. Since Costa Rica is a mountainous region, a lot of the hotels are built at the tops of hills. Even though there isn’t much violent crime in Costa Rica, there are warning posters around all the hotels about robbery and pickpocketing. For this reason, all of the hotels were secluded and had fences around them. These defenses make it hard to interact with people outside of the resort. The staff of the resort even discourages the guests from leaving if it is not with a guided tour. From all the hotels, we couldn’t walk to any attractions because everything was too far away. For this reason, we were only able to eat at the hotel restaurants. When we wanted to go shopping in Manuel Antonio, we had to tell the hotel manager who called a taxi and told us where to go and when to be back. At the same time, it is a positive that shows how much they care for our safety. It was even hard to walk around the resorts because they were so huge and hilly. All the resorts had hotel shuttle, which we once (foolishly) decide to forgo and ended up walking for maybe thirty minutes just from the restaurant to our room. The monopoly that the hotels created on their restaurants forces the visitors to have a dependence on the restaurant. This was a problem because the food was expensive and sometimes the restaurants closed down unexpectedly for no reason. There were also no drink machines or water bottles in the mini fridges so we could only drink tap water or drinks from the restaurant.

In Manuel Antonio, the town had scheduled to shut off the tap water for two days while we were there. The employees knew about this but told none of the guests. There was nothing to drink at the hotel, no towels at the pool, and no clean dishes at the restaurant either. My mother complained to the manager but all he could do was to take the one bottle of water that was in our mini fridge that we had drank and make it free. This same hotel also had a review book in our room that previous guests had written in. The workers must not read all the reviews in there because the first day we got there, the book was completely full of totally negative reviews. It was odd to me because online this was a four star hotel, so I suppose the negative people weren’t motivated enough to post reviews online. The hotel was also the most tropical of the three destinations. This meant that there were cicadas the size of my fist and lizards galore. This posed a slight problem because the door to our cabana room had bid slats on all sides. Luckily, no bugs got into the room but I remember seeing a small lizard running around on the ceiling. In the early mornings, I was awakened by the howler monkeys, who sounded like crazed gorillas off in the distant jungle. It was rather scary and sounded like it was coming from King Kong right outside our room. Manuel Antonio is on the Pacific side of the country, and a big reason we went there was because my mother had never been to the Pacific ocean. The ocean at Manuel Antonio was very rough. The first day I went in up to my knees and within two minutes I was knocked all around and before I knew it I had sand in my hair, up my nose, in my teeth, ears, down my bathing suit, and everywhere else. It did not help that there was no water so I had to wash off in the pool. Also, the shuttle drivers who shuttle passengers from the cabanas to the beach and back refused to drive us because we were still wet from the beach and I’m thinking, “well isn’t that your job? It’s not like this is your personal vehicle and the seats aren’t leather or anything”.

The best hotel that I ever stayed at was The Springs in Arenal. Every room had a perfect view of the volcano, which produced abundant mineral springs in the area. This was a luxury five star hotel. There was a full spa where we got massages and three restaurants on the resort. There were about three chlorine pools, one with a swim up bar, and four mineral hot springs. The hotel offered ziplining, river rafting, and there was even an animal rehabilitation center for large cats, sloths, toucans, and more. The hotel was so nice that we canceled all our other excursions to stay there and partake in their activities.

The Costa Rican saying is “Pura Vida” which means pure life. They embody this motto by being happy with their lives, being gracious for what they have, and living slowly and relaxed. I learned to be a little more gracious from them. I saw the way other tourists treated the local people, and that the Costa Ricans are so happy even though they don’t have a lot. The Costa Ricans treat the environment there with much care because it is their biggest commodity. All the people were excellent at spotting animals and stopped the cars a few times to show us animals like sloths.

I faintly remember something about the politics there at the time. A week or so before going to Costa Rica, I saw a news article about some sort of rebel or contra-government group that was active there. When I got out into the city parts of Costa Rica in a taxi, I saw spray painting and small groups of men that were all dressed the same. The taxi driver explained that this was the aforementioned rebel group. He explained that they were protesting for a place in government, or something along those lines. Even though there was some sort of protest going on, I did not feel threatened. I never once saw any violence or even any officers with large guns, as I have seen at most other tourist destinations around the world.

During this trip, I learned that I have more personal strengths than I thought. I am good at communicating. I can also be very self sufficient and I am helpful at communicating for others. Usually it is the opposite for me: I usually let others speak for me and keep myself quiet. When I am put in a situation where only I can do something and others are relying on me, I can really step up to the plate. While writing about this experience, I have only just realized these things about myself.

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10 Ways to Find the Fun in a Boring Place

At IndependentTraveler.com, we talk mostly about traveling to iconic, far-flung and fascinating places — destinations many travelers have always dreamed of going. Helping people figure out how to get the most from their visits to these places is our guiding mission.

But like all travelers, we sometimes end up in some boring places as well.

bored girl on a city street

Maybe you’re on a work trip, or visiting family in the middle of nowhere, or in transit to someplace else, or stranded due to bad weather. We have all ended up in a place so unremarkable we’re left wondering how we could possibly spend a fun day or two there.

