The Savvy Traveler I have always admired those free-spirited travelers who backpack through Europe after college or who raft down the Rio Grande and pitch a tent for the night, but I am not one of them. I don’t have to necessarily sleep in five-star hotels, but a hostel in a foreign land with one bathroom per floor is not my idea of fun. Although I have stayed in a thatched-roof hut in the rainforest of Belize and sailed a boat for days in the British Virgin Islands with no hot water, in most cases I want my accommodations to be as nice, if not better, than my home. After all, a vacation is a treat and should be a fun and comfortable experience. I am the self-appointed travel agent when it comes to finding the perfect place to stay for friends and family. I am actually rather obsessed with it once we have nailed down our destination. My favorite choice of accommodation, if we are going to stay in one location for several days, is to rent a private villa or vacation home. I think it’s the only way to go when traveling with friends or family members. I have found designerdecorated homes all over the world with fabulous furnishings, fully stocked kitchens, swimming pool, high thread count sheets and big fluffy towels for half of what a nice hotel costs. I love waking up in a house with multiple rooms and having the option to brew our own coffee and cook some of our own meals. The way I go about finding the perfect place to stay is to start a GOOGLE search on the location we are traveling to, along with the words “VACATION HOMES.” I scroll through and look at all of my choices and often find links to other sites along the way. I study every picture of every room before I decide on my top three. I then check TRIPADVISOR.COM for any reviews on the property and search to see if the owners of the home have their own website. If you can book directly with
the homeowner it is usually cheaper, since they don’t have to pay a commission to the booking site. Of course, there are also sites like VRBO.COM (Vacation Rentals By Owner) and AIRBNB.COM, but you sometimes have to weed through a lot of not-so-great homes to find a few good ones. Reading reviews is essential in finding a good home, as well as making sure the location of the home is in an area convenient for you. Don’t be afraid to haggle on the price, especially if you are traveling off-season; you will never know unless you ask. Owning a vacation home is a luxury, but most owners rely on their rent income and would rather have something coming in than none at all. I have booked a five-bedroom oceanfront villa on Turks and Caicos Islands for the price of one hotel room when I was able to have direct contact with the owner and explained that it was only my husband and me who would be staying there, but wanted to check it out for a larger family vacation in the future. I have even found owners of luxury properties who let us drive their car they keep in the garage for a fraction of what a rented car cost. When traveling from one place to another every few days, it makes more sense to book hotel rooms. I like small boutique hotels that have more flavor of the country we are in rather than large hotel chains with rooms that all look alike. I usually search on TripAdvisor.com for the top-rated hotels and then cross-reference them with a site called SMALL LUXURY HOTELS OF THE WORLD. Once I find a few hotels that interest me I start checking online rates. However, if you call the hotel directly you can usually get an even better price. I also learned a little trick from an expat owner of a boutique hotel in Istanbul who contracts with online booking sites and is required to save a percentage of rooms. If a hotel shows they have no vacancy you might find rooms left through sites
such as Expedia and Hotels.com. I recently did just that when trying to book a hotel in Spain and I was told they were full. I jumped online and was able to grab two more rooms through Booking.com. If you don’t mind paying up front there is a great site called JETSETTER.COM that offers exclusive deals on the world's greatest properties. All of the resorts and hotels they feature are hand-selected by their globetrotting correspondents with special deals lasting just a few days. I just booked a premium room at a five-star hotel in Madrid for $167/night that normally goes for $682/night. If all the research and time isn’t your thing in finding the perfect place to stay, but you want to do something truly unique, I recommend LINDBLAD EXPEDITIONS. The company's underlying mission is to introduce "curious and intrepid travelers to the international capitals of wildness." Operating a fleet of small ships that nose into ports where large cruise ships cannot go, they are accompanied by expert naturalists including National Geographic photographers offering life-changing encounters with beauty and seldom-seen nature. Lindblad’s emphasis is on active exploration, learning and sustainable tourism in places like Alaska, Antarctica and Galapagos. Whether your ideal vacation involves a passport or an RV, I challenge you this year to not just watch the Travel Channel, live it. In this day and age, travel is a bit more complicated, but there have never been so many resources at our fingertips to help us plan a great vacation. Don’t be afraid to venture out. The key to safe travel is being aware of your surroundings. Visit the places you have always wanted to see and experience the sites you have dreamed of while you are strong and healthy enough to get around and hopefully finding the best places to stay will just make it even better.
Cindy Burch and her husband, Andrew, own and operate The Doves Nest in historic downtown Waxahachie. Cindy is also a freelance writer, caterer and consultant. Her award-winning cookbook, “The Doves Nest Restaurant: New American Recipes From A Historic Texas Town,” is in its fifth printing. Cindy Burch
LIVING-MAGAZINE.COM // JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2017