Hurricane Help From Airbnb and HomeAway
The immediate danger posed by Hurricane Harvey may have passed, but the regional crisis in Texas and Louisiana is far from over, and Hurricane Irma is approaching Florida and the Caribbean.
As the shelters in the Houston area empty out, many residents are returning home to discover that their onetime sanctuaries have been damaged beyond repair, and the devastation runs deep: Thousands of people in Texas and Louisiana have been displaced, with FEMA-funded hotel rooms in short supply and renters in a particularly precarious situation. (In the past week alone, hundreds in the Houston area have been served with eviction notices.) Help often comes from unexpected sources, though, and vacation-rental sites such as Airbnb are stepping into the breach. Hundreds of hosts from Corpus Christi to New Orleans are opening their doors to evacuees and relief workers—and they’re doing it for free.
Under a disaster-response policy implemented in the wake of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, Airbnb is encouraging hosts in the affected and surrounding areas to list their homes at $0 until September 25, and in return, the company is waiving all booking fees. Nearly 1,000 properties have been offered to date, and demand is high, with many vacancies filled soon after they’re posted. At last count, some 500 urgent accommodations were available on the website’s dedicated page. “We are proud to see our Airbnb community coming together to help their neighbors in need,” says Kellie Bentz, Airbnb’s head of global disaster response and relief.
The hurricane hit close to home for the Texas-based HomeAway, and in response, the site is giving its property owners and managers the option of renting to survivors for free or at a discount through the end of the month, waiving service and booking fees in the process. The company, which also runs VRBO and VacationRentals.com, has set up a temporary-housing page for those who want to make their homes available, and so far, more than 100 have opted in.
For good samaritans who may not be able to pitch in physically or monetarily, offering up their space is tangible way to offer a helping hand. “I personally don’t have the financial funds to donate as much as I’d like to,” Austin resident and Airbnb host Edith Flores told The New York Times on Sunday. “This is one thing I can do.”
Walk This Way: Meet the Next Generation of Audio Tours
If you’re one of the thousands upon thousands of travelers and commuters who’ve walked across NYC’s Brooklyn Bridge and thought to yourself, “Wow, this bridge is amazing. I wish I knew more about it,” there’s an app for that. Thanks to Detour, you can traverse the span across the East River with a self-guided audio tour narrated by Ken Burns, the award-winning filmmaker who wrote and directed a groundbreaking documentary film about the iconic bridge. A great self-guided audio tour can add depth and authenticity to your vacation, and the San Francisco-based Detour offers an immersive experience, using your phone’s GPS to give directions and deliver location-based information with each step. And with 150 offerings at $5 apiece in cities from Savannah to Seoul, you’re bound to find a walk to suit your interests. Browse by theme or place, or choose the voice you’d like to hear in your headphones: In New York, Burns will take you over and around the Brooklyn Bridge (and remind you to look both ways before crossing the street), while Broadway legend Joel Grey spills the dirt on his time on the Great White Way. Actor Peter Coyote leads you through San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and shares his memories of the famous Summer of Love, and over in the Castro, activist Cleve White details the city’s fight for gay rights. You can also set your itinerary around an iconic location. Stop by Checkpoint Charlie and learn about life in divided Berlin from a Cold War-era spy, or visit Fenway Park in Boston for a fan’s-eye view of the stadium. If food is your thing, there are delicious options—in Charleston, retrace the steps of Nat Fuller, an enslaved chef who hosted a reconciliation feast at the end of the Civil War, check out Los Angeles’s Koreatown with the editor of Eater LA, or get boozy with a New Orleans absinthe tour. Because of the detailed, hyper-specific knowledge on display, travelers aren’t the only ones who will get something out of a Detour experience. “My friend was visiting Oakland, and we decided to do the Black Panthers history tour of the neighborhood where I live,” says reviewer Lizzy Go. “It was full of mind-blowing anecdotes from the ‘70s that totally transformed my perspective of the places I walk by every day. Now every time I pass the stoplight on Market and 54th, I have this mental image of Panthers in their black leather trench coats serving as crossing guards for the elementary-school kids.” At five bucks a pop, you can’t ask for much more.
