When to Rent

By Brad Tuttle
October 5, 2008

Got something specific in mind for the high season? Start your search at least six months in advance.

If you're going to Mardi Gras, Oktoberfest, or any event that draws crowds from around the world, secure your rental at least a full year ahead of time.

During the off-season at popular tourist spots, such as summer in Miami, winter in Venice, or fall in North Carolina's Outer Banks, you'll likely find rentals at the last minute. Since there is plenty of supply and limited demand, many owners will knock off 10 percent or more for bookings made within two or three weeks of arrival. Ask for a discount even if the owner doesn't advertise one.

As a general rule of thumb, give yourself a month's time to search listings, contact owners, do more research, and negotiate. At the very least, you'll need a week to make all the arrangements.

Keep reading

Rent by Number

1 Choose a destination Consult guidebooks and visitors bureaus, ask friends for their input and recommendations, and do all the research possible to figure out where you'd like to rent. There are hundreds of thousands of vacation rentals available around the globe, so be as specific as you can to winnow down the choices. 2 Weigh your options Start by skimming the rental listings on a few websites for the location you've chosen (see Sites to Search on page 49). Note the sort of properties available, what you get for the money, and the typical rental policies, such as minimum-stay requirements. Compare your results with the nightly lodging rates charged by local hotels, real-estate agents, or management companies, which are often posted on the same sites. And then be honest with yourself: Are you really OK without maids, room service, an on-site restaurant, or hotel amenities? Decide which type of accommodations makes the most sense for you. 3 Rank your priorities Most sites let you sort listings according to the number of bedrooms, the price, and other variables, which can be a huge time-saver in finding what you're looking for. Don't be too rigid in defining your search, though—you may be willing to have one less bedroom if the location is exactly where you want. Leave yourself some wiggle room. 4 Contact the rentals on your short list First, ask if your desired dates are free. Even if they appear to be available on an online calendar, the site might not be up-to-date. Be sure to ask for the exact address of the rental as well as the layout of the property, more photos, and any other details you're curious about. Some owners have separate sites where they have more information about the lodging than what appears on the rental site. E-mailing is the best method for the first contact; give the owner 24 hours to answer. If it takes much longer than that, he or she could be just as slow to respond if there's a problem. 5 Do your own research Compare the listing with what you find when you plug the address into the satellite view on Google Maps or Google Earth. Scope the area for nearby attractions both bad (factory complex) and good (local park). The property might be three blocks from the beach as stated, but there could be a four-lane highway in between. Do a regular Google search with the rental's address or the owner's phone number in quotes. The results will reveal whether the property is listed at more than one website—an indication that the owner is serious about renting—or only listed on a single site. Reputable owners often run multiple listings for their properties. Your Google search might also bring up complaints, which you'll want to review carefully. 6 Call your top choice(s) Be candid and up-front about your expectations and your concerns: Tell the owner that you have kids, that you want to walk to the market every day, or that your husband is a light sleeper and needs a quiet neighborhood. Ask specific questions like "Where do you think the baby should sleep?" The answer you get, such as "Not in the front of the house, because traffic might wake her up," may well be revealing. You could handle these queries via e-mail, but it's easier to get a sense of a person over the phone. Be wary if he or she is evasive, impatient, or curt. Also, be cautious when someone seems to be telling you exactly what he or she thinks you want to hear. Conscientious owners want to find good matches for their properties and won't be so eager to rent to just anyone. 7 Check references A lot of websites have pages for renters to post comments on, but the bulk of properties have no reviews at all. The few reviews that are there tend to be positive, which is unsurprising considering that owners can generally edit or delete comments at will. Vacation-home owners are also in control of supplying references, so it's difficult to get an unbiased opinion, but ask anyway. And then call those references rather than using e-mail, because people tend to open up more in phone conversations than online. 8 Try negotiating If the listing says the owner only rents on a monthly or biweekly basis, ask if he or she can make an exception. Most owners are willing to deal at least a little bit, especially if your dates are coming up soon. (Then again, some owners raise their prices at the last minute.) Either way, it's fair to ask for at least 10 percent off if you're arriving within two weeks. Think back to the browsing stage: Did most rentals offer a seventh night free or waive the cleaning fee for guests staying more than five days? Ask for the same. 9 Know your different payment options If you're not comfortable with the owner's suggested payment procedure, request an alternative method. Credit cards are easiest and offer renters some level of protection, and more and more vacation- home owners in North America accept plastic via PayPal (an online payment service that keeps your credit card and banking details hidden from the recipient). For overseas rentals, you're more likely to be asked for a bank-to-bank transfer (see the sidebar at left). If you don't want the extra hassle or costs, and the owner is game, try to hold the dates with a credit card or a partial deposit via check, and then pay the rest in cash on arrival. Most owners are happiest with cash, anyway. Never—ever—pay with Western Union or a money order. They're virtually untraceable, so in the rare case of a scam, your money could be gone for good. 10 Read the contract Make sure everything is clearly spelled out before putting any money down. Start with the basics. Check dates and dollar amounts. Home owners will often draw up all their rental contracts themselves, and mistakes can happen. Also double-check that you're renting the correct property. After searching through hundreds of listings, it's easy to get mixed up. Finally, keep a copy of the contract for your records. 