Have you ever considered bringing your dog with you on vacation — even when traveling overseas? Melissa Halliburton founded the website BringFido to make it easier for people to do just that. The site is a directory of pet-friendly hotels, vacation rentals, B&Bs and campgrounds all over the world; it also includes information on restaurants and attractions. We caught up with Halliburton to ask about her practical tips for traveling with dogs as well as find out where she and her own pet, Roxy, are headed next.
Independent Traveler: Other than companionship, what are the benefits of bringing your pet with you when you travel?
Melissa Haliburton: Traveling with your furry friend can be good for your health and possibly your pet’s health too. You and your four-legged companion will both get great exercise exploring new destinations on foot. And bringing Fido along on your adventure will eliminate any concerns about separation anxiety. Traveling with a dog may also help you make new friends in an unfamiliar destination. Take your pooch to a neighborhood park and mingle with local pet owners. Mentioning Fido’s travel adventures is always a great conversation starter. Finally, bringing your pet along on your journey may save you some money. Many hotels and vacation rentals welcome pets for no extra fee, saving you big bucks over expensive boarding options.
IT: There are plenty of horror stories about bringing pets on flights, particularly in the cargo hold (for animals too large to bring in the cabin). How can you decide whether it’s safe to fly with your pet?
MH: Before finalizing any travel plans, be sure to ask your veterinarian whether your pet is healthy enough to travel. Go over the full itinerary in the vet’s office and ask for his/her advice. Even if your pet is perfectly healthy, that doesn’t mean that she is safe to fly.
Reduce the risk of incidents by following a few basic tips: First, you should book nonstop flights whenever possible. Avoid destinations or connecting cities that may expose your pet to extreme temperatures while in cargo, on the tarmac or in the custody of the airlines. Second, anticipate delays and have a backup plan in case your original itinerary is impacted. Third, for your pet’s safety and your own peace of mind, invest in a pet tracker to monitor Fido’s whereabouts throughout your trip. Finally, don’t medicate your pet with tranquilizers, as these medicines can cause heart and respiratory issues. Instead, focus on making sure that Fido is comfortably fitted with an approved crate that is large enough for him to turn around and lie down inside.
IT: Which is a better bet for people traveling with a dog — a vacation rental or a hotel?
MH: Deciding between a vacation rental or hotel is generally a matter of personal choice, as both have pros and cons. But pet owners may want to consider their pet’s individual needs and personality when making their lodging decision. For the pampered pooch, an upscale hotel may be just the ticket. Some hotels offer amazing pet amenities like doggie dining menus and pet spa services. If your pooch prefers some off-leash time, a vacation home with a fenced backyard would make his holiday special. Regardless of the type of accommodation, always consider the location around the hotel or rental, as you’ll likely be going on late night or early morning walks with your pup.
IT: What advice would you offer people who want to bring their pet on an international vacation?
MH: Plan ahead. Depending on the destination, you will need to begin preparation weeks, if not months, prior to an international trip. Never book an international flight until you have double-checked that you pet can be safely accommodated and that your pet can satisfy all entry and exit requirements for pet transit.
IT: Which places are easiest for Americans to travel with a pet, and which are the most expensive and/or challenging?
MH: Traveling internationally with a pet is never as simple as paying a fee and setting off on your journey. No matter the destination, you’ll be completing paperwork, scheduling vet appointments and paying hefty sums to get your pet to your intended destination. But pet owners should be particularly cautious when it comes to travel in countries with strict quarantine requirements, such as Australia. Even domestic travel to Hawaii involves quarantine restrictions for your furry friend.
IT: What’s your favorite travel experience that you’ve had with your dog?
MH: We recently visited the town of Canals, Spain (near Valencia) with our Chihuahua-pug mix, Roxy, to participate in festivities celebrating Saint’s Day for San Antonio Abad. Each year in mid-January, locals and visitors gather for a three-day festival involving parades, a bonfire celebration and the Blessing of the Animals ceremony.
IT: Where are you and your dog headed next?
MH: We don’t have another international trip planned at the moment, but we’re likely to visit one or two Asian capitals sometime in the next year.
My latest obsession is booking hotels, rental cars and other travel arrangements through rebate apps on my iPad. These apps give you cash-back bonuses if you visit booking websites through the apps instead of going directly to the websites to make your reservations.
They also give you bonuses for buying everything from groceries to new sneakers, so you can build up your vacation fund a little faster if you use them.
