Near the end of November, I wrote a post detailing my experiences with Airbnb. Today’s Pearls Before Swine captures the Airbnb experience well, especially if you are staying in someone’s guest room. That’s not to say the Airbnb experience is bad, but it has a difference series of considerations from staying in a hotel.
Category Archive: 'travel'
I am no longer a virgin.
Perhaps I should clarify that. I’m no longer a sharing economy virgin. I just completed my first stay with AirBNB. I thought I would share some observations that aren’t specific to my particular host and location, but things I perceive to be peculiar to the AirBNB experience. For the TL;DR and TLA contingent: BLUF: I would use AirBNB again, but this emphasizes the importance of choosing your hosts and locations correctly.
For those who don’t know what AirBNB is: It is people putting up underused spaces for rent on the Internet. People looking for places to stay can rent them short term. This can range from a tent or a tea house in the backyard, to a room in a house, to an entire house. But it is not a hotel experience. There is no maid. Your bed is probably not made up for you. You likely have the same towel every night. There is no on-site restaurant or business center.
What I did — and what I guess is the typical experience — is rent a room in someone’s house. In essence, you are their houseguest (although you are paying for the experience). I was very conscious of this, and tried my best to be a good guest. This meant following house rules (which, in Berkeley, with limited water, included “If it’s yellow, let it mellow…”, which was a bit uncomfortable for me, but I understood why it was done and respected the rule). This also meant I was very conscious about the noise I made, both while listening to my music at night and walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night (the floor squeaked). I had kitchen privileges, and so when I dirtied a dish, I always washed it and put it away. Lastly, I always made up my bed in the morning.
These are things you don’t think about in a hotel. But when you are a guest in someone’s house, you think about them. If this is something you cannot live with, then stick with the hotel. There, you pay for the privilege not to think about this stuff.
Here are some other things you don’t think about. There’s no ice machine (or microwave, or coffee pot in your room). You need to remember to ask about those things (for example, I knew I could use the microwave, and kept using the same mug. I would have felt weird going into the refrigerator for ice, tho. You might be sharing a bathroom with your host, with all that entails — including not adjusting the showerhead or the water temperature, out of courtesy. That level of personal contact is something you don’t have in a hotel. You typically don’t have hotel-provided amenities, so remember to bring your own soap and shampoo, and potentially your own alarm clock (although your cell phone can serve as one).
What this boils down to is this: The AirBNB experience can be great. But don’t go into it just to save money. Pick your hosts carefully and ensure they are compatible, especially if you will be sharing space in their house. Read your location description carefully. Someone warned me about this, and I truly enjoyed staying with my host, Stephani (in fact, she seemed like someone with whom I could get along with outside of the AirBNB experience).
Will I use AirBNB again? I certainly think so. It is great for going someplace with few hotels (such as Berkeley) and when you’re traveling alone. I’m not sure I’d do it if I was traveling with my wife, but if I did, I’d pick the host and location to be compatible.
So, have you used AirBNB? Do you’re experiences jibe with mine?
Before I head off to a Golf Committee meeting, I thought I would share some tidbits from the news related to traveling…
- United Overhauls Their Frequent Flyer Program. Following the lead of the other majors, United is reworking their Milage Plus Program to award miles based on dollars spent, not miles flown. This, of course, means I’ll earn even less miles because I’m cheap.
- Getting Smaller. But that’s not all United is doing. They are downsizing the size of permitted carry-ons, meaning that many “carry-on” sized bags are now too big. Measure your bags, folks. Tell me again how mergers were benefiting consumers?
- Under the Sea. Ever wonder what it is like to live, long term, under water. Here’s a story that will tell you. Hint: Fish love it when you pee.
Here’s an important reality every business today should take to heart: Every one of your customers may be writing up a review of your business and posting it on the Internet. As Internet reviews are often critical to future business, you need to treat every customer the best, and provide them the best possible experience.
I mention this because — as you’ve probably figured out by now — we’re just finishing a vacation in Escondido, CA. We’ve been staying at the Lawrence Welk Resort San Diego, having exchanged a week three years ago with Interval International (and thus we needed to use it before it expired). This is my write-up of my experiences here. In short: I’d come back, but I challenge them to do even better, because I know that they can. In Yelp ratings, call it ★★★★.
The resort, which looks to have been started in the late 1980s, consists of a number of small communities each connected to a recreation center: Melody Hill, Harmony Hill, Broadway Hill, Villa on the Greens, and their newest community, Mountain Villas. All of the communities are on golf courses that appear to be well maintained. There is a central plaza that provides a full theatre (with live theatre productions), resort shop, Pizza Hut Express, convenience store, spa, and restaurant. The recreation centers are mostly family-oriented with playgrounds, pools, spas, water-play areas, some water-slides, and recreation rooms. One (Melody Hills) is over-18 with a kid-less pool, dry sauna, fitness center, and weight room. Some of the recreation centers have board games, but nothing I would consider a good board game :-). The pool areas look very nice, although we really didn’t use them. The resort has a large variety of activities that are well publicized and that would serve families quite well.
