How to Be a Five Star Airbnb Guest

We’re big fans of Airbnb as a way to meet locals, experience authentic culture, and to find quality, budget lodging. Sometimes it can be difficult to determine, especially if you have a super relaxed host, what your responsibilities are. To earn yourself a five-star rating as a guest, abide by these tenets:

  • Most people loathe dishes in the sink, so wash them and leave them to dry, or rinse and put in dishwasher.
  • Minimize items left around the house. I’m really bad with this one, as I can be comfortable pretty much everywhere and thus my laundry, socks, and shoes tend to distribute themselves around any place of residence. It’s not messy; it’s a sign of genius. But if you have a host coming and going in the house, it can leave a bad impression of you. So if you’re like me and you enjoying occupying an entire space with your belongings, confine it to your room.
  • And close the door to your room, if for nothing else, because no one else wants to see your stuff, and you don’t want people seeing your stuff. If you’re a night owl like me and your day begins at 10pm (half kidding) then this also works to keep light and music in your room.
  • Ask to use the clothes washing machine!! Even if it is listed as an amenity, because odds are you’ll be using their soap too.
  • Recall your Aretha Franklin lyrics and R-E-S-P-E-C-T the space. Mark wants me to write to straighten the bed – fake make it – just in case something is needed from the room. This has never happened to us, where the host needed something from the room, but ya never know.
  • Understand personal time and space. The host might not always want to talk to you, and they’re not really obligated to. Most of the time they are working people too. We’ve had some quieter hosts and other hosts, like our lovely couple in Glasgow, that were happy to chat for hours.
  • Don’t eat food in the fridge or freezer unless you are invited to – if you finish something that you were given permission to eat or drink, offer to replace it.

And lastly…

Thank the host in person if they’re available – if not, leave a note / send SMS or E-Mail before writing and submitting your review. Airbnb will prompt you for a review at the end of your stay. If there’s any notes you’d like to offer the host privately, you can do so in a separate box after writing your review.

Let us know about your travels abroad, and as always, feel free to ask us for advice from lodging to low airfare.

Happy travels!

Mark and Melody

The Only App You Need to find Cheap Flights Anywhere

Airfare is usually one of the “cost prohibitory” expenses for anyone looking to travel to a far flung place. Yes I know Asia is cheap, they may say, but the flight is so expensive. But are they right? For a long time, I believed it. I took a flight from West Palm Beach, Florida to Hong Kong and it cost over $1,200 in March 2012. Granted, Air Canada is a very nice airline to travel on but after planning our months abroad, Mark and I have found the omniscient, no fail flight app:

Skyscanner.

Skyscanner is a search engine that allows you find the cheapest airfare to any destination at any time.

Type in your home airport. For us, it’s Fort Lauderdale. Then we play our favorite game called let’s see what the cheapest destination is by typing “Everywhere” into the destination box.

Searching
Searching “Everywhere” will show a list of destinations available from your home airport. Anywhere in the world.

Now you can pick a month, or pick the cheapest month. Pick your number of travelers, make sure you have round-trip selected, and go! You’ll get a lovely list of all the destinations by country first. For most people in the US, US destinations will pop up first. Sometimes this isn’t the case though, because once it was cheaper to go to Mexico than it was to go to Chicago from Miami. 🙂

List of countries to travel to from Fort Lauderdale. Note: Prices are round trip per person!
List of countries to travel to from Fort Lauderdale. Note: Prices are round trip per person!

A little further down, we see this list:

Batch two of options from Fort Lauderdale. Check out those European destinations!
Batch two of options from Fort Lauderdale. Check out those European destinations!

This is how we managed to get to Europe for $550.00. Yes, for two people! Once you find a country you like, click on it to see the destination cities. Let’s use Norway as an example:

List of cities you can fly to in Norway. Oslo looks like a good option, right?
List of cities you can fly to in Norway. Oslo looks like a good option, right?

We just finished up a beautiful long weekend in Oslo, so let’s go with Oslo. It’s definitely feasible to take a day trip to see the fjords, or take a drive to neighboring Sweden. Remember that we selected the cheapest month, so when you select Oslo, the cheapest dates come up. Easiest vacation planning ever! No more determining the best time to go or for how long.