Privacy experts and conspiracy theorists are probably cringing right about now, worried about all the data these apps are collecting about me and my spending habits. Am I concerned? Not in the least. Retail companies are already collecting loads of data about us. Do you think your supermarket loyalty card is only about discounts? Do you think your credit card usage isn’t being analyzed?
My feeling is that they spend a lot of money to collect data about me, so I might as well cash in on that. Plus, the cash I receive each month in my PayPal account feels like a little present.
There are two rebate apps I use for travel purchases.
Ebates is probably the most widely used rebate app and website. It also works with the greatest number of travel industry partners, including Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Booking.com, Hotels.com, Marriott, Park ‘N Fly and Virgin America. Travel product retailers also offer rebates on the site — Patagonia and Samsonite are among them — as do package tour companies, including Cheap Caribbean and OneTravel.
The site offers straightforward “percentage back” rebates of up to 12 percent back, but also has a number of other coupons and special deals. A handful of companies even periodically offer double cash back.
Using a Chrome-based web browser, I installed Ebates’ special extension in order to receive a pop-up alert anytime I navigate to a partner company site. I didn’t know, for instance, that eBags was a participant until I was price-checking new luggage and the Ebates pop-up alerted me.
Ibotta is the other app I like. An app strictly for mobile devices, Ibotta was useful last month in nabbing $11.04 back from a New York City hotel booking. I have the last-minute hotel app Hotel Tonight downloaded onto my iPad, so by clicking through to that app via the Ibotta app, I was able to receive 4 percent cash back for the amazingly priced and very clean $109-a-night hotel I secured two blocks from the Empire State Building. Bundled with my $10 bonus for downloading the free app, the rebate will cover my Netflix bill for a couple of months.
Unfortunately, Ibotta only currently works with four travel partners. But it’s useful for grocery purchases, and those rebates will steadily help cushion your travel fund. Other useful retail rebate apps to try include Checkout 51, SavingStar and Receipt Hog.
Making a travel bucket list — even if it’s not realistic to visit all the places on the list — invokes a sense of hope, gives people something to look forward to and even inspires them to get into better shape, according to a new study by the largest nonprofit organization in the U.S.
Two out of every five Americans over the age of 50 say they have a travel bucket list, and nearly 70 percent of them expect to visit the next destination on the list, according the AARP Travel Bucket List Survey. While they hope to visit 80 percent of the places on the list, most people consider it a success to hit just 65 percent of them.
“You get a sense of accomplishment and contentment when you finally get to experience something you have wanted to do for a long time,” one survey respondent said.
Simply making a list has positive benefits: It gives people something to look forward to, inspires them to make the most the most of their lives and experience new things and convinces them, as one respondent said, that “my dreams can really happen.”
Traveling is one of the top aspirational activities of people 50 years and up. Most no longer have children at home, and they often have more money and time to travel than when they were younger. Around two-thirds say they’ll travel with a significant other or spouse; 18 percent say their next trip will be solo.
They are saving money for their bucket list trips and even getting in better shape to prepare for the rigors of travel, the survey found. More than one-third of those surveyed say they’ve already started saving money for their next bucket list trip, and half of baby boomers say they’re taking steps to improve their health so they can enjoy their travels more.
But at the same time, money can be a limiting factor. Forty-five percent of those surveyed say that money holds them back from visiting more of their bucket list destinations.
If T-shirts are among the souvenirs you’ve collected over your years of traveling, chances are you have a plentiful stock of vintage, too-small, faded or out-of-fashion tops cluttering your dresser drawers or storage room. But you can repurpose them into useful household items, home decor and new wearables without losing their charm.
1. Kids’ Clothes: An Alaskan mom named Natasha fashioned a baby onesie out of a vintage St. Thomas beach resort T-shirt and it couldn’t be cooler. Check out the tutorial on Knit Nat. You can make other children’s clothes too, including this adorable Savannah-themed sundress for a little girl from the blog Pretty Prudent.
2. Quilts: We’ve seen plenty of sports jerseys, cheerleading T-shirts and runners’ bibs fashioned into fleece-back quilts, so why not do the same with your travel T-shirts? Project Repat will snip and sew quilts using 16 to 64 T-shirts. The company takes a socially and environmentally conscious approach too, collaborating with manufacturers committed to providing jobs in the United States and using backing made from recycled fleece. If you have sewing skills, you could make your own quilt following these WikiHow instructions.
