Airbnb for dummies

I've written several articles where I've curated rentals both domestic and internationally and each one comes with caveats for every location. Here are my tips for your most foolproof booking.

Photo courtesy Airbnb Bali rental 5197293

Photo courtesy Airbnb Bali rental 5197293

Location

When you enter your location destination check the map that populates. Some locations will not be close to the city you select, sometimes as much as 90 minutes away! The more restrictions you put in like price, rooms, beds, etc will give you fewer results and it expands your distance options. 

If you're traveling for a very location specific reason (like a wedding, business trip, amusement park/attraction) this is going to be of paramount importance. If you're traveling to explore an area and will have a vehicle this may not be an issue and even add to your enjoyment of the trip.

If you don't speak the native language filter to have a host who can communicate in your own language.

Read reviews

Ideally, you want a rental that has several reviews that go into the current rating. One 5-star rating isn't the same as 137 4-star ratings. Look at the detail of both 5-star and 2-star reviews. Why one person rates a 5-star  may not matter to you and a 2-star rating because there weren't enough beds won't be a bother if you're traveling solo.

Look for comments that contain detail about activities in the area that you didn't know of before in the event you want to add that stop in your daily activity planning.  If you like to cook many of your meals in the rental you can learn how far and how good the markets are in the area, how well the kitchen equipment is stocked and if there is a wine opener. Details matter.

A piece I did on Big Bend National Park in Texas and it features a rental which has a challenging plumbing situation due to the remote area which some guests weren't prepared for. The host stated this in the description but the guests experience using it is what future renters will want to know. Big Bend is several hours from an airport so you'll know you need a vehicle and some rentals aren't off paved roads.  Details matter.

Guests that praise a responsive host is a great testimony. If you're in a foreign country this can be key because you don't have a hotel concierge.

Photo courtesy Airbnb Stockholm 22385748

Photo courtesy Airbnb Stockholm 22385748

Look at photos

How big is the bathroom? Is the kitchen spacious enough for you to cook a family meal? Rentals in Karachi, Pakistan may have 6 beds but 4 of them could be in one sleeping room.

Home size norms are different in each country so you want to get a sense of what to expect before you arrive and manage your expectations.  Photos really help you to mentally prepare.  I've seen rentals with no windows in the bedroom. Would this matter to you?

Photo courtesy Airbnb Santa Monica, CA rental 7460366

Photo courtesy Airbnb Santa Monica, CA rental 7460366

The price you see isn't the price you pay

The devil is in the details. Read fees carefully. Cleaning fees vary tremendously as well as the fee paid to Airbnb (or VRBO) and that can tack on $150 - $1000+ to your final bill.  A large ski home rental will need a larger cleaning crew than a studio in Baltimore. You can't always shop by price because of this. Look for a range, go a bit lower in your search if your budget is tight to allow for fees.

Some locations are seasonal hotspots so inputting your dates of travel can double your cost or half your cost. If you're on a tight budget and flexible with dates try the tail end of the season.

Contact the owner

Fast and friendly response is key.  If you don't see details about how to get the keys (or entry code) and where to leave them, the condition you're expected to leave the rental in when you leave (dishes, laundry, trash, etc) ask the owner just before you're ready to book. Owners rate you just like you rate them.

Is food delivery available nearby? Are there enough pillows for your comfort? Think of your day to day needs. Rentals are not hotels. Most will come with a coffee maker and general cooking equipment, dishes, glasses and eating utensils. Some countries do not have tap water that is safe to drink (not just Mexico) so ask the owner if you don't already know.

Check-in time should appear in the listing as well as check out.  This is important to allow for cleaning time especially if it's a multi-unit building where many are vacation rentals like ski or beach resorts. There are limited cleaning crews and none of us wants to arrive to a rushed cleaning job.  If you don't clearly see the times listed ask the owner during your initial contact.

By following these tips you're sure to have a successful rental experience with minimal surprises. 

