Tips & Tricks

Friday 5: Things to Leave at Home

I opened our mailbox on Monday and the first thing I saw was the bright red cover of this week’s Macleans magazine with the title: “The Evil Genius of Airlines.” The article went into detail about how airlines are doing everything they can to make more of a profit and not passing any of the savings from lower fuel costs onto passengers.

‘Our plan is not to pass any of it on,’ WestJet’s CEO Gregg Saretsky said during a recent conference call to discuss the airline’s record fourth-quarter profit, in 2014, of $90 million.

I bet you are just completely shocked about that. I don't have a problem with companies making profits, but I do have a problem with airlines making travel less affordable and more miserable for a lot of us. 

When S and I booked our honeymoon plane tickets, we ran into some of these issues. We had to pay to reserve seats. After weeks of watching fares and trying to find a flight with a Goldilocks layover (not too long and not too short), there was nothing we could do but pony up. I’m still not happy about it. 

I’m usually pretty optimistic about air travel. I love airports. I love the excitement of flying. But paying for the “privilege” of choosing a seat next to S when we’re, you know, already buying a ticket for the flight really angered me. Add that to the baggage fees, the terrible food, and the tiny seats; it’s getting harder and harder to enjoy or look forward to flights, even if you can’t wait to go on a trip. 

As travelers we have to do what we can to make it the best of it for ourselves and each other. One way to do that is to pack well. Not just to save space, but also to make your trips a little bit easier (and sometimes more fun). Today’s Friday 5 is a short list of stuff I leave home and why. 

Expensive Jewelry

The last thing I want to do is to worry about an expensive or beloved piece of jewelry getting lost or stolen. I generally wear anything remotely expensive on me everyday and travel with cheap, trendy pieces that I wouldn’t be upset about losing. 

Gadgets and tools

I’m not big on travel gadgets but I used to bring hair tools with me. Not anymore. Most apartments and hotels have hairdryers. Usually I just wash and go and pretend I have “cool French girl” hair. Evaluate your gadgets and tools carefully. Is it worth the hassle? Do you need extra converters and adapters to use it? What would you do if you accidentally fried it? If you don’t absolutely need it, then leave it at home. 

Certain Toiletries

Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash are all things I love to purchase abroad. I don’t have to worry about giant bottles of liquid things oozing onto stuff in my luggage and I get to test out stuff we don’t get in Canada. There’s a little bit of adventure in trying new things. 


This tip isn’t so much about saving space as it is stocking up on great items, especially when going to Europe. I love French sunscreen (like La Roche Posay, Avène, and Vichy), but it is quite expensive here. I’ll splurge for my face, but I can’t afford the full body versions. I generally travel with one of our drugstore brands just in case I can’t get to a store right away. But as soon as I can find a store that sells the sunscreen brands I love, I’m all over it. Time to stock up! 

Laundry Detergent

Aside from my beloved Soak for delicates, I never travel with laundry detergent if we are staying in a rental. It might be different if you have extremely sensitive skin, but it’s a lot easier to go out and buy a detergent that is proven to work well in the machines you will be using. 

What I think it all boils down to is being smart about how you pack and what you bring with you. There are a lot of things you can get on the road and fewer things that are truly necessities. Striking the right balance to make your trip enjoyable will be individual, but hopefully this list will give you a starting point to reevaluate your needs and wants. 

Happy weekend! Happy travels!

How to Be a Good Guest

It’s Day 9 of my Whole30 and I’m finally starting to feel like a person again. It’s amazing how rough the first few days can be. They say there’s a direct relationship between your pre-Whole30 diet and how sucky the “hangover” period is. I’m still dealing with some fatigue and headaches around dinner time, but other than that I’m just grumpy that I can’t have chocolate covered Oreos. 

On the happier note, my sleep is improving already. I wear a Fitbit that tracks my sleep, and I noticed the other morning that I’m having fewer restless moments throughout the night. Yay! Now I just have to get to bed earlier.

I’m also starting to feel a little extra energy bubbling up. More light! More warmth! Spring fever! It makes yesterday’s spring forward bearable. 

You know what else is coming? Travel high-season. (Not my best segue, I know.) So what I really wanted to write about today is importance of being a good guest.

