Top 5 tips to book an Airbnb stay

Gazing out the window at the lively Montmartre cafes, I truly felt a part of the Parisian culture on a recent trip. This is one of the reasons I book an Airbnb for our stays that are a week or more. While I love my Marriott hotel stays, those work best for just a few days. An Airbnb is great for longer term stays and for groups like for our girls’ trips because we need more bathrooms and beds than a hotel room can provide. In Florence, we rented out an apartment in a villa (see top left pic below) where the family lived in one section, and we enjoyed three levels of living in a separate wing of the building. When my husband and I travel, often I will be working remote for a month or longer, so having strong Wi-Fi and a washer are necessary. I just booked our stay in an apartment in Strasbourg, France for a month, where I’ll be working remote during the week and taking day trips all over France on the weekends. My girls trip this year will be a stay in Paris on the Ile Saint-Louis Island in an amazing Airbnb with a water view. So much to look forward to!

Doing research before booking your Airbnb is crucial to having a happy stay so please read my tips below before you hit that “reserve” button and enjoy your journey!

  1. Read the reviews. If there are complaints about noise and the beds being uncomfortable, look elsewhere. You need a good night’s sleep when you travel. If there are no reviews, don’t book it. The listing may be new and that’s the reason for zero reviews but let somebody else try it out first. The host should disclose any issues with the rental in the description (one posting I just read stated that “If you are 6-feet +, consider other bookings because one area of the ceiling has a clearance of 5’11”) but sometimes hosts aren’t so forthright so reviews are where you will discover the truth.
  2. Choose a Superhost if at all possible. They will care more about providing a clean, consistent experience because they want good reviews. If something is amiss, they will be more likely to make it right. We checked in to one apartment in London and the cleaners hadn’t shown up yet, so we had to drop our bags and leave once they did come. However, the host gave us a full night’s credit back to our Airbnb account which was absolutely the best outcome of a situation that can happen.
  3. Check out the neighborhood before you book. Some hosts provide the address up front, and others will only show a location in the general neighborhood “exact location provided after booking”. Either way, do your due diligence and investigate. We got a super deal on a place in Lisbon, Portugal but the neighborhood was a little rough, so we didn’t feel comfortable going out at night so now I go to Google maps and look at street view level to get a feel for the neighborhood before I book. Usually, the host will include details in “Getting around” section about what you can walk to like a market and public transportation nearby. Is accessibility an issue for you or members of your group? Is the neighborhood hilly or are there stairs to climb to the local market? All good thinks to know in advance.
  4. Consider the cancellation policy. Cancel policies vary by property so make sure you check. You will usually see for each listing either: “Free cancellation before (insert date)”, which is usually 30 days prior to start of reservation OR “Free cancellation for 48 hours”. Believe me, life can happen and with a restrictive cancel policy you will lose your entire payment. My husband had a heart attack, and we couldn’t go to NYC on a planned trip. Even after explaining the situation to the host, he refused to refund our money and he was within his rights to do so given that apartment’s published cancel policy. I was still upset, and, after that incident, I now refuse to book a place that doesn’t have a more lenient policy where I can get a 100% refund within 30 days of start of reservation.
  5. Check amenities and accessibility. I have stayed in Airbnbs all over Europe. Many places have steep stairs to not only get to the apartment but also within the unit. Elevators are as rare as air conditioning, dishwashers and dryers in many countries. If these are important to you, check to make sure the place you have picked to rent has them. Even small details like having a coffee pot for me are important. One place we rented had nothing but an electric kettle which is fine for tea. We had a lovely time shopping in the local neighborhood for a french press and coffee, leaving it all behind after our week’s stay so the next renter might enjoy it. If you will be working remote and need strong Wi-Fi, check the reviews to see if other renters have had any issues and check with the host. Where we stayed in London recently not only had 5 flights of stairs inside the unit but the Wi-Fi and cell coverage was weak and only worked in a few places inside the unit, which was just inconvenient for us. At our New Zealand cottage on the water, the host provided free use of kayaks and we had an amazing paddle around the bay. Our France rental this fall has use of bikes to get around the city which I am sure we will use on our month-long stay.

