Chain Hotels versus B&Bs versus Airbnb

February 22, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

I have mixed feelings about bed and breakfasts (B&Bs). The best B&B experience I ever had was at the Kintner House Hotel in Corydon, Indiana. Corydon is notable for being the site of one of only two Civil War battles north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Also, it was Indiana’s first state capital. So the place was pretty special to me as an Indiana history buff.

I stayed there a few times over the years, while traveling on business, and had my favorite room, the Trunk Room. The staff even got to know me a bit and remembered me each time I visited.

Kintner House Inn, a normal B&B. Not available on Airbnb (I checked).

The Kintner House Inn in Corydon, IN

I also had a terrible B&B experience once when my wife and I traveled to Indianapolis for a wedding one August and realized the B&B in question was someone’s spare guest room in a 1940s ranch-style bungalow. The hostess kept the house too warm, and we had a secret back-and-forth fight over the AC setting. I would bump it down to 74, and she would bump it back up to 78. We did this at least two times during the night, but we never spoke of it over breakfast the next morning.

Compare that to the good luck I’ve had with chain hotels. When I stay at one of my favorite hotel chains — usually Holiday Inn, sometimes a Hampton Inn — I can always count on an identical experience free of any surprises or unexpected quirks.

On the other hand, that’s the downside of staying at chain hotels. It’s an identical experience free of any surprises or unexpected quirks.

And my limited Airbnb experience has been primarily positive. I’ve always rented an entire house so I can avoid my negative B&B experience, and the houses have always been clean, safe, and in decent neighborhoods. It’s a nice compromise, although my wife isn’t a fan.

If you’re trying to decide which option you want on your next family vacation, here are a few things to consider before you book your rooms for your vacation.

Chain Hotels

If you’re looking for a way to save money, a chain hotel may be your best bet. Depending on where you’re going, nights can be anywhere from $95 to $300 or more (especially in big cities near major event venues, e.g. Manhattan, downtown Chicago). The more they cost, the nicer the rooms. And there’s something great about feeling like a VIP when you step into a decked-out high-rise room.

You can also earn loyalty points, which can reduce the costs of future stays, or give you other rewards. You can earn these points by flying specific airlines or even dining at certain restaurants.

And like I said earlier, barring an unusual situation, you can rely on the kind of experience you’re going to get at a chain hotel. No surprises, no unusual sleeping arrangements, no weird room layouts. Many of them serve breakfast — my son loves the breakfast buffets at the Hampton Inn — so it’s a way to save a little money on food if you’re on a road trip.

At the same time, there’s something special about specialty boutique hotels, like The Galt House in Louisville, Colcord Hotel in Oklahoma City, or 21C hotels. They may not have loyalty programs, but they’re quite fancy and still affordable. I can’t recommend 21C enough if you want an interesting, but artistic hotel stay.

Bed & Breakfasts

I’ve stayed at more than a few B&Bs, and my one terrible experience notwithstanding, I’ve always enjoyed them. These are usually old historic houses in small towns or quiet neighborhoods, and they serve a nice little breakfast in the morning.

The one downside is that they’re not always ideal for families, especially if you have small kids. And they’re usually destinations, not stop off points like a hotel. They’re geared more toward the quiet weekend away from the mad rush of the city and constant nagging of social media and television.

The times my wife and I stayed at a bed and breakfast, it was strictly to relax, sleep in, and enjoy the town we were visiting. But we never took our kids because they weren’t made for little children, they didn’t have rollaway beds or cribs, and a lot of them didn’t have televisions or ways of entertaining little ones. At least the ones we visited were made this way, and we chose them intentionally for that reason. If you want a place to take your younger kids, check with the owner before you book your room so you’re not disappointed. Some B&Bs (and Airbnbs) even have “no children” rules, so be sure to check.

Airbnb

I appreciate Airbnb when I travel to a city where I’ll be staying for several days, but want something cheaper than a good hotel. You can get an entire house to yourself, or you can get a single guest room inside someone’s house, and I’ve always managed to get something for less than $120 per night. My wife took my oldest daughter to New York City for her 18th birthday, and they stayed in someone’s room in their apartment, and said it was a great experience.