You have to select the departing and return dates, and the price you see on the dates is the price for that leg (example Fort Lauderdale – Oslo). But when you select both travel dates, your total price per person comes up:

Norway for under $400? Pack your bags!
Norway for under $400? Pack your bags!

Now that you’re armed with the best airfare finder in the industry, where would you like to travel next?

Let us know in the comments.

Happy travelling!

Mark and Melody

24 Hours In: Things We Learned in Brussels

Bruxelles, a heavily blended capital city, location of the European Central Bank, and port of entry to the rest of Europe. With exactly 24 hours to eat, drink, and experience, these observations sum up our feelings about Brussels:

  1. In August, it’s hot. People said it was unusual, but it was so hot we decided to go out and drink instead of stay in our flat with no AC.
  2. Incredibly weighty French influence which no one in the UK or Ireland prepared us for. Totally caught us off guard to be greeted with a Bonjour/ Bon Soir. We expected a Flemish dialogue, some Germanic influence perhaps, but it was predominantly French.
  3. Drinking age is 16. While American high school students tweet about a drivers license, kids in Brussels are legally ordering their first brew with their parents. This is a limited drinking license as hard liquor is still prohibited for under 18s.
  4. Many embassy guards for the U.S. Frequent a bar called Roosters, which has two lovely bartenders – one named Kelly and the other Anna. They are incredibly funny and knowledgable about the area and their beers are reasonably priced too!
  5. I had a romantic fantasy that living above shops near downtown would be, in the words of Gretchen Weiners, so fetch. Early in the morning I’d wake up and head to the place right beneath my flat, grab a coffee, and begin my beautiful breezy day. The flip side of that dream is that at night, there are a lot of loud drunk people crowding the entrance to your flat, and you have to sneak in between them and open the door. It feels so odd having tons of complete strangers know where you live…
  6. Hardly anyone accepts American credit/ debit cards, even with a chip. We had to convert to euros because our cards kept getting declined. Come into Brussels with some cash, or find an exchange place, but please don’t exchange currency at the bus station,or airport. It’s a total rip off. 
  7. If you want to drink and talk to tons of people from all corners of the world, ask for the Delirium bar. It’s a narrow street with a dozen entrances to bars dedicated to one type of alcohol. There’s a tequila bar. There’s a vodka bar where you order a liter of vodka. All of them sell beer, but if you really want to prove your worth to yourself and all the strangers around you, order a two liter chalice of beer. Take time to wander upstairs, downstairs, around. You’ll find plenty of interesting things to see.
  8. The food district of Brussels is made of narrow streets crowded by outdoor seating and hosts standing in the walkway. As your eyes wander over to the menu, you’re immediately approached by someone and asked if you want to sit. I found this really revolting as they give you no time really to look at the menu, so we kept shaking our heads no and walked out of the restaurant district to a quieter, less pressure cooker type atmosphere.
  9. If you’re staying at an AirBnB here, please ask your host what floor they are on. We stayed on the top floor which I thought was awesome until we arrived and had to climb EIGHT, count them, EIGHT flights of stairs up and down to enter or leave this apartment.
  10. Want to make this known that I asked for tap water at a restaurant, was advised they “don’t do tap.” I told her bring the cheapest water, she brought me €6 mineral water. Sigh. 

If you’re planning a trip to Brussels, know that it’s a small capital city, and two to three leisurely days can cover the main attractions. If you have any questions about where to go, what to see, or what type of food to eat, send us a message! 

Mark and Melody

Five Awesome Free Things to do in London

London is a difficult place to keep on a budget. It’s really a buffet of things to do, history to understand, and information to absorb. In the madness and chaos that it is, there’s remarkably wonderful free things. After scouring the city for ourselves, we found the following attractions the best way to spend free time (as they can consume a lot of it) and keep your money in your wallet.

