Wow your visitors – and keep them coming back!
If you haven’t heard, automation is the latest buzz in all the popular housekeeping journals and publications. Whether it’s a digital app, a physical appliance or just a new frame of mind, housekeepers are now looking for ways to automate their routines and – quite simply – make their lives a little easier on themselves.
It’s good news all around for Rentini. If you’re a traveler, what’s better after a long day on the go than walking into a home fully stocked with easy-to-use, hands-free appliances and electronics? And if you’re a homeowner, there’s no better way to attract patrons than by making your home as accessible as possible.
Here’re five quick and easy ways to automate your home and attract future vacationers:
Start with the light bulbs.
They’re the easiest appliances to replace, and there’s so much you can do with them. If you’re going for luxury, look into some of the high-end automated bulbs like the Philips Hue. If you’re looking for something cheaper, try something like the Insteon LED Bulb, which still lets you control your light fixture from your smartphone or tablet.
Tech up the kitchen.
It’s the subtle things that make your kitchen look next-gen. Forget about the gimmicky electronic can openers and wine re-corkers. How about leaving an iPad on the kitchen island for guests to use as they please? It can cost you a bit of change, but it’s well worth it for the traveler’s experience. Foreign cooking is so much easier when you’ve got an Internet connection handy. And if you’re worried about the cost, look into some more affordable options like the Amazon Kindle or Google Nexus.
Get a home security system.
These days, most home security systems are synonymous with home automation systems; the two go hand in hand. The name brand security companies almost always provide some form of video monitoring, digital keypads and even thermostat control. Take a look at what the providers are offering in your part of the country.
Home life is easier when you can do everything remotely. Your vacationers will appreciate any remotes that allow them to change channels, toggle lights or turn on a fireplace. Plus, with fewer wires running around your floors and walls, you’ll only add to the sleek ambiance of your interior.
Do it yourself.
Not every piece of home automation has to be packaged and delivered to your door. Sometimes, the most effective automation comes from a few simple changes on your end. There are dozens of free online apps to help you automate your home right from your computer. And if you’re handy, there’re plenty of options for building a custom entertainment center.
Best of all? By helping you optimize energy usage, home automation can save money in the long run. Once you start saving on your electricity and utility bills, you’ll see the value over time. Get automated today!
Houseboating offers an exotic means of exploring the wonders of North America, and according to MSN, this means of travel can be surprisingly affordable—often costing less than $1,000 a month for ownership. Whether you own for year-round boating or choose to rent for a leisurely family-friendly getaway, North America offers a variety of exciting destinations for boating enthusiast. Here are the top three to explore.
Ontario, Canada: Hudson Bay and Lake Superior
Photo by Balcer via Wikimedia Commons
At first glance, Ontario might not seem like the most obvious houseboating destination, but the Canadian province offers several excellent boating opportunities dotting the coast of the Hudson Bay and Lake Superior. These bodies of water echo the vast feel of the ocean, while also offering great views of Ontario’s unique woodland scenery. Because of the occasionally volatile nature of Lake Superior, it’s important that anyone boating there maintains a thorough understanding of essential houseboat operations. Prior to stepping aboard, make sure you have taken the proper boater exams from BoaterExam.com, for example, and are familiar with the boating regulations specific to Ontario.
Florida’s IntraCoastal Waterway
Photo by Robert DeMeo via Wikimedia Commons
If you have time to spare for a longer houseboat vacation, you’ll want to consider navigating the Intracoastal Waterway. This 3,000 mile waterway runs along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, providing a safe alternative to the dangers typically encountered while boating on the open sea. Of course, few vacationers possess the time required to travel along the full length of the Intracoastal Waterway, which is why many choose to focus on the portion found along Florida’s coast. This condensed option offers access to both the Atlantic and the Gulf Coast, while also allowing boaters to enjoy sweeping views of Florida’s beaches and swamps. The state’s department of tourism recommends vigilantly watching for such potential hazards as bridges and deep waters, as both of these can create significant risks for distracted boaters.
New York’s Lake Champlain and Adirondack Park
Photo by Travisleehardin via Wikimedia Commons
Houseboat Magazine recommends Lake Champlain as the boating destination of choice for anyone on the hunt for a relaxed family vacation. Straddling Vermont, New York and Quebec, the expansive inland lake offers plenty of opportunities for mainland exploration to suit all ages. The section of the lake falling within the borders of New York is particularly beautiful, as much of it is part of the state’s famous Adirondack Park. Adirondack Park is the largest park and National Historic Area in the contiguous United States. It continuously draws in and enchants visitors with its intersection of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains, according to the official Adirondack Park Agency. While you’re there, enjoy a leisurely boating excursion along Lake Champlain’s coast, then enjoy some time on land while hiking in the great Adirondacks.
