Saturday, December 29, 2012

Vacation Rentals & Florida State Parks -- the Perfect Money-Saving Match for Off Season Travel

Sandcastle building at St. Joseph
State Park in Florida. Nobody around
for miles.



If you've ever stayed in vacation rentals in the off season, you know how great it can be. Most tourist areas are in nice locations, weather-wise, so even if it's cooler, it's still pleasant compared to more wintery locations. Many attractions are still open (though some activities, such as para sailing, may not be), and the locals are glad to see you.

While in season travel is great because you'll have lots to do, going to a tourist area in the height of their busy season has its drawbacks. Everything's more expensive and crowded.

One big advantage to off season travel is the lack of crowds. If your vacation rental is in a heavily traveled tourist area, you'll have the unique and enjoyable experience of having it nearly all to yourself. For example, staying in a Florida vacation rental during the off season means you can visit Florida's wonderful state parks and see very few people. And when you hear the words "Florida state park," think beach.

You'll find pristine, beautiful, wide open beaches perfect for sand castle building or long walks. While a tan may take a bit longer to achieve, you can still throw down your beach towel, lay back and have a nice nap in the sand and sun. Rather than picnic on the beach with you and 100s of strangers, you can have a romantic lunch or fun family gathering, and not see another person walk by.

Florida state parks feature plenty of amenities--walking trails, interpretive centers, bike rentals, areas to Jet Ski, and much more. There are plenty of them and they're easy to get to.

Friday, December 21, 2012

2 Santa Trackers for Christmas 2012 -- NORAD and Google



Google really is everywhere, including the North Pole. And that's just fine, if they keep coming up with great ideas like their SantaTracker.

In addition to using Google Maps to track Santa's progress on Christmas Eve, their Santa Tracker includes a tour of Santa's Village with games and a great tool you can use to send messages to friends and family.

The games include a present drop into chimneys, an elf on a jet pack racking up points by capturing gifts, candy and holiday bells, and a sleigh racing game.

The messaging tool steps you through a series of questions to create a personalized message from Santa on your gift list. You can then send the message in a variety of ways--a phone call, email, etc. The voice quality is great and the message sound really natural.

In addition to following Santa through any web browser, you can also get an Android App, a Chrome extension and a Google Earth App (in 3D).

NORAD's Santa tracker was featured in this blog last year. Their Santa tracker won't start until Christmas Eve, of course, but meantime you can play a variety of games including a word scramble, maze, connect the bulbs to light up a Christmas tree and more. You can set the skill level on some of the games, making them as easy or hard as you want.

NORAD works with Microsoft and Bing to track Santa and recently released a Windows 8 version of its Santa tracker app. You can also get the NORAD Tracks Santa app for iOS (iPhones), Android and the web.

We all know how important it is to know Santa's progress on Christmas Eve, so you might want to use both so that your little ones know when it's time to go to sleep, so the jolly old elf can leave presents under the tree and candy in their stockings.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

5 Great Travel Sites for Saving Money




If you're in the market for a really special gift for someone you love, why not give them the gift of travel? Imagine their delight when the open the present and its trip to their favorite destination, or perhaps some place they've never been before. It will certainly make a big impression. Of course, it will also be pretty expensive. So to help you give the gift of travel, here are 5 great money-saving travel sites you can use to plan your big surprise. And be sure to bookmark this page for anytime you want to save on travel throughout the year. Of course, you can always find vacation rentals at great prices here at PerfectPlaces.com. Be sure to sign up for our monthly vacation rentals deals email below. You’ll be among the first to hear about special, money-saving offers.

BingTravel. One thing I always wonder before clicking the purchase tickets button is whether or not I'm getting the lowest price. It's a common thought, and Bing addresses it with their Fare History feature. Just search for the dates and destination you want, then click the Fare History link. It will show you how fares have been trending for your specific itinerary. If it looks like things have been rising steadily, you might just be getting the best deal possible. Or if you see noticeable patterns in days of the week that are cheaper than others, then you might want to wait a day or two. It's not a foolproof method, but it provides insights that can help you make your decision.

Kayak.com. This site's popular, and with good reason. It gathers all the best airline deals for you. The only notable exception is Southwest, which offers online fares on its website exclusively. But even with that, it's easy to get a roll up of all the best fares, and then go out and check individual airlines to see if you can get a better deal. It has a lot of other great tools, one of which is the ability to scanning a world map for places that are within reach of your budget.

Convert Currency. At XE.com, you can get real time exchange rates, as well as calculators that can help you with international travel. As any experienced international traveler knows, checking exchange rates before, during and after your trip is tremendously important. The amount you save by being savvy could mean you can afford that gourmet dinner in Paris.

RailEurope.com. Speaking of Paris, train travel is often the most economical way to get around Europe. It's also the most romantic as you get to see the countryside and rub elbows with the people more often. Rail travel in Europe is nothing like rail or bus travel in the United States -- it's a much better experience. At RailEurope.com, you can check fares, timetables and book travel.