11 Buy insurance Most vacation-rental cancellation policies are very strict, which is understandable considering they don't have a walk-up business as hotels do. The later you cancel, the stiffer the penalties. Buying travel insurance is an especially good idea in these situations because you have to pay the full amount up-front; if something happens and you can't travel, you could lose most or all of your money. Compare travel insurance policies at or 12 Prepare for your arrival Make sure you know the procedure for getting the keys. Some owners mail them out; others have a code to unlock a key box on the door. You should also ask the owner for tips on restaurants, babysitting services, farmers markets, grocery delivery, shopping, hiking, or whatever sorts of activities you're interested in. Many vacation-home owners have advice typed up and waiting for you at the rental house, so ask them to e-mail you a copy of it in advance. Don't forget to print out the directions, the owner's phone number and e-mail address, and the number to call if there's a problem with the property—the owner should have someone available 24/7 in case of emergency. E-mail yourself the same information so you can still get a hold of it even if you misplace the hard copy en route. 13 Go in with realistic expectations No matter how much scouting you do beforehand, there's always some sort of surprise when you open the door. Rentals are not hotels, and no property is perfect. Your best bet is to embrace the quirks: Toasters break. Wallpaper can be ugly. Beds may be too firm or too soft. Give the owner the benefit of the doubt, and don't let minor problems ruin your vacation. 14 Peruse the log Check out the guest log and read through the comments from former visitors. They'll clue you in on what people loved (or hated) about the place, and they can also offer good suggestions on what to do while you're in the area. 15 Got a problem? Call immediately Contacting the owner as soon as possible is the best—and often the only—way to resolve an issue. Be cordial, but be firm. The problem doesn't have to be major to merit mentioning; let someone know about the crack in the bathroom window or the stains on the living room rug. At the very least, you want the owner to know you weren't responsible for them. It's also OK to call if you can't find beach chairs or the promised lobster pot. If you need an item that's not in the house, ask if you can be reimbursed if you buy one and leave it there. Most owners want guests to have enjoyable stays, if only for recommendations and return visits. 16 Leave the place in good shape Follow the instructions in the contract and those detailed at the house. That might mean taking out the garbage or sweeping sand off the deck. (Not doing so will likely inconvenience the next renters more than the owner.) Share your insights with a review in the log and on rental websites. Then do the same for the owners: Send an e-mail thanking them and giving them feedback. 17 Get your deposit Call if your deposit is not returned by the agreed-upon time, and if the deposit is less than you expected, get an explanation immediately. (The discrepancy could be due to a cleaning fee or a tax you overlooked.) If there's a dispute or the owner doesn't return your calls, contact the listing site. Its reputation is at stake, and it may be willing to mediate. Small-claims court is a last resort.

Vancouver Goes for the Green

In this case, it's what's on the inside that counts. Unlike most pieces of modern architecture, the Richmond Oval is built to be admired from the inside out. A glass façade on the structure's north side gives clear, expansive views of the North Shore Mountains. The venue's three other sides are wrapped in a polycarbonate glaze in varying shades of blue. The design aims to maximize natural light for the 8,000-seat speed-skating track. The structure—located across the Fraser River from Vancouver's main airport—is also notable for its innovative wooden roof. Made from trees killed by the recent pine-beetle infestation in British Columbia, the roof showcases a practical use for the once-discarded material. PHOTO Get a look at some Eco Chill action. And no, "eco chill" is not what environmentalists do to relax. An ice rink needs to transfer heat energy out of water to make it freeze. Normally that energy is wasted. But the UBC Thunderbird Arena—an addition to the University of British Columbia's ocean-side campus—has installed Eco Chill, an energy-recycling system that collects and reuses the energy needed to maintain the ice. The largest of the complex's three ice arenas will hold more than 7,000 people and be a battleground for men's and women's ice hockey during the Games. The exterior is modern but won't win any style accolades. PHOTO Even stadiums can be "recycled." Vancouver's push for sustainability in its new Olympic venues would be pointless if it built them for 16 days' worth of events and then never used them again. The city is making sure that each structure can serve the community long after the Olympic torch has been extinguished. For instance, the Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Centre, near Queen Elizabeth Park, includes a 100,000-square-foot curling venue that will be converted into a multipurpose community recreation center after 2010. Next door, there's a 60,000-square-foot aquatic center. Not only will the two venues be connected by an indoor concourse, but they'll also share energy. Waste heat from the curling rink's refrigeration plant will be captured and reused to heat parts of the venue next door. PHOTO Think of them as the most energy-efficient residences since, um, ancient Greece. It's only in recent decades that Olympic housing has become truly wasteful. Vancouver's Olympic Village aspires to regain old-fashioned energy efficiency without sacrificing modern comforts. The Village will house 2,800 athletes and officials in mid- and low-rise residences that will line False Creek, the short waterway that divides downtown from the rest of the city. Space heating in the residences will be provided in a clever way: Rather than force air through vents, the Village will pump water through thin tubes in the ceiling, radiating heat in the winter and cooling the rooms in the summer. The community will heat its water by capturing excess heat from the municipal wastewater treatment system. In another ecofriendly move, rainwater will be collected and circulated through the properties, nurturing roof gardens