How to enjoy Atlanta like a local

Atlanta is a big city that offers a booming social scene, star sightings, and high profile attractions. Yet, if you look at its core, it is a family-friendly location with intimate neighborhoods adjacent to the heart of the action, making it one of the top spots for relocation. Below, we have provided the top 10 things about living in Atlanta.

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Avoid cruise regret with these first timer cruise tips

Are you thinking about or have you already booked your first cruise? You're going to have a great time, meet new people and see new places. The ship will have tasty plentiful food, entertainment, activities and scenic ports of call.  There are some things to be aware of so your day to day travel needs are met as well as possible and you can maximize the enjoyment of your trip.

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Through A Child's Eyes. Cuban Food Comes To Miami

 

I was a child in Miami when the Cuban people started to immigrate into my city. I watched South Florida turn into a melting pot of cultures before I even hit puberty.  It was pretty neat and being that kids are so adaptable I ate it up.  My family is a bunch of blue and green eyed fair skinned WASPS. Exotic looking children with those gorgeous liquidy ink black eyes started to assimilate into my classrooms. They had a vibrant energy and foreign accents which I was a bit spellbound by.  Up until my few short years on this earth, my food life had a whole lot of usual suspects found in the 1970's South Florida cuisine. Conch (fritters, ceviche, salad), key lime pie, stone crabs, ocean fish (grouper and mahi-mahi namely)  and a barbecue place called Shorty's on Dixie Highway - which now has multiple locations (and I still remember the unique taste of it to this day).  Additional non-exotic but delicious food catering to the Jewish crowd are some of the best delis around including the now closed ultra iconic Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House in Miami Beach on Collins Avenue.  Those baskets of table rolls found their way not only into seniors' handbags, they ended up in mine too.

 
Enter in the food culture of my new South Florida cohabitants.  About a million Cubans came to my city in a fairly short amount of time and the new exotic foods came swiftly along with them. 

Cuban Coffee


In my house, it was pretty old school coffee. There were no Starbucks, Keurig machines or in- home barista units.  You had Taster's Choice, Chock full o' nuts, Sanka or my father's. He is Swedish which means boil grounds in a pot of water and toss in an eggshell. It keeps the luscious dark liquid clear.  Cultures that enjoy coffee also have a type or style that is the hallmark and how it is enjoyed can vary. My observation of the Cuban ritual version came from Cuban coffee trucks set up in parking lots initially. I would see older Cuban gentleman sitting outside of these trucks on lawnchairs enjoying tiny cups of thick dark coffee along with fat cigars.  Perhaps reading a paper, sharing stories with fellow countrymen or just solo enjoying the hot sun on their face.  Cuban coffee is hyper sweet and the sugaring process makes it more viscous than regular espresso.

 
The yellow canisters of café Bustello were flooding the coffee and international food aisles in our Publix and Winn-Dixie stores.  The day my dad brought some home it was downright exotic. No joke.

Guava Everything

@alexabr instagram


My young ears did not like the sound of this fruit. Guava paste, guava pastries, guava jam, etc was showing up in bakeries, grocery aisles and in the produce section.  None of us in the family knew what to make of it. Formerly markets dominated by key limes and oranges saw this fruit was strong-arming its way in. Once I tried a guava pastry my mind changed and it changed fast. Pastelitos de Guayaba may or may not have the addition of cream cheese. I found I liked it either way. This is a traditional Cuban pastry as the guava tree thrives in the tropical climate Cuba enjoys.

Black beans and rice


Goya products lined grocery aisles and inside those blue labeled cans were things too mysterious and exotic for a south Florida child to understand. Namely all those beans!

Beans honestly were the first thing to catch me off guard. The only bean I knew as a kid was a fresh green string bean. Cuban food isn't exactly big on the green vegetables. What is a black or red bean? Here goes the exotic card again. After my mother told me the story of her childhood and playing with dried beans (toys for children of farmers) one of her cousins got one stuck in his nose. Grandmother wondered one day why his nose was so red and tender. Upon tilting his head up and fishing around with her crochet hook she pulled out a sprouting bean. I suppose this is why my brother and I never had dried beans around in our toy box.