3. Tote Bags: In fewer than 15 minutes, you could turn an old T-shirt into a reusable tote bag — and you don’t even have to sew to do it. The small totes are sized right for trips to the grocery store. Here are instructions from Instructables.com for a no-sew tote. Apartment Therapy teaches you how to make T-shirt-based produce bags.
4. Pillowcases: How cute would it be to have a travel-themed sitting room decorated with your favorite photos and souvenirs on the walls and travel T-shirt pillows on the furniture? Snap Guide shows you how to make small pillows from T-shirts.
5. Artwork: With a square canvas and a staple gun, the image on an old T-shirt can become a work of art for your walls. Lifehacker provides simple instructions.
Have you ever tried to tell the story of something exciting or funny that happened on vacation, but you fell flat? Don’t feel bad, says storytelling coach Esther Choy, the founder and president of the Leadership Story Lab in Chicago. It happens to all of us.
Taking a break during a family ski vacation in Park City, Utah, Choy coached us on how to be a better storyteller when sharing our own travel tales.
Independent Traveler: In general, do you think most people are good or bad at storytelling?
Esther Choy: Most people have wonderful stories buried in them. But there are a few things they can do to tell them better. What makes a novel a page-turner is that at every critical juncture of a plot, readers find out a bit more about the characters, and yet there is another cliffhanger. So the novel is intriguing their audiences.
You don’t need to handcuff yourself to recounting events as they unfolded per their chronological order. Telling stories involves an intriguing beginning, a riveting middle and a satisfying end. This three-act formula can generate an hour-plus-long story, or it can be a 30-second experience.
And you don’t have to be a superhero to tell great stories. Sure, if you’ve just climbed Kilimanjaro while hoisting your aging parents and barely walking toddler twins along, you’re a superhero. But a compelling tale can be as seemingly mundane as getting through a quarter of your reading list during a laid-back beach vacation. A great story relates the central theme of your story to a universality, a shared human experience.
IT: What other components make up a good travel tale?
EC: You have to balance indulgences with an experience your listeners can relate to. Of course, if you’ve discovered the best ramen in the world, by all means, share that. But if your tale is mostly about touting one indulgence after another, then you’re creating a “Facebook updates” experience for your audience. Yawn!
A good travel tale has a well-balanced mix of new, pleasurable discovery and universal experience. Let’s say that after discovering your favorite ramen restaurant in Honolulu, you went overboard and ate ramen every day for five days. Then you had indigestion and didn’t love the ramen place as much. As you wrapped up your tale, you reflected on how even a little bit of self-restraint could have perfected the whole experience. In this story, discovering the best ramen is the indulgence. Exercising more self-discipline in order to preserve a wonderful experience is the universality.
IT: Before you start telling a story, what should you think through to make sure the story is well received?
EC: Always keep your audience’s preference in mind. With an adventure story, some might be more intrigued by how you arrived at the best whitewater rafting part of the Grand Canyon. Some might wonder how you justified to your boss that taking a month off for this experience would make you a better employee.
No matter the preference, treat the storytelling more like a dialogue, implanting hooks for questions, rather than doling out one long monologue. In my upcoming book Let the Story Do the Work, I talk about how “aggressive listening” is a prerequisite for good storytelling. The main idea is that you want to incorporate what is important to your audience as you’re telling your stories.
IT: What should you do if you notice that your listener is losing interest?
EC: It’s important to pay attention to signs of waning interest. They’re smiling too long. They’ve stopped mirroring your body language. They’re looking toward the door or at their phones.
Cliffhangers help. And if you’re telling a travel story in an informal setting, know that your story doesn’t have to be a monologue. Take advantage of natural back-and-forth of dialogue to break things up. Ask a rhetorical question — “Guess what happened next?” And use humor to re-engage interest.
IT: Does it help to show visuals, such as photographs or souvenirs?
EC: Visuals can help, but be highly selective. A picture can speak a thousand words, but only if you’ve chosen a good one. For example, my husband and his friend are very advanced skiers. One day, they ventured to the peak of Red Pine Bowl in Park City. Once they summited, they saw a sign that said “You Can Die.”
As they shared their stories over dinner, all they said in the beginning was, “We HAVE to show you this sign.” And they refused to say anything else. This was highly effective because it left us wondering, what was that sign? Why wouldn’t they say anything else?
IT: Okay, you got us. What happened next?