1. Imperial War Museum

Making bullets as the voice overhead observes Mark's job
Making bullets as the voice overhead observes Mark’s job

This is not any ordinary war/ history dull experience museum. There are voice overs, interactive whiteboards where you can touch and manipulate things as it shows you how long it took to create artillery, make bread or assemble shoes. There is gunfire and men and women shouting overhead. Lights are strategically positioned to make you feel like a time capsule has transported you back to The Great War. Incredible facts abound. We spent nearly three hours at the museum and didn’t finish the ground floor (there’s five of them). We learned:

  • Britain received gifts from all of her territories during World War I, including sheep, money, and food from Canada; rum from Jamaica; food and cocoa from Africa; and an assortment of goats.
  • Each participating military had its own unique outfit: colors, designs, emblems, embellishments, even if they were on the same side.
  • Germany’s army pushed Russia back an impressive 300 miles in one invasion! But it was not enough to defeat the Russians.

The museum is free of charge to enter; a map will cost a pound. There is also an entire floor devoted appropriately to the Holocaust.

2. The British Museum

Well done, Britain, this is an extraordinary place to visit. It’s also extraordinarily crowded, though people typically move about at a good pace. To avoid crowds, go on a Wednesday afternoon. I won’t tell you all the reasons you should go, because you’ve probably already put it on your list. But here’s the coolest parts:

  • Holding a 2,500 year old silver Greek coin, and learning that the symbol on that coin is on the Greek euro.
  • Seeing clocks from the 1500s. I watched the interactive video multiple times and I’m still convinced it’s part mechanics, part magic.
  • Seeing this poster which shows it’s cheaper to print on this currency than paper.DSC_0191
  • One of the first cash registers, created aptly by Tiffany and Co
  • The largest paper money denomination is 20 ‘million billion’ Hungarian. Wow.

3. The National Gallery

Simply wonderful. If you took your time through it you couldn’t cover the gallery. It’s simply stunning. People are milling about from the time it opens to the time that it closes. These pieces of art are so varied in size, emotion and structure. There’s one in particular, a painting of a horse that stretches from floor to ceiling. The walls are 20-30 feet high? The painting is so phenomenally large you’re captivated by the thought that one hand of one person painted this enormous horse. It’s held by chains that come down from the ceiling. 

The Gallery is best broken up into two afternoons if you want to really feel like you’ve experienced it. Suggested itinerary, do something paid in the morning then head over to the gallery for the later part of the afternoon. 

Van Goh's Most Famous: Chair, Sunflowers and Two Crabs
Van Gogh’s: Chair, Sunflowers and Two Crabs

Pro-tip: want to know what the fuss is about over an artist or a painting? Plenty of educated art enthusiasts at the entrance and exit of each gallery room to tell you about those works. Chat em up. 

BONUS: The buskers outside the National Gallery are extremely talented. There’s one gentleman, The Homeless Bard, who writes exceptional poetry detailing his highs and lows and major mistakes. Everything he writes is impromptu, spoken from the heart. Talk to him, he’s got a sweet drawl and tired blue eyes. He is optimistic, despite losing everything, and is currently rebuilding his life through his gift of penmanship.

Homeless Bard prays before writing his fourth poem of the day.
Homeless Bard prays before writing his fourth poem of the day.

Finally, here’s a separate list of interesting places that are also free, but unfortunately we’re missed because of time:

4. Geffrye Museum – quirky and fun facts about the evolution of furniture throughout centuries. Even shag carpet has its genetic roots somewhere. And it’s always amazing to me how much SMALLER all the furniture is. An adult chair would maybe fit today’s child.

5. King George V Park evidently has alpacas, which are my favorite animal. If I ever had the opportunity to have land, I would certainly get a herd of alpacas. And feed them apples. Because they don’t have incisors that allow them to cut up food and all that.

Travelling to London and looking for more helpful hints? Click here to learn how to travel around London efficiently and cheaply.

MarkandMelody

Choosing Your First AirBnB

AirBnB has been truly great to us and we can’t recommend them enough. Every type of lodging is available: tree houses, huts, beach cabanas, modern flats and castles! Search functions allow you to search for a private room, a shared space, or the entire home. The prices vary as much as the style, meaning there is definitely a listing for your taste.