and other agricultural plots. PHOTO And you thought roller coasters were thrilling! Check out The Whistler Sliding Centre, a combined bobsled, luge, and skeleton sliding track, already generating buzz for its crazy speed and challenging course. On Whistler's Blackcomb Mountain, the track boasts the highest vertical drop of any international sliding track: 152 meters, or roughly 500 feet. Good views from the spectators' areas are promised. (There's even a waterfall at the start area.) Developers carved the 1,458-meter-long course out of the existing landscape to preserve as many of the original trees as possible. The resulting shade means less energy is needed to chill the track. And speaking of keeping cool, the track's refrigeration plant uses energy-efficient ammonia rather than ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons. PHOTO Imagine 400,000 different plants indigenous to British Columbia. Now picture those plants on a six-acre plot on top of the refurbished Vancouver Convention Centre—also home to the international broadcast and media center for the 2010 Olympics. And if the media seem especially long-winded in covering the Games, it may be because they're overdosing on that extra oxygen being produced on the "green roof"—the largest in Canada. The next innovation on tap for this waterfront venue is a new water filtration system, which will treat wastewater and reuse it to irrigate the roof. The system will also desalt ocean water for use in toilets. PHOTO

America, the Cheap

Because of the tanking dollar, everything from food to iPods to designer clothes is downright cheap right now for Europeans traveling to New York. And they are descending on the city en masse—you can hear more French, Italian, German, and Spanish in the clothing stores on Fifth Avenue these days than English! But even if their euros and pounds go further than usual, most Europeans still love to find a bargain. Here are some tips from 12 visitors in the city this month: Sara Yanez, San Sebastián, SpainFor anyone who craves Spanish food, Yanez says to check out El Faro, a 70-year-old Spanish restaurant in Greenwich Village that has murals of flamenco dancers on the walls and serves everything from tapas to the house-specialty paella (212/929-8210,, tapas from $6). "The prices are good for New York, and the food is amazing," she says. "It was recommended to me by friends from home." PHOTO Josefin Dahl and Marcus Viktorsson, Malmö, SwedenDahl suggests visitors hit up Forever 21 for great deals on women's clothing (212/941-5949, "It's a good fit for our body types," she says of fellow Swedish women. She also says the Marc by Marc Jacobs store in the West Village sells the designer's wares at rock-bottom prices (212/924-0026,, accessories, sunglasses, and flip-flops $5-$10; T-shirts $30). Viktorsson was looking for baseball caps and Converse shoes, which he says you can find for cheap all over the city. "I've bought several pairs of Converse to take back with me," he says. PHOTO Anna Martinsson and Gitte Nørgaard Grytli, Malmö, SwedenThe two said they were headed to Chinatown to buy knockoff designer purses from the stalls on Canal Street. Their friends back home also asked them to pick up iPods at the Apple Store in SoHo (212/226-3126,, as well as digital cameras, because the exchange rate makes the prices far better here. "The Apple Store is great," Grytli says. "But really any store that sells electronics is going to be a deal." PHOTO Fritscher Leo, AustriaResearch restaurants before coming to New York, she advises. "Some places are not as cheap as you'd think, so it's better to look up places before you arrive and know where the inexpensive restaurants are located," Leo says. She learned that the hard way after eating bad food at expensive places—none of which she wanted to mention. New York magazine publishes an annual "Cheap Eats" issue—a great source for affordable restaurants ( Or read Budget Travel's feature on the best places to eat, shop, and play in Brooklyn. PHOTO Caren Downie, London, EnglandDownie, who was in town for New York Fashion Week, loves shopping in SoHo boutiques—some of which can be affordable, if you look for items on the sale racks. Alternatively, seek out sample sales where designer clothes are drastically marked down; a comprehensive list is published at "But I don't just come for the deals," she says. "New York is a great place to get fashion ideas and to see the latest trends." PHOTO Robert Bready, London, EnglandThe value of the British pound in the U.S. helps when Bready shops at his favorite clothing store, Freeman's Sporting Club in the Lower East Side (212/673-3209, Dress shirts start at $148, but with the exchange rate, that comes out to 80 pounds. "They've got a really nice, affordable selection," he says. PHOTO Generoso Capaccio and Elizabeth Musumeci, Milan, ItalyThe ultimate way to save in New York: Buy a pass to the city's Gray Line tourist bus (212/247-6956,, $44 for two days). Capaccio and Musumeci say they've been using the bus like a taxi to get around the city. They also recommend picking up a tourist discount card at the information counter at Macy's in Herald Square, which is good for deals on everything in the store (212/695-4400, "We bought Champs and Tommy Hilfiger shirts—the prices are right to buy and buy," says Capaccio. PHOTO Gregor Praher and Nina Steinecker, Vienna, AustriaSteinecker says they've relied on the Dorling Kindersley (DK) guidebook for New York to help them find deals (available at for $25). "We love this book. It's been great for our travels," she says. Her favorite spot in the city is the Peanut Butter & Co. Sandwich Shop in Greenwich Village, which sells inventive sandwiches made with peanut butter (212/677-3995, Another tip: "Don't book a hotel room with breakfast included to save money. It's not worth it. Go to a Starbucks instead," she says. PHOTO

Trip Coach: September 23, 2008