Book a Great Hotel Deal Right Here at BudgetTravel.com
Where are you going this fall? At Budget Travel, we’re all about inspiring you to “see more for less” and to discover great new affordable destinations. Now, we’re upping our game: Our new “Book a Hotel” page allows you to book great hotel deals through our partners at Booking.com. I took our new “Book a Hotel” page or a spin, planning some fall travel for me and my family. Some highlights include: Select a Destination and Travel Dates. On the left of the page, type the name of the destination you’re thinking of visiting. The Booking.com database will almost certainly recognize even the most far-flung places (I tried to play “stump the database” with some islands in the South Pacific, and it recognized every place I could think of, including tiny Cooke City, MT, a cool small town with a population under 100). With leaf-peeping season coming soon, I searched for hotels in Bennington, Vermont, one of Budget Travel’s “51 Best Budget Destinations in America.” Get Inspired. Even if you’re not sure where you’re going next, our “Book a Hotel” page can help you make up your mind, with recommended destinations along the right-hand side of the booking tool. The more you use the tool, the better the page will get at making appropriate suggestions for you. In my case, it has already figured out that I’m interested in family-friendly weekend escapes in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Review Available Lodgings. Hit "Search" and a list of available lodgings appears within a second or two, and, using a menu at the top of the listings, you can order the lodgings by price (low to high is what most of us Budget Travelers prefer), or starting with "top picks," which are frequently booked and/or highly recommended properties (an especially good idea the farther your destination is from your cultural or geographical comfort zone). When I searched hotels in Bennington, Vermont, I was pleased to find rates in early October starting as low as $85. Get Picky. Using a menu to the lower left of the hotel listings, you can get a bit choosy, filtering using criteria such as price range, breakfast included, free Wi-Fi, and even kitchen facilities. For my leaf-peeping search, I filtered for breakfast included and free Wi-Fi (because my trip will be in October, I didn’t filter for “swimming pool,” but it’s nice to know I can do that for summer travel): I was psyched that, post-filtering, my $85 deal was still available. Read Customer Reviews (and the Fine Print). Your lodgings list will give preference to properties that have received good reviews, but you can dive into the world of customer reviews if you’re curious about details. As I started to read the (glowing) reviews, the fine print about check-in and check-out, and some additional helpful info about nearby landmarks, I realized that the $85/night hotel in Vermont was actually a property I’d already taken my family to a few years back - and we’d thoroughly enjoyed the place. That was an unexpected, and welcome, confirmation that our new booking tool was steering me in the right direction! Reserve It. Selecting a room and making a reservation takes just a minute or two, and you don’t have to share credit card information or set up an account, just your name and email address. I found the experience inspiring and refreshingly easy. Ready to explore some affordable fall travel ideas? You’ll find a “Book a Hotel” button on the upper-right corner of the BudgetTravel.com homepage. Or just CLICK HERE.
Locals Know Best: Indianapolis
Indianapolis doesn’t like to beat its own chest, but the city has a lot to boast about. There are the varied cultural institutions, culinary traditions as well as progressive restaurants, green spaces, and its early 20th century status as a manufacturing hub that rivaled Detroit. However, Indy has long been known for just a few things: car racing, NFL powerhouses the Colts, and native sons David Letterman and Kurt Vonnegut. These days it’s increasingly known for Karen E. Laine and Mina Starsiak Hawk, the local mother/daughter team that hosts “Good Bones” on HGTV. In the show, they go around Indy fixing up dilapidated, neglected houses. You might even say they are on a beautification crusade to rehab the city they know and love, neighborhood by neighborhood. We met up with them when they were in New York City to get the lowdown on where to eat, drink, play, and hangout in Indy. HAPPY MEALS Karen and Mina, whose show evolved from the fixer-upper business they started in 2007 called Two Chicks and a Hammer, play their mother/daughter roles with natural ease on the show, disagreements included. When you meet them in person, they’ll tell you that there are a lot of things they don’t agree on off-camera, too. Bluebeard, however, is a recommendation they agree on wholeheartedly. It’s one of the older restaurants in Fletcher Place, an historic residential neighborhood with a bustling commercial core. Among the many memorable dishes at this farmhouse-chic, locally minded restaurant is an indulgent grilled cheese breakfast sandwich with a sunnyside-up egg and truffle honey, which Mina describes with the giddiness of someone talking about a recent tropical vacation. Its nearby sister restaurant is Milktooth, a bustling, airy breakfast and lunch eatery with a diner-style counter. Mina’s friend from high school’s father owns them both, and these kinds of connections are a dime a dozen in town. “Indy has a small-town feel, even though it’s a big city,” Mina says. “Everyone know everyone.” Kinda like what happens when Karen visits her favorite coffee shop, Calvin Fletcher’s, which is owned and run by a father and his son. “If you go there twice, they’ll know your order and your name.” Or consider Rook, a popular spot for traditional Filipino food. The chef here is Carlos Salazar, and Mina worked with him when he was had a less glamorous role in the kitchen and she was waiting tables. And as