Photo by Angelo Amboldi on Flickr
Some places are best seen through the window of a train, on horseback or by hiking across their scenic countryside. However, Italy is a country that should be seen one way only – from the driver’s seat of an open topped sports car, preferably while wearing giant Audrey Hepburn sunglasses while your scarf whips out behind you. The country boasts incredible, diverse landscapes, winding roads, open fields and fantastic views.
So if you’re planning to drive across Italy, here are some of the routes you should be sure to check out.
The National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise
Photo by Loigi Re on Flickr
The regions of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise are relatively unknown, lying two hours rive to the east of Rome. However, come out here and you’ll see some of the most mind blowing countryside you’re likely to find in Italy.
As you drive into the park (Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo) you’ll find the road ascends quickly into mountains where you’ll be surrounded by grazing white cows and forests fully of winding hiking trails. Along the way you’ll pass many small, virtually untouched towns, however, no matter how tempting it is for the best trip just drive straight on until you reach the town of Vasto, where there are outstanding views off the Trabocchi coast.
The Italian Riviera
The famous Italian Riviera starts at the French border and works its way past seaside towns, farmer’s markets and some truly top notch restaurants all the way down to Tuscany. Enjoy fantastic views and woosh through a series of tunnels just like you’re in one of those car adverts.
But why stop at the end of the Riviera? Tuscany is home to the finest of Italy’s restaurants, vineyards and holiday villas, to the point where you’ll really struggle to find a bad place to eat.
For Sicily you want a fast car and two weeks to drive it. Don’t just go from one end of the island to the other. Drive right around the coast, stopping off to see the islands famous vineyards at Cerasuolo di Vitoria and Mount Etna. See the ancient Greek theatres and temples, or simply find some great beaches and soak up the sun! This is a great place to really take your car exploring. As Direct Ferries director Matt Davies says, “It’s really worth getting your car on a boat and bringing it over the Sicily with you. There’s nothing quite like speeding along with the Sicilian breeze rushing past.”
The Amalfi Coast
Not all the famous hotspots on Italy are ones you should be drawn to however. It seems every travel guide out there recommends the Amalfi coast, and it’s true it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy, which is why the roads are clogged with tour buses and municipal coaches, usually with a tail of other holiday drivers honking their horns behind them. To make it worse, you’ll be dealing with this while riding round some extremely bendy roads, sometimes with a 200 foot drop on one side. We advise taking your car elsewhere.
By Sam Wright
Sam Wright is a journalist based in Norwich, Norfolk.
News of HomeAway’s trademark-infringement lawsuit against AirBnB has left many customers of both companies wondering what to think about the whole thing.
“Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal.” This famous saying, most often attributed to Pablo Picasso, pretty much summarizes how the creative process works in any media. And Silicon Valley is no different.
If you’re good enough at making high-quality copies, people will admire you for your skillset. You will earn some respect and even a decent amount of money. Still in all, it doesn’t matter how good the replica is. It will be overshadowed by the original creation.
A creative genius, Picasso was never interested in copying things. His creative process began with ideas from others, which once absorbed, took on a new life in his own image, and on a different scale.
Oftentimes, these ideas came to him via the great masters, and sometimes from his fellow artists. Throughout his career, he mastered his “art of stealing” like no one else.
While a teenager, Picasso became fascinated by the work of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. This resulted in a series of works that made the originals look pretty outdated. One of Picasso’s greatest contributions to the art world, Cubism, was also influenced by Ingres.
This is how things get done in the realm of genius. Ideas inspire great artists to create a new art form that didn’t exist before, and is often regarded as revolutionary.
Whether you borrow or steal in the world of business, the consequences are vastly different.
On December 16, 2013, AirBnB launched a new advertisement campaign, “Home to You.” The Home to You ad campaign centers around a video showing artisans recreating 50 Airbnb vacation rental listings in the form of miniature birdhouses.
Yes, birdhouses. This is what all the fuss is about.
Here’s how AirBnB describes the idea behind the movie on their YouTube channel:
No creatures on earth travel quite like birds do. They soar the skies, then land in new places. They see the world from a different perspective, one to which all real travelers aspire. This film is a celebration of our passion for travel and the kind of hospitality that makes people feel at home anywhere.
How could a story like that not touch the soul of an aspiring traveler?