The place doesn’t even have to be inherently dull. Years ago in the Basque region of Spain, I came across a B&B-ish lodging on the cliffs above the Bay of Biscay and pulled in for the night. The location was stunning and the views incredible, but when I said as much to the proprietor, she made it clear that she had seen more than enough of her beautiful but miniscule village, and would rather be almost anywhere else. I had a similar experience in Trakai, Lithuania — a town with a shining lake and an actual castle, yet it was still at least one person’s idea of a stifling small town.

Boring is in the eye of the beholder. For many Americans it might mean suburbia or corporate parks or tiny, one-stoplight towns. Even so, I have found that there are things to do in almost any suburban region, and would argue that the recent trend of slow travel is in part an embrace of the less riveting and more “boring” elements of travel.

Stuck in a boring spot? Here’s how to make the most of it.

Almost anywhere you go, the world looks different and people do different things at daybreak. Certainly there are working folks starting in on very routine commutes, but you will also see people exercising, walking dogs, shoveling snow from walks and the like. Even if there aren’t many people out, a nice sunrise can put a shine on almost any dull town.

Try this exercise: Go to a mapping app, move around a bit to randomize things, pick an area away from cities and areas of interest, then zoom in until you land on a single town or city.

Next, go to Wikipedia and type in the name of that city or town. I did this about a dozen times while researching this article. Here is what I found:

– Mediapolis, Iowa, was a stop on the Rock Island Railroad of Leadbelly and Johnny Cash fame.

– Hanksville, Utah (population: 219), was a supply post for Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch.

– Boomer, North Carolina, is the birthplace of North Carolina poet laureate James Larkin Pearson, who is in the nearby Wilkes County Hall of Fame — which you can visit for free.

– Boonville, New York, is a popular snowmobiling destination and has been nicknamed “Snow Capital of the East.”

This tactic doesn’t work for all small towns and is very U.S.-centric, but I have found it to be more productive than not. (A simple Google search is another possibility if your Wikipedia investigations don’t bear fruit.)

How to Blend In with the Locals: 20 Tips

If you want to check out the locals, find the nearest ice cream place and go during prime time. You’ll typically find a good cross-section of families, couples, teenagers and more. (And even if the locals are not out in force, at least you get ice cream!)

In addition to being a place to read national newspapers if you like, libraries also tend to have notice boards announcing nearby events and places of interest. Librarians also often have a store of local knowledge you can tap into; in particular, they may know of a museum that houses all the information you could ever want about the area.

Similarly, post offices often post notices about local events; the tiny post office near my own home is packed with them.

noticeboard with fliers

Independently owned stores can also be good sources of information; go in, buy some gum and tell the person behind the counter that you’re in town for a couple of days and need something to do. If there is something to know about, they’ll know about it.

There is one place where print is not dead, and that is in ultra-local newspapers. These publications survive almost entirely on ads for local businesses and events — think fairs, holiday celebrations, corn mazes, happy hours, restaurants and more. Skip the USA Today at the hotel breakfast, and go find one of these papers; the locals rely on them, and so can you.

One benefit of being in the middle of nowhere is that “nowhere” is often in close proximity to nature. Ask around about walking trails, parks, fishing holes, lakes, beaches and open spaces.

A walk through the nearest cemetery can offer a rich history of the area; what are the most common names? Were many people veterans? How long did people live in decades past? Cemeteries can also offer some peaceful time and space to think, not for nothing in our accelerated present.

12 Places You Only Need to See Once

When traveling abroad, every small downtown or village center can seem almost a revelation, so why not see all dingy, constricted downtowns with the same fresh eyes?

I have family in Issaquah, Washington, which is now a Costco headquarters and Microserf-filled suburb of Seattle, but was once a mining town turned logging town turned Boeing laborer town. The suitably bedimmed historical downtown has an old trolley, remnants of the tracks and a great candy store (Boehm’s). We have done a lot of cool stuff in Seattle on visits over the years, but somehow a balancing contest on the old train rails with my son in wonderfully boring Issaquah ranks among my most vivid memories.

This might be taking a meditation class, starting a running regimen, taking test drives in new car models, getting an eye test, getting a haircut, seeing a movie alone, starting an Instagram account, walking dogs at the local shelter, trying CrossFit, stargazing, singing karaoke, sitting and feeding the ducks, you name it. No one knows you, and you might never see any of the locals ever again, so do want you want. Turn your boredom into adventure by finding something new to try on for size.

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When was the last time you took a cruise in your car with no intended destination — maybe high school? It hasn’t lost any of its allure, and in an hour’s drive in an unfamiliar place, you can see and learn a lot.

Many travelers swear by geocaching as the best way to find the most interesting locations anywhere; what started as a pastime for GPS-device nerds to challenge each other to find small “caches” they left in remote or interesting spots has become very popular, taking the name “the world’s largest treasure hunt.”