far as his menus today, “I don’t even have words,” she says as a look of bliss washing over her face. Any city worth its salt in food culture has locals that will hold one restaurant’s burger in higher esteem than all the rest. For Karen, that supreme burger is served at Ember, where longtime waitress Shelly knows what she wants before Karen even orders. That’s usually the cheese burger, served with lettuce that’s cold and crispy and fries that are always hot and crispy. Or wait—maybe it’s the burger at Kuma’s Corner, an outpost of a rock’n’roll Chicago restaurant known for its giant patties served on a big pretzel bun. “Their burgers are transcendent,” Karen declares. “You can get it with egg, cheese, onion, but the meat is so good that if you just got a burger with nothing on it, you would not be sad.” ONE SMALL NEIGHBORHOOD WITH A BIG PERSONALITY The Indy Cultural Trail, a sleek eight-mile bike path dotted with public art, runs throughout the city connecting downtown to the various neighborhoods, including Fletcher Place and Fountain Square, the walkable community that Karen calls home. Virginia Avenue cuts right through the middle of the neighborhood and when the trail opened, all the businesses along it got a boost. That means most of the spots that Karen called local are now better known. And that’s not a bad thing. She recommends Wildwood Market, a shop in an old gas station specializing in meats, cheese, pickles. Each day they make one sandwich, two soups, and a salad, take it or leave it. Mina recommends taking it. They sell out in an hour. Another option is Pure Eatery, known for its local and natural-minded menu. It was a basic sandwich shop when Karen moved in, and now it’s a full-on restaurant and bar where the breakfast taco menu starts at 10AM, earlier than most other restaurants are open. But the real allure here is the mac’n’cheese, which is essentially a choose-your-own-adventure in decadence. Bacon, cheese, spinach, and more cheese are among the swoon-worthy add-on options. Bars are easy to come by. You can get a flight of tequila to accompany the excellent Mexican food at La Margarita, but for something really distinctive, check out New Day Craft Meadery, a spacious, kid-friendly spot adorned with local art. They produce an intriguing variety of meads and cider and host regular events, like yoga and the cleverly named Mead & Knead, a night where you can get a massage while you sip. It’s a lively neighborhood in general, but it gets even livelier on First Fridays, the monthly event when pop-up shops arrive, bands play in the street, and businesses stay open later to accommodate the many people wandering. Indy’s music scene is represented here, with spots like HiFi, a performance venue and ad hoc gallery. There’s a bar, but no kitchen, so lots of people order from nearby food trucks. NATURE AWAITS Indy has one of the biggest city parks in the country. Clocking in at 39,000 acres, Eagle Creek Park is more than four-times the size of New York City’s Central Park. An incredible urban oasis, it features a reservoir where you can rent kayaks or canoes, a six-mile trail along the periphery, and a half-dozen playgrounds. It’s not uncommon to find locals packed into the sheltered picnic tables or scattered throughout the greenspace in nice weather. The smaller Garfield Park, which boarders Fletcher Square, features European-style sunken gardens as well as a pretty greenhouse decorated with fish, birds, and seasonal decorations. There’s live music, including a summer concert season, and since it’s less than ten minutes driving from downtown, there’s no reason not to stop by.
My Totally Unplugged Vacation: No Smartphone. No Talking. No Booze.
Having grown up in a half-Thai family, I was familiar with the basic concepts of Buddhism and had been practicing meditation since I was small, yet it wasn’t until I was in my 30s and living in Boston that I first heard of the Vipassana method. A friend mentioned she was attending a retreat. It got me curious. The free courses offered by Vipassana centers around the world include lodging, food, and instruction in the Vipassana meditation method, popularized by S.N. Goenka, a Burmese teacher. Though secular in practice, it’s based on the original technique taught by Gautama Buddha. All the centers are in rural areas and their courses generally fill up months in advance. Wait lists are long. Rather than focusing on repeated mantras or breathing, like many other meditation techniques, Vipassana trains the mind to see things “as they really are” and to break free from the cycle of stress, anger, and dissatisfaction in which so many of us find ourselves trapped. It does this through progressively attuned observance of sensations throughout the body, while simultaneously conditioning the mind not to react to those sensations. Training takes place over the course of ten days, all of which are spent in “Noble Silence.” There is absolutely no speaking, or even eye contact, with other participants. On top of that, cellphones and any other devices (even pens and pencils are considered “devices” in the Vipassana universe) are locked away before the course begins. Surprisingly, I didn’t miss my cellphone at all, but I admit that the journalist in me couldn’t handle ten days of not writing, so after a few days I dug some empty Kleenex boxes out of a recycling bin and took notes on the backs of them using a stray eyeliner pencil I found in my purse. The other rules include no intoxicants, no stealing, and “no killing.” A true practitioner of Buddhism is a strict vegetarian, after all. I'd never done anything remotely approaching 100 hours of silent meditation, completely cut off from the outside world. As you can imagine, I found the prospect daunting. It’s made clear in the course description that Vipassana is not “a rest cure,” nor “a holiday,” but rather something more akin to a mental boot camp. But I was at a crossroads in my life, having recently lost my job