EC: On a ski lift, my husband Bernhard and his friend Nik met a local skier who recommended that they hike up to the top because the view was worth it. It was already toward the end of their day and they were tired. But then they thought, what the heck? Just as they reached the top, though, they saw the sign.
At this point during our dinner, Bernhard and Nik paused. With a smirk, Bernhard said, “This sign got me thinking…” And then his voice trailed off. Nik chimed in, “I wondered what would happen if…” His voice trailed off too.
I have witnessed Nik promised his wife not to do any double black hills with a cliff or anything “too risky” on several occasions. His wife and I looked at each other, and waited for more in full anticipation.
“So we took a left, followed the trail and went back down.” And that was that!
As you can see, in this little story no one got hurt and no one died. No one even attempted any highly risky act. The only highlight was the sign. Although the sign was a bit dramatic in its messaging, there wasn’t any other dramatic element in the whole story. But Bernhard and Nik know their wives well. They made full use of anticipation, pauses and dialoguing to tell this fun tale.
Elia Locardi met his wife Naomi when they were teens in the Florida Keys. Today the Locardis have no home. They’re perpetual nomads, traipsing around the globe taking photos and videos, writing about their experiences and leading tours.
This March will mark the fifth consecutive year the 30-something couple has been on the road. They’re the subject of a new travel documentary by SmugMug Films, the video wing of the photo storage and sharing site SmugMug. The videos tell the behind-the-lens stories of some of its most interesting photographer users, and the Locardis certainly fit that bill. Check out the documentary below.
We caught up with the Locardis to learn more about five years with the world as their home.
Independent Traveler.com: Do you have a permanent home at all? An apartment? A mailbox?
Elia Locardi: The easiest answer is: “It’s complicated.” Selling nearly everything we owned, packing the remaining things into a five-foot-by-five-foot storage unit and leaving our permanent address behind in 2012, we relied on close friends to collect our mail for us and let us use their home address.
Naomi Locardi: To ease the burden on our friends, last year we set up an account with a family-owned shipping store in Central Florida. They now send, receive and hold shipments and mail for us, no matter how many months it takes for us to pick them up.
IT: When did the “travel bug” first hit you?
EL: We’ve always wanted to travel. It’s just that for most of our young adult lives, we focused so much on our work life and careers. In the process of trying to live the “American Dream,” we always dismissed world travel as something that we’d never be able to afford. My entire outlook on life changed during a trip to Italy in 2009, and we decided to make both photography and travel our highest priority.
NL: That trip to Italy was the first time I ever left the U.S., and when our plane took off for Rome, it was quite emotional for me. My entire life I had dreamed of visiting Italy, and that dream finally becoming a reality moved me to tears. That’s just one of the many reasons Italy means so much to us.
IT: How has technology made this choice of lifestyle possible? Do you think you could have done this 20 or 30 years ago, for instance?
EL: Traveling the world in the past would be much more intimate, and a lot of destinations would still be relatively untouched and pure. That being said, that very same intimacy was largely due to the lack of global communication. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that we were using payphones and calling cards. Simple things like staying in contact with family was extremely difficult, so along with that intimacy with a place, you would have to also accept more isolation.
NL: These days we really tend to take technology for granted, especially when it comes to personal communication. Now, at any moment and no matter where I happen to be in the world, I can easily send a text or Facebook message to my mom and dad.
IT: What is the hardest thing about living permanently on the road?
NL: Simple things, like staying connected. Sometimes a reliable internet connection can be very hard to come by. Other than that, you’d be surprised how quickly you can adapt to this lifestyle.
EL: When you boil it down, it’s not home that you miss, it’s the feeling of home. And those feelings can be replicated no matter where you go.
IT: Traveling as a couple can’t be a bed of roses all the time! What advice do you have for other couples or groups to ensure they maintain peace and happiness on the road?
NL: When you travel full-time, you’re basically always together and most often you’re sharing a small hotel room or apartment. Since we also work together, it can be a challenge to give each other the space we may need. It really takes being able to communicate to each other when those times are and respecting one another’s varying needs.
EL: This type of lifestyle requires a strong relationship and the ability to be very courteous and understanding. If you want to travel perpetually long term, try to find ways you can both spend time together, and have revitalizing activities apart as well.
IT: Tell us about an interaction you had with a local that made a big impact on you and has stayed with you.
