Finding a Home Away from Home
Brian Sharples, the cofounder and CEO of HomeAway, came by the other day to talk about the company's plans to become the go-to source for vacation rentals. HomeAway recently secured $160 million in financing to fund its growth, which includes the purchase of VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner), one of the companies featured in our just-out story on how to rent an apartment in Venice. With growth come new challenges, however, and we're impressed with ways in which HomeAway is making renting a vacation property a less risky experience.
What HomeAway wants to do is be like Ebay without the auctions--bringing together buyers and sellers in a way that makes it easier for everyone involved. First, the company has introduced user-reviews to its site, so folks who have rented a house (or villa or apartment or whatever) can rate the property in several different categories--including how accurate the initial posting was, and how true-to-life the photographs were. We thought it was very clever to make sure that only proven renters can post ratings. Second, the company hopes to soon introduce technology that will facilitate payments--so you can use your credit card, or PayPal, to pay for the rental (versus having to deal directly with the owner, or worse, bank transfers).
According to Sharples, very few customers feel dissatisfied by their rental experience--and yet most travelers get nervous at the thought of renting someone else's house; there are just so many variables. What HomeAway would like to do is overlay the trust that any good brand can instill, so that travelers will believe that they're in capable hands. It's certainly worth keeping an eye on.
The Feel-Good Family Edition
On a Mexican Riviera cruise, my family experienced strong winds. Since my husband is constantly telling our son to lighten up and have fun, that's exactly what he did. Rebecca Abbott, Mesa, Ariz. My 4-year-old daughter had never had her hair cut before, so we decided to have it done in the Magic Kingdom. Since it was her first haircut, she was serenaded by a barbershop quartet and received a pair of Mickey Mouse ears along with a commemorative certificate. Amanda Carothers, Lake Village, Ark. While other kids were playing nearby, this little girl in Chongqing, China, sat with her book and whined pitifully to her mother in the shop. After the mother scolded her, she cried, which seemed to illustrate the universal truth that anywhere you go in the world, you'll find kids who really hate doing their homework. Teri Shikany, Danville, Calif. My daughter, Deena, came with me to sample blue crab in a Maryland seafood restaurant. Expecting a mountain of claws, we were shocked when our waitress arrived with whole crabs--guts, eyes, and all. After our waitress demonstrated proper crab picking and Deena tried a morsel, she asked, "Do you think we could go out for chicken tonight?" Kelly Curtis, Clear Lake, Wis. To celebrate our 34th anniversary, we took our son to Spain and returned to the beach where my husband had proposed. Lo and behold, the family who had operated the local restaurant was still there. Not only did they remember us, they showed us this 34-year-old photo on their computer! Do we keep in touch now? You bet. They're family. Mary Beth Nelson, Blue Jay, Calif. More Readers' True Stories
A Guide to Buying Guidebooks
Have you ever stood in front of a shelf full of guidebooks wondering which one to buy? While the options can seem overwhelming, there are smart ways to narrow the search. Rule out the obvious mismatches right away by figuring out who the book's target audience is. That way, you'll know if the book is right for you. If you're unsure of a brand's slant, scan the guide to your hometown and note what kind of restaurants, hotels, and activities receive glowing reviews. When choosing between a guidebook that covers an entire country and a book devoted to a smaller area, always pick the more specific one. So, if you're only going to Florence, pick a guide focused solely on that city, rather than one that covers all of Italy. Read the author bio closely. Publishers want readers to have confidence in their writers, and the bio section will point out the author's qualifications and special interests. As you read, think about what's not in the bio. If it's all fluff--or worse, nonexistent--that's not a good sign. Browse the index for a sense of how thorough the book is. Look specifically to make sure topics that are important to you are listed. To get an idea of how sensibly a guidebook is arranged, try a little role playing. Locate a museum or beach you know you want to see. Then, pretend you're hungry and want to find a nearby restaurant. If the search takes more than a few minutes, you probably want to find a guide that's easier to use.
Companies Giving Away Plastic Bags at Airports
Just in time for the busy holiday travel season, plastic bag companies are teaming up with airports to give travelers the clear bags they need to carry liquids and gels through airport security. Hefty (HeftyOneZipTravel.com) has announced it's giving away more than a million one-quart bags at airports across the U.S., including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. Glad Products (glad.com) is also offering thousands of free bags in airports such as Dallas/Fort Worth and San Francisco. These bags meet the TSA's "3-1-1" carry-on guidelines (tsa.gov): three ounces or smaller containers of liquids or gels inside a one quart-size, clear plastic zip-top bag; only one plastic bag allowed per traveler. Click here to download a handy PDF wallet card with the 3-1-1 requirements. Since many passengers may not understand these new restrictions, we think free bags are a smart way to keep travelers moving through airport security lines. Related Stories: Slide Show: Five Ways to Use a Ziploc Bag American Airlines Gives Out "Comfort Kits" New American and British Carry-On Rules Extra Mile Award Winners