What a Difference a Window Makes

It has been a long time since we have enjoyed a rental with such wonderful windows and views. Over the past year we’ve stayed in a few rentals with no windows at all, and many others with protective bars over the windows. We’re all feeling very fortunate to be staying at a house in Wyoming until May that has an abundance of windows with gorgeous views. We’re still getting our schedule back on track after returning to the U.S. and haven’t had much of an opportunity to get out and do our usual exploring. However, catching up on work and school hasn’t felt quite so confined with sunshine streaming in and many opportunities to take in the scenery.

View from the kitchen window.

View from the kitchen window.

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View from the living room.

View from the mater bedroom.

View from the mater bedroom.

 

Limbo

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Personal entertainment systems on the Condor flight made the 12 hours go a lot smoother.

We flew back to the United States a week ago today and we are still in limbo. For the past week we have been trying to convince our bodies to adjust to the new time zone. However, it has not been easy and we find ourselves eating breakfast at 3am, while the rest of Las Vegas is still sound asleep. Our flight from Germany with Condor airlines went pretty well for a long distance haul with three kids. The staff on the airplane was wonderful, and Condor tries hard to make their youngest passengers happy.

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The staff on the plane gave out special activities and games just for kids.

As soon as we hit the ground we had to think about transportation. The days of trains are long behind us and our first objective back in the states was to buy a car. This was not a very fun process. We have all had enough of dealerships and sales lingo to last a lifetime. However, thanks to Five String and his wonderful negotiating skills we are now the proud owners of a Honda CRV.

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The newest member of our family.

The next objective was deciding where we are going to live next. The Younger Fives are quite fond of the many services that Las Vegas offers, especially the stunning libraries and playgrounds. However, Five Spice was having a really hard time committing to staying in such an urban area. We also had to consider how long to stay and whether we wanted to move away from vacation rentals and look at unfurnished houses. In the end these questions were just too much to tackle with our jet-lagged brains, and we decided to put the issue on hold for now.

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Three kids in a hotel room is getting really old! We can’t wait to let them run free in Wyoming.

In the meantime we found a great rental near Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the month of March. It will be a wonderful change to live in a house again, and eat meals consisting of more then sandwiches and cold cereal. We are bracing ourselves for the colder climate (it is sandal and t-shirt weather in Vegas), and are looking forward to introducing the new car to the gorgeous mountains of Wyoming.

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We took a big gamble and mailed the kid’s Lego collection from Croatia at the beginning of the month. It arrived today just in time for our trip to Wyoming. We were all very relieved!

Just Around the Corner

It has been just about four months since we said goodbye to our beloved vehicle, the Mazda5. At first the kids were excited to be free from their car seats and Five String relished the break from driving. However, reality quickly set in that our life would now include a lot more walking then ever. Unfortunately we discovered that these walks would not be the pleasant nature trail rambles that we love. Instead we have spent many long hours the last few months trekking along hot, dirty sidewalks while breathing in noxious car fumes.

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However, mom and dad have finally learned our lesson and this past month we made renting a house within a reasonable distance of grocery stores, playgrounds, and green spaces a priority. This priority has paid off big time!!! Not only is our rental house in Cozumel just 1 km from the supermarket, but it also has an amazing sports complex just around the corner. So, everyday after homeschool we head to “gym class” at the sports complex. This amazing facility is 100% free and features a track, several basketball courts, two soccer fields, a couple of tennis courts, a multi-lane swimming pool, and even a playground. By far this is the Younger Fives’ favorite attraction in Cozumel, and it has firmly planted the message in our mind that kids with room to run and play are happy kids!

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The Five’s Tips for Stress-Free Rentals

This past week we made it safely to Cozumel and we are loving our new house rental and what we have seen of the island so far. However, we are still dealing with getting a refund from the landlords of our last rental in Mérida, Mexico. Renting a house or apartment when you are on vacation or traveling is often a great choice. Short-term rentals usually offer more space, access to a kitchen, and they are often much cheaper than hotels. However, the actual process of finding and securing a rental can be much more time consuming and stressful than simply booking a hotel room. So, while it is on our mind, we thought that we would share some tips that we have picked up after going through the short-term rental process several times.

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Our favorite rental sites – To begin with we usually turn to Airbnb or to FlipKey when looking for a short-term rental. Both of these sites are easy to navigate and they usually have a decent number of rentals to choose from in our price range. In the past we have also used to use HomeAway, but the prices of the rentals listed on this site are usually much higher than those listed on other sites. If the time of year is right (i.e. it is the low or off season) you can also contact cabin or condo-style accommodations directly. We were able to get an inexpensive monthly rate on a cabin outside of Glacier National Park because it was the off season.

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Reviews, reviews, reviews – One of the biggest lessons that we have learned when selecting a rental is to make sure that it has been reviewed by previous renters and to thoroughly read through those reviews (those stars really do matter!). These reviews include a lot of really great information that you won’t get from the rental description itself. For example, is the Internet speed fast, does the neighborhood feel safe, does the landlord or property manager respond quickly to problems? A rental property that has been reviewed (especially multiple times) lets you know that the landlord has been through the short-term rental process before and will be familiar with any issues that many come up. In the past we have tried out rentals that have no reviews and in each case we have been burned. One was lacking in basic kitchen equipment, another was in an unsafe location, and the third had a very unresponsive property manager. Even though these problems could occur with any rental, it is a safe bet that previous renters (especially recent) would have addressed these issues in the review that they leave of the property.