I hope these tips help you book an amazing place. Safe travels!

Top 5 Travel Packing Tips

I recommend you pack only a carry-on for whatever length of time you are travelling. Seriously, I went all over Europe last fall for 30+ days with only a carry-on. And this was a multi-purpose trip for me-I work remote, so I had to look business-like on virtual meetings and also had personal time off to enjoy sightseeing with my husband. If I can do it, so can you! Don’t be disappointed by lost baggage or sustain injuries caused by dragging around and lifting heavy luggage. If you follow my best practices, learned from travelling all over the world with only a carry-on, you will thank me. Enjoy the journey!

Here we go: (downloadable travel checklist here Packing Checklist – Travels with Melinda)

  1. Pick a color palette and coordinate your outfits around it. I use black as the base and plan pops of color with scarves and jewelry. I envy people who can wear white shirts but mine just end up with stains so white is a no go for me.
  2. Try out the clothes in advance of the trip to see if they are comfortable and won’t wrinkle. When you wear them, are they comfortable and do they make you feel good? If so, take a picture to remember the look and put it in your packing list file. I’m a planner and start updating my basic packing list months in advance of any trip depending on where I am going and expected weather conditions.
  3. Lay out your 5 outfits (this is for any length of trip over 5 days) on the bed-tops, bottoms, underwear, socks, jewelry, scarves, etc. Then, see if you can mix and match them to create new looks.
  4. Wash the chosen travel outfits in the sink and hang them to dry to test their worthiness before the trip. If they don’t dry overnight or dry but with terrible wrinkles, don’t pack them. That includes socks and underwear too. You may have the luxury of a washer at an ARBNB, but you probably won’t have a dryer at least in Europe and, if you’re at a hotel, you may be washing in the sink using handy laundry soap sheets that are easy to pack.
  5. Check the weather right before you go and adjust outfits as needed. Don’t need that umbrella and poncho? Great! Do need hat and gloves? Pack them. You don’t want to be cold, wet and miserable, so better to be prepared.

 More details on exact items I recommend for the best travel experience can be found on my website: Travel Essentials – Travels with Melinda.

Top 10 travel tips for flying

As I head out tomorrow on my 5:30 am (boarding at 4:50 am) flight, I am thinking to myself, “WTF WAS I THINKING!!!” It always seems like a good idea at the time you book, but these AM flights are killer even if they do get you from the West Coast to the East Coast before dark. I would just caution you to really think through your flight times as well as your layover times before you book. If you are going to arrive tired and cranky or have to run through a crowded airport to make a tight connection, maybe rethink your flight plans.

If you haven’t already, download the airline app on your phone for whatever carrier you are flying on. Use the boarding pass on your app to get through security and onto the plane. Set up push notifications to your phone within the app for any change to your travel plans. Gates change, flights are delayed or cancelled, and you need to be the first to know. Heads up-more and more airports are not making overhead announcements so the notification on your phone from your airline might be your only warning. If you have a flight cancel or are delayed too long that you will miss connections, jump on the airline’s app immediately while walking to the customer service desk to rebook. If you are travelling with a companion, have them call the airlines customer service at the same time. You never know where you’ll get the fastest service, so you have to try several options simultaneously because everyone else on that delayed flight is also trying to reschedule. Below are my top 10 travel tips for flying, accumulated from personally travelling all over the world. Enjoy the journey!