I’ve written quite a bit about how nerve-wracking renting an apartment can be. You have to do a lot of research, ask questions, read reviews, and, eventually, trust your gut. But it’s just as important to be a good guest as it is to find the right place. 

Communicate Your Needs

I often read through reviews and see people complaining about rentals lacking certain amenities or not having elevators. While I think the owner or manager should put that information out there up-front, it’s also our responsibility as renters to communicate what our specific needs are before we sign the contract and hand over our money. 

When we booked our honeymoon apartment, for example, I noticed that there was no mention of air conditioning and the video showed a fan running in the bedroom. We are willing to go without A/C for a week. Some people would see that as a deal-breaker. But parking? We needed parking.

Communication is going to be the best tool you have to evaluate each rental’s fit. It’s also going to be the best tool for the owner or manager to make sure provide you with what you need. 

Check Your Expectations

You can have a lot of things on your “wants/needs” list, but you probably can’t have them all. Prioritize, communicate, and, then, get a little flexible. Sometimes you show up and the place isn’t quite what you expected, even when you thought you covered all of your bases. At a certain point, you have to roll with it. You also have to accept that staying in a rental is not like staying in a hotel. Renting often means more work, like taking out the trash and doing your own laundry. 

What you gain—privacy, cost savings, comfort, etc—all make it worth it to me. But you have to know where and when you can and can’t be flexible. Just watch that your expectations are in line with what can be delivered. 

Be Respectful and Clean

I can’t stress how important it is to be respectful of your rental. No one is going to clean up after you or change your sheets daily (most likely). It’s common sense, but based on conversations I’ve had with owners and managers, not everyone does this. 

Frankly, bad the seeds will ruin the most beautiful apartments for the rest of us. My family and I stayed in an incredible apartment in Lourmarin in Provence. The owner lovingly decorated it with antiques and the most wonderful buttery French linen sheets. It was gorgeous. But it ended up being too difficult for her to deal with disrespectful visitors, so she took it off the market. 

It’s incredibly simple: Follow the house rules. Put things back where they belong. Learn how to use the appliances correctly. Turn off the lights and don't waste water. Be mindful of your neighbors. Clean up after yourself. Call the landlord when you need help.  

We always budget in time on our last day to a fairly thorough cleaning of the apartment. You might be thinking “But, Erin, aren’t we paying for a final cleaning?” Yes, but that doesn’t mean you should leave the place a mess. The turnover time between renters is often tight and there simply isn’t enough time for whoever is cleaning the place to deep clean a tornado of crumbs and dirt. 

At the end of the day, you’re being trusted to take care of a home away from home.  

Write Reviews

Whether you have the trip of your lifetime or not, leaving honest reviews when you get home is helpful to your fellow traveler and to the owners/agencies. It lets anyone interested in staying there get a better idea of what the rental and area is really like. It also lets the owners know where they can improve or if they’re doing a great job.

Be sure to throw in some details and show your personality a bit. Did the church bells ring every hour of the night and drive you nuts? Did you find a wonderful bakery that you walked to every morning? Was the rental just like the pictures? Paint a picture of your experience. 

As you can see from the length of this post, being good guest is really important to me. I mentioned how helpful it is to write reviews after your trip, but you might also be subject to a review. When we rented through AirBnB in Paris, for example, the owner of our apartment left a review about us. 

Très bon hôte charmant et très propre!! Je vous les recommande.

Which translates roughly to: "Very good, charming guests and very clean!! I recommend them." You bet your sweet bippy I was happy to see that! I want my hosts to think I'm a great guest and I want a good reputation to precede me. We should strive toward that as travelers. We are the visitors, after all. Sometimes we're like mini ambassadors. What we do and how we do it says a lot.  

When we communicate, ask questions, and are respectful, we make travel just a little bit more enjoyable for ourselves and everyone else. 

Friday 5: Tips for Choosing a Vacation Rental

Choosing a vacation rental is a lot of fun, but it can often be time-consuming and a little nerve-wracking. I tend to be pretty picky about rentals. Frankly, if I’m choosing a rental over a hotel, I want to be sure it’s somewhere I'm excited to come home to every night. That means it needs to be welcoming and well cared for. I have to trust that my money will be handled safely and that the owner or manager is responsive and professional.