Conner Gorry: Aloha, folks! This is Conner Gorry and I'm thrilled to be talking to you about Hawaii's Big Island. Away we go! _______________________ Philadelphia, Pa.: I will be on the Big Island for 3 days in November with my parents, who are in their 80s. We are starting in Hilo for one day, and then I am hoping that I can in one day drive from Hilo to Kona and have enough time to spend looking at Volcanoes National Park. Is that a good one-day activity? Conner Gorry: Hello, City of Brotherly Love. What you have in mind will be rushed and tiring, with most of your time spent in the car. While you can drive to Kona from Hilo in one day and stop at the National Park en route, it's not ideal. Nevertheless, as I'm sure you've heard, the park is awesome and not to be missed so if a day's all you have...however, one of the the star attractions—Crater Rim Dr—is closed from the Jaggar Museum to the Chain of Craters Rd junction due to high levels of sulfur dioxide chuffing from Halema'uma'u Crater. See the response to S Lake Tahoe for info about air quality. I figure it probably wouldn't be wise (and certainly won't be enjoyable) for your parents to breathe in all that toxic air. If it's in your budget, Id recommend a helicopter tour instead—that way you can see the forest, beaches and lava for which the island is famous. For park closures, see _______________________ Phoenix, Ariz.: I have heard there is a small company on the Big Island that rents a mini-van out and gives you a map—you can see the Island on your own, camp in the van and have a leisurely trip vs. the resort experience. My husband and I are fit and cheerful, in our 50s—would just be the 2 of us—are the vans comfy? Are mosquitoes a problem? What's the best time to go? Summer? May is a good travel month for us. Is anyone familiar with this company? We love to hike and visit waterfalls and beaches...snorkeling is important too. Thanks, Madeline and Ken Conner Gorry: Oh, you are after my own heart, Madeline & Ken. I actually considered researching the guide in one of these babies (and did end up renting a VW pop top van parked on a lava flow for a lot of the write up at a great off-the-grid place called lova lava land) but didn't in the end for logistical reasons. I think the company you're referring to is GB Adventures which rents out VW Westfalia vans for cruising and camping around the island. The good: you can get to all the waterfalls, hiking, beaches and snorkeling spots the little van will take you. You can sleep where you park and will meet many people this way—whether you want to or not! Speaking from experience, V-dub pop tops are comfy in their way. Unless you're really tall, you can stand up in them with the top popped and there's ample room to store stuff, move around, etc. There's one double bed that fold up for storing during the day. Again, if you're tall, you'll probably hang off the bed. Im 5'6" and had no problems and loved sleeping "under the stars" but where the critters couldn't get to me. These campers are in good condition and most have stove, frdge and a mini-fridge for total independent exploring. The not so good: gas prices on the Big Island are among the highest in the nation ($4.30 a gallon in Hilo at last check; see, so consider that when working out your budget. More important, even if the van is in tip-top condition, it probably won't have much pickup or speed and will complain if you go off paved roads (many of the best sites on the Big Island are up hills or down dirt or lava roads). The Saddle Road passing between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, for instance, will probably be knocked off your itinerary in the van. GB also rents tents, sleeping bags and pads, coolers and other stuff to make your trip fun and comfortable. I say go for it, I wish I had! Mosquitoes are rarely a problem on the Big Island, except at lower levels like in the Ka'u district. May is a great time to come because you'll beat the summer rush. Have fun! _______________________ Colorado Springs, Colo.: We want to spend a week on the Big Island with my parents, our son and his wife, and our daughter. We would like to rent a house. What is the best way to find a place and what area would be best for us? We want to be able to get to the beach although we don't have to be on the beach. Our children (mid 30's) want to do some diving. —Jo Anne Conner Gorry: You've got a great strategy, Jo Anne—renting a house and using it as a homebase is the way to go for a shorter trip. Many people make the mistake of moving 2 or 3 times during the week to see all the Big Island has to offer. Since that's impossible anyway (and gobbles precious time packing, checking in and checking out), it's better to define what sites and activities are most exciting to you, find lodging you like, and fan out from there. But don't forget—on the Big Island, size matters. This is a big island and driving times can be long, so consider geography when choosing a place to stay so that you can maximize your quality time here. So to your question. You're clear about what you want to do: be near the beach, have family time and dive a bit too. The last defines the rest: you'll want to be within easy striking distance of Honokohau Harbor, where almost all the dive companies leave from. For my money, that means Captain Cook or Kealakekua Bay since it puts you near the Captain Cook Monument, the island's top snorkeling spot accessed on a kicking kayak trip, the inspirational (and kinda spooky) Place of Refuge, some terrific lesser-known beaches (Ho'okena and Miloli'i farther afield), plus some terrific restaurants. Two good sites for combing the homes for rent are and Incidentally, sweet Honokohau Harbor has some cool doings that you shouldn't miss—whether you're diving or not. Happy hour schooners (18 ounces of ice cold beer for $2.50!) at the Harbor House Restaurant where the local gossip is as entertaining as the boat traffic passing below your harborside table; Honokohau Beach with its salt-n-pepper lava and coral shoreline, ancient heiau and unbeatable sunsets; and the coastal Ala Hele Ike Trail to Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park. You can also watch the boats coming in to weigh their catch for the day here—if you're lucky, someone may have landed a grander (over 1000 pounds)! P.S. The nightime manta ray dive is a must for the kids and even if you don't dive, you can go on the same boat and snorkel with these gentle giants. _______________________ Pine Bush, N.Y.: We are going to be on the Big Island in July and would like to find the best snorkeling spot in Kona. Can you help? Thank you, Barb Conner Gorry: Hey, Barb. I have to be honest, I was totally skeptical about what all the guidebooks and brochures called "the best snorkeling spot" in the whole island, Ka'awaloa Cove (usually referred to as Captain Cook Monument/Kealakekua Bay). Sounded like a bunch of hype to me and I was sure it would be packed with loud, splashy tourists scaring all the fish away. But, wow! This is it. In the kayak paddling across the cove (should take about 30-45 minutes on the way there, but you're fighting a bit of a headwind; it's faster on the return) you'll probably be escorted by dolphins. A wickedly exciting experience but keep your distance—100 feet or so—since they rest in this bay and they need it. Upon arrival, gently pull your kayak up