In short, geocaching involves using a GPS device — for most folks, their smartphone running the Geocaching.com app — to find small treasures hidden by other geocachers. Most folks who hide caches pick spots that are interesting in some way — out in nature, near a local landmark, that kind of thing. Since most folks hide caches relatively close to where they live, you are getting a local’s choice of good spots.

Or you could simply head out with your phone to play Pokemon GO; it’s certainly less curated than geocaching, but does tend to focus on landmarks and gathering places, and many users have said the game has led them to find hidden gems in their neighborhoods.

How do you entertain yourself when you’re stuck in a boring place?

Go Anyway,

Ed Hewitt

Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

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Be an Artist in Ojai

Be an Artist in Ojai

Author: Jill Weinlein (More Trip Reviews by Jill Weinlein)
Date of Trip: October 2016

There’s a saying in the little bucolic town of Ojai – “A town with nothing to do and not enough time to do it.” Postcards have this saying overlapping a photo of a cotton candy Ojai sunset where the dusk colors enhance the Topatopa Mountains into a “Pink Moment.”

ojai emerald iguana

Ojai is situated East and West in the Valley creating a magical vortex. This positive energy attracts artists, musicians and spiritual people. Some claim it is similar to Sedona, AZ or Joshua Tree, CA.

Staying overnight at the charming boutique hotel, the Emerald Iguana Inn, one appreciates the creative art by the owners and architect Marc and Julia Whitman.

Located at the end of a residential street, outside the reception office is a ten-food long mosaic emerald iguana made of tile. The sculpture sits in a tile fountain to greet guests upon their arrival. Whitman made this piece from tile from RTK studios just one block over from the property.

The design of my Leaf Suite at the Emerald Iguana offered an outdoor patio with thick rounded walls that reminded me of renown architect Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, Spain. Like Gaudi, Whitman’s passion of design is influenced by architecture and nature.

The Craftsman/Art Nouveau-style architecture is set in a lush green foliage with art pieces nestled in the gardens. I spotted a frog statue, metal iguanas near the pool, and “flaming” copper basket metal lights by Jan Sanchez.

One of the most desired cottages is near the front named Frog Suite. The 1906 built stone house offers an expansive front porch. Other cottages are named leaf, peacock, raven, gecko, and grass hopper amidst gardens designed by landscape architect Thomas Bostrom.

My two room Leaf cottage was impressive in size and decor. There is a dining table for four looking out to the pool area, and wicker seating conversation area. The small kitchen has a stove and full sized refrigerator stocked with cold beverages. The hallway leading to a large bedroom with two Queen size beds made with luxury bedding, and a bathroom with a shower/deep soaking tub. Nice touches include hardwood flooring, elegant rugs, lots of accent pillows and decorating pieces from Bali.

The pool and hot spa tub at the Emerald Iguana stays open until 10 p.m. The spa is an ideal soak in the morning after a small breakfast in a nearby room serving assorted pastries, bagels, muffins, fresh fruit, cereal, yogurt, orange juice, local tea, milk and coffee. It opens at 8 to 10:30 a.m. A few guests take their coffee and pastry out to the pool deck to sit on thick cushion lounge chairs, under large shade umbrellas.

meditation mount ojai valley golf course

Being inspired to the surroundings and art, I took an art class at the Artist Cottage & Apothecary located at the nearby Ojai Valley Inn and Spa. It’s offered to guests at the resort and to the public when space is available. It’s the ideal spot for self-discovery and creative expression with an artist in residence leading and offering assistance to enhance your vision into a keepsake.

I took a silk scarf painting class where I let my imagination shine while noticing another scarf on the wall. When finished, I was so proud of myself that I told the instructor that I want to frame, instead of wear it as a decorative scarf. Each class is designed for all skill levels. They have classes just for children too. Other teen and adult classes include glass or tile painting, drawing, beginning watercolors or acrylic painting. The classes are approximately 45 to 90 minutes and cost $25 to $75 per person.

Next to the cottage is an Apothecary room where guests can learn how to mix and blend botanical oils to create a unique, natural environmental fragrance. The personalized mist, spritz and blends cane be used to uplift your spirit. Students even make a personalized label to their creation. These classes are 45 to 90 minutes long and range from $45 to $120 per person.

Working up an appetite, I drove down to the middle of town to Azu restaurant. The restored Bill Baker’s 1910 building is open for lunch, brunch and dinner. General Manager Elizabeth Haffner welcomes guests to enjoy a cocktail, housemade craft beer and Mediterranean dishes in this local favorited dining spot. I’ve been told at sunset, this is an ideal viewing spot of “the pink moment” on the surrounding hills.

ojai arcade and human arts shop

A stroll to the Arcade is worth a visit, especially at Human Arts Gallery featuring over 150 artists pieces that include jewelry by owner and resident Hallie Katz. There are cases of blown glass, ceramics, sculpture, furniture displays, racks of clothing, and art made from repurposed materials.

A few blocks away and close to the Emerald Iguana is Bart’s Books, a local and tourist favorite. Located on the corner of Matilija and Canada streets it’s the “Greatest Outdoor Bookstore” in California. I stopped inside to purchase an art book to read by the pool before dinner.

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