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Be careful how you pay – We often find great rentals on the sites mentioned above. However, when we go to book them the landlord or property manager informs us that the payment needs to be made directly to them. This is because they want to avoid the fees associated with the rental-listing sites. When you really like the rental it may be tempting to go ahead and directly send them the money via PayPal or a bank transfer. However, in our experience this is a big mistake. When you pay through a rental site like Airbnb or FlipKey you are guaranteed their help and coverage if the rental isn’t in the condition it was described or the landlord doesn’t provide the services that they promised. However, when you go outside the system you are on your own trying to recoup money if, for instance, you show up and find that the rental is already inhabited with other people or doesn’t exist at all (unfortunately there are a lot of scam artists out there). So, the safest bet is to insist that all financial transactions take place through a rental site. That way there is a very clear record of payment and you have a customer service department to turn to if things go wrong.

Calendar

Don’t book too early or for too long – There is a fine line between securing that perfect rental before someone else snags it and making sure that you don’t book too far in advance. When we first started traveling we really felt like we need to book at least 6 months worth of rentals in advance. Coming off of having our own house it felt weird to think that we could be homeless if we didn’t plan and schedule our rentals far into the future. However, we soon discovered that booking rentals in advance can be a huge hassle. If your plans change because of illness, or other unforeseen circumstances, you end up having to go through the hoops of canceling all of your pre-booked rentals.

We found that booking a rental for too long had the same complications. If we got to an area and found out that we didn’t really like it or the neighborhood was unsafe, then we were stuck trying to get out of our rental contract. Now that we have been on the road for a while we actually find more security in knowing that we can change our plans at any moment. It gives us the freedom to get to a destination, check it out, and then decide for how long we want to stay. Our magic number seems to be two months at any one rental before we are ready to go. However, that being said we have found the need to pre-book rentals during busy times like holidays and summer vacation months. These times tend to fill up really fast and if you are looking for a monthly rental for December you will find many properties unavailable because they have already been booked for the Christmas week.

Hopefully these tips will come in handy when you are looking for a short-term or vacation rental. Do you have any tips to add from your rental experiences?

 

It Finally Happened

When you travel full time you hear a lot of stories about fellow travelers who have run into bad situations dealing with theft. There are many blog posts out there on how to avoid being burgled, pick-pocketed, etc. in areas all over the world. When we head to a new area we read up on these tips, take the safety precautions very seriously, and hope that we won’t ever have to deal with such a situation. Up to this point we have been very lucky. In our travels we have never had any direct interaction with thieves or anyone that might try and do harm to our family.

However, this past week our luck finally ran out as we were awoken very early Friday morning to an intruder attempting to open the courtyard-facing door that leads to our bedroom. It is a very good thing that Five Spice has an obsessive habit of checking on the kids whenever there is any sound at night. For the past seven years she has slept with one ear trained on the children, and any cough, cry, or strange noise sends her running to their bedside. Usually it is nothing and she staggers back to bed. However, this time she awoke to find a young man standing at the screen door to our bedroom. Luckily the house we are staying in has bars over the windows and locked gates over the doors. So, even if we leave the inside doors open for ventilation we are protected by a sturdy gate.

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The intruder was attempting to unlock the gate when Five Spice noticed him and that is when we went into our protective parent mode. Our first thoughts weren’t that this person was here to try to steal from us, but that a stranger was in close proximity to our children. So, we stood at our gate and screamed threateningly at the intruder in Spanglish like a bunch of wild apes while he quickly climbed back onto the roof and fled the property. In retrospect maybe not the smartest course of action but instinct took over. Of course our yelling woke the children who were more than a little freaked out.

When we all calmed down we spent the rest of the night (who can sleep after that?) talking about how we were completely safe and had done everything we could have done by locking all the entrances to our house. We talked about how this situation could have occurred anywhere and that based on the intruders actions he was just after valuables and not here with the intent to harm us. However, we quickly realized that once a situation like this has occurred it is really hard to get that jumpy, looking over your shoulder reaction out of your brain. The roof of our rental house is not secure and we cannot prevent people from accessing it from the abandoned property next door (a property that seems to be home to many folks down on their luck). It is unfortunate that we can’t do anything to make the roof of our rental more secure and it is very troubling to us all that we can’t feel safe in our courtyard, which we dearly love.

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Luckily this travel lifestyle that we have chosen gives us the option to leave such an uncomfortable situation behind. So, tomorrow we will take the bus to Cozumel where we are hoping to put this situation behind us. We are so incredibly grateful that we have the luxury to leave an uncomfortable or unsafe situation when there are so many in this world that can’t. While the past days have not been the most pleasant we have learned many lessons as a family and we will take these with us as we continue to explore the world.

Next stop Cozumel

Next stop Cozumel