and then, shortly after, ended a long-term relationship and moved out of the apartment we had shared. It’s never easy to drop out of the world for ten days, but finding myself unemployed, unattached, and essentially homeless, it seemed like as good a time as any to give it a try. When I arrived at the center, located in a remote part of Western Massachusetts, I was surprised to find not a rustic cabin resembling an abandoned kids’ summer camp, but a brand-new facility where I was assigned to a sparse, but comfortable room with a private bathroom. I relinquished my phone and chatted with the other students before we were plunged into Noble Silence. There were 80 of us, half women and half men, though we were separated at the check-in point. There were several young Thai women and older Indian women, your expected crunchy hippie types, a twitchy woman who appeared to be on the verge of some sort of mental breakdown, a few bubbly young girls from France, and a female surgeon who stopped meditating halfway through the course. She called her husband to complain the second the noble silence was broken. I was assigned a space in the group meditation hall and we settled in for the course introduction. I immediately noticed a potent patchouli odor coming from somewhere in front of me. It was irritating because we’d been specifically instructed not to bring “any perfumes or strongly scented toiletries.” Also, patchouli is revolting. In a brief video, Mr. Goenka welcomed us to the course and explained the schedule and its purpose. A rotund, elderly man, he told us the story of how he went from a wealthy but miserable businessman in Burma to a devotee of Vipassana meditation in a peculiar, slightly Transylvanian drawl. The next day we were awakened at 4am by the sound of a gong and then, as preparation before starting true Vipassana meditation, we focused on careful observation of our breath. By the end of the day, after ten hours of meditation, I was surprised to realize that I spend most of my time not living in the present, but thinking of the past or the future. It was also clear that trying to clear your mind of all thoughts is like trying to wrestle a greased pig into a coin purse. By the second evening, my senses were so heightened that I could tell that the patchouli smell was coming from the curly-haired girl one row up and one row to the right. Despite that sensory assault, I was feeling quite calm until videotaped Goenka returned with an announcement: “There is no dinner here.” I didn’t miss my phone or the Internet at all. Wearing baggy PJs all day was actually quite pleasant, and I had no problem sitting cross-legged on the floor for hours on end, but no dinner for ten days? A slight panic started to rise in my throat. Or maybe it was just the hunger setting in. By the third day, it became clear that men are truly the gassier of the sexes. (Or they just make less effort to hold it in). But far more distracting was the construction work going on just outside the meditation hall—perhaps an additional test of our resolve? On Day 4 I accidentally poured boiling water over my hand at tea time but somehow managed to maintain my silence. As I sat meditating afterwards, I realized that while I could still feel the burn, it no longer hurt—or rather, the pain didn’t bother me. This concrete demonstration of the power of the mind over the body and perception was a compelling epiphany. As the days passed and hours of meditation piled up, I came to recognize the sounds of coughing, hammering, belching, and farting as mere vibrations, rippling through the air and my body, and understood how pointless it was to let them bother me. But at night my stomach grumbled, and when I heard some of the other women sneaking out to their cars after lights-out, I imagined they were shoving contraband Luna bars into their mouths. On Day 6, empty spots around the room made it clear that during the night several people had “done a legger,” as the Irish say. Whether it was hunger, boredom, discomfort, or overwhelming urges to kill that had chased them off, I’ll never know. I was having occasional wistful thoughts of coffee and margaritas, but was determined to stick it out. As Day 7 dawned, I felt strong and serene. While my mind would still occasionally wander like a naughty monkey, I could do mental TSA scans of my body from front-to-back, top-to-bottom, any which way. At a certain point, I even felt, as hokey ask it might sound, the confines of my body dissolve and hum with the energy of each of my cells, in rhythm with the energy pulsing in the air all around. If you’d asked me a week before if I’d ever felt my body’s energy at one with that of the universe, I’d have given you some serious side-eye. As the end of the course drew near, I grew fearful of re-entering society after having made eye contact with only a robin in over a week, and with senses so heightened that I could detect the change in temperature in the air I inhaled—cooler as it went in one nostril, warmer as it went out. Would my head explode when I was surrounded by people, cars, traffic, the chaos of the city? On the last day, we were released from silence and informed that it was “Metta Day,” a day of “loving kindness,” which the two girls from France celebrated by having a screaming fight in their room. Though my middle name is “Metta” (no, really—it is), I freely admit that I’ve often had trouble maintaining feelings of affection towards all living beings. But in the week after the course, I cuddled a cat (an animal that I not only detest but to which I am severely allergic) and was completely unfazed by an accidental run-in with a toxic ex. But though this unearthly composure and beneficence would not last forever, I came away from the course with a heightened awareness and invaluable tools for the rest of my life—the ability, whenever I should wish to utilize it—to live each moment with truth and clarity, and the power to determine my own happiness.