For accuracy in prices and availability, put in the dates you’re looking to stay, even if they’re tentative because you may find a place you like that happens to have a flexible host. It’s no fun to get super attached to a listing only to find out it’s not available. 😦

Before booking, check the cancellation policy. Each listing has one: flexible, moderate or strict. Flexible means you can cancel no later than 24 hours before your intended stay for a full refund, which is best for more spontaneous bookings. Moderate means cancellation must be made five days (in host’s local time) before intended stay for a full refund.  If you’re planning to attend an event or you’re pretty sure you won’t change plans, this is an option. Strict is… Strict. No full refunds are offered for Strict cancellation policies.  Instead, a 50% refund will be given for cancellations made seven days or more before your intended stay.

We’ve found the hosts to be quite delightful and to ensure you get the most out of your stay without any misunderstanding, we always message the host before booking. We also crafted a template to familiarize you with the site and ensure you ask vital questions with a message like this:

Hello, My husband and I are traveling to London from September 23 to September 28- confirming you have these dates available. We are mainly looking forward to visiting Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, and Camden Market. We would like to prepare a couple small meals as well. We will be arriving from Heathrow at 7pm- would you be home at that time? What is the best tube route to your location? 

Thank you kindly. 

Most hosts respond within two hours as they are eager to confirm guests :). Generally, a more outgoing, interactive host will respond with a more detailed message. Ask for recommendations in their area. If you’ve any allergies, it’s good to note that so the host can accommodate. We had an instance where a review noted a pet but the host didn’t, so if pets are something you need to avoid, confirm before the booking. At a different stay, I was totally under the impression the host would be there, but he didn’t live in the area anymore; the house was a rental property. For a first time stay, you may want to ask if there will be other guests in the house.

For short stay travelers looking to maximize time, ask:

  • What do you find is the best way to get around?
  • Is Uber operating here?
  • What times do the trains/ buses run?
  • Additional charge on public transit during peak travel times?

For super savvy and aspiring long term travelers, ask:

  • How far is the nearest market and when does it close?
  • How far is the nearest pharmacy?
  • Do you have ample pots and pans, flatware and cooking tools?
  • Do you have a clothes washer if I bring my own detergent?

For families of four or more, we recommend:

  • Selecting “entire house” instead of one room as a search filter. More privacy, flexibility and importantly security.
  • Booking as soon as possible if you’re attending an event. AirBnB hosts will raise prices too, sometimes three months in advance.
  • Letting the host know the ages of your children, especially younger tots.
  • If you rented a car, ask where the car can be parked. 

Final note: Give a host with no reviews a chance. We did and had a lovely stay!

Have you had an experience at airbnb you’d like us to feature? Let us know! We would love to hear your travel adventures.

Mark and Melody

London on a Budget: Don’t Forget This! 

When looking to travel in a big city like London, it’s easy to be seduced into picking the lowest price for hotels/ lodging. We found out the hard way that the cheapest place actually ends up costing more…

Big Ben.

How? Because time is valuable too. 

Our 100+ day journey (no return ticket!) started with a week in London, so this is sage advice for long journey travelers and ambitious tourists who believe they can absorb London in a week.

It’s hard to find a way around London being pricey: bargain hotels start at $130 USD near the main attractions and hostels are mostly dorm style. AirBnB is typically the best way to get quality lodging at a deeply discounted rate. Unless you’re the worlds greatest hotel rewards points collector of course, in which case, don’t be afraid to share.

After looking into our options, we found a beautiful little place ‘just outside of London City Center’ for a modest $38 per night. That’s just $19 per person, per night. We had a nice little kitchen to cook in and a living room – excellent!

We flew ‘Into London’ (rolls eyes) and began working our way toward the house. Color me surprised to find that it would take us nearly an hour and a half via train and underground to get there.

Geograph-2430114-by-Malc-McDonald

Transit into London came at a steep cost of $77 via train on the express, taking about 45 minutes. Buy your ticket in advance and you might not get taken advantage of like we did. After another two transfers, we ended up on the train that would take us 45 minutes outside of London City Center ($4). We then walked / climbed the hill that brought us to the house we would call home for the next week.