on the rocks, don the gear and ease on in. Right there off the rocks in three feet of water, is teeming with tropical fish. There's some nice coral too, but it's the variety and quantity of fish that are the big draw. If you're an experienced swimmer/snorkeler, swim out about 150 feet to where there's an underwater cliff and everything drops away and you're hovering over the deep blue abyss. It's possible to see whales farther out here too. Bring a picnic, lots of liquids and an underwater camera if you've got it. Kayak rentals are available all along Hwy 11 heading towards Captain Cook—rent the night before to get an early start. This is a popular spot, so please follow local conservation advice to keep it clean and alive for everyone! _______________________ South Lake Tahoe, Calif.: We were on the Big Island several years ago and I had some throat irritation and mild breathing problems and was told that it was caused by the "vog" from the volcano. It reminded me of the irritation I experienced working in the inner city of LA in the 70's from the smog. I know that the volcano doesn't follow a set schedule but is there any way I can find out when it is more or less active before I plan another trip? Like a volcano update site? And what could I have done to counteract the effects? Thanks. Conner Gorry: Hi there, Tahoe. Well, seeing as you're used to that crisp, clean mountain air, I can see how the 'vog' would be irritating. And you're right, there's no set schedule on the volcano. Having said that, Kilauea is very active lately and oddly so: Halema'uma'u crater was closed earlier this year when it erupted, shooting rocks and gases into the air. This is the first time there was an eruption at this crater since 1982. The stretch of Crater Rim Dr between the Jaggar Museum and the Chain of Craters Rd is closed as a result of all this activity and the high sulphur dioxide levels. There's not much you can do to protect yourself but to steer clear of the areas with the most sulphuric activity. To learn what part of the volcano is active, the exact levels of SO2 in the air and how to visit the volcano safely, see these helpful websites: • for the last 24 hours' activity on the volcano • current conditions plus a detailed map showing where the current lava flow is entering the sea • shows detailed, dated reports on air quality, including SO2 and particulate levels _______________________ Jackson, Wyo.: Hiya! My girlfriend is a travel nurse & is thinking about going to the Big Island of Hawaii next year. She wants me to come visit her, but after searching for flights, I noticed they are very expensive! I would stay with her in Honolulu for about 3 weeks to a month & would have to fly out of Jackson Hole Wyoming in April. Any thoughts on how to score a low-price flight? Someone told me once that Wednesday morning at about 1am EST is the best time because everything resets. Is there any truth to this statement? Thanks! Rose Conner Gorry: Hi, Rose. From your question, I think you may be making the mistake many of us have made before visiting Hawaii: Honolulu is on the island of Oahu, not the Big Island—two worlds apart! But your question about affordable airfare is oh so valid these days for anywhere in Hawaii, so to it: airlines do reset fares as you mention, but it's hard to work that system when you're talking about a destination like Hawaii, serviced by only a handful of carriers, and a departure point like Jackson Hole, which will require a connection or two (usually Phoenix, Denver and/or LA). I'll assume you've tried sites like Orbitz and SideStep which compare all carriers and prices. _______________________ San Clemente, Calif.: How bad is the "VOG" right now in the Kailua/Kona area of the Big Island? I've heard that two new vents have opened up at Kilauea and the air-quality along the west side is pretty poor. Conner Gorry: Vog stands for volcanic fog and it's created by the 275 tons of sulfur dioxide pumped out daily from Kilauea when it mixes with water vapor and carbon dioxide. Since the Big Island receives a reliable northeasterly tradewind, when vog levels are up, it tends to hang over the Kona Coast and as far south as Kau. As San Clemente points out, that can make for lousy air quality and you'll hear locals complaining about it. For current air quality, see the sites recommended to South Lake Tahoe. _______________________ Nashville, Tenn.: When visiting the Big Island of Hawaii, I find the white lava rock graffiti placed on the black lava flows very unattractive, unnatural, and defacing of something I paid to travel many miles hoping to enjoy. Am I the only person who feels that the graffiti destroys the experience? Are there any programs to undo and end this modern tradition? Conner Gorry: Howdy, Nashville. I see where you're coming from and I personally wouldn't waste my precious vacation time pulled over by the side of the road on a blazing hot lava flow to write CG + JS in coral. But to each his own. But look: there are miles and miles and miles of lava flows without a speck of graffiti—many more flows without graffiti than with, in fact. What you're referring to is only on the North Kona-South Kohala stretch of Hwy 19 (Queen Ka'ahumanu Hwy). For graffiti-free flows, head to the national park, ka'u, or the saddle road. you'll see plenty! As for programs to get rid of the graffiti, I don't know, but I'd say the Big Island has bigger fish to fry including garbage disposal, marine conservation and clean up, invasive species, preserving traditional culture and land use issues. _______________________ Milwaukee, Wisc.: Hello! Thanks for taking my question. We're traveling to the Big Island on Feb. 27 and leaving Mar. 10. We're taking our two kids, who will be 5 and 3. Part of the time (4 days) will be at the Fairmont Orchid for a conference and we've rented a house in Kailhua Kona for the remainder. The kids are great travelers. What should we see and do? We're thinking of seeing the volcano, taking a helicopter ride, snorkeling, seeing the tropical regions, etc, etc. There's so much to do and see! What do you recommend for worthwhile side trips and experiences given the ages of the kids? Thanks for your insight. Conner Gorry: You're going to love the Fairmont! Don't miss the spa without walls—yum. The helicopter ride will stay with them and you forever—if you've got the $$$, do it. Make sure your helicopter has all window seats and wait for a crystal clear day if you can. The volcano is also a must. Start with the Junior Ranger program at the visitors center to get them into the swing of things. The gift shop has cool kids' stuff too. Then onto the thurston lava