I took the same daughter to Nashville, Tennessee for a conference and got the upper floor of a house (the owners lived in the lower level) in an east side neighborhood, just a few miles from where I needed to be. What was really great was all the hotels were sold out because it was the Country Music Awards, and no one had scooped up this house. It cost less than most of the hotels ($90/night versus $300) and quite a bit closer to where I needed to be.

An Airbnb is an ideal setup if you have a carload of kids and want to be able to spread out, but don’t want to be crammed into a single hotel room. You usually get cable television and wifi, there are plenty of beds and bedrooms (assuming you planned properly), and best of all, you get to control the house’s AC and heat.

Ultimately your sleeping arrangement comes down to your own personal preferences, but for the most part, I like the hotel option first, Airbnb second, and a regular bed and breakfast third. But part of that is because I’m a bit competitive, and like accumulating points at the hotels. However, if you want to stay at an Airbnb, they do have a point-sharing loyalty arrangement with Delta Airlines now. Just visit DeltaAirbnb.com and book your room through that site, and you can earn Delta SkyMiles.

Where would you stay? Which do you prefer? Do you have a go-to lodging choice, or do you pick it based on your own travel plans? Share your recommendations in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Take an Accessible Vacation: How to Travel with a Wheelchair or Scooter

February 8, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Living in the Land of the Mouse and enjoying all the parks, you quickly realize how many people need assistance or have mobility issues when they travel. Whether it’s someone who walks with a cane or walking stick, someone who needs some extra time getting around, or someone who uses a wheelchair or scooter just to get through their day-to-day.

Sylvia Longmire in Rome, taking her own accessible vacation

Sylvia in Rome, Italy on her Pride Mobility scooter

My good friend, Sylvia Longmire, brought this all home for me when she became an accessible travel agent — that is, someone who specializes in arranging travel for people with mobility issues. Sylvia has MS and uses a mobility scooter. And she travels like a maniac, jetting from international locale to international locale. Last year, she was in Ireland, Denmark, Greece, and The Netherlands, all on her scooter (or a rented wheelchair), so if anyone knows about finding and booking accessibility travel, it’s her.

If you or a family member has mobility and accessibility issues, there are plenty of ways to get around by plane, train, or automobile, and to get into almost any attraction, hotel, or restaurant you’d like. A lot of it depends on what kind of accommodations you need, and whether you do your research and ask the right questions beforehand.

Another thing to keep in mind, Sylvia says, is that while the United States has the Americans with Disabilities Act to improve wheelchair access in public places, it’s not always perfect. But countries like the UK, Australia, and Germany have similar laws, so there are options if you’d like to travel outside the US.

So if you have any kind of disability, but still want to travel, you can always do it yourself, but I recommend using a travel agent like Sylvia because she knows what to look for and what kinds of questions to ask the various places you’ll be visiting and hotels you’ll be staying at. Still, if you want to do it yourself, here are the questions you need to answer before you go.

“Does your hotel have a wheelchair friendly room?” This means a door wide enough to accommodate a chair, space enough to roll around, and in some cases, a roll-in shower with a fold-down seat. I’ve heard plenty of stories from Sylvia where she asked the hotel clerk if they had accessible rooms, only to find out that only meant they had a couple bars in the shower and near the toilet. Ask the hotel manager if you really want to be sure. (And don’t be afraid to ask for a photo of the facilities.)

“Are there wheelchairs available for rent at my destination?”
There are plenty of stories about someone’s primary (or only) wheelchair getting damaged on a flight, rendering it unusable. While you don’t need to rent a chair every time you travel, you should at least make sure there’s a backup option at your destination. Keep their number in your phone in case the need comes up.

“Does your attraction have a wheelchair ramp or other options?”
Visiting the beach doesn’t have to mean sitting back on the road looking out at the ocean while everyone else is out on the sand. There are special wheelchairs with fat tires that can roll out on the beach (imagine if a wheelchair and a dune buggy had a baby), and wheelchair mats called Mobi-Mats, which are roll-up mats that can be unrolled on the sand and allow wheelchair users to get right out on the beach.