  1. Try to get on the first flight out in the morning even if it means getting up early (but maybe not as early as I’m getting up tomorrow!). These flights are far less likely to cancel. Later flights are subject to weather issues and cascading flight cancels as delays cause flight crews to take breaks every 16 hours they work. Getting TSA Pre-check for US travel is worth the time and $78 expense. I would never consider travelling without it as I typically get through TSA much faster and without taking liquids out or shoes off. For frequent global trips, get Global Entry for $100 that includes TSA Pre-check. More info on these programs here: Official Trusted Traveler Program Website | Department of Homeland Security (
  2. If you have a major event to attend like a wedding, funeral or perhaps a concert, try to arrive at least a day or two in advance to allow for flight delays/cancels. Delays happen! If they do, try to buy a day pass to one of the airline member lounges if you don’t already have a membership. They offer comfortable seating (and even beds at some airports-see pic above of Thom reclining at Delta club in Paris!) and free food/alcohol. I spend extra to have this luxury (look at those big seats in pic above!) because it makes delays and long connections bearable when travelling. Tomorrow, I have a 3-hour layover in Minneapolis, and I’ll be checking out the new Delta club that I hear is fabulous.
  3. When booking, allow for several hours between connections. You may think that the airlines sites are showing connections that are 30 minutes when you do searches so it must be alright but that is not the case. Especially at large, busy airports and those in other countries that may require you to go through customs, you need three hours minimum between flights. Really anywhere for both foreign and domestic flights, allow 90 minutes at least between connecting flights.
  4. Always check out carefully where you are sitting on the plane. Don’t be near the bathrooms or in seats that don’t recline. Speaking of awful seats-see pic above of weird wall that was in front of my husband’s seat instead of a video screen on the seat back in front of him. This wall wasn’t showing when on the map when seats were booked. On overnight flights, try to be halfway between bathrooms and galley so that it is quieter. If you need to get up frequently, get an aisle seat. Want to lean while you sleep, then get a window seat and hug the wall.
  5. Being drunk on a plane is a federal offense so don’t overdo it. Jet lag is bad enough but jet lag+hangover will negatively impact your trip. If another passenger gets drunk and rowdy, discretely go to the flight attendant and let them handle it-they are trained and will be better equipped than you are to take care of any situation.
  6. If flights are full and people have to get bumped (yes, it happens and it’s not fair if you have a ticket, but it happens), the first people to get bumped are those who paid for the tickets not directly from the airline site. So, for example, you book your ticket through a third-party site like Expedia vs. a person who bought through the Delta site, then you, as the Expedia customer, will probably be bumped. Even better, if you are a loyal frequent flyer on one airline and get status, you have the edge over others with no status. Be loyal! Sign up for the frequent flyer program at the airline you will use most often. For me, it’s Alaska for regional travel and Delta for everything else. As far as the low-cost carriers like Southwest, you get what you pay for. Southwest has had multiple systemwide issue failures causing travel havoc. Save up and fly on a better airline.
  7. Don’t bring stinky food to eat on the plane. Not only will those around you hate you but the flight attendants will too. Don’t be that person eating the taco or tuna fish or a hardboiled egg. Yuck! P.S. Also bring along Lysol wipes and thoroughly clean off your tray table and armrests-you know the plane crew doesn’t probably have time to do a good job on every single tray table for every flight. I have a vivid memory of seeing a mother bounce her baby (clad only in a diaper) on the tray table to get them to calm down. Think about that-the residue left behind from that bouncing diaper-clad bottom….and clean, clean, clean before touching your tray table.
  8. Drink water to stay hydrated. Don’t get ice in your water or drink. Various studies show ice can be contaminated with bacteria. I don’t chance it. Your choice.
  9. Bring noise cancelling headphones OR listen to the guy next to you snoring or telling you conspiracy theories or the baby crying for hours. Also, some airplane still use the headphones with jacks to watch free movies. Carry a spare pair just in case.
  10. Dress in layers to fly. I always wear pants (shorts on a plane are just stupid-sorry), a l/s top, jacket and scarf. BTW, keep your shoes on while you fly. Please for the love of God. Wear compression socks to increase circulation and reduce swelling in your legs and feet. P.S. That’s not water on the bathroom floor on the plane in case you take your shoes off and decide to use the facilities.

I’m off to go to bed at 8 pm so that I can rise at 3 am and get to the airport for my unholy early morning flight tomorrow. The good news is that I probably won’t have a travel delay and I’ll get to Indianapolis for my family visit before it gets dark. I’m homeward bound to walk down memory lane.