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Monday, August 22, 2016

Tips for Booking a Rental Property

Anyone who has followed by Facebook ( or Twitter ( know that I've spoken a lot about sites like VRBO or AirBnB.  Sometimes when I rent properties I have people people ask me how I do it.  People are nervous about renting an awful property, and I had all those same fears, but here are some tips on how to score a great property.

The first property we ever rented in Orlando, Florida

1. Check out average hotel prices for the area first.   Although I have rarely come across a place where rental properties are more expensive than hotels, there are some exceptions.  Always best to do your research so you don't end up paying more than you have to.

2. Make sure you check out the rules in the area around rental properties.   There are some areas that have regulatory authorities that don't allow short term rentals.  It could be specific to a building, or it could be specific to a geographic area.  A simple google search should bring up linked to a specific geographic location.  As for buildings, that's a little trickier.  Check the listing and see if the person listing is asking you not to interact with security in the building, or if they ask you to say you are a "friend of the owner".  Chances are, they aren't supposed to be renting their place.

3.  Read reviews.  This one is a big one.  If a property has no reviews and there is very little information about the property owner/manager, that's a big red flag.  Sometimes new properties offer some great deals, but without reviews, there isn't a lot of information about what you could be getting.

4. Not all reviews are created equal, so read between the lines.  If a property only has 3 reviews, but they all appear to say almost the exact same thing, red flag.  We're all different, so they should all appear to be written by different people in style, not just name.
If there are negative reviews, be sure to pay attention to what they are complaining about.  Are the complaints about paint colour?  The cable package?  Are those things that will ruin a trip for you?  However, if the complaints are about things like mold, or other safety concerns, you may want to rethink renting it.

5. Consider whether rental properties are right for you.  While rental properties can have a lot of positives, it depends what you like.  Hotels have staff.  Perhaps a concierge to help you make reservations.  They may have a steady stream of cabs available to take you where you want to go.  Airport shuttles. Security guards.  These are some examples of things you may be giving up by going with a rental property.  So it's important to outline what you need in your rental.  If you can't find a rental property that has what you want, then maybe a hotel is better for what you need.

My rental in August 2016 in Quebec City

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

My Favourite Travel Tips

Can you tell I love travel?  It is seriously one of my favourite things in life.  I love to travel, and I love to plan travel.

I've mentioned before that I frequently search travel deals, even when I'm not planning a trip.  It's kind of like people who like finding a good bargain at a store, I like seeing how good a deal I can find, even if I can't take advantage of it.

I decided to post some of my favourite "go to" travel tips.  These are tips anyone can take advantage of, regardless of the destination.

1. Shop early (but not too early) and frequently for deals.  I typically start looking at airfare prices about 6 months out.  Traditionally I have found the best deals to be 8 to 10 weeks before your intended travel.  There are a few exceptions - if you are travelling during a holiday period or March break, it's pretty challenging to find a good deal.  You also get a better deal if you are flexible with your dates.  If you are looking for specific dates, and if those dates fall during a holiday period or the month of March, it's better to book earlier than it is to book late.

2. The best airfare deals typically come directly from the airline's website.  I use travel sites often, but if I find a good deal, I usually check the airline's website first, just to be sure I am, in fact, getting the best deal.  Also be sure to check on cancellation policies, baggage fees, and whether the site or airline you are booking with offers a "best price guarantee".  For example, some guarantees indicate that if you find a better price for the same route/times/airline within 24 hours of booking, they will refund the difference and give you a little extra.  Just be aware that sometimes the process to claim the refund is lengthy, so don't expect an immediate return.  And make sure you have screen shots, etc, that show what you have found.

3. Join mailing list/membership clubs/points clubs for popular travel sites and hotel chains.  This is not always a popular option because it usually means you get a ton of emails, but, these emails can alert you to flash sales or specials.  I have an email address that I set up for myself that I use specifically for these mailing lists, and any other time I need to provide an email when I sign up for something, then I log in periodically to browse the deals.

4. Car rental - always check for the "additional charges": Will you be sharing the driving responsibilities with your spouse or another person in your party?  Check the additional driver charges.  The charge varies from company to company.  Budget car rental waives the fee for spouses.  Some companies charge as much as $15 a day, so it can be significant.

5. Car rental insurance - Check your current car insurance policy to see if you have coverage on rental cars.  Some credit cards as well will offer coverage for car rentals.

6. Hotels. While it is possible to get discounts through travel websites, always double check the hotel's website directly first.  And published rates are not always what they appear.  When a site advertises that a price they are offering is "50% off", it can be 50% off the price that was listed at a particular time, not necessarily the regular price.  As an example, I saw a price listed of $119/night, and the site indicated it was 48% off, but that was 48% off a price listed during a music festival, but regular price was $120 a night.