Make a list of all the places you want to visit and contact each of them to ask if they have a wheelchair ramp and/or elevator to get to other levels. Most museums, concert venues, theaters, restaurants, ballparks, and other attractions have access and special seating (when needed), but you still want to call and make sure. Again, if you’re not sure, ask. Call a couple times if you have to, because you may get contradicting information.

What are my best options?

Sylvia on a Celebrity Cruise on Formal Night, part of another accessible vacation

Sylvia on a Celebrity Cruise on Formal Night

Cruise ships are usually a good option, because many of them cater to older adults who are already dealing with mobility issues. (Sylvia loves cruises because they’re the easiest ways for wheelchair users to see the world.) The ships are built to be wheelchair friendly, have wider doors, large public spaces, and room between the tables and chairs in the dining room. Still, make sure you ask the cruise ship booking agent about any special arrangements you need to make.

Theme parks are also usually a great bet, especially the bigger ones. From what I’ve seen, Disney World and Universal Orlando are both very accessible and they have special cars, elevators, and ramps for people with mobility issues. They also rent scooters at each park.

Bottom line: if you have a disability and you want to travel, there’s a way to do it. If you’re not sure how you’re going to get it done, you can do a ton of research or you can call a travel agent and ask them for some help.

Do you have accessibility or mobility issues to consider when you travel and take vacations? If you’ve got any tips, suggestions, or ideas, please share them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Sylvia Longmire (SpinTheGlobe.net, Used with permission)

Take Vacations During Off-Peak Travel Times

November 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

One of the greatest joys I have as a traveler is going to a normally-busy place sometime in the off-season and feeling like I have the entire place to myself. Mackinac Island, Disney World, overseas trips to Germany and The Netherlands. They all feel like a private playground when I visit while everyone else is at work or school.

It’s like I’ve discovered a secret location that only a few people know about. We all stroll casually around, smiling at each other, knowing we’re in on the same secret. You can walk up to rides, there are no lines for museums and exhibits, there’s no one on the beach, and you can get seated within minutes during normal meal times And you’re spoiled for choices when choosing a hotel room at an inexpensive rate. It’s glorious!

I’ve also been in Disney World, Chicago, and several resort towns during peak vacation times, and it’s — well, let’s just say I didn’t feel so special on those days. Hotels are expensive, traffic is evacuate-before-a-disaster heavy, you’ll wait for a week at a restaurant, and the crowds are so big that even an extrovert like me just wants to crawl under the covers for a week.

As a result, my family has been a regular practitioner of traveling during off-peak times. Hotels cost a lot less, there are often discount packages available for some destinations, and you can get a more personalized experience as the staff can focus more attention on you, or at least not be so harried when they try to help you.

So I’m very interested in Offpeak.io. It’s a website that analyzes the travel times in major cities and give you an idea of what’s a peak travel time versus an off-peak time in a chosen city, so you can book your travel plans accordingly. The site is still in beta, but what I’ve seen so far is pretty spot on.

You can use Offpeak.io to find out if there are any major events going on in your chosen city — sporting events, festivals, and holidays — what the weather should be like, and even check the average hotel rates and number of available hotels.

The results appear in a bar graph showing occupancy rates. The smaller the bar, the more rooms there are; the higher the bar, the more crowded everything is going to be. The hotel room rates follow the median price for a hotel room too: higher bars mean higher expected rates.

The occupancy/room rate graph from Offpeak.io will let you know about peak and off-peak travel times.

The occupancy/room rate graph from Offpeak.io will let you know about peak and off-peak travel times.

The end of January and early February are always off-peak travel times because there are no major holidays, and everyone is back at school (which makes running around Disney World a dream!). You can find hotel rooms for a median rate of $78 on a February weekday in Edinburgh, Scotland, but then the weather is cold and rainy at that time. A comparable hotel in Boston will cost $189, which is pretty cheap for Boston, but the city is going to be most likely buried under a foot of snow.

Offpeak.io has information on 111 cities, including Amsterdam, Mexico City, Osaka, Cape Town, and Melbourne. But no Indianapolis, Offpeak? Seriously? You’ve got Cleveland in there, but not Indianapolis? (Hint: The end of May is horrible for finding a hotel in Indianapolis, especially on the west side. If you’re not going for the Indy 500, stay on the northeast side.)