But, apparently, it can also touch a copyrighted image: the “Birdhouse Mark” which happened to be a protected trademark of AirBnB’s biggest competitor, HomeAway, Inc. HomeAway’s logo prominently features a birdhouse, and the company uses birdhouses as its sort of “mascot.”
According to HomeAway’s argument, Brian Chesky, CEO and co-founder of AirBnB, paid multiple visits to HomeAway’s headquarters in Austin, Texas. This said, it’s probably safe to assume that the giant birdhouse replica in the middle of their headquarters didn’t pass unnoticed.
We will leave it up to history to determine whether AirBnB’s national campaign is a complete steal or just borrowing. It certainly visualizes an especially poetic perspective on travel.
One thing, though, is crystal clear to Brian Sharples, CEO and Chairman of HomeAway.
“We do believe it is a fairly deliberate attempt to confuse the marketplace,” Sharples has said. Chesky “has been to our downtown offices several times. He has stepped into our giant birdhouse. I don’t think that anyone could argue that this was a mistake on their part.”
So, what now?
Should we consider it as a formal announcement of the war between two competitors? Was HomeAway fed up with AirBnB breaking more and more into the market for traditional vacation rental homes?
Although they are clashing over the same market niche, HomeAway and AirBnB are very different animals when it come to their respective cultures, founders, and backers, and the demographics of their hosts, guests, founders, and even haters.
It’s even safe to say that AirBnB and HomeAway are completely opposites any way you look at them. This is what makes this clash so fascinating.
Let’s look back at the history of two companies and try to understand what may arise from this.
HomeAway, Inc, nowadays a publicly traded company under the AWAY ticker, was founded in 2005 by Brian Sharples and Carl Shepherd. Within six years, they managed to bring the company to its IPO, generating a sixfold return on investment (based on the post-IPO figures).
Their runaway success was mainly attributable to a clever way of cherrypicking and acquiring market leaders in the vacation rental industry around the globe, and monetizing their existing customer bases.
Some of HomeAway’s most notable acquisitions included VRBO.com and VacationRentals in the US, Arbitel.fr in France, and about twenty additional websites in different time zones, languages and hemispheres, the most recent being the Australia-based Stayz, for $198M. HomeAway often called themselves a startup, but it’s pretty unusual for a startup to begin operations with $49M on hand, with another $500M deposited by VCs within the first couple of years of operation.
AirBnB was founded in 2008, by two designers,Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, and an engineer, Nathan Blecharczyk. For a few months they tested out the idea of renting an airbed in their San Francisco loft to conferencegoers. Packaged with a small meal, the accommodation was dubbed Airbed and Breakfast (later shortened to AirBnB). They made a few attempts to replicate this model in other cities, but that didn’t help with their flat revenue graph.
Forced to think outside of the box as their fledgling company struggled to become profitable, the founders began to offset their losses by selling repackaged cereal as “Obama O’s” and “Captain McCain’s.” The cereal story, a hit during the 2008 election, later became a trigger point for Paul Graham to take these guys seriously. In the winter 2009, the founders were invited to participate in YCombinator, one of Silicon Valley’s first and most respected startup accelerators. From this very moment, AirBnB’s growth was phenomenal. The amount of funding they attracted over the course of couple of years reflects their rapid market expansion. Starting from the $20K coming from the YCombinator fund, they quickly accumulated $326M in funding from their first tier investors and celebrities. Being pioneers of the shared economy, they inspired a lot of controversy, viral press, and tidal waves of support from all around the globe. It’s fair to mention that over time the website became for some a reliable source of income—and for others, some sort of a travel religion. People started referring to AirBnB’s brand as a foundation of a new phenomena: the shared economy. Inspired by their success, dozens of other startups adopted their business model to different markets: AirBnB for Cars, AirBnB for Dogs, you name it! Finally, the AirBnB founders came up with their own new version of AirBNB … for birds.
BirdBnB.com became their first national ad campaign calling for bird houses. Notably, the campaign cost AirBnB no less than $2M.
“We promise you’ll never look at birdhouses the same way — and if you stay in one of these remarkable homes around the world, you may never look at travel the same way again too,” the website states. (At the time of this article, BirdBnB.com is redirecting to the main website AirBnB.com)
This is where their march has been stalled by a lawsuit from HomeAway.
“Defendant and HomeAway target and provide services to an overlapping class of Travelers for their respective services, through overlapping channels of trade,” the HomeAway suit states. “On information and belief, Defendant, has long targeted the tenants in landlord owned apartments in major cities (such as New York, Paris, San Francisco, Berlin, etc.) as its major supplier of listings.”