The rooms themselves have a wide variety — as one expects in a timeshare — with full kitchens, beds, sleeper sofas, washer/driers, etc. Ours had a jacuzzi tub large enough for two! Our was reasonably clean and we’ve enjoyed our stay here quite a bit, although we haven’t partaken in any of the activities (other than their Farmer’s Market). There are barbeques everywhere for people to use. I’ll note that they do try to promote a resort tour in exchange for discounts for local attractions, their evening shows, or in the restaurant. Translation: they are trying to get people to buy into the new Mountain Villas development. We’re not interested as we already have a timeshare, but I could see it being appealing to families.
I also want to know that the Customer Service people we dealt with were, for the most part, attentive. Maintenance was a little slower, but then again, we didn’t make our maintenance problem a priority issue. So I’ll give them a very good on customer service.
With all of this, why the ★★★★ rating? Attention to detail. Although they have a fitness room, the machines are older and look it (but they work). Handrails could use paint. I noticed the occasional cigarette butt on the ground (that remained over 24 hours). The drain on our Jacuzzi tubs didn’t pop up; we needed to resort to a kitchen knife to pry it up. We had a light on the porch hanging by its conduit (which they fixed when we brought it to their attention). The grounds-crew is not attentive to the noise of their equipment (I understand the need to maintain the course, but there’s a difference between a lawn mower and using those obnoxious string trimmers or leaf blowers).
[Karen adds: I found a few annoyances – burned out light bulbs (2 in our unit), not really enough light for puzzling, comfortable reading or needlework, and this is the first timeshare I’ve done that didn’t have a mid-week light cleaning, sundries replacement, linen change-out and trash emptying…Other maintenance items showed that they aren’t paying close attention – a nasty burning smell emanating from the dishwasher when we used it, the flange on the shower arm was floating loose, and the very nice magnifying make-up mirror in the bath has an intermittent short in its power supply or cord – sometimes the on-board light worked, sometimes it didn’t … Also, unlike some of the other places I’ve been, very few activities were targeted to adults…enough that if I hadn’t brought my own projects, i would have been bored stiff…]
Additionally, the plugs near the desk are full, so there’s no place to plug in a laptop… and they have limited Internet speeds.Further, during this visit, the Internet went down — c’mon, how can you have a vacation with no Internet, furgodsakes — and it took them over 12 hours to realize that they needed to raise a ticket with their ISP (e.g., the problem was off-premises). I ended up going off-premises to a Starbucks 10 miles away to take care of conference email Thursday morning. That’s a grrrrr in my book. Once they raised the issue, it was fixed in a few hours (i.e., it was about around 930am, so it was down from 1p-930a). Now that my arm is complete again, there is calm in the world. Funny how that works.
In any case, these are the little things that distinguish a top rating (which I see in the reports from our home resort, The Whaler on Kaanapali Beach, which is ★★★★½ on Trip Advisor… and they work hard to maintain it). None of these are make it or break it items; none go to the level of sanitary problems or major safety issues. They all fall into the category of temporary light annoyances. Still, to my eye, to reach the excellent level there should be no annoyances.
Will we be back? Quite likely. When we do an exchange, we like locations in driving distance from home. My wife did Sedona once. We did Palm Springs last August, Las Vegas in May, and this August is Escondido. The location is great. San Diego is an easy drive. The facility encourages walking and exercise (I’ve walked or exercised for an hour each day – go me!). The pools and greens are beautiful. The customer service has been very good.
Lastly, when I mentioned we were at a Welk resort, people were going — but that’s for old folks. I’ll note that we’re seeing a large number of families here, and the facilities seem very family-oriented. Although Welk himself was known to an older demographic, his show was always family oriented and his resorts appear to be oriented that way. If you are looking for a place without a lot of kids, this probably isn’t the place. There are some of those in Palm Springs or Vegas. (Oh, and if you want Lawrence Welk music, visit the SVDP Thrift Shop in Escondido. They had loads of Welk LPs)
As I noted in my last post, we’re down in Escondido on vacation. Today was a day of historic highways, exploration, and exotic foods, all driven by a need to drive into San Diego proper to visit our niece. We had a delightful visit (albeit short — she’s a very busy young lady), and enjoyed talking to her and catching up on what is going on. But on to the stuff you probably care about.
