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February 2016

Avoiding Vacation Rental Rip-Offs

Today it’s easy to find a vacation rental online. And although there are a lot of great deals out there, there are also a number of scams. For example, many scammers steal photos and descriptions from legitimate rental sites online, and then paste them on their own scam rental sites. Not only do they get deposit money from unsuspecting renters, but they also get personal information they can use to steal their identity.”

With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you weed out online vacation rental scammers.

  • Be wary of incredible deals. If you find a five bedroom house on the ocean for $20 a week, chances are it’s probably a scam. A good rule of thumb is, that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Google a chunk of text that describes the rental, to see if it pops up anywhere else. Although some owners list their vacation rentals on more than one site, sometimes you can turn up a scam this way.
  • Talk by phone if at all possible, and be wary if the person speaks broken English. Also be wary of poorly written e-mails, or if the owner only wants to communicate by e-mail.
  • Never use a wire transfer or a prepaid debit card to pay for your vacation rental. These are the preferred methods of payment for scammers, because unlike credit cards and traditional debit cards, these transactions cannot be reversed.
  • Get the address of the rental property and search for it in Google maps street view. If it’s an empty field, chances are you’re dealing with a scammer.
  • Ask the owner to show you the interior of the rental on Skype. That way you know at least he has access to the property.
  • Contact the assessors office in the county where the property is located, to confirm where the tax bill is sent. Make sure that name matches the name on the lease.
  • Finally, read the comments from past renters, and be wary if there are no comments. Granted the lack of comments may indicate that there wasn’t anything really good or really bad about the property, but it may also indicate that it has never been rented.

In the end, with a little homework and attention to the small details, you’ll be a savvy consumer, and come away with a great deal on a legitimate vacation rental.

Photo Tips For Your Holiday Home

Photographing your holiday home can be tough, especially if you know it inside out and can’t take a step back. Hiring a professional is the best choice, but if you want to have a bash yourself or need an interim solution, these tips can help.

The first two go without saying:

1) Use a camera rather than your phone.

2) Never show people in your property shots.

Guests like to imagine themselves there, and other people in the photo can be distracting and off-putting.

3) Choose a sunny day.

You don’t want your sunshine escape to look like winter in the Outer Hebrides, and a sharp blue sky contrasts better with pristine white snow.

4) Prioritise.

Your brand new air conditioner might be top of the line, but your guests will be far more interested in your private pool, terrace or sea view. Think – what attracted you in the first place?

5) Show more of the inside than the outside.

Many holiday home sites show several different angles of the exterior. All well and good, but even in a climate where sunbathing is king, your guests will want to know the layout and size of the inside.

6) Always show the bedrooms.

Unless you own a mansion with more than five of them, try to photograph all of the bedrooms in your home. Not only is this an opportunity to show off, but it can reassure families and other groups that there is enough space and whether they need to steel themselves for the “who gets the top bunk” argument.

7) Focus on specific areas.

If you can’t fit a whole room into one shot, break it up into sections. This also works if you’re offering a studio or small flat. Individual shots of the coffee table laid out with coffee, maps and magazines, and a shot facing into the sofa with plumped up cushions, can give people a sense of the atmosphere and help them imagine spending time there. If the bedrooms are small, focus on the head of the bed, ideally at night, with soft lighting and fluffy pillows or throws.

8) Set the scene.

One of the best things about self-catering holidays is that you can choose what, when and how to serve your food. Lay any indoor tables for lunch, breakfast or dinner – ideally with local produce or treats – or with a welcome pack (if you offer this). If you have a log fire, take a shot the next time it’s roaring, and if you have a playroom, set out some toys and games.

9) Include the kitchen sink…

Many guests will want to know the state of the kitchen if they’re planning to cook at any point. Clear away any dirty plates or clutter, and add some colour with a bowl of fruit, or by laying out teas and pastries to give a flavour of the holiday.

10)… and a bashful bathroom.

Showing the bathroom can be divisive. Some guests don’t want to be reminded of it, while others won’t book without seeing it. The best solution is to take a photo without the toilet, but if it’s unavoidable, always have the lid down! If you have a bath tub, a row of candles around the edge can give it a warm and cosy feel and bring even the most modest bathroom to life.

11) Outside angle.

The importance of exterior shots depends on the location and type of holiday home you have. For a city apartment, one or two shots of the outside building will suffice – use the rest of the space to show off the attractions, views and activities. For a countryside or seaside retreat, make sure you photograph all of the good viewpoints from windows and balconies, and show all gardens or pool areas. Speaking of which:

12) Swimming pool.

If you’re lucky enough to have a pool, take photos on a sunny day and without anyone in sight. Night-time shots are tricky to get right, so only attempt this if you have a high quality camera and there are other interesting features around such as pergolas or lighting. If you’re even luckier and have a separate jacuzzi, a bottle of champagne or mugs of hot chocolate (for apr├Ęs-ski) can look great laid out beside it. In case it needs to be said, never take shots of a pool or jacuzzi without any water in it.

13) Al-fresco dining.

Similarly, whether you have a quaint little balcony or an expansive roof terrace, a table laid out for a meal – especially in front of a view – can remind people exactly why they should love self-catering holidays.

14) Garden games.

If you’re aiming at families, show games in the garden, such as a tennis set, footballs or frisbees. If your home is pet-friendly, show a photo of a dog, cat or other animal cavorting on the lawn.

15) Local area.

Shots of local beaches, attractions, markets and theme parks (absolutely vital for Disneyland properties, for instance) give an idea of the type of holiday your guests can expect. Make sure you explain what and how far they are in the captions, so that newcomers to the location know what there is to see and do. A photo of the Eiffel Tower for a Paris apartment may seem condescendingly obvious, but some guests may have never been to France or realise how close the home is, so don’t assume everyone knows the area as well as you do. If your property is off the beaten track, add a photo or two of the nearest well known cities or attractions to give it context.

Good luck, and remember to refresh your photos every season!

Why Choose A Cruise For Your Next Holiday

Cruising is a holiday type that is fast becoming the more popular option for travellers. We have seen a major rise in the number of cruise ships in particular fleets as well as new companies that are reaching into new destinations.

There are plenty to choose from some of which include Carnival, Royal Caribbean, P & O, Princess, Costa and so many more. Some cruisers will choose the same cruise line over and over again while others prefer to try out new ships and new companies.

But why is it becoming so popular? There are many benefits of cruising which I will outline in this article.

1. You only need to pack and unpack once. Most cruises will be visiting many ports so you get to travel to many locations without having to pack and unpack each time.

If you were to travel the traditional way i.e. flying to each of the destinations you would lose half a day each and every time you departed for the next destination. With a cruise that is not necessary.

2. All your food is catered for. This includes your main meals three times a day, plus snacks and other food services with most of the companies catering for you 24 hours a day.

3. Kids club. There is a reason so many families enjoy booking cruises and that is because of the fantastic kids club programs on board so that the adults can drop off the kids and get some time to relax themselves and the kids will have fun and be entertained themselves.

4. Entertainment is provided. There are plenty of music shows, comedy acts, dances, bingo and other games all provided so you will never be bored. There is always something going on around the ship and caters for wide range of audiences.

There are generally comedians, hypnosis, magicians, dancers, singers, bands and other weird and wonderful acts that make your cruise fun.

5. It makes a good alternative for those who hate flying. Cruise ships are fairly steady and allow those who hate flying an opportunity to head overseas without conjuring up any fears or dislikes.

While not everyone loves the open ocean over 80% of people who do book a cruise will book another one at least once more in their lifetime.

Travelling by air, by road or by sea all have their own set of benefits and really comes down to what you want to do and where you would like to see.

As far as value for money goes and the constant entertainment, food gauging and more on board it is fairly easy to see why so many people love to cruise as their preferred method of travel.

Planning a Perfect Cruise Experience to Remember

If you are considering taking a cruise holiday soon for a well-earned break or touring holiday, sea cruises offer some of the best options for a relaxing holiday to some of the most amazing places on the planet.

The major advantage of taking a sea cruise holiday is that you will be able to visit an array of places and destinations throughout the world at a leisurely pace, travel in luxury, not having the tussle or the frustration of airports and cramped aeroplanes to deal with, and not be stuck in just one location during your holiday, as the scenery and landscape is always changing onboard a luxury cruise ship.

Here is a brief guide looking at some of the things to consider when planning your perfect cruise experience for a holiday to remember.

Types of cruise

There are many options and various types of cruise holidays. Some offer exclusive sailing with no flight connections which, depending on your itinerary and length of holiday duration, might mean you will have to fly to meet your cruise ship. Another consideration is choosing a cruise and stay holiday or a cruise holiday where you start and finish your holiday onboard the ship. All of these options are worth giving plenty of consideration to before booking.

What’s included in your cruise?

When you are booking your cruise holiday, do you know what is included or excluded in your desired cruise holiday package? It’s worth checking everything out and adding everything you want at the pre-booking stage, as in some cases it works out much cheaper to buy as many add-ons or make as much inclusive before you start your journey, then you can relax knowing you won’t be adding to the cost of your journey during your holiday.

Life onboard your chosen cruise ship

Do a little more research beforehand about what you can expect from daily life onboard your chosen cruise ship. Consider what on board and inclusive facilities are on offer within your chosen package. Think about entertainment and leisure activities – do you need to pack particular clothing to participate in these? What would you like to do with your days and evenings on-board? Is there a dress code for particular functions or for dining in the ship’s restaurant? These things are just some of the things worth bearing in mind before booking.

Shore excursions and land tours

Do you want to plan any shore excursions and land tours when you stop at the various locations on your cruise holiday? Most places will offer specially organised shore excursions for passengers, with local guides and members of the ship’s crew, so you will be able to see all the popular tourist attractions during your chosen holiday itinerary.