Side note: This hill did not mess around. It puts San Francisco to shame. I’ve been on trail hikes less exerting than this. I felt like a winded mountaineer. What’s worse is these delightful little British kids are running all up and down this hill like it’s the easiest thing they’ve done all day. Ah.  Good ol days.

EVERY day we went into London to visit the Tower of London, or Tower Bridge, or the Beefeater Gin Distillery, or to visit a random park to have lunch, we were literally travelling uphill both ways. So that’s what my grandparents meant.


We took the bait for the cheapest place and paid a lot in time; over 18 hours was spent traveling to and from London city center which was $148 in fare over seven days for two people. The underground, overground and Thameslink train are surprisingly inexpensive, but we definitely could have used that 18 hours to spend another day at the Imperial War Museum, the National Gallery or the British Museum. 

Taking into account travel costs, the weighted cost of lodging became $415 – not taking into account our time (which of course everyone values differently). That brought the nightly rate to $59.29 or $29.65 per person.

We may have been able to find something that was more accessible and end up spending the same amount (or less), by opting for something a little higher in initial cost.

Pro-tips:

London’ is broken up into six zones. Zones one and two are where most of the popular attractions are. We were technically staying in London, but zone six, which was an hour away from the center. A trip to the Jewish Museum, a little further afield, was over 90 minutes away and back.

If you are staying at an airbnb (which we totally recommend) please ask them what zone they are in and what station they are near. Give us a shout if you need help deciphering the infamous London Underground map. 🙂

Think about how much time you want to spend getting to your points of interest each day, and always account for potential delays when you are further away. Remember – time is money!

Cheaper accommodation usually sacrifices: Convenience, Amenities, and/or Access to Transit. Even if you do not mind spending more time in transit, always take the everyday travel cost into account when making your decision.

AirBnB London

Consider a slightly more expensive accommodation to save yourself time or money overall. Looking back now, we could have spent $40-50 per night at a different AirBnB and found ourselves at a spot near London City Center, which would have saved us $65-135 – not to mention the time we spent and the stress incurred by the longer transit.


Whether you are on a mission to visit every country in the world as we are, or you’re just looking for a quick getaway to a world city, we hope that the information here might prove enlightening whilst you are planning.

Please send us a note of the travels you wish to embark on, and don’t be afraid to let the travel bug bite.

Mark & Melody

The Oystercard Doesn’t Get You to London Airports, and other London Travel Tips

More about the benefits of an Oystercard and why you should by one in London here, but it’s a little known fact that it doesn’t cover transport all the way to ANY of London’s major tourist airports: Gatwick, Heathrow or Standsted. Instead, each airport offers its own express train. 

For flying into London Gatwick, please note, it’s about two hours from London City Center, so please calculate an additional $70 USD/ £40 for two people for the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station. From there you can buy an Oystercard and get just about anywhere in London via the tube/ underground. 

For flying into London Heathrow, it’s about an hour from London City Center. The Heathrow Express travels to Paddington station in 15 minutes for about $30 / £21 if you purchase in advance. To buy the Express ticket upon arrival into an airport it’s an additional $8 / £5 per ticket. 

For flying into London Stansted, there are two public transport options to get near city center. For $14/ £9, a 55 minute bus ride will take you from the airport to Liverpool Street. For $27/ £18, a 45 minute Stansted Express train will get you from the airport to Liverpool Street. 

NOTE: once you get to Liverpool street, you can use your Oystercard to get anywhere else on the tube, the overground, or the bus system. 

If you’re traveling with a group or you don’t want to deal with inevitable crowds, a third option is a taxi from Stansted which costs between $120-150 (£80-£100), though I’ve never taken it. You’re better off downloading the Gett app and hailing a taxicab that way. 

This is important so I’m saying it twice: buy your Oystercard in London. Do not get a travel card. Do not buy one-way tickets.  And please look hard at the London Pass before subscribing. The Oystercard lets you travel like a Londoner through nearly all the zones and you can refill/ top up the card as you go. 

Happy travels!