I saw piles of black beans and rice on plates in cafes we passed by. A strange color but unforgettable and intriguing to my young curious eyes. It took about a year but as a family, we tried it. The flavor of cumin was entirely foreign to me. The concoction is a dietary staple in the Cuban food culture. It is laced with oregano, onions, olive oil, sometimes bell pepper and garlic-and cumin of course. Black beans make the rice a purple hue and stud the dish like delicious exotic jewels.

The Cuban Sandwich

Cuban Sandwich at Oro restaraunt Houston


To this day I am thankful for this mix of deliciously layered items between two bread halves. This was street food in carts on Calle Ocho, 8th street Little Havana area.  They were popping up in deli's soon after.  Delicious roasted pork sliced, boiled ham, pickles, mustard and swiss cheese pressed on a plancha or not. I like it either way.  It's fatty sure but it always tastes light. I blame the mustard and its condiment trickery. Pickles are there for backup magic. Tricks you into thinking there are a few hundred less calories.  You do not order a Sandwich Cubano with some customizations like leaving something off or extra something else. That throws off the whole balance. Just eat it as is in its sheer perfection.

Plantain Chips


Without question, this is my favorite item that found its way into my Publix produce area.  I am thrilled to find them in my new state of residence. There is nothing quite like a plantain chip.  I remember my first few years of eating them before several companies started to produce them. They were paper thin, sweet, starchy, crunchy, salty and oily.  It was an instant addiction haunting me and I had to have a near constant supply. They have personality but it's unobtrusive. Exotic yet comforting.  If you can find the right manufacturer of them today I promise they will have the same impact on you. 

I am grateful for all the delicious delights I was introduced to by the vibrant Cuban people. For without them I could still be eating Pringles and drinking Sanka.

Today's curiosity: Why ice makes a spike when it freezes?

Let's go to an expert for this curiosity solved. Unofficial Dr. Freeze, Professor Stephen Morris has a self proclaimed obsession with icicles. One could be guilty of worse things and coupled with my obsession with wintertime I could be a distant cousin in science family tree terms. He's even created The Icicle Atlas.  He can legit answer this ice spike question of mine.

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Technology and retail. The value of bringing the two together.

Because there can be a limited way for retailers to increase margins the optimal way to grow margins is to reduce costs of the business itself. Identifying solutions to increase sales and cut costs can mean the difference between survival and bankruptcy. Retail technology has increased opportunity not only in how to reduce costs but how to build on business you already have.

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Company Newsletter post sample-Quality Carriers, Ft. Worth, TX

In 1982 Founder and Owner, Leo Massey began driver work for Cletex in Cleburne, TX.  Cletex was an independent carrier until 1989 when it was purchased by Buddy Wood and affiliated with Montgomery Tank Lines.  A few short years later 1989 Massey was asked to join the Montgomery Tank Lines team by Buzz Babbit.  In that time Massey served in various roles such as Dry Bulk national sales, Regional Sales Manager and eventually Regional Vice President.  The Fort Worth terminal was in his region at the time Clarence Wasson announced his retirement in 1999, the Affiliate was clearly a natural fit for Massey. 

 Massey and wife Anita Affiliated in 1999 under the name Leo S. Massey, Inc DBA Quality Carriers of DFW.  In 2002 Leo and Anita’s youngest daughter, Teressa was recruited to join his team.  In 2009 Leo retired due to illness.  Anita and Teressa continued managing the business at that time through current day operations.

 The Massey family attributes a large part of their success from the hard work of employees and drivers on a daily basis.  Establishing a sense of family is a key factor that is critically important to the Massey’s.  This extends to the entire staff, the majority of which have been with QC of DFW since its 1999 inception. Currently there are 34 employees, 44 trucks 25 of which are Affiliate owned.