tube and pu'u loa petroglyphs, keep your eye out for the nene geese walking around (but please don't feed them!). The 2400 degree F glass blowing studio near Volcano Village is also a fun kids activity near here. A trip into Waipio Valley at the end of the road on the Hamakua Coast—by covered wagon with the wee ones would be a great option. The river/beach at the base of the valley is tons of fun, but watch the undertow. Just above Kailua-Kona is the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary; Hawaiian Walkways—one of the island's premier tour outfitters—does a great 3-hour tour here. Also see if the phenomenal Three Ring Ranch Animal Sanctuary is offering tours again. Here the kids will delight in meeting David & Goliath (giant African tortoises), Zoe the blond zebra and the rest of the menagerie. Snorkeling for kids is recommended at: Kahalu'u Beach (also known as Turtle Beach for obvious reasons!), the tide pools at Kapoho in Puna, and Kukio Bay (accessed through the Four Seasons). A catamaran trip to Kealakekua Bay for snorkeling near the Captain Cook Monument (the fish are beautiful even at three feet depths here) is another option. Have fun! _______________________ Millersville, Md.: We would like suggestions for early morning activities (pre-dawn). We will be visiting Big Island Oct. 4th through the 7th and will be trying to adjust to 6-hour time difference. Staying in Captain Cook at a B&B. Two adults in late 50's. We are very interested in the volcano NP. Thank you. Conner Gorry: It's great when needs and interest dovetail like this. The National Park is open 24 hours, so you can roll up there at any time that floats your boat. From 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. is a wonderful time to be in the park for many reasons. First, you'll likely have the place to yourself. I'm always amazed how late people show up to witness the spectacular. At this time you can catch the moon setting and the sun rising and you'll have the park all to yourself. I suggest driving to the end of Chain of Craters Road, finding a comfy piece of lava and breaking out a blanket, thermos of coffee and some of the sinful mini-poundcakes from the Kilauea General Store. Once you have some light, you can explore the Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs—there are more than 20,000 images pecked into stone here. Note that the Crater Rim Dr from Jaggar Museum to Chain of Craters Rd Junction is closed. see Another option is watching the sky lighten from the top of Mauna Kea. From up here, you'll see more stars than you've ever seen at once (this mountain, sacred to native Hawaiians, has some of the world's clearest stargazing and the astronomical observatories to prove it) fading into the purple, pink, and blue of day as the sun rises over Hilo way. Keep in mind that driving to either the park or the mountain from Capt Cook will eat time, so your first day you might want to take a quick ride down to Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Park, otherwise known as the Place of Refuge to watch daybreak over the 15-ft tall wooden statues guarding the heiau (temple) here. Bring your snorkel gear for a sunrise swim with turtles and more at Two Step. _______________________ Toronto, Canada: Hi, Conner. What would be the best rental option for staying on the Big Island for a month or two in the winter? —Ev Conner Gorry: A month? Two? Ev, you're making everyone jealous, myself included! With this amount of time, you'll really be able to slow down, understand aloha and get to know people and this island in ways you just can't in a week or three. So congratulations! You don't give any indication of what you like to do or your budget, two of the main factors when it comes to deciding where to stay, so it's tough to give specific recommendations. If it's your first time on the Big Island, you'll probably want to split it up between several places so you can use them as homebases to explore and not spend burdensome amounts of time in the car. The Hamakua Coast is, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of the Big Island. (Can I even say that? Oh well, I just did.) Secret spots, waterfalls gushing from orchid-clad ridges, old school aloha, and of course inimitable Waipi'o Valley are all found here. Plus, Honoka'a is a wonderfully funky town that somehow seems to combine Hawaiian tradition and contemporary lifestyles without fuss. Here you'll find organic goat cheese puerveyors and taro farms, hippie dance parties and old time rodeos. Plus there are many places to explore that aren't in any guidebooks. So try to rent a place for a while in this area, followed by some time in the South Kona area to get the beach and top snorkeling you're probably after, seeing you're coming from Toronto in the winter. If you're on a budget, try the Manago Hotel—an historic traveler's hotel run by the family's third generation, you can get a good, clean and safe room here for as little as $33 a night. Book now though, it's super popular. One of my absolute favorite places on earth is Volcanoes National Park and if you like to hike, I highly recommend spending quality time in Volcano Village outside the park. I wish I was among the sulphur and tree ferns, craters and steam vents right now! The weather can be a bit mecurial—it rains and mists a lot up here—but that only adds to the charm. Artists studios, tea houses, the Volcano Winery, a phenomenal farmers' market where you're sure to make friends and the tight knit community make this a wonderful retreat. Don't miss the secret lava tube tour led by Park rangers (weds only) and the nighttime lecture series. There are many lovely vacation rentals here; try to see a selection. If you're looking for sun all day, try a Kona condo—there are some terrific deals to be had. These websites should get you what you're looking for:,,,, and _______________________ Minnetonka, Minn.: We are getting married on Oahu the third week of June 2009. We are then planning on traveling to the Big Island and possibly Kauai, if time permits. How much time would you suggest we plan on to see the Big Island and its sites without being too rushed? Also, which side of the island would you suggest we fly in to, Hilo or Kona? It looks like the nicer hotels and resorts are on the Kona side. Is that correct—are the sites better on one side or the other? What would you suggest as the "can't miss" sites or unknown sites? Any suggestions you can share with us would be great. —Curt Conner Gorry: Congratulations, Curt and significant other! I always say there's only one place for a honeymoon: the Big Island. OK, so Im biased. But really, I