Be sure to pay attention to the weather in your area, and plan your travel methods accordingly. You may find a cheap hotel rate in Boston and Chicago in January or February, but you can almost count on the weather being a factor in any cancelled flights, highway closures, and hotel availability. On the other hand, when are you going to find hotel nights that cheap in Boston and Chicago at any other time of the year?

When do you like to travel? Do you go the same time as everyone else and just fight the crowds? (You’re a better person than I am!) Or do you like to go when no one else is around? Share your strategies with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Prepare for a Road Trip With Your Mobile Phone

November 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

I’m getting ready to leave for an 7-hour road trip today (Tuesday), from Orlando to Pensacola, so I can read some of my humor columns at their annual Foo Foo Festival. (By the time this publishes, it will be the day of my reading!) I’ve never made the drive, but I’ve traveled I-75 many times, so I know what to expect. But there’s still some planning and preparation I need to make before I head to Pensacola.

1. Figure out what time to leave.

The Waze app shows you the best and fastest routes to take on your road trip.

The Waze app shows you the best and fastest routes to take on your road trip.

I always show up to a conference or event the day before I have to speak, in case something goes wrong en route. But I’m also worried about traffic. I know what time traffic gets heavy around Gainesville, so I need to get through there a couple hours before or after. I use Waze to help me determine the worst times for rush hour traffic and plan accordingly. I also try to leave Orlando before rush hour begins for the same reason.

2. Check the weather on the route.
One year, when I lived in Indianapolis, we were in danger of being iced in 24 hours before we were scheduled to leave for a Florida trip. So we packed up in a hurry and headed out of town, getting about seven hours away and out of the range of the storm. We learned it’s always a good idea to be flexible in our plans if we’re traveling during a particularly harsh weather season. We have always turned to the Weather Channel’s trip planner function that will show you the expected weather along your route. This can let you plan for inclement weather and allow yourself a little extra time, or hunker down in a hotel, during a storm. Weather Underground has a similar trip planner on its website.

3. Pre-plan your stops.
While you don’t need to plan every gas stop and restroom break, you should at least have an idea of when and where you’ll break for meals. Don’t just do the whole fast food drive through thing though. For one thing, that’s a little boring for the palate, but it’s also not as healthy as getting a decent meal at a sit-down restaurant. Plus, the high carbs could make you sleepy in the afternoon. Instead, try some interesting and local restaurants; check out the RoadFood website or TVFoodMaps, an app that shows you all the different places that have been featured on the different TV programs.

4. Include a fun stop or two
There may be a few tourist sites you want to explore on your road trip, so allow yourself some extra road time. I’ve been wanting to see the Lodge cast iron cookware factory near Monteagle, Tennessee for several years, and I’m hoping this time will be my chance to see it. If you don’t have anything planned, leave some extra time anyway, in case you make an unexpected discovery along the way. Whether it’s an outlet mall, museum, or one of those small-town pecan stores — is it “pe-KAHN” or “PEE-cann?” — in Georgia, take a break and enjoy the actual “road” part of your road trip.

5. Entertain yourself

The Overcast app and Decoder Ring Radio Theatre podcasts, one of my favorites on every road trip

The Overcast app and Decoder Ring Radio Theatre podcasts, one of my favorites on every road trip

Normally, I would take a plane instead of making a 7-hour drive, but I have a few reasons for doing so. For one, it’s an issue of price — I’m taking my family, so it’s not an effective use of our money. For another, I enjoy driving, so I always love a good road trip. Plus, I get to catch up on some of my favorite podcasts while everyone else sleeps.

I recommend the Overcast app for podcasts, and the NPR news app for finding local stations along, or just use the NPR One app to listen to public radio news, shows, and podcasts on demand (like Decoder Ring Theatre’s Red Panda audio theater adventures; they produced a few of my radio plays a few years ago). And of course, there are a plethora of music streaming apps — Spotify, Pandora, iTunes Music — to choose from if you don’t like your local radio choices while you’re on the road.

How do you plan for a road trip? Do you plan and map out your route, or just jump in the car and head in that direction, hoping for the best? Share your strategies with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit (Waze): Erik Deckers (used with permission)
Photo credit (Overcast): Erik Deckers (used with permission)

Last updated by at .