A signature attribute in QC of DFW is that the current operation is wholly owned and managed exclusively by women. When Leo Massey had his stroke which sent him to early retirement the company certainly suffered in this unexpected and challenging time of transition. The suffering was short lived when Anita and Teressa took the helm and lead the business back to strength and financial health.

 Additional notable facts: The 14 acre property terminal is unique because it has Trucking, Trailer Maintenance and Heavy Duty Diesel repair and Tank Cleaning.  Tank Cleaning is operated by Qualawash Holding.  The most unique part of the operation is the 75 spot Transload facility.  Where they transload from rail car to truck dry and liquid chemicals.  Solvent, Hydrochloric & Fluorosilicic Acid, plastic pellets, motor oil and sand to name just a few.  

 Leo is still in the picture from time to time looking out for his family and the business. He is enjoying retirement more with the pride he has seeing his daughter successfully run the business he started over a decade ago. Looking to the future of QC of DFW, growth is always the goal with a special focus on the Transload operation with trucking being a close second. Rewarding the team that facilitates the continued success is always a great pleasure for the Massey’s. It’s all in the family, by blood or by choice, only together can they continue to make the Affiliate a success.

 

The Art of Choosing a Business Partner

No man (or woman) is an island.  This holds true in the business world as much as any other area of life.  Having a vision of the business you want to create is a starting point to your endeavor but is it realistic to think you can make it happen all on your own? Of course not. 

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Discerning real vs. scam work from home jobs

The advertisements for work at home opportunities are everywhere.  So are the reports of how many of them are scams. Retirementjobs.com  says several reports show that on average, only 1 in 100 work from home jobs are legitimate. There are real work from home job opportunities out there.  Here are some tips to find a real work from a home job that is a good fit for your skills or if you want to branch out into a whole new field!

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Event trends in 2015

Appeal to all age groups in the work place

Think about designing a multi generational crowd pleaser.   Whether it is team building, product launches , corporate meetings or gala type special events you can be sure nearly every group will have attendees from every generation. Modern décor to keep GenX feeling relevant and elegant refinement that appeals to the baby boomer set.  Team building trends are focused more on appealing to all ages like trends in health vs. a music act which can be polarizing by age group.  Lively fundraisers can be had with a real time funds thermometer. If you’re looking for silent auction items to get guests to show up and feel excited about bidding you need to think of exciting things to bid for!

Fundraising ideas to appeal to many tastes:

  •  Once in a lifetime vacation experiences
  • Music and sports memorabilia
  • Unique experiences for children. Parents will love something that leaves a positive lasting impact on their child.
  • Luxe vacation rentals

You won’t have to spend time chasing vendors that want to donate these types of items.  There are fundraising consignment companies out there to do this for you.  Offerings change from time to time so check back to see updated items to freshen up each event you plan.

 

Keeping local

Because of the expense and logitstical issues that come with travel, staying local ideal because it keeps travel costs to a minimum. Choose a space that is centrally located.

 

Food will always been the focus             

Event space can really wow guests at galas, corporate events, weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs but the food needs to have the same wow factor as the visual appeal.  Food trends in 2015 include:

  • artisan cheeses and house made artisan ice creams
  • gluten free cuisine
  • Nontraditional fish 
  • hyper-local sourcing
  • estate branded items
  • new cuts of meat
  • natural ingredients and minimally processed food
  • sustainable seafood
  • locally grown produce
  • environmental sustainability

With all the great farms in each state you can virtually design a menu around that alone! State vineyards, lush dairies, local abundant produce and meats can all be star focal points at your event. You can even consider adding touches of farm to table flair to the table displays of food for your guests to really appreciate the locally sourced ingredients they are enjoying at the event.  Base your menus on seasonal items.

