Listing Our Camper on Airbnb

Vintage Cruiser 23BHS parked behind our house
Our Vintage Cruiser’s semi-permanent home

To explain our motive for listing our camper on Airbnb, I could subtitle this post, “What to Do When Gulf Stream and Its Dealer Deceive You.” (But that’s just too long for SEO to appreciate.)

Our Saga Begins

Our camper-turned-Airbnb story began about 18 months ago when my husband Michael and I  purchased a Gulf Stream Vintage Cruiser 23BHS. We discovered several weeks later that the axles were incorrectly labeled and were being recalled. Our dual-axle trailer was labeled and marketed as having axles with a GAWR (Gross Axle Weight Rating) of 3500 pounds. The axles on the vehicle actually had a GAWR of 2800, meaning that our RV ha 1400 fewer pounds of NCC (Net Carrying Capacity) than we believed.  We wrote, called, and implored the folks at Gulf Stream allow us to return their falsely-advertised vehicle, but did not get any satisfaction. The more we learned, however, the more convinced we became that the 23BHS could be dangerous to haul in certain long-distance towing situations. I won’t bore you with all the details here. If you’d like to know them, just go to our blog at https://www.inavintagecruiserrv.com/and note these particular posts: https://www.inavintagecruiserrv.com/specs-features-and-additions/weighing-in-on-the-recallhttps://www.inavintagecruiserrv.com/specs-features-and-additions/weighing-in-on-deceptive-advertising.

Exploring Our Options
Dinette area in 1950's turquoise
Vintage 50’s Styling with Modern Technology

Anyway, 2017 turned into 2018, and we made payments on a vehicle we mistrusted and didn’t use. We talked about what to do with a lovely-looking camper that had become an albatross. We considered RV sharing sites that allowed people to rent a camper to haul wherever. However, we couