Honour that view with clean windows

Clean WindowsWhether your property looks over the snowcapped Rocky Mountains from Canmore, the skyline of New York City or the azure ocean in Mexico, you want to make sure that this view is framed by sparkling clean windows! As a guest, it really puts a damper on the much-anticipated relaxation when one has to look through dust and dirt from months or even years of rain and wind.

For that reason, we collected a few recommendations on how to make sure your guests get to enjoy the best view you have to offer. Clean windows do not have to mean hours of strenuous work with toxic chemicals! The consensus is that it doesn’t have to be hard or time-consuming when you follow a few rules (and have a few tools handy). Natural solutions such as vinegar are much more environmentally friendly and easier on the budget than harsh chemicals. And there is lots to learn from the professionals who do this every day. Time to invest in a squeegee!

How to get sparkling windows for vacation rentals

No more newspaper, rubbing and elbow grease

Martha Stewart’s Window Washing How-To

Tutorial on how to clean windows with vinegar – our favourite!

 

Things To Do on Vancouver Island

I spent close to a third of my great Canadian adventure on this island. From Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, it takes about 2 hours via ferry to reach Nanaimo. It was technically my first stop on the island but I did not get to see much on the first day. My group headed straight to the city of Parksville, northwest of Nanaimo, where we stayed for about a month.

Things to do in Vancouver Island

Port in Departure Bay, Nanaimo

The first thing we did the next day was to load up some really cool bikes into the back of the minivan and drove to Rathtrevor Park. Like any other curious traveller, I had already looked up the place online before getting on a plane to fly to another continent. Checking out Rathtrevor was in my things to do on Vancouver Island. I just wasn’t sure how I’d be doing it. The photos on the internet were alright. I knew there was going to be a beach, lots of trees and a nice looking campground.

rathtrevor

I was not prepared for such a breathtaking bicycle ride through a very green yet very old forest. That alone was worth adding it to my things to see and things to do on Vancouver Island. I simply could not resist stopping every minute or so to whip out my phone and take a photograph of what my eyes were seeing. I was far behind my friends but I had a really good taking a slower pace and eventually catching up. I met a lot of people jogging and walking along the way. I would not mind doing that everyday either if I had Rathtrevor close to home.

It was close to Thanksgiving and I had never seen pumpkins that many and that large in my entire life. They were in farms, they were in groceries, they were in their liquor and they even put them in coffee. My first taste of a pumpkin spiced latte was excellent! Now that I think about it, I do not recall ever getting bad food on the island. I had a sandwich from a local Subway franchise, Chinese food from a mall in Nanaimo, and soup in a Vietnamese restaurant. The latter was probably the first time I had to wait to be seated. Everything is just so fresh that I cannot imagine any cook mucking it up.

There was this one place called Coombs that was a 30 minute drive from where I was staying. I can honestly say that I have never seen goats grazing on the roof of a restaurant before. We bought some corn and potatoes. I was told that the ice cream was a must try and so I did. I cannot remember a moment in my life being as happy with a wafer cone, ice cream and fudge.

Things to do in Vancouver Island

One of the many things to see in the Coombs Country Market.

Another unforgettable stop was the Morningstar Farm. I love cheese. A visit here should definitely be on any fan’s things to do on Vancouver Island. I got to taste plenty of them along with one of their fruit wines. It is so great for children as well. I saw the effort they put into making the experience more interactive for people of all ages. In the end, I brought home the cheese with a kick since I like heat on my taste buds as well.

Things to do in Vancouver Island

There are plenty of cheese options.

On a good day and with the tide low, we headed out to Nanoose Bay to pick up clams and oysters. I did not have a license so I only got to watch others work on filling up their tiny buckets. Getting that license will likely appear on my things to do on Vancouver Island list the next time I visit. The water was ice cold compared to anywhere in Southeast Asia. I ended up hopping or running across streams as fast as I could. It was an awesome experience that I hope to do again soon. There’s so much more to write about but I think I’ll save the rest for another story.

Details do make a difference – Pay attention to delight your guests!

snackDetails matter when preparing your vacation home for guests.