The bar

Classic cocktails are always in style but impressing your guests with current trends on your menu adds extra flair to any type of event.   This is also important in keeping all the adult generations happy at your events.  Let a mixologist design some signature drinks for your event that will have your guests talking and more importantly, remembering!

2015 drink trends include

  • Gin is important again. It’s not your grandparents drink. Vodka had been the mixer standby but perhaps only because of its utter lack of flavor. Gin has a flavor and it is complex AND it’s one that lends itself to many unique cocktails.
  • Savory drinks- not just a bloody mary but think more flavor and no sugar. These creative cocktails take inspiration often from the kitchen as chefs and mixologists collaborate more with pairings. Savory drinks tend to be better companions with food than their sweeter counterparts.
  • Drinking your greens. Naturally it is to be expected the green juice trend would work its way into cocktail hour. Not just actual green juices but other vegetables really shine here. Bright, balanced and earthy juices like carrot, beet, celery, cilantro, parsnip and snap pea are examples of flavors that do savory very well. 
  • Keep it spicy. Not just with heat but the gamut of spices in the market. Nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, cayenne, cardamom, coriander and even soy sauce are appearing in modern drinks. It doesn’t have to taste like the holidays but rather a warm complex blend that is as satisfying as a main course.

A statement entrance

This will always set the tone for an event.  The outside should give an impactful visual that makes your guest feel like they don’t want to be anywhere but where that door leads. 

Press Release

Sample

For Immediate Release

September XX, 2014

                                                                                               

                                                                                Media Contact:

Stephanie Anderson, Director of Marketing

 stephanie@thestephanieanderson.com

 

Langston Bakery Launches Resistant Starch Bread

New line of Langston Bakery breads give hope to diabetics and diet conscious carbohydrate counters in the US.

 

Clearwater, Florida – Langston Bakery announced today that their long awaited line of resistant starch loaves will be hitting shelves by the end of September 2014.  In 2013 the company held three focus groups comprised of men and women aged 26-64 and the most requested new item was overwhelmingly found to be a delicious loaf that doesn’t spike insulin levels like traditional flour breads do.

 

Carbohydrates are an obsession in the American diet culture. Langston Bakery has created resistant starch based loaves to add to their spectrum of preservative free home style bread lineup. Danielle Martin, SVP of Product Development, worked with Florida’s A&M University which is partly funded by the National Institutes of Health.  Together they answered Langston Bakery’s customer requests for lower carbohydrate bread options.  “Resistant starch is a hot topic in the carbohydrate world since late 2012. We currently were only baking traditional loaves as well as three multi grain loaves and one gluten free loaf.   Resistant starch based breads are a largely unchartered territory in commercial baking and I wanted to take on that challenge. Without question it has been my biggest challenge to date,” says Martin.

 

Resistant starch is commonly known to improve insulin sensitivity and lowers the blood glucose response to food making it a good option for diabetics and those dealing with hypoglycemia.  “The university’s research department was instrumental in making this dream a reality. I can’t thank them enough for perfecting the process of making this type of starch replace insulin spiking flours.  The Langston family and I are very proud of the final product that will be on grocery shelves later this month.”  The bakery expects this addition to their already enormously popular line to skyrocket them to the top of the commercial artisan American bread bakers.  The resistant starch loaves are available in soft potato white, sunflower seed high fiber, walnut pesto and cinnamon swirl.

“The next goal for Langston Bakery is to expand the gluten free line,” added Martin. The recipes are currently being developed and tested with a goal of new flavors being on store shelves by summer 2015. The website will have updates as they become available.

About Langston Bakery, L.L.C

Langston Bakery was founded in 1998 by Gayle and Charles Langston.   It is currently distributed in major grocery stores in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. Langston Bakery is located in Clearwater, Florida with plans to open a second location just outside of Nashville, Tennessee in 4th quarter 2015.  Both locations will have a storefront on or before March 1, 2016.  Mail order available for all states on www.langstonfamilybakes.com