Hotwire.com and AutoEurope.com for rentals cars. Hotwire collects rates from eight rental car companies, and offers a Hotwire Hot Rate, which guarantees you a car from a leading car rental company. Just as their name implies, AutoEurope.com specializes in finding deals on rental cars in Europe. They'll guarantee the lowest rate by matching any better deals that match and offer 24/7 customer service.



Friday, December 14, 2012

Escape to These 3 Great Beaches




With winter’s official start just days away, it’s a good time to plan a trip to a nice, warm, sunny beach. Here are three of the best in the world.

7 Mile Beach, Grand Cayman
Palm trees await you
on Cayman's 7 Mile Beach.
It's been called the "ultimate beach," and with good reason. While only 5 1/2 miles long, it features clear waters and soft, pristine coral sands along its length. The entire beach is also public, which makes it easily accessible no matter where you're staying. You'll also have a great opportunity to catch the flavor of local culture when area residents hit the beach to cool off. There are several resorts and first class hotels along the beach, with restaurants and bars open to the public strolling through the sand. So you can save money staying in Cayman vacation rentals and enjoy one of the best beaches in the world. Swim with friendly stingrays, scuba the beautiful waters at Cemetery Reef, and swing up to the Cayman Turtle Farm to see the majestic sea creatures that made Cayman famous.






South Beach, Miami
Your pool at your W Hotel Condo
in the heart of South Beach.
Skimpy beach wear, late night (all night?) parties and beautiful people all around -- no this isn't a day at the local lake, this is South Beach. And if you're looking for action and excitement along with your sun and surf, then take a look at the Miami vacation rentals for lodging. You'll be able to take part in all the fun and have a quiet place to relax and recover for the next nights "activities." Even if you're not into partying, there's still plenty to enjoy in South Beach. There are lots of great dining, entertainment and people watching to be had, and South Beach is a historic district, so the architecture is simply amazing.

Maui, Hawaii
View of the beach from your balcony.
From world-class snorkeling on the north end, to a bicycle descent from the top of the Haleakela Volcano, lots of shops and restaurants, whale viewing, all this and more within easy reach of Maui vacation rentalsMaui boasts 30 miles of beaches, mostly white, but you'll also find unique black and red sand beaches. Kaanapali on the west is one of America's Best Beaches, Makena Beach State Park is one of the largest beaches on the island, and Hamoa Beach was called the most beautiful beach in the Pacific by author James Michener. And those are just three of the more than dozen beaches on this beautiful and enchanting island. Nearly everyone who's visited the Hawaiian Islands and Maui will tell you Maui is their favorite island. Of course, the other islands are well worth a week's vacation, but Maui's got a little bit of everything to see and do. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Travel Trends 2013 -- From Vacation Rentals to Agritourism to Adventure Honeymoons

Food related travel vacations are increasing. Since
vacation rentals have full kitchens, guest can try out
new culinary delights as much as they want, and,
often, wherever they want.



There's no shortage of predictions for travel trends in 2013. Every travel writer on the web seems to be jumping in with their prognostications. While their crystal balls may or may not be clear, they're all certainly worth noting. After all, these are people who study the business, and 
2013 has the potential to be a year of significant recovery in the economy. Here are some of the more noteworthy predictions we found.

The Dark Side of the Hotel Lobby (and no, that doesn't mean burned out bulbs)
Matt Landau, vacation rental blogger and expert, says that the vacation rental industry should prepare for growth, citing a continuing increase in consumer demand for alternative lodging. At Perfect Places, we've noticed that more and more people are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of vacation rentals. This means owners and property managers are providing great experiences. Landau also warns that because of this rising popularity in vacation rentals, hotels will continue to lobby in attempts to limit short term rentals, or ban them entirely. Smart property managers will keep a close eye on any proposals that come before their city councils or state legislatures. Even smarter ones will be proactive and begin lobbying campaigns of their own.

A Cluck Cluck Here, a Moo Moo There
One of the most interesting takes was regarding family travel. Matt Villano at AOL Travel says that volunteer vacations and agritourism will all play a bigger role in family travel in 2013. "Family vacations have come a long way since the days of the Griswold's pilgrimage to Walley World," Villano writes. A growing category for families with children over the age of 5 is volunteer vacations. I can personally attest to that since my wife took our two teenagers on volunteer trips within the past few years, though it would be a stretch to call it a vacation. They all actually worked at day care centers in India and South Africa. But they did create fantastic memories worthy of the best vacations while helping the less fortunate. Cross Cultural Solutions is a great place to find volunteer trips around the world. For families with young kids, agritourism gives the young ones hands on, real world experience with Old MacDonald. Along these lines, Landau's predicting a rise in experiential travel and encouraging vacation rental owners and managers to come up with ways to show how their properties can allow travelers to become immersed in the area they visit.

Just Married? Forget Tin Cans Tied to the Car. Give 'em Surfboards Instead
Tamar Lowell of the Huffington Post is predicting an increase in adventure honeymoons. She mentions she spent her own honeymoon trekking in Nepal. It seems like a natural progression from destination weddings, and it seems like a natural fit for vacation rentals in exotic or adventure-friendly locations. . She also predicts that an improving economy will mean longer lead time in vacation planning, citing a move to booking three to six months out. That's great news for vacation rentals, since most have minimum stay requirements which require longer planning time. Lowel and others also say that epicurean tours are slated to become more popular. She reports that one travel agency has seen a 94% increase in bookings for food related tours. 