would choose either the Big Island or Kauai—trying to squeeze in both will shortchange both. I've spent months on the Big Island and still haven't seen all the sites, so, that's a loaded question. I think a week as a minimum is best. And everything depends on what you want to do. Kona side is for beaches, diving, resorts and unlimited sun. Hilo side is for Hawaiian culture, dense forests run through with waterfalls gushing from the cliffs, black sand beaches, easy access to Volcanoes National Park, plus the unknown sites you mention (and that you'll have to find for yourself, otherwise they wouldn't be unknown)! The overwhelming majority of visitors fly into Kona, which is slightly more economical than flying into Hilo. You can fly into one, rent a car and fly out of another for a $50 drop-off fee which works for some people. Hilo side has some phenomenally romantic places to stay with views that will stay in your memory "until death do you part." try the Hamakua Coast area or Volcano Village. Can't miss sites (in no particular order): Waipi'o Valley; Mauna Kea/stargazing at night; Volcanoes National Park; lava flowing into the sea in Puna (see response to South Lake Tahoe for map link); night dive or snorkel with manta rays; Place of Refuge; Captain Cook Monument (see response to Barb about snorkeling there); Makalawena Beach; Kiholo Bay; Hawi. _______________________ Phoenix, Ariz.: Is it OK to drive the Saddle Road from coast to coast? I've read conflicting reports on the subject. This question is coming from someone who on Maui drove all the way around the end after Hana to get back to Wailea. Thanks. —Kurt Conner Gorry: Oh, the much maligned Saddle Road! So much has been made of this US army-built road (rental car companies used to prohibit traversing the Saddle; most now allow it), but you should have no problem crossing in a regular rental car. Things to watch out for however: gas up both you and your car before you go since there's no gas/food fill-up possible en route. They're fixing the road, so obey all signs and go slow through construction zones. Around the 45 mile marker heading towards Waimea, the road turns rutted and uneven, with big potholes the size of tank treads. That's because they are: you are now in the Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA), the largest military training area in the state. This is where US Stryker brigades are trained for Iraq. Obey all signs in this area and no pictures please! En route, you must stop at the Onizuka Visitors Center several miles up from Saddle Rd on Mauna Kea—best time is after dark for the free, nightly stargazing through powerful telescopes. It takes about an hour to get here from Hilo, 2 from Kailua-Kona. Note that you can't drive "coast to coast" on the Saddle Rd, but will have to connect to 250 or 190 outside Waimea to continue to Kohala and the Kona Coast. _______________________ Sherwood, Ore.: We are going to the big island in March. Where are the best places to snorkel? When I visited Hawaii in the mid-seventies, we were able to get close to the lava flowing into the ocean. Where is the best place to see the lava flow? Where do the locals golf? Thank you, Daron Conner Gorry: Hi there. For snorkeling, see response to Barb. Lucky for you, the lava is currently flowing into the ocean near the Royal Gardens subdivision in Puna. But that can change! For the current map and conditions, see: Locals love to golf at the "muni," the municipal course in Hilo and the Volcano Golf and Country Club, where Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa loom over the greens. _______________________ Minnetonka, Minn.: We're planning a trip to the Big Island in June 2009, staying approximately 6 days. We would rent a car. In order to make the most of our vacation, is it better to stay in one hotel/resort and make it our home base to see all there is to see on the island or would it be better to book a few different hotels on different sides of the island to get it all in? Is 6 days going to be enough? Conner Gorry: Good question—and one of the most important to resolve before a trip to the BIG island. See my answer to Colorado Springs. Is 6 days enough? In my opinion, no, but it's better than 5 or fewer! _______________________ San Bernardino, Calif.: We will be traveling to the Big Island for a week in early November, and staying at a B&B in south Kona. Last year, we stayed on the Hilo and Puna sides and visited Kilauea and the other sights in those areas. We are 41 and 46 years old and aren't into too much hiking or other adventure activities. What suggestions do you have for activities and sights to see? —Blair Conner Gorry: You guys have the Big Island bug, eh? Two times in 2 years—this is what this place can do to you. You are going during festival high season, so check out if the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival and/or the Big Island Festival jibe with your schedule. Must see sites include the Place of Refuge and Kealakekua Bay—even if you don't want to kayak to the latter to snorkel, consider taking a tour, either by inflatable Zodiac raft or catamaran. You don't want to miss the underwater wonderland here. Between the Place of Refuge and Kealakekua Bay, be sure to take the scenic backroad drive along Painted Church Rd to see what you can discover, visiting St Benedict's Painted Church along the way. This is definitely the best view from a church (both inside and out!) that we've ever had. Don't miss the cemetery while here with its lei-covered statuary. Upland from Kailua-Kona is the laid back town of Holuloa where art galleries and coffee plantation tours will give you a taste of local life. Some of the island's finest souveneirs are tucked away up here, at the Ipu Hale Gallery, Dovetail and Kimura Lauhala Shop. Be prepared to spend! _______________________ Minneapolis, Minn.: My fiance and I are planning to honeymoon on the Big Island. Are there any must-see's or -do's not to miss? Conner Gorry: Congratulations! See answers to Curt, another soon-to-be-wed Hawaiian honeymooner _______________________ Long Beach, Calif.: We want to plan a trip to Hawaii. My son wants a place where there is good surfing nearby and my daughter-in-law, my husband, and I want to be near the beach, golf course and shopping. Where is the best place to go? Conner Gorry: Good question and let the debate begin about what constitutes good surfing! Some people will tell you the Big Island doesn't have any good surfing, but they're just being overprotective of their breaks. Pine Trees, at Keahole Point, is pretty much recognized as the island's best surfing—and tourists will have to be patient