7. AirBNB.  I cannot say enough about about renting through AirBNB.  You often get a larger space for less than the price of a hotel room.  I will be posting a separate post with my best tips for AirBNB booking.

Those are a few of my favourite tips.  Do you have your own tips and tricks for travel?  Share in the comments!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Day at the Park

We are very fortunate, we live close to a couple parks, but that often means frequent requests to go to the park.  I'm not always able to accommodate these requests, other responsibilities get in the way, but an experience I had recently changed my perspective on these trips to the park.

Author's Note:  This is not a picture from this particular trip to the park.  Yes, I live in Canada, but it is not cold enough here to wear a hat and have snow on the ground... at least not in July.  

With my husband working, it was just my daughter and I all weekend, so I promised her we could do some fun things, just her and I, but at the same time, my usual weekend routine, and some work responsibilities needed my time as well.  I accommodated most of her requests, but I had been putting off her request to go to the park, until she drew a picture of her favourite things in her life, she drew her family, a picture of herself dancing, and playing at the park.  How could I say no after such a heartfelt drawing?

So we started off to the park, all the time I had running through my mind all the things that had to get done at home.   Once we got there, I instinctively reached for my phone to check work emails, but then I decided to watch my daughter for a bit instead.  As she ran around the park, jumping on rocks, climbing the play structure, I saw the pure joy on her face.  I remembered what it was like to feel that way.  I felt guilty for not wanting to be there initially, and was really happy we decided to go.

The way I felt when I watched her made me feel happy and calm, unlike the stress I had felt a few minutes earlier thinking about all of the responsibilities at home.

When it was time to head back home, we decided to race home. She laughed so hard while we ran she fell down.  That is pure happiness.

When we got home, I felt rejuvenated and refreshed.  Like I had just meditated.  I'm not saying there won't be times that I will turn down her requests to go to the park in the future, but I will keep this experience in my mind, and I hope it will compel me to take a few minutes, and enjoy her happiness.

Now I know this was a pretty serious post for me... even more serious than I had intended to write when I began, but I think it's good to share these little reminders every once in a while.

Have you had a similar experience?  Feel free to share in the comments below, or on my Facebook page (CLICK HERE).

Monday, July 11, 2016

Being Happy With Me

Seven years ago, I was heading to a wedding.  it was one of my first few big outings after having my daughter.  I bought a new dress, I mustered up the energy, after a sleepless night, to do my hair and makeup.  I was feeling pretty good.  Here is a picture of me at that time:

When we arrived at the wedding, my first interaction with another guest was the following:

Woman - Hi there!  I remember you from the wedding shower!  How are you?

Me - Great thanks.  Nice to see you.  How are you?

Woman -  Good!   So when is your baby due?

Me - *pause*  (feeling my face get red) - I just had her 3 months ago. 

Woman - Really?  I didn't think you had the baby yet.

Me - Yep, she's a good baby. 

At that point someone witnessing the conversation cut in to change the subject.

I felt awful.  I started to question whether I was working hard enough to get my baby weight off.  Then I remembered, I had a baby.... 3 months ago.... and a rough birth at that.  So I decided not to be so hard on myself.  I would be happy with where I was.

Now, 7 years later... I'm no longer happy with where I am.  I often struggle to motivate myself to take control of my health, even though much of the work I have done previously related to motivating others to live healthy lifestyles.

I have always been good at coming up with excuses: I have a busy job that often involves long hours, sometimes involving evenings and weekends; I am a part-time MBA student; I have a daughter who is busy with her own activities which often involves me.  Don't get me wrong... I have free time, but my free time is limited.  And I often feel tired so I spent those free hours in front of the computer or television.

Last night, I asked my daughter if she wanted to have a dance party with me.  I put on some dance aerobics videos and did them while my daughter did her own dancing.  I did a full hour of heart pumping exercise.  That may not sound like a big accomplishment, but for me it was.  I felt good afterwards.  Tired and sweaty, but good.  

I want to ride that feeling.  I hope to hang on to that feeling and continue on a good path... for me, for my health, and for my family.  

I don't need a gym membership, a personal trainer, or even time out of the house by myself in order to exercise.  It can happen in my home, when I would usually watch tv.  

So what's the point in me sharing this information?  Because I know many have been in the same situation I have been.  I want to say to those people.... I've been there... I am there.... you are not alone.

Having a workout buddy is a great thing to have... someone to say "hey, want to get out for a walk"?  But sometimes, schedules get in the way.  I have a few walking buddies, but in addition, I put a little reminder on my phone to remind me to try to get some activity every day.  