A prediction of our own: the trend towards group travel will continue. It's been going on for at least a decade now, and as baby boomers get more and more grandkids, it's a trend that can only increase. This is a perfect opportunity for vacation rentals, since they're the perfect lodging choice for grandma and grandpa when they want to get the whole family together for a week away on the lake, near the ocean or in the mountains. Find ways to take advantage of group travel and celebration vacations, and you'll likely have a great 2013. And if you're a traveler, be sure to try a group vacation. They're a lot of fun.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Family Friendly Ski Vacations




Skiing's a great family activity. It's easy to learn the basics of skiing and have fun on the bunny slopes, and it's fun to gain confidence and graduate to the more challenging runs. What's more, ski areas offer a multitude of things to do once you're off the slopes. Since vacation rentals and condos have long been a part of nearly every ski area, it's easy to find lodging that fits nearly any budget. So whether you're looking for an inexpensive trip just to have fun or want the experience of a lifetime, check out these 4 family-friendly ski areas.

Northstar Tahoe, California
Luxury custom-built vacation home in Northstar.
This is a great choice, and is especially close for anyone living in northern California, the Northwest or on the western side of the Rockies. There are plenty of beginner and moderate runs--making up about 75% of all the trails. Ski conditions are normally enhanced by the lake and the quantity of trees. Northstar has 89 trails, 18 lifts and eight terrain parks. There's also an ice skating rink and a tubing hill. Northstar's experienced growth since 2008, so it's not as crowded. The Village has lots of retail shops and plenty of great places to eat in a variety of styles and price ranges. Plus, Northstar's close to Lake Tahoe and everything it has to offer.

Vail, Colorado
Bring the whole family and make it
a ski trip to remember!
A perennial favorite and it's celebrating its 50th anniversary during the 2012-13 ski season, so there'll be lots of activities. Vail is the largest ski resort in North America, offering over 5,200 acres. Every skill level is catered to with a variety of trails--ski boredom simply won't happen. The trails are so well laid out that a family of differing skill levels can go their own ways, yet still find it easy to meet up at the bottom. Vail is also easy on the budget. Because of its size and popularity, Vail can get crowded, but it has another advantage: it's near other great ski areas such as Beaver Creek.

Killington, Vermont
Relax in a soothing hot tub after skiing or snowboarding!
A popular New England ski destination with 88 miles of terrain over seven mountains. You'll have over 190 trails to choose from, accommodating all skill levels thoroughly. It's popular with the locals, but staying in vacation rentals will help you fit right in. The instructor to student ratio maxes out at 5 to 1, so beginners needn't worry about learning how to ski. Once you're done skiing or snowboarding, you'll find over 100 restaurants and bars, casual family dining, and spas for the non-skiers (or the skiers sore muscles!).

Nendaz, Switzerland
Yes, that would be your view  of the Alps.
Located in the heart of the Four Valleys Ski Area, Nendaz provides easy access to 412km of downhill skiing-205 individual runs and 92 ski lifts. You can purchase a Four Valley's lift ticket and ski eight area resorts. Nendaz itself is scenic and friendly Alpine village that overlooks the Rhone River valley. It's one of 23 resorts in Switzerland that's received the "Families Welcome" designation from the Swiss Tourism Federation. It's a great value and will be well worth the trip--after all, what a memory you'll give your family by skiing in the famous Swiss Alps!


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Traveling with Friends & Staying in Vacation Rentals Just Got Easier




Vacation rentals and group travel go together. A vacation rental's the perfect lodging choice when you go with family and friends--it's more affordable than a resort or hotel, everyone can get their own room, and you have private pools, hot tubs, etc. But organizing group trips can be a pain. Getting everyone on the same page takes time, emails, text messages, missed calls and, worst of all, hurt feelings if someone feels like their opinion wasn't taken into consideration.

Plan with Friends from Perfect Places makes planning vacations with groups easier than ever.

First, select the vacation rentals you're interested in--they don't have to be just from PerfectPlaces.com either. No matter what property you like, no matter what website you find it on, you can save the property to your Plan with Friends account on Perfect Places. Creating a Plan with Friends account is easy, too (and FREE!). You can login via Facebook, Twitter, Google +, LinkedIn (fantastic for business trip or retreat planning), Yahoo!, AOL, Flickr, Blogger, WordPress, OpenID, VeriSign, PayPal, or use your email address.

Once you've saved your favorite properties, you can then share and discuss the people traveling with you. You can share any way you like--via one of the social networks mentioned above or email. Your friends can then discuss the pros and cons of each property with you.

But perhaps best of all, if a property is bookable online, you can book it through Plan with Friends. At PerfectPlaces.com, we have over 44,000 vacation rentals available for secure online booking using a credit card.

Perfect Places is more than just our name. We truly want you to find the perfect vacation place--and Plan with Friends is just one more way we help you have your best vacation ever. Check it out now. If you have questions, leave a comment below and we'll respond ASAP.