Sometimes those details are noticed consciously, such as an inviting bed with the corner of the comforter folded open, a welcome basket of treats or a cozy blanket draped over the couch. Sometimes, details incur subconscious reactions, such as a fresh (non-chemical) smell in the air or the sun streaming through open curtains when your guests arrive.

couch

Eva Whitney has put together a short article with more great examples of where details matter, such as the folding of towels or neatly arranged dishes.

Do you want to share your experiences with “details that matter”? Where do you go the extra mile to make your home inviting for your guests, and which “attention to detail” has received positive feedback from your guests? Share your comments with our owner community!

How to leave your heart (and much of your liver) in San Francisco!

Is there anywhere else on earth you can witness the grandeur of the sun, the surf, and the mountains like you can in California? Did I say witness? I meant becoming a card-carrying member of Club California, an organization devoted to amazing food, unbelievable wine culture, and a something-for-LITERALLY-everyone lifestyle. It’s no wonder the state is a bucket list destination for so many of us. And if you have a particular affection for the fruits of the vine, there’s no place to worship like Napa, Sonoma, and San Francisco. (Note, the locals definitely do NOT call it Frisco! If you must abbreviate, go with San Fran.)

California wine country is so much more than just wine. Sure the area produces some of the world’s most expensive and sought-after appellations, but visitors can also hike, cycle, horseback ride, and hot air balloon. And there’s no shortage of shopping, dining, music, zip lines, and spa treatments (it *is* California after all!). Oh, and a head’s up. Napa is bigger and gets most of the press, so you can be forgiven for thinking it’s “all that.” But the truth is, Sonoma County produces more grapes.

The dilemma for most of us is how to visit Sonoma (or Napa for that matter) and not also make the pilgrimage to the City by the Bay? Because, let’s face it, you cannot possibly do one and not the other. To me, the answer is clear. Do both! If you’re planning a wine touring adventure this year, make San Francisco your home base This will give you the very best of both worlds: A one-of-a-kind city escape and an over-the-top wine tasting extravaganza. Or, park yourself in Wine Country and make day trips into the city. Either way, you’re in for a win-win experience!

If you’re thinking of making the City your home base, and you’re travelling with a posse of friends, consider staying in this architectural masterpiece situated high in the Berkeley Hills. With room for 12, this home sits on a hidden oasis of private terraced gardens and all three levels offer stunning views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Contemporary design, unique artwork, and redwood decks will truly make you feel pampered. And, it’s less than an hour’s drive to Wine Country. So pack a picnic and head out to St. Helena, Sonoma, and Calistoga.

If you’re not travelling with such a large group but you still want over-the-top luxury, treat yourself to the extravagance of this beautiful home in the highly-desirable Telegraph Hill neighbourhood. A private elevator will whisk you from the parking garage into your penthouse suite where you will be greeted with panoramic views that stretch from the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to the Ferry Building. You can stroll to most of the City’s tourist hubs including Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Chinatown, Coit Tower, and Lombard Street. And given the views and proximity to so many local attractions, you can be forgiven if your wine tastings are limited to whatever you purchase at Trader Joe’s to enjoy on your jaw-dropping terrace.

Just outside of the Bay Area (and by “just outside,” I mean just outside the fog belt that can blanket the city), you’ll discover this magnificent Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors in the kitchen/living/dining room open out onto a 50 ft wide natural atrium that leads to the pool and outdoor kitchen. If your occasion demands some serious WOW factor, this is it! And, because it’s just outside the city, you are ideally situated between the best of both worlds: 20 minutes from everything the city has to offer and just 45 minutes from wine country.

If your heart (and your liver!) are set on staying in wine country proper, we’ve got you covered. How about a 5 bedroom villa in Sonoma, the very heart of wine country? Imagine you and 8 of your closest friends luxuriating on a private estate with your own pool, spa, vineyards, and wildlife. Yet, you’re literally minutes from downtown Sonoma and its shopping, dining, wineries, and nightlife. And if you happen to visit in the fall, you just might be treated to the spectacle (shown in the photo) of the vines trooping their colours in an unforgettable rainbow display.

Perhaps you find Sonoma a little sleepy and Napa is more your thing…consider this historic “Painted Lady” situated in the heart of downtown Napa. Built in the 1880s, this home looks as if it was magically transported from “Postcard Row” along Alamo Square Park in San Francisco. But it’s not in the City, and that means there’s room to stretch out. In fact, the home is nestled in its own enchanted forest featuring a Japanese garden and gazebo. Did I mention that guests of the Purple Victorian enjoy free and discounted wine tastings? Could there be a more perfect place to sip and savour the fruits of the Valley?! If you find one, PLEASE let us know!

The results are in!

Thank you to all respondents for sharing your thoughts and preferences with us!

As many of you know from our previous posts and maybe because you also received the newsletter: We conducted an online survey to determine specifically what guests are looking for with regards to communication with hosts, amenities and kitchen supplies.

Results

Communication

Pre Stay Communication

Communication: Pre-stay phase

Respondents stated that it is important to them to receive email responses from the hosts within 24 hours (58% of respondents). It is critical to 51% of respondents to get responses within 3 days in the pre-stay phase (inquiries, booking, instructions). Phone calls during this phase are important to 43% (critical to over 15%). Text message contact and mailing of documents do not seem to be as critical (see graph). Interestingly, the text option received the highest number of “do not care” responses.

During a guest’s stay, email communication becomes critical for a larger number of guests (54%), and so does availability over the phone (40% critical, 48% important). It appears that guests trust that any issues can be sorted out over the phone. It does not seem as critical to them to have a manager on site.

During Stay Communication

Communication: During guest’s stay

Amenities

Well, we sure can’t live (or vacation) without our WiFi toys anymore, or so it seems. Free WiFi access tops the list of expected amenities at a vacation rental (87%). This is followed by a washer/dryer (78%), an outdoor sitting area (73%), Cable TV (72%) and a BBQ (52%). Check out the graphic below for ratings of other amenities. To make your rental more attractive, consider adding one or more of options that are rated high, therefore improving your bookings over your competitors.

AmenitiesKitchen equipment

Lastly, we asked respondents about the items they expect to see in your vacation rental’s kitchen. Not surprisingly, generous cooking equipment with enough pots and pans, a microwave and dishwasher is requested by a high percentage of respondents. Since vacationers also love to enjoy a glass of wine when relaxing, make sure to stock wine glasses in your kitchen (72% expect those). As evidenced in the graph below, other items are a lot more “optional” but could make the difference that sets you apart from another rental in the same area (e.g. invest in a butcher block or coffee grinder). I have found that those details can make a big difference; for example, I always ask if I have to bring my own coffee grinder and always opt for the rentals that have one, especially if I have to fly to that destination.

KitchenPlease share your thoughts, questions or comments on this with us.

America’s covered bridges

One of my favourite tourism excursions is visiting covered bridges. Although covered bridges are usually associated with romance – blame it on the role they play in the movie “The Bridges of Madison County” – these bridges were built out of practicality. The bridges allow people to cross lakes, streams or rivers. They were covered to protect not only the people using the bridges but also the bridge itself from any weather disturbances that might cause the wooden parts to deteriorate. This way and with a good dose of proper maintenance of the roofing, a longer life span for bridges was ensured. Covered bridges have been built in America for more than 200 years now, and the oldest covered bridge was built in 1825, making it a hundred and 88 years old.

Covered bridges are commonly located in the countryside and rural settings. They are usually parts of idyllic scenery and rustic beauty of non-urban places.  They act as extensions of main roads and provide access to areas that are typically not covered by main routes, making traveling easier for traders and travelers.  And most of the time, they are the very reason people travel that way.

In America, covered bridges are historical treasures. Every state has at least one that is still in use. Pennsylvania, having more than 200 covered bridges, holds the title for the most number of these bridges within the state. This state record represents about one-fourth of authentic bridges built and still standing in the United States.

The very first covered bridge in America was located in Pennsylvania. The Permanent Bridge was built as early as 1805, but was devoured by fire in 1875. It was never restored. Pennsylvania is also home to the world’s longest covered bridge, the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge. Built in 1813, this 5690 foot bridge crossed the Susquehanna River for 19 years until it was ravaged by ice in 1832. The bridge was never reconstructed. The rich history of Pennsylvania bridges gave birth to more bridges that withstood the roughness of time and nature.

Visit Doylestown - Property ID  204917

Visit Doylestown – Property ID 204917

One of the oldest covered bridges found in Pennsylvania is the Sachs Bridge in Gettysburg. Also known as the Saucks and Waterworks Covered Bridge, it was built in 1854 and was used in the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War in America. It is one of the most historical bridges in Pennsylvania. A flash flood damaged the bridge badly but it was repaired in 1997. Another bridge in Pennsylvania is the Weaver’s Mill Bridge located in Lancaster County. It crosses the Conestoga River and is red-and-white painted, traditional to all covered bridges in Lancaster.

One of the most beautiful, and probably the most famous, covered bridges found in America is the Roseman Covered Bridge located in Winterset, Iowa. Made famous by Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, this particular covered bridge is one of the most visited of all. It was built in 1883 and some renovations were completed in 1992. Another famous covered bridge is the Wawona Covered Bridge in Yosemite National Park in California.

West Cornwall covered bridge is an attraction in Housatonic Meadows, a park in the state of Connecticut. Built in 1864, it underwent major renovations after the flooring in 1940 and was strengthened by steel bars in 1973.

One of the recently restored covered bridges is the Arthur A. Smith Covered Bridge. Named after a Civil War captain, this specific bridge is a survivor. It is the last surviving masterpiece of Theodore Burr, a well-known bridge builder from the 19th century, famous for his Burr arch. It also survived relocation from North River to Lyonsville Road in Massachusetts way back in 1886.  For a long time it was left unused in its deteriorating state and was only reconstructed in 2005. Today it is open to pedestrians once more.

One of the oldest covered bridges is found in Covington, Virginia. Built in 1857, Humpback covered bridge is designed with an arc shape. The middle being four feet higher than both ends, it is designed to protect the center from floods, the usual reason for a bridge’s falling apart, therefore increasing its life span. This covered bridge became a favorite for tourists and photographers for its unusual design. Another covered bridge found in Virginia is the Meem’s Bottom Bridge in Mount Jackson. Built in 1893, it was functioning for eighty years allowing cars to drive across the North Fork River until 1976. It was destroyed not by flood or any natural disasters but by vandals who thought setting the bridge on fire was a good idea. The original woods were recovered and the bridge was rebuilt adding some reinforcements such as steel beams.

Chincoteaugue Island, Virginia - Property ID 11590

Chincoteaugue Island, Virginia – Property ID 11590

Another favorite covered bridge for photographers and painters is the Artist’s Bridge in Newry, Maine. Being true to its name, Artist’s Bridge is no longer open to traffic since 1958 but remains an inspiration for making beautiful pictures and paintings. It is one of the remaining nine bridges presently standing in Maine that survived the floods and disasters for a long period of time.

Do you have a favourite covered bridge you’ve visited?

Survey & Dishes

There are lots of websites, articles and lists that claim to know what guests of vacation rentals are looking for. But we decided we wanted to know directly from our Ownerdirect.com guests what is important to them. So we have been conducting an online survey (quick and painfree) that was first distributed in our May newsletter, to ask guests about priorities and preferences. We will compile this into nice graphs for you, and we trust that you will find it helpful for your own vacation rental operations.

The survey can be found here. If you want to share your opinion as a guest of vacation rentals, please take 2 minutes to fill it out. This will help us generate useful information. It’s quick and online. Thank you. We will compile the results on June 10. Check back here after the results have been analyzed.

DishesLastly, here is one random tip that a vacation rental owner shared with me recently. I noticed that she was using a cup at home that was the same as the cups in her vacation rental. When I pointed it out, she said: “Oh, we always buy two sets of dishes for the rental so that we can replace broken dishes with the same kind.” Such a great idea to avoid the often random collection of plates and cups!

 

5 Tips For A Stress Free Family Vacation

The children’s break from school is the perfect time to plan that highly anticipated family vacation. Each member of the family is surely excited at the thought of enjoying a lazy day at the beach, going on a new adventure or, in the winter, enjoying a thrilling ski vacation with a picturesque view of the snow capped mountains. Family vacations are where memories are made.

BangTao Beach - Phuket - Unit ID 205909

BangTao Beach – Phuket – Unit ID 205909

It is definitely an amazing experience to travel with the entire family but it can also be unnerving and stressful at the same time. There are a few life hacks you might want to bear in mind to allow yourself a stress free time while in another country or in an obscure destination in the middle of nowhere. Here’s 5 great tips to have a stress free family vacation.

Travel Light

Nothing adds unnecessary hassle to your travel adventure than having to carry around huge luggage and bags. It can be time consuming to wait for them at airports and very inconvenient to move around, either on your backs or lugging them to different locations. The key is to pack light and systematically. Bring only those things you will actually need for your journey and leave those stuffed animals, extra shirts, or those huge books at home. Make a checklist so you won’t end up stashing everything into your backpack just to ensure you have not forgotten anything. You can also let the children carry their own bags, fill it with a couple of their clothes as well as with items that they might need a number of times while traveling, like wet wipes or their favorite binky or blanket, for example.

Color Coordinate Your Clothes

If you are planning to visit a number of popular tourist attractions, where people flock in like bees day in and out, it will be most convenient to color coordinate the entire family’s wardrobe to make it easy to spot your family members at any given time. Make sure you wear the same shade of tees or the same hat color while visiting a national park or a very populated beach. It will save you precious amounts of time trying to locate your son or your daughter in a throng of people.

Maximize Your Budget

While on vacation it is probably unwise to book yourself and family into a very expensive accommodation when you intend to spend the entire day at the beach or outdoors, anyway. Opting for those plush hotel rooms will just burn a hole in your pocket when you plan to make the most of the sun and outdoor adventures. It’s just money down the drain. Opting for vacation home rentals will allow you to enjoy a very comfortable accommodation at a fraction of a hotel room’s exorbitant price. Having kitchen facilities to cook meals can also save on costs too. The money you save from that hotel room can be spent on other things that will allow you to enjoy your vacation to the fullest, like a boat trip to a secluded island or snorkeling, perhaps.

In the heart of downtown Victoria, BC - Unit ID 205195

In the heart of downtown Victoria, BC – Unit ID 205195

Experience Local Food

Apart from the beautiful and amazing attractions, the local cuisine is also a pride of any destination you may be. It would be most practical, not to mention quite a welcome experience, to sample the local delicacies and dishes while on vacation. Try some of those local hole-in-the-wall restaurants and eateries that offer equally interesting and tempting food instead of opting for the famous restaurants or fast food outlets you otherwise see everywhere. Selecting a local restaurant will also allow you to possibly save on your food budget, learn more about your surrounding location and offers the option of meeting more locals too.

Plan Your Schedule

Of course, it goes without saying that you really have to iron out your schedule when you plan to go on a family vacation. Apart from clearing everyone’s schedule so you can all go on a trip, it is also a must that everyone has an ample amount of free time right after your vacation. It will allow for unplanned and unnecessary delays, like flight delays or booking mishaps. Naturally, you cannot schedule a weekend getaway to a far off island when your oldest daughter is scheduled to march to her graduation next Tuesday. It will surely be very stressful trying to catch the quickest flight when everything is delayed and the weather is not cooperating so your child will make it in time for her graduation.

What tips do you have that has helped make your last family vacation stress-free?

iTravex – Host guests, travel often!

If you are already a user of iTravex, I don’t have to explain the benefits to you. If not, consider trading your vacancies for get-aways in locations you select and times your choose.

Example: You own a vacation home in Arizona or rent out a basement suite in Aspen. Your property is listed on OwnerDirect.com but you have not opted into the free membership to iTravex that the OwnerDirect listing comes with as an added bonus.

logo-new-ix-square

As soon as you do, other owners like you can see your property in the iTravex listings. Let’s say it is near the end of the ski season in Aspen and your suite is empty. A couple from Denver (who own a condo in Maui that is listed on OwnerDirect.com) wants to spend a week there to enjoy some spring skiing and time away from work. After they inquire about your suite, you all decide to complete an iTravex transaction. Your suite usually rents for $300 a night, so your agreed iTravex points total is 7 * 300=2100 points. The couple transfers those points from their iTravex account to you, pays a 10% transaction fee ($210) as well as the cleaning fee you stated. Off they go onto a nice week-long trip to Aspen, all for $210 plus cleaning fee – while your property would have sat empty otherwise.

Now you start getting excited about the 2100 points in your iTravex account. The summer will be busy but you are thinking about a trip to Italy in the fall. You check the iTravex listings for Tuscany and Umbria, and send a few inquiries to properties that look romantic and are centrally located in the best wine region. A few days and some messages with the owner later, you have booked a week-long stay in a stone villa in Tuscany for 1800 points (and have paid the fee of $180). A win-win situation, trading your vacancies into vacation home stays in your dream locations.

I have been a regular user of iTravex, and have stayed in iTravex properties in Maui, Sun Valley ID, Missoula MT, Silver Star BC, Canmore AB and more. It works and is a great way to travel affordably. It works best in the off season when properties are not booked up with cash rentals, and closer to the travel date. iTravex is also incorporating new tools in the near future, such as Decision Day (the owner can determine on which day he/she would like to decide about the iTravex reservation) and a new website dashboard. All the information about your property from OwnerDirect.com transfers to iTravex without any extra work for you.

If you haven’t explored this opportunity yet, just opt into iTravex from your OwnerDirect.com dashboard.

Castles of the world

Whether you are a history buff, a lover of architecture or perhaps a royal family descendant, exploring the World’s great castles has never been easier with affordable accommodations that are unique and provide the comforts of a home away from home.

Ever since your Great Uncle Paddy shared that you are a descendant of an Earl from the infamous Kilkenny Castle in Kilkenny, Ireland, you have been itching to explore your family roots. When travelling in Europe, consider purchasing the popular Eurail Pass, or board a bus, and for the adventurous souls, rent a car and drive on the left side of the road! It is only a short trek from your Youghal, Ireland, accommodations to the grounds of Kilkenny Castle.

Waterfront Property - Unit  ID 202629

Waterfront Property – Unit ID 202629

Next head off with your Eurail Pass and make your way to Krakow, Poland. Krakow is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. It is a quick one hour trip to the ruins of the gothic Ogrodzieniec Castle, built in the 14th–15th centuries. This small town of approximately 4,400 people dates its origins back to the 11th century. The Ogrodzieniec Castle makes this quaint town not only a popular tourist destination but also a sought after spot for filming movies. It has been featured in the heavy metal band Iron Maiden’s video in 1984.

Two-Bedroom Flat Right at the Entrance to the Famous Kazimierz!

Two-Bedroom Flat Right at the Entrance to the Famous Kazimierz!- Unit ID 205560

While most of us generally think of Europe when castles are mentioned, what about Asia? The Himeji Castle, high a top a hill, is one of the finest examples of Japanese architecture. The Himeji Castle became Japan’s first registered UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. With Japan’s world-renowned public transit system, the largest metropolis in the world is at your finger tips: make Tokyo your base for adventures.

trendy and up-town mid-Tokyo neighborhood

Trendy and up-town mid- Tokyo neighborhood Unit ID 204922

Rounding off your great castles of the World tour wouldn’t be the same without a visit to the mystery shrouded Hogwart’s Castle in Orlando, Florida. There is something for everyone; old, young and for those of us who just want to act our own shoe size for a day or two. Shop, play and explore secret chambers before you board your ride. After a fun filled day come back to relax in your spacious self-catered Orlando, Florida home to unwind in the pool.

close to golf

Games room, pool, spa, can sleep 16! Unit ID 13715

While these examples of magnificent castles are merely a drop in the bucket, Owner Direct Vacation Rentals has accommodations in all corners of the World to cure you of your castle fix. Do you have a favourite castle and experience to share?