Want to share your own tips and stories?  Feel free to share in the comments below. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

My Travel Addiction

So, I literally can picture my husband reading the title of this post, rolling his eyes and saying "well this isn't exactly earth shattering news is it".  My close friends and family can all tell you that I have a problem.  I am always looking in to our next vacation.

Most people have some kind of hobby, for many it may be things like scrapbooking, knitting, painting, running, or a any number of things, for me, it's vacation hunting.   I liken this to when people say they love bargain shopping, it's the thrill of finding a good deal.

I've totally bought in to the idea that gifts of memories are better than "things".  Now, when I say that, I'm not saying that in a judgmental "people are too materialistic" kind of way.  It's all about preference.  Just as some people may like to receive jewelry or a good book, or a new pair of sneakers.... I like anything to do with travel.  We've made a shift from buying each other gifts at Christmas to putting money towards family vacations.

I regularly check airlines, travel agency sites and discount sites like Priceline, Expedia, etc, for travel deals.  Some people hate the process of planning vacations, but I thrive in it.  Wanderlust is a permanent state of mind for me.  And I'm ok with that.

My favourite vacations have included Disney and Cuba....but I also love when we have "staycations".  I think when you live somewhere it's easy to overlook the reasons tourists visit your area.  I try to make an active effort to explore my own city.

Below are some of my favourite vacation and staycation pictures.

Do you have any favourite destinations?  Travel Tips?  I would love to hear them!  Leave your tips in the comments section. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Why Do You Have A Blog?

I see blogs as a conversation.  There are some topics I love to talk about, like travel, and I love finding people who have similar interests.  So it goes without saying, that I don't write about things that I'm not interested in or passionate about.

I've heard lots of people say "I could never have a blog".  If you don't like to write, that's true, a blog is probably not for you.  But if you like to have conversations with people you know, as well as strangers, I totally recommend it.

While I am far from a blogging expert, there are some tips I have learned and would like to share:

1.  Write about what you love.  Do you like crafting?  Write about that.  Love your family?  Write about the kinds of things you guys like to do.

2.  Be real.  There's nothing more disappointing than reading a blog that you can totally tell is not someone's true voice.  For me, if someone asked me to write a post about scrapbooking, I couldn't.  It's not that I don't like scrapbooking, and in fact, I actually do  some scrapbooking, but I fully acknowledge that I'm terrible at it.  I admire people who have great looking scrapbooks.  My attempts don't resemble much more than simply sticking pictures on some pages.

3. Blog regularly.  In my opinion, this is one of the most challenging aspects of having a blog.  In my every day life I have a full time job that requires over time and travel, I'm also working towards my MBA as a part-time student, and I'm a mom, and as my daughter gets older, her school and social calendars are getting busier, which often means I'm needing to get her places.  Make a realistic schedule for yourself.  Whether it be 5 days a week or 2, make the schedule and stick to it.  Don't over schedule yourself.  If you are a busy person, it's not realistic to think you will do it every day of the week.

4. Engage with people within your social media network, as well as other bloggers.  This will increase your reach and give you more people to have your conversations with.

Do you have a blog?  Share your link with me in the comments below.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Reconnecting as a Couple

This is one of my favourite wedding pictures.  We look so young, we look so happy.  This is what I remember of my wedding day.  Life has changed so much for us since we took this picture - new jobs, new house, we have a child... and these events have helped shape us as the couple we are today.

All of our commitments sometimes mean that my husband and I don't get much alone time.  And while we do get family time, which is very important, it's also important to make time for your marriage.  Time to reconnect.   And I'm not saying that you have to schedule in time each day to have intense conversations analyzing your marriage, but I do think it's important that, at least every once in a while, you have time, just the two of you.  This time can be to chat, to do an activity together, or even just sit in the same room together, without distraction from cell phones, and just be there... together.

Now I'm sure some of this can come off as super cheesy.  And others may view this as "going without saying", but some of us (ie - me) need reminding of how important it is to reconnect as a couple.

My husband and I celebrate 10 years of marriage this fall, and, for the first time in about 8 years, we are going to take a week-long vacation together.  Just the two of us.

When we first started talking about this vacation, I felt guilty that we weren't taking our daughter, but then I realized that taking time to focus on our marriage is important.  It's important for our relationship, and it's important for our family.

While it's not always possible to take a big vacation, I hope to keep reminding myself to take a little time, for our marriage.

Do you take time to focus on your relationship?  What are your tips or suggestions for reconnecting?  Feel free to share in the comments!