“However, Defendant [Airbnb] has recently increased its efforts to attract business in traditional vacation rental markets (such as the Gulf Coast, Rocky Mountains, Provence and Tuscany), in which HomeAway has long been well-established.”
Embedded in the culture of HomeAway, Sharples said, is the birdhouse logo, designed by downtown Austin advertising firm McGarrah Jessee and chosen “because it symbolizes what we do.”
AirBnB’s creative genius has served them pretty well on many occasions. It will be interesting to see how things will unfold this time.
Shall we expect an open-field battle between competitors, a massive settlement or M&A talk?
What are your thoughts on this?
Vacations are all fun and games! At least, they should be. But we’ve all heard the horror stories—train bandits, lost passports and general travel fails. While you really never know what’s around the corner, there are a few precautions you can take to keep that mystery fun and adventurous rather than devastating and dangerous. Learn from the best and the worst of us: here are six vacation security mistakes and a few ways to prevent them from happening.
1. The Wandering iPod, and Other Tales
The world is full of very good, very professional thieves. Writer and traveler Ali Osworth recalls her experience with a pickpocket when she was living in Paris – she hung her jacket over the back of her chair while having coffee with a friend, and she left all her stuff in her pockets. Luckily she turned around just as the man sitting at the table behind her was lifting her iPod, and, with lightning-quick reflexes, stole it back from him! And though that makes for a great story, hindsight says the entire situation could have been avoided if she’d kept her stuff on her person the entire time, instead of letting it all hang out. Other things can happen when your vitals aren’t with you as well – artist Matt Cosby drove to Montreal for a music festival and locked his keys in his car — along with his wallet, cell phone, luggage, computer, everything but the multi-colored, crazy-person festival clothes on his back. Luckily the lovely folks of Montreal procured him a place to sleep while he waited for his early morning locksmith appointment, and — thanks to a nice note he left — his car didn’t get towed. But all of that could have been avoided by keeping his wallet, phone, and, yes, those wayward keys in an under-the-clothes money belt. For good measure, toss in your passport, a list of important phone numbers and addresses (don’t forget your country’s embassy!), some disaster/locksmith cash and a few coins (in case you need to locate one of those ole-timey pay phones).
2. Night Moves
When you’re sleeping on a train, you’re a sitting duck for someone to sneak up on you and take your possessions. The closer you keep your stuff (like in that under-the-clothes money belt), the harder that thief is going to have to work to get your things while you’re asleep. But train robbers, organized and very experienced train robbers, do exist. An anonymous study abroad student fell asleep in her seat on an overnight train, thinking it would be fine as she’s a light sleeper. But experienced something that many consider to be an urban legend – the next day, she woke up feeling like her head was full of cotton. All of her stuff was gone – camera, money, passport. Luckily for her, the thieves did leave the rest of her train tickets, so she was able to get back home. When she reported this to the authorities, she realized she wasn’t the only victim – a compartment of six people next to her experienced the same thing, and she was told by police that robbers sometimes use chemical assistance to make sure their targets remain in their out-cold state. Strength in numbers obviously wasn’t a deterrent, but police told her that compartments that lock and are made for sleeping are victimized less. The lesson learned from this study abroad student? Spring for a couchette (often six beds per locking compartment) if you’re in a group, or a private sleeping compartment if you’re alone. It’s more comfortable to sleep laying down, and MUCH more comfortable to wake up not in a chemical fog.
3. Scammers Gonna Scam
Ever been admiring the Eiffel Tower when suddenly you are tapped on the shoulder and asked if this is your gold ring? Does it take you a second to remember you don’t own a gold ring? It feels like for every traveler that exists there is a unique scam story – from “you broke my thing” to “wait, you thought this was free?” to “no, that’s the correct change,” it feels like there’s a million of them out there. Blogger Lehua Gray is an experienced traveler, but she had just landed in Turkey when something tested her adventuring acumen. “I handed the taxi driver a 50. He took it, then immediately handed me back a 5 and claimed that I had really given him a 5.” Unable to prove her story—or argue in Turkish—she had to swallow the loss. Scammers can scam, but that doesn’t mean you have to let them! “I should have declared “Here’s a 50!” while handing it over, and made sure I held onto it for a moment while it was exchanging hands,” explains Gray. If someone accuses you of breaking something, ask for proof. And if someone tries to hustle you out of money, you can always make a scene and melt into the crowd.
