Where: Yosemite National Park, California
When: May 2015
Where: Ojai, California
When: May 2015
With: Husband and pals
Since I started taking these NYC getaways, I’ve realized that one of my favorite parts about exploring a new area is visiting the often overlooked (by everyday tourists, at least) towns nearby. So on our recent trip to LA, I wanted to make sure to include a trip to one of the nearby desert towns. I thought about Palm Springs, but after seeing several posts about Ojai on my Instagram feed (yes, that’s really how I make travel decisions!), that sealed the deal. Ojai it was!
Ojai is a tiny town of about 8000 people, located in a valley about an hour and a half drive northwest of Los Angeles. It’s a sleepy little town, with a small main street area, an emphasis on locally made goods, cute restaurants, health food, and healthy (hippie?) living.
Where: Los Angeles, California
When: May 2015
With: Husband (and some of the best friends ever)
As you may know, I’m from the west coast. And though the feelings are not quite as intense as they once were, whenever I make my way back there, it feels like returning to the homeland. The second I land, my body just knows…it’s California. The air smells different, it feels different. The sky seems like a different color and all the plants seem to be whispering in a different way than they do in Florida (where, really, they’re screaming–not sure what types of fucking bugs live in there) or New York (where you can’t hear anything they’re saying, anyway). So it never matters what time of day I arrive–the initial high I get from being in California keeps me awake and moving until I’m finally peeled away.
When I was feeling antsy this month, it occurred to me that every year for the last several years I’ve taken a vacation in April. Three years ago it was our engagement trip to Paris. Two years ago it was a friend’s birthday trip to New Orleans. Last year, it was a group trip to Austin, Texas.
We called it a friendcation, and it involved 5 couples from across the country. We had friends coming from the west coast, upstate New York, Philadelphia and New York City. Somehow, we coordinated schedules, flights, and even airport rides from our various starting points and ended up in Austin, Texas for a long weekend. It was so. much. fun.
So how did this all come about, and how can you plan your own successful friendcation? Read on for my tips.
Full disclosure: I’m an Airbnb addict. I’m one of those people who logs on just to see the places I could visit. I have 9 semi-organized wishlists, with over 300 possible rentals. I talk about it constantly to all of my friends.
Although Airbnb is definitely more mainstream these days, I am always surprised by the number of people who haven’t yet given it a chance. Hopefully these tips will be helpful for your next trip and maybe give you that extra push you need to try it out if you haven’t yet!
1. Stay at a place with 10+ reviews
Especially for newbies, I recommend filtering by number of reviews for your first few stays. Airbnb isn’t exactly juried, so it’s good to have the support of the community behind your first several picks, until you become more confident in your choosing ability. Whenever possible, I still prefer to stay at a place with ample reviews!
2. Take ratings seriously
Those little yellow stars? They matter. Each listing has an overall rating for things like “Location” and “Cleanliness”–and, in my opinion, these two are the most important. I like to think of it like when you ask your boyfriend how many beers he drank and he says 2. You know he really means 6. Same thing here, in reverse. Only 4 stars? Expect a 2. Things go downhill much more easily than uphill. Play it safe and demand 5 stars–it’s very possible!
3. Pay attention to photos
In a similar vein, I put a lot of weight in a listing’s photos. If a host cares enough to have immaculate photos, plus they have good ratings and reviews, chances are they care about continuing upkeep in general. Some red flags? Places that don’t look lived in at all. Interestingly, I try to stay away from super sparse places, or hosts with multiple listings. Those signal a host who is doing this in bulk for money making, rather than a genuine host who cares about the place they’re putting online because they actually live there. (Plus, you might not get great tips and tricks for exploring the ‘hood if the person doesn’t even reside there!)
4. Be realistic in your searches
And I mean whatever is realistic for you! So far, I’ve done Airbnb mostly in cities where it is quite popular–like Hudson, NY, Paris, Lisbon, Stockholm, Copenhagen. It’s important to figure out the amount you’d like to spend per night prior to beginning your hunt to narrow down what is feasible. In Copenhagen and Stockholm, I filtered below $150 for an entire home, and found plenty of options in very central areas. The search function can be a little funky, so you may not find all the best fitting options if you’re not really honest with yourself. Plus, remember–one of the perks of this type of travel is more bang for your buck–so try to make sure you achieve that!
5. Don’t limit your location
I almost never research the best location to stay in prior to looking at my Airbnb options. With such an active community like this, I prefer to see what the other guests have to say about the location of the listings. One of the fun things about apartment rentals is being able to somewhat assimilate into the community, and see a different part of the city. Don’t be afraid to stay a little bit away from tourist-central if transportation is easy and the ‘hood is unique! Disclaimer: Much like the ratings call out, don’t trust the host’s estimate of the “walking distance” to major landmarks. Whenever someone says “10 minutes” they really mean at least 20. Think about the beers, man.
Hope that helps! Would love to hear about your travels and favorite Airbnb stays. (And if you’re so inclined, check out my wishlists here!)
(p.s. this is an entirely non-sponsored post, I’m just that obsessed)
Where: Merritt Island and Palm Beach, Florida
With: Husband, parents and friends
I’m lucky enough to have parents who live in Florida–which means when we visit for the holidays, we escape the beginnings of New York’s winter and land in warm, humid climates down south. This isn’t something I appreciated when I lived there (who wants to sweat ALL year round?) but, now, it’s something I look forward to.