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Home Away from Home (Really!)

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May 2007
Home Away from Home (Really!)

Ah, budget made, taxes paid, and America is ready to plan for summer vacation! What does our desi community do? Of course, we often load up with presents and go home to India to stay with family, but that trip is often in winter, does not occur every year, and does not always satisfy our very human need for a real vacation of rest, relaxation, and adventure.

Our special vacationing problems include cost. Americans purchasing vacation tickets often buy for one, two, three or four people—even if they are visiting extended family, the family is usually on the other end of the travel, not all going along together. The desi vacation group, on the other hand, is often much larger: it often starts with an extended family group including some grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, or it may start with a small group of friends and their families. Both travel and accommodation costs may be daunting!

While we can't do much about gasoline prices (and tickets for airline and train travel have gone up with gas prices), there are certainly options worth considering when it comes to lodging – other than just traditional hotel rooms.

Bigger Digs for Fewer Dollars

Picture yourself and your family doing all the vacation-y things that make you happy: posing with Mickey and Minnie outside Cinderella's Castle?rafting in Yellowstone National Park?browsing the quaint little shops of Nantucket. Now, instead of returning at night to a cramped, impersonal hotel room, envision yourself coming home to, well, a home. That's right. "For most people, especially families with children, staying in a vacation home is better in every way," asserts Christine Karpinski, director of Owner Community for HomeAway.com (the worldwide leader for vacation rentals on the Internet) and author of How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental Investment

In the past, people just didn't understand the benefits of staying in a vacation home. Maybe they assumed it cost too much, or maybe they simply didn't understand the logistics of finding the right place to stay. But the Internet has changed everything. Not only is it increasingly easy to find the perfect home, it's often less expensive than getting a hotel room!

HomeAway recently did a side-by-side comparison of two lodging options in Orlando, Florida: a 228-square-foot King Room at the Radisson Worldgate Resort (a popular three-star hotel) and a 1,700-square-foot private home with three bedrooms. For a party of one to two adults staying seven nights, the hotel room was slightly less expensive: $1003.00 vs. $1050.00 for the vacation rental house. But when you add more guests, the rental home becomes far more reasonable by comparison. While its price stays the same no matter how many people stay there (larger families rejoice), the hotel's price skyrockets: $1,746 for three to four occupants and $2,619 for five to six occupants.

What Do We Eat on Vacation?

After cost, a second major concern for Indians away from home is food. Staying in another home for our vacation solves this, too! Starting right from the morning masala chai, everyone's favorites can be available. Problems with satisfying special culinary needs of the elderly, the young, vegetarians, or those with other restricted diets will be gone. No more waste from huge restaurant servings! Gone will be the trapped feeling of having to choose between a fancy restaurant and same old fast food. And for parents of small children, it's far less stressful at "home" than choking down meals while praying that the next table doesn't have to endure a toddler tantrum!

There are many, many other reasons to choose a vacation rental home over a hotel:

Choice. There are plenty of vacation homes to choose from—houses or condos or chalets or cabins or villas or farmhouses. More and more people are realizing their dream of owning a second home, and renting it out when they're not using it. There's usually a vacation home within a two-hour drive of most metropolitan areas in the U.S. and abroad. And by visiting respectable websites—such as HomeAway.com, VRBO.com, CyberRentals.com, or GreatRentals.com—you can quickly find the one that's right for you. With vacation homes ranging from $400 a week budget properties to $25,000 a week luxury homes. You can find exactly what you're looking for no matter where your vacation takes you.

Space and Comfort. Think about the difference between a tiny hotel room, possibly with limited amenities, and an actual home with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, and kitchen, living, and dining areas. No contest, right? You know that crowded, slightly stir-crazy feeling you get in a hotel room? It doesn't happen in a vacation home. In fact, people who stay in private homes don't feel so compelled to wear themselves out cramming in every touristy activity in town. They don't mind just hanging out in the living room and relaxing more, which after all, is what a vacation is supposed to be!

Authentic Experience: Live like a Local. No one wants to feel or look like a tourist, an "outsider." When you stay in someone's home, you get a more authentic experience. You can stay in a private home in Italy where the bread trucks come by every morning! You're just not going to get those kinds of experiences in a hotel. Plus, rental owners often provide special touches that make the experience more homely. Beach cottages might come equipped with sand buckets and shovels for the kids; woodsy ski-resort-area cabins might have a Crock-Pot and a special chili recipe. Those little special touches really make a huge difference.

Get Inside Information from the Homeowner. One big reason vacation home renters get to "live like locals" is that most homeowners love to provide their guests with helpful hints. They'll point you to the best restaurants in town, the best hiking trails, and the best bike rental places. They'll tell you who has the cheapest gas, which roads to take to avoid traffic, and which attractions are overpriced "tourist traps." If you're staying in New England, a homeowner might tell you things like "Never buy lobster from the grocery store; go to the docks and get it fresh." You really are a guest in her home, and she wants you to have a fabulous time.

Laundry. Doing laundry at "home" costs much less, of course. Moreover, being able to bring fewer clothes is not only a sanity saver during packing, it's a space saver for those long car rides.

If the weather's bad, there's more to do indoors. Most vacation rental homeowners provide DVD players, board games, playing cards, and other family-friendly diversions. Also, more than half of all rental properties now have Internet access. Rain or shine, anyone with kids knows they don't have the attention span to do vacation stuff all day. Sometimes they just want to unwind with a movie—which also gives you a chance to relax, too.

Privacy for Mom & Dad, Friends, Grandparents. More space and more separate bedrooms are appreciated by all ages. When adults want some privacy on vacation, there's nothing better than being able to have the kids sleep in a separate bedroom down the hall. Adjoining hotel rooms just aren't the same. Not only is it going to probably be more expensive, most people feel a little uneasy about having their kids in a separate hotel room. Staying in an actual home provides a greater sense of privacy and safety.

Bring Fido or Fluffy. That's right. Many vacation property owners accept pets, which makes their homes especially attractive to families who can't bear to part with their four-footed friends for a week. Even if you normally drop your pets off at the kennel, you might want to reconsider. By taking them with you, you can save hundreds of dollars on boarding costs. Just make sure the person you're renting from gives you the go-ahead.

Once you go the vacation home route, you probably won't go back to hotels!

By Suzanne Sen

[Suzanne Sen grew up on the perfect beach in Maine (Vacationland) and now spreads the joy by renting the home and cottage to happy vacationers.]


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