Todays Friday 5 shows you my process for narrowing down rentals.  

La Maisonette  in Baynac-et-Cazenac, France. One of my favorite rentals. (Summer 2010) 

La Maisonette in Baynac-et-Cazenac, France. One of my favorite rentals. (Summer 2010) 

1.  Scrutinize the pictures

The more photos a rental has, the better! If you find a place you like that doesn’t have a ton of photos, don’t be afraid to ask the owner or manager if they have a few more, especially if you want to see something specific.

While the overall aesthetic of a place is nice to look at, be sure to check the details. For example: 

  • What about the bedding? Does it look old or does it look clean and cozy?
  • How neat and tidy does the space seem-- especially the kitchen and bathroom?
  • Are all of the amenities you need there? Air conditioning? Washer/dryer? Coffee maker?
  • Are there enough places to sit?
  • What's the view like? 
Sunset from  La Maisonette . Staying here was like living in a fairytale for awhile.

Sunset from La Maisonette. Staying here was like living in a fairytale for awhile.

2.  Read reviews 

If you're not going with a tried and true agency, reviews are a great chance for you to get a better sense of what your stay might be like. The more reviews you can read the better. Look for clues about what it’s like to stay there. Is it quiet or noisy?  Is it near shops, sites, restaurants, etc? Is there an elevator? 

Be wary of places that don’t have any reviews. I skip them. Yes, someone has to be the first guest to stay at a rental, but I’m not that person. 

Be wary of places that only have reviews entered by the owner. It’s not that I don’t trust them, but reviews entered by owners may be cherry-picked. I always wonder if only the best of the best end up online? 

Remember to leave reviews after your trips, too!  

Another favourite rental in Lourmarin, France (2009). It was so lovingly decorated and had incredible linen sheets. Unfortunately, it's not longer available to rent. 

Another favourite rental in Lourmarin, France (2009). It was so lovingly decorated and had incredible linen sheets. Unfortunately, it's not longer available to rent. 

3.  Read the fine print

Take a look at the rental contract and house rules. Make sure you understand everything and are comfortable with the agreement. Some of the questions I often ask when reading through the rental agreement and rules include: 

  • How do you pay for the apartment? How much are you paying up front? Are comfortable with that form of payment? I won’t do wire transfers, for example. Once the money from a wire transfer is out of your account, there’s no way to get it back if something goes wrong. A credit card, on the other hand may offer better buyer protection. 
  • Do you have any protection as the renter? AirBnB, for example, doesn’t release the balance of funds to the manager/owner until 24 hours after your arrival. This gives you a chance to make sure everything is as you expected it to be.
  • What is the cancellation policy? Would you lose your deposit?
  • Are there any hidden or extra costs like cleaning or parking? 
  • Do you need to have a damage deposit when you arrive? Again, are you comfortable with the form of payment?  
  • When do you need to check in and out? How do you get access to the rental?
A bright, clean, and perfectly appointed  Parisian kitchen  (2013)

A bright, clean, and perfectly appointed Parisian kitchen (2013)

4.  Talk to the owners/manager

It’s always a good idea to have a conversation with the owner or manager before you book the property. Ask questions about the rental and the area. Do they seem knowledgeable and passionate about their area? Will they be there when you arrive? Or will someone else give you the keys? What happens if something goes wrong or you need some help with something It will give you a good idea of their responsiveness and professionalism. 

A quiet sunny morning and the town pup from the balcony of  our rental  in Villefranche-sur-Mer, France (2012)

A quiet sunny morning and the town pup from the balcony of our rental in Villefranche-sur-Mer, France (2012)

5.  Trust your gut

When it comes down to it, the most important part is to trust your gut. If you feel like something is off or seems strange, then move on. There are thousands of rentals out there, and there’s no reason to settle for something you're not comfortable with. 

Everyone’s standards will be different. I’ll admit that I’m probably more fussy than most people. The point is that it has to look nice and be functional based on your preferences. By all means, be flexible, but prioritize what is most important for you and don’t bend too much on those things.

That's all for this week! Happy weekend!