NL: During our time in Bhutan early last year, our guide helped arrange a photo shoot with a local woman who was a nomadic yak herder. We were photographing her in the morning as she went about gathering milk from the herd. After she finished, she ran along with the herd to guide them out to pasture, and I followed.
As we started back toward the rest of our team, she grabbed my hand and we walked hand in hand all the way back to her shelter. As we approached, they asked why we were holding hands, and I replied, “When a local Bhutanese woman grabs your hand, you don’t ask questions; you simply take her hand back and enjoy the moment.” It was a special moment, and a reminder of the beauty and kindness of the human spirit that unites us all.
IT: And now let’s talk destinations: What were the favorite places you visited in 2016?
EL: In Bhutan, it’s hard to describe how wonderful it is to be there. It’s unique to the world, and the people there are so genuinely kind that you can’t help but feel welcomed at every turn.
Greece stands out because we spent five weeks working on multiple projects there. We celebrated Naomi’s birthday with a candlelight dinner on the beach in Serifos, a gorgeous little island in the western Cyclades. After that much time living the Mediterranean island lifestyle, it was hard to leave!
NL: This is always one of the most difficult questions to answer! Every place has its wonderful aspects, and I seem to fall in love with just about everywhere we go in some way or another. It always comes back to the people in the end for me, though. Sharing trips to Bhutan, Japan, Italy, Greece and Iceland. We had the incredible pleasure of traveling with some truly wonderful people for several professional projects and also during some photo tours we were leading.
IT: Which destinations are you planning to visit in 2017?
EL: I’m looking forward to visiting northern India to photograph wild tigers and Patagonia in Chile to photograph the stunning landscapes.
NL: Aside from the ones that Elia mentioned, I’m also hoping to make it to Morocco, Cuba and Norway.
Tangled charger cables and knotty earbud cords have quickly become one of the most irksome pet peeves of the technology era, especially for travelers. Raise your hand if you’ve ever dug around in your purse or backpack on a plane to retrieve your headphones, only to pull out a jumbled snarl containing a pen, a comb and old gum wrappers.
Wondering how to keep cords organized and tangle-free while traveling? Try these six items.
1. Binder clips: Binder clips are a great tool for keeping your workspace organized, and they’re helpful when traveling too. On a plane I clip my headphones to my shirt, to ensure I don’t drop them. You can also snap a binder clip onto your seat pocket and hang your headphones or earbuds from them.
2. Old eyeglass case: A great storage solution for a phone charger, an old case for your eyeglasses or sunglasses will keep the cord from tangling and protect it from damage.
3. Twist ties: You could use the ones that come with a box of trash bags, though they often aren’t very sturdy. Or purchase ones specifically designed for cord management. EliteTechGear sells a pack of 16 bendable, reusable silicone-covered wires that keep your cords nice and neat.
4. Cord “tacos”: How cute are these? Little leather or fabric pouches with a snap keep cords looped well. A number of vendors on Etsy, such as Beaudin Designs, sell them for around $5 each. Or you could follow these simple instructions from the blogger Local Adventurer and make your own.
5. Grid-It Organizer: With a number of tight elastic loops of various sizes, the Grid-It Organizer by Cocoon will keep cords and their devices super snug. The loops can be reconfigured into the design that best meets your needs, and it easily slips into a carry-on bag. With some modest sewing skills you could make a similar organizer following these DIY instructions from The Labeled Life.
6. Roll-up or fold-up pouches: If elastic straps aren’t your thing, you can tuck earbuds and chargers into the pockets of roll-up or fold-up pouches, such as this monogrammed leather roll-up from Mark and Graham or a mesh fabric organizer from Patu, and then tie the bundle together.
Writer and film producer Patricia Steffy rose early one morning last week in Playa Ocotal, Costa Rica, to walk among the trees and look for monkeys. But instead of searching the trees or watching the sun rise or listening to the surf crash on the beach, she thought about her flight home.
What time should she leave for the airport? What would the weather be like in Minneapolis for her connecting flight? Would the customs app on her phone be accurate?
You would have thought her flight was that afternoon. But it was five days away.
Steffy, who writes the blog Traveling Without a Net, has set a New Year’s resolution to live more in the present and stop worrying about tomorrow. “I let what might happen in five days overshadow what is happening right now,” Steffy says. “It’s probably one of my worst travel tendencies, and I’m hoping to banish it — or at least lessen it — in 2017.”
She’s not the only frequent traveler who has made a travel resolution for 2017.
Adam Groffman, the writer of Travels of Adam, just spent six weeks traveling throughout the United States, so we’re not surprised by his response. “My resolution is to travel a little closer to home,” said Groffman, who is based in Berlin. “More staycations, weekend getaways with friends and family visits.”
Ian Cumming, founder of the international community Travel Massive, is feeling the same way. He said he plans to explore cities close to home — which happens to be the fabulous Sydney, Australia — and not feel like he needs to escape to far-flung places. “There’s most likely something just around the corner in your neighborhood that you never knew about,” he says.
Andrea Gerak, a singer and writer from Kazincbarcika, Hungary, has a goal of taking her 75-year-old mother on her first trip outside the country. “Although this has been a dream for her, she could never do it, sacrificing herself for the family and others. And now it’s her time!” Gerak explains. They likely will go to a seaside destination in Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia or Bulgaria, Gerak says.
As a perpetual traveler, Dariece Swift of Goats on the Road is never home. Yet her 2016 schedule wasn’t everything she wanted it to be because she was overbooked with house-sitting gigs and other commitments. She’s now resolved to keep her schedule freer in 2017. “Next year is going to be a year of continent- and country-hopping, with no responsibilities,” she writes via email from Buenos Aires.
James Feess, half of the duo who writes The Savvy Backpacker, is resolved to spend less money during the year so that he can splurge on more experiences while traveling. “For example, a few months ago we took a Vespa day tour through the Tuscan countryside. It was the highlight of our time in Italy,” Feess writes in an email. “Of course, we can’t afford to do something that extravagant every day, but that extra $200 was money well spent.”
Dan Miller, the writer of the blog Points with a Crew, plans to “stop worrying about finding the absolutely, positively best deal and just start booking trips and going places.”
Marek Bron, the blogger behind Indie Traveller, wants to inject his travels with more spontaneity — the way he did when he first started traveling. “Recently I’ve found myself terribly bogged down in trying to decide my next trip, and falling into the old trap of always trying to find the ‘perfect destination’ and the ‘perfect time to go’,” Bron explains. “For 2017, I’m promising myself to be a bit more spontaneous again.”
A nice complement to that is Kristin Addis’ resolution to “introduce more serendipity” into her travels. How so? Starting in February, the Be My Travel Muse writer is planning to explore East Africa for 45 days without a plan. “I’m going to road trip across a few of the neighboring countries without any plans or agendas to see where it takes me,” says the Southern California-based blogger.
Max Hartshorne, editor of GoNOMAD Travel, plans to take fewer but more meaningful trips in 2017. “I have been taking 12 trips a year for the past 15 years, and while I love it, I need to focus on business matters,” he says. “Now watch: I will get a chance to visit somewhere new and bang, out with this resolution!”
Wendy Redal’s resolution that has more to do with what she does once she return from a trip than during it. The Boulder, Colorado, writer and editor is pledging to organize her travel photos within a week of returning from a trip. “Or else they will continue to languish on my hard drive with the other 20,000 trip pictures I’ve taken in the last God-knows-how-many years,” Redal says.
And after visiting 23 countries in 2016, Collette and Scott Stohler plan to spend more time in the United States in 2017. The Southern California-based couple behind the the luxury and adventure travel blog Roamaroo have national parks on their radar.
“Sometimes,” Collette Stohler says, “it’s not until you leave your home that you truly treasure what was there all along.”
Many modern rental cars offer sophisticated “infotainment” systems that can link up to your smartphone via Bluetooth, allowing you to make hands-free calls, stream your music through the vehicle’s speakers and use your favorite map app for navigation. But these systems can pose a security risk by storing your personal data, including contacts, call logs, text messages and the places you visit during your rental.
“Unless you delete that data before you return the car, other people may view it, including future renters and rental car employees or even hackers,” cautions the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
So how can you enjoy the convenience of your car’s infotainment system without compromising your security? Collin Ikim of Magrenta, a Romanian car rental company, says he always shows clients how to wipe their data from the system before returning their vehicles. “Most people return [their] rental car at the last moment, when they’re already in a hurry,” he says. “You should give yourself time to remove the personal data stored in the car. It’s a matter of minutes.”
Ikim recommends going into the settings menu of the infotainment system. “There you’ll find a list of devices that have been paired: locate yours and follow the prompts to delete it. If you used the car’s navigation system, clear your location history.”
If all you need is to charge your phone, both Ikim and the FTC recommend using an adapter to power the device via the car’s cigarette lighter rather than connecting via USB to the infotainment system, which might capture your data automatically.
If you do decide to use the system, you can usually choose which data you want to share. Keep your permissions as limited as possible to avoid putting information unnecessarily at risk.
For those renting a car in their own local area, Ikim offers one final suggestion: “Consider setting your home address to a nearby intersection. If strangers get … access to your car, they won’t know the precise directions to your specific home address.”
If your desired travel experience includes not spending a lot of money and being able to interact with locals, then Homestay.com is a lodging option you’ll want to consider. Launched in 2013, Dublin-based Homestay.com allows you to book a room in a local’s home in more than 150 countries. Hosts may take you on a tour of their city, cook you a meal or simply engage in breakfast conversation and provide touring advice. Rates are surprisingly low — much lower than booking a room in someone’s home through Airbnb, for example.
We chatted with Homestay.com CEO Alan Clarke about what to expect from a stay at one of the 50,000 host properties around the world.
IndependentTraveler.com: The social interaction and insider knowledge of a destination are obvious benefits of Homestay.com. What are some benefits that might not be apparent to a new user?
Alan Clarke: It’s a great budget alternative to hotels and less crowded than hostels — and you get your own private room, not a dorm. Breakfast is included in the price and often there are other perks too: Many hosts are happy to throw in a pick-up service from the airport, laundry service, shared dinners, storing of luggage, use of the kitchen or a bicycle and more.
IT: Who tends to use this type of lodging?
AC: Solo travelers account for more than 60 percent of the bookings. It’s ideal for anyone traveling alone who wants to stay with a local in their home and share a meal or hang out. It can help you to feel safer and more confident about going somewhere you’ve never been before.
People on holiday can enjoy a culturally immersive experience, while those traveling for business can return to a friendly face at the end of a busy day instead of an empty hotel room. And 40 percent of the guests booking on Homestay.com are students, many of whom need a home [away] from home for an extended period of time.
IT: Homestay costs are surprisingly affordable. With the advent of Airbnb, Sonder, VRBO and other sites, surely you could raise your rates. Why have you kept them so low?
AC: It’s up to the hosts to set their own prices. We help them to understand the need to be competitive and educate them on how to adjust their rates for seasonality or special events. However, for many of the hosts on Homestay.com it’s as much about the people they’ll meet as it is about the extra revenue they’ll earn.
IT: How do you ensure that people stay safe when using a homestay? Have you ever had safety incidents?
AC: We encourage hosts and guests to verify their ID when signing up. It’s not compulsory, but we do recommend it. We work with a third-party provider who independently verifies the validity of the IDs. Prior to setting our hosts live for bookings our team checks the listing to ensure its authenticity.
When a guest wants to book they have the opportunity to send messages back and forth to the host, allowing them to build trust and rapport prior to making a booking. We also offer a custom video chat as part of the booking process.
And we have a customer service team on hand seven days a week to help, should an issue arise. With thousands of guest reviews, 90 percent of them five star, I can assure you that we place customer satisfaction and safety at the top of our list of priorities.
IT: Tell us about one of the most interesting homestay experiences you’ve had.
AC: While travelling in Italy I stayed with an amazing host in Florence — really close to the Ponte Vecchio. She was a certified tour guide with a passion for traditional Tuscan cooking, so you can imagine how most of my days were spent!
IT: What do you look for in a host?
AC: I’m a pretty independent traveler so for me the host that best suits my needs is someone who will mostly leave me to my own devices but is also happy to share their tips and advice if I need it. Each guest and host is different in terms of the level of interaction they want from the experience. That’s why we encourage our guests and hosts to communicate as much as possible during and after the booking process.
IT: What are some of your favorite destinations around the world?
AC: I’ve been lucky to visit many amazing places: the Base Camp of Everest, Victoria Falls in Zambia, Zanzibar, Goa, the Great Wall in China, Copacabana, Golden Gate Park, Lake Baikal in Siberia, the pubs of London, the restaurants of Paris, the cafes of Melbourne.
I think what makes me most excited about any trip is the uniqueness that each destination has to offer, which for me is a combination of everything from culture to people to architecture and landscape. Perhaps two that stand out are Biarritz in France and Kerry in Ireland. Both are coastal, beautiful locations, with deep local culture and great food and people.
IT: And where are you going next?
AC: A Christmas market in Europe with my family — our first trip abroad with our first child. Very exciting!