and friendly to get locals to share the waves here. For the rest of the family, golf, shopping and beaches galore can be found at the nearby South Kohala resorts. Although damaged by the earthquake in 2006, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is restored, retrofitted and ready for guests. There's great golf here, plus two of the nicest golden sand beaches on the island at Kauna'oa Bay. Stay here and you can hit the links at the nearby Hapuna Price Hotel Golf Course as well. For something different, you can play the 18-hole course at the Volcano Golf & Country Club, with snowcapped Mauna Kea in the background. For an unusual 19th hole, hit the Volcano Winery just up the road for wine tasting. The Kings Shops in the Waikoloa sprawl on the South Kohala Coast collects the island's most upscale shopping in one place: head here for Burberry, Louis Vuitton and the like. By the way, when you say Hawaii, you mean the Big Island, right? _______________________ San Antonio, Tex.: My wife and I are spending the week of October 24 on Hawaii. We never encountered "vog" on a trip in March a couple of years ago, but would like to know what time of year it becomes a nuisance, and how do seniors or asthma-prone folks cope? We also wandered into a fairly ritzy resort while there, and received a chilly reception. If all Hawaii beaches are in the public domain, open to all, just what area do these elitist properties control? —Nick Conner Gorry: Aloha. The vog can be a burden these days thanks to the volcanic action at Kilauea—and if you're asthma-prone (good punctuation, Texas!), watch out! You should check out the national park's air quality site and conditions on the volcano in general before going and adjust your activities depending on air quality and your comfort/fitness level. see the reponse to South Lake Tahoe for the sites. To your second question—good one! Yes, all coast in the state of Hawaii is open to the public. Technically. Some resorts (eg Mauna Kea Beach Resort; the Four Seasons) allot a certain number of parking spaces at a time (NOT per day so if you wait for someone to come out, you can go in) to comply with the spirit of the law. Other resorts snub their nose at the law and non-guests, unfortunately. Insist politely and they'll let you by. _______________________ Petaluma, Calif.: Which is better to visit Hilo or Kona? Conner Gorry: It all depends. Who are you? What do you like to do? Is pampering and soft sand in your vacation scheme or do you want to get muddy and see waterfall-cloaked valleys like only exist in movies? See response to Curt, the newlywed from Minnetonka for my take on the age-old Kona vs. Hilo side debate. [My heart's in Hilo! Just over 30 minutes from Volcanoes National Park!] _______________________ Lexington, Ky.: I am a single traveler and I will be in Hawaii—the Big Island—from Dec. 6-10. I am looking for activities. Any additional information would be appreciated. Thanks, Sid Conner Gorry: Hey Sid. I think you've thrown me the hardest question so far! What do you like to do? What's your budget? Is your primary goal to meet other people or is that precisely why your traveling alone—to get away from them? How old are you? Are you an adventure type or resort type or both? All of this plays into activites that might be fun for you. See my answer to Curt for must-see sites and go right to your favorite bookstore and buy a guidebook (some guidebook sites even let you download just the chapters you're interested in, which might make sense for a quick trip like yours). There's so much to do here, you won't lack for activities, I promise you! _______________________ San Rafael, Calif.: When will the Super-Ferry be arriving on the Big Island? And when will it reach both Kona and Hilo—or will it? Conner Gorry: Hot question, San Rafael! For those who don't know, the Super Ferry is an interisland car ferry which has met strong resistance by environmental and other groups, while industry, tourism and government have largely rallied for it. Only after going to court and an intervention by Governor Linda Lingle did the controversial ship ever leave port. It now travels only 4x week between Oahu and Maui, but Kauai and the Big Island have stopped the Ferry for now. Knowing Big Islanders, they'll circle the wagons, dig in their heels and all the other tough metaphors to make sure this boat never docks on their island. For the latest, see: _______________________ Raleigh, N.C.: Hi, Conner. I'd love to know what your top 3-5 hikes are on the Big Island. Thanks! Sheila Conner Gorry: Another traveler after my own heart! I've done a lot of hiking on the Big Island, Sheila, and from one hiker to another, we know it all depends on what you're after. The most spectacular scenery and lovliest camp site, right on a golden sand beach can be had on the Halape-Keauhou-Ka'aha 2-3 day loop in the National Park. Another killer multi-day trek is to Waimanu Valley beyond Waipio. Both are difficult (for different reasons) and you'll have to be self-sufficient—food, water purficiation, stove, tent, etc. For day hikes, my favorite is the Kohala Forest REserve trail to the top of Waipio Valley; also known as the White Rd trail accessed in Waimea. The 45-minute straight downhill hike into Waipio from the end of the road on the east side of the island is not a nice hike at all, but deposits you in mysterious Waipio Valley and is worth it. In the park, the 1/2 day hike across Kilauea Iki crater is wonderful for the tree fern forest contrasting with old lava flows and native ohia trees. If you're up for it, you can summit Mauna Loa via the observatory trail, but that's for the real badass hikers out there! Have fun. _______________________ Bellingham, Wash.: I would like to go to Kauai, Maui and the Big Island in October 2009. What island what it be best to fly into first and go to second and third? Also, is that ferry a good way to go? It looks a lot less expensive and you can keep your same rental car. Thanks, Sue Conner Gorry: Hey, Sue. The ferry only travels between Oahu and Maui so that is pretty much out for you. See the response to San Rafael above for more. What you're proposing involves a lot of air travel unfortunately, since all flights but one between Kailua-Kona and Maui stop in Honolulu first. If you can get on that flight, I'd start in Maui or the Big Island, going to Kauai last. _______________________ Conner Gorry: That's it from here. Mahalo (thanks) everyone for getting chatty about the Big Island today. If you are looking for even more details and insider knowledge, check out my Lonely Planet guide to the Big Island, co-written with Luci Yamamoto.