4. Lost In Translation
You don’t want to strike up a conversation with one of those scammers either, and it’s easy to accidentally do that when you look lost and ask some random people for directions. While it’s true that the vast majority of people you meet when you’re traveling are wonderful, there are also those who are looking for an easy target. Writer Eddie Nicalou was “totally lost in Madrid, with a 13:44 train to Toledo I was already running late for. I whipped out my map in the middle of a public square, stared at it slack-jawed, and started asking random passers-by where I was. A friendly local was happy to have a nice long conversation about where I was going — and his buddies were happy to rummage through my backpack while I was distracted.”
Plan ahead and carry along maps that make sense to you (yes, paper maps, something that doesn’t rely on charged batteries). If you have to ask for directions, ask a professional — someone working at the train station or airport, or someone working in a shop or restaurant. You’ve also got a better chance of finding someone who knows the area if you grab someone who is clearly comfortable there, like a bus depot worker.
5. Who Ya Gonna Call?
Probably not the Ghostbusters — unless you’re staying in a haunted castle in Scotland. If you’ve got an emergency when you’re abroad, you’ll probably need to contact that country’s police force or EMTs. But every country has a different way to respond to emergencies — did you know that in France when you’re injured, you call the fire fighters (les pompiers) even when your injury isn’t fire-related? So if you fall down the stairs at a restaurant and put your hand through a ceramic vase on the next landing, you’ll get stitches faster if your first call is to the pompiers. Pop quiz, how do you make that call? Don’t know? Supposing you do have a vacation security breach, getting in contact with the right emergency response as quickly as possible can improve the outcome and help bring your vacation enemy to justice! Do your research before you leave, or download an app like Help Call ($2.99).
6. Home Sweet Home
You want to stay in that haunted castle in Scotland, not return to a horror show. Protect your own personal castle while you’re away by keeping your whereabouts off of social media — yes, we know it’s hard, but you should be out enjoying your experiences anyway, not tethered to your phone! Letting the wide world know you’re away from home is a surefire way to invite a burglar in. Ask a neighbor to look in on your house, bring in your mail, and water your plants — that’ll make your house look occupied, even when it’s not (pro tip: bring sweets, wine and other delicious treats back as a thank you!). And don’t forget to install a home security system that can alert your local police to a security breach while you’re as far away from local as you can possibly be.
Have any travel horror stories? Share in the comments!
For many Americans, a chance to visit Europe is the vacation of a lifetime. Whether you want to check out London with its historic buildings and unique culture, relax in the sunshine in Greece, explore Italy or maybe even see where your ancestors came from, there are loads of reasons to make the trip across the Atlantic, and it has never been cheaper, either! Of course, once you get to your country of choice, you are probably going to already have a lot of things in mind to see and do, and while compared with the US, places like England and Sweden may look tiny on a map, when you’re there things suddenly seem a lot further away than you may have imagined! For this reason, most people prefer to hire a car, and while this is generally an option for most American license holders in accordance with the laws in the country you are visiting (you may have to be over 25 or have a certain number of years’ driving experience), this doesn’t automatically mean you’ll find it easy on the roads.
Here are some reasons to prepare before you attempt driving anywhere in Europe for the first time:
Road Signs Can Be Baffling
While Europe is united, it is by no means standardized when it comes to road signs. This means if you are familiar with how the colors and symbols work in Germany, things will all change should you cross a border. It doesn’t take long to read up on what the traffic safety controls in the country you are going to look like, and it really pays to do this so you can understand when you are reaching a junction and things like what color sign points to a major road and what will take you down a scary country track. You should also work out the conversion ratio between miles and kilometers, because with the exception of Britain, everywhere in Europe displays distances and speed limits in the metric system. Of course, while in Britain the signs may all be in English and tell you things in familiar mile measurements, here you’ll be driving on the opposite side of the road, which isn’t really something you can prepare for in advance but is worth thinking about!
Many people who visit Europe plan to go through more than one country (another reason why understanding the different traffic control equipment used in different places you’ll visit is important), and while this can be easy to do, you may find that there are places where you can cross borders without even being aware you have done it right away! If you are planning to tour, really research your route so you know at what point you might leave Germany and enter the Netherlands, for example, and stick to your plan so you don’t end up straying between countries where you didn’t intend to.
Driving in Europe can vary between being remarkably easy and pleasant to downright terrifying depending on where you are and how far off the beaten track you venture, so read up and plan ahead as much as you can!
Travis Finn, the author of this article, works with, Bo Phillips, leading providers of work-zone safety equipment. He is fascinated by Astronomy and often visits the planetarium to observe the movement of the stars.