Historic Roads. As we’re in Escondido, and we were visiting San Diego (in particular, the Hillcrest area), this gave us the opportunity to drive on a number of incarnations of US 395 and US 80 — in particular, sections in Escondido (City Center, Escondido Blvd, Grand) and in San Diego (CA 15, CA 163, El Cajon Blvd, Washington). We also got to visit a number of hipster districts, explore some thrift shops and some used record shops. In my opinion, the used record shops up on Adams — one with a large collection of folk, blues, and bluegrass music, the other with an astounding collection of original cast albums — had great selections but were overpriced for many of their LPs, starting on the order of $7-$9. If the record is rare the price might be OK, but when I can find the music on CD for the same (if not better) price, I’m not going the LP route (especially when it is over 90°F outside). I did pick up some records — four for $1 each at an Assistance League Thrift Shop. The thrift stores were much better (Erin, if you read this, we have a lovely Calphalon pan we got for $4.5 and a nice knife for you).
Exotic Cuisine. While driving along El Cajon Blvd, we saw an interesting restaurant: “Flavors of East Africa“. Located at El Cajon and Texas, they have wonderful Kenyan cuisine. We had keema beef, tilapia, collards and cabbage, a wonderful stew of hominy, kidney beans, potatoes and carrots cooked in olive oil with garlic, tomatoes and onions, mashed plaintains, and rice. Driving home, the spices from the keema beef hit back a little, and so we found another wonderful place: “Tropicana Delite“. This is a Mexican paleteria y neveria, family owned, with hand-made ice cream and popsicles. They had flavors there I have never seen before in ice creme: queso rompope, mango/chile, elote, guayaba, nuez… on top of traditional flavors. Plus, they were making something I’ve never seen before: “Tostilocos”, which is a Tijuana street food. Here’s a description:
You begin by opening a bag of Tostitos, usually the salsa verde-flavored kind, and you layer on ingredients. If you can imagine an assembler of this dish in Tijuana, Mexico, ripping open the bag of Tostitos and then taking the ingredients from three shelves in a bodega and dumping all of those in. Those ingredients include: shaved jicama; pickled pigskins; stumpy, little, sweet, sour tamarind candy; sweet coated peanuts; and chopped cucumbers. Then they pull out two liquids: fresh-squeezed key limes and chamoy — that magenta-colored, vinegary, puckery, pickled fruit in brine. It’s sauce that you see often when someone is buying chips in a store — even when they are not buying Tostilocos. You’re handed a bottle of chamoy with which you garnish chips.
All that goes in the bag. The bag kind of bulges under that payload. Often the bag, when filled with all those ingredients, the sides slip and you just start dripping this Rorschach pattern on the pavement as you eat and walk.
So, as I said, a day of historic roads and exotic foods.
Ah, the weekend. Time to rest, relax, and recharge… while gorging yourself on this collection of interesting links that didn’t quite fit into a theme:
- Forgotten Subway Stations. New York is a big city. So big, in fact, that it has subway stations it built and never uses. Here’s an interesting article on one of those stations: the City Hall station. Looks beautiful for a station that old. I always like the style of NYC subway stations. LA’s, even with their unique station art, are so utilitarian.
- Names, Second Generation. When my wife and I got married, she elected to keep her last name. This was actually quite common for folks of my generation. But times change. We then had a large period of hyphenation… and now… ? Here’s an interesting article that considers how the children of my generation got their last names.
- Not Fitting Into Stereotypes. Given I just mentioned names, I’m sure if I gave you a particular last name — Schwartz, Cohen, Abramowitz — you would think “Jewish”. But that’s a stereotype, and Jews just don’t fit your stereotypes. Here are 10 photos to remind you of that.
- A Singing Voice is Silenced. The first show we ever saw at McCabes was a young man out of Tucson by the name of Shep Cooke. His claim to fame was that he was part of the Stoney Poneys, Linda Ronstadt’s first group. Linda has had quite an interesting career — pop, rock, Broadway, Mexican music, standards, … and alas… that voice has been silenced by Parkinsons. Here’s to a brave women for discussing the effects of a horrible disease. [As a side note, we’re on vacation… and the theatre here is actually doing a Ronstadt tribute show the day after week leave]
- Expensive Travel. We’re at the locale hinted at in the previous link because airfare to our normal timeshare was just too expensive (anyone got a good lead on airfares between LAX and OGG at the end of August?). Here’s an article explaining why airfares are so expensive. Think about this article the next time you hear that airline consolidations are good for the industry. Less competition always means prices rise.
- Watts Towers. If you’re a student of LA (as I am), you know that one of unique places is Watts Towers. Here’s an interesting article from UCLA on how UCLA engineers are studying the towers to make a better mortar that will enable the towers to stand for another generation.
We made it back home from Las Vegas a few hours ago, and so I thought I’d post some reviews of things Vegas or along the way. I would have posted some of these this morning, but the Internet at our hotel was out (in fact, it was out for the entire nearby area — at least at McDs and Dunkin):
- Tahiti Village Resort. This is where we stayed — we had an interval from Interval International expiring, and so we exchange it from here. It was a very nice resort, with a lovely pool (with a sand area), a lazy river (which we didn’t try), and reasonably good service. The on-site restaurants had a so-so reputation, so we didn’t try them. It was located right next to LAS, which made it very convenient for strip access without being on the strip. Drawbacks: The elevators when we went to checkout were slow, and the Internet went out this morning (neither of which were really the resort’s fault).
- Re-Pete Bar and Grill. Last night, not wanting to go back to the strip, yet not wanting to try the resort’s restaurant, we went down the street to Re-Petes. We were glad we did, for the food was excellent. I had their house chicken, which was two chicken breasts in a pan glaze with chopped sausage over lyonnaise potatoes with fresh vegetables. It was just perfect.
- Wynn Buffet. Breakfast today was the buffet at The Wynn, which was head and shoulders over the mediocre buffet at the Riviera or at the Fremont. I just can’t describe all the lovely little delicacies that the Wynn had out, but I really felt I got my $20 worth with the variety. This wasn’t just bacon and eggs, folks.
- Jerky Outlet. During this trip, we saw lots of Jerky places, from the Beef Jerky Store in downtown Vegas to Alien Fresh Jerky in Baker. These places had lots of different jerkys, but most had soy sauce in them (which is not gluten-free). As we were leaving, we tried the Jerky Outlet just S of the Premium Outlets. They had jerky without soy sauce, both in a soft (refrigerated) and non-soft variety. A bit pricy, so we didn’t try the exotic meats, but still worth going back to. They have both a website and a facebook page.
- Charlie Brown Farms. As we were driving back along Route 138, we ran across Charlie Brown Farms. This is a place that seems to go on and on with all sorts of stuff — kitsch, dolls, dried fruits, fudge, candies, BBQ, walking sticks, teas. A wide variety of stuff split over a number of buildings. Given that it isn’t that far from Palmdale, we may go back one day for a longer look.
If you follow my blog at all, you know I like to do things in threes. So today, as we’re still in Las Vegas, I bring you the story of three chocolates:
- Vosges Haut Chocolate. We hit this store on the way to the Elton John concert. They had lots of tasty samples, but alas they didn’t have any of their bacon+chocolate out to try. We did, however, pick up a blood orange caramel chocolate bar. Yummy.
- Max Brenner. This was a chocolate store plus restaurant that we hit after the concert for dessert. We ended up getting “The Spectacular Melting Chocolate S’Mores Sundae, which consisted of milk chocolate ice cream, pure vanilla creme, milk chocolate fondue, chocolate chunks, marshmallow fluff, and whipped cream, garnished with toasted marshmallow fluff and served with a white chocolate ganache, with two chocolate-covered graham cracker cookies on the side.
- Ethel M. The third chocolate in our story is Ethel M, which we visited this afternoon for the store and the factory tour. There we picked up a 16-pc box with goodies for all: dark and milk chocolate sea-salt caramels, dark and milk chocolate raspberry satin cremes, dark chocolate lemon satin cremes, orange liqueur dark chocolates, amaretto liqueur milk chocolates, Irish cream liqueur chocolates, milk chocolate truffles, dark chocolate truffles, and cinammon truffles…. plus some pecan brittle. Oh, and Ethel Mars looks a lot like Mary See. Coincidence?
P.S.: The peppermint oil did a wonderful job of calming down my sunburn.
P.P.S.: Today we hit the Riviera Buffet for lunch. The old girl (the hotel opened in 1955) is getting sad. The food was only average (although the price was low), the buffet was empty with no line, and you had to go in the back because the escalator was under repair. Further, the casino was very quiet. It is one of the few 1950s hotels with the original building still standing (i.e., the 9-story hotel wings — the only other are the two-story wings at the Tropicana). After lunch we went across the street to Circus Circus, and it was equally quite (although with more kids thanks to the Midway). In general, the North End of the Strip is currently dead. It is being dragged down by the empty lot that was the Frontier, the partial development that was the Stardust and was to be the Echelon and will be the Resort World Las Vegas, the unfinished hulk that was the Thunderbird (oops) Silverbird (oops) El Rancho (oops) was to be the Fontainbleau, the land from the El Rancho Vegas that has never been redeveloped yet, and the closed Sahara that is transforming into the SLS Vegas. Here’s hoping that the North Strip can come back as strong as the Mid- and South Strip.
Music: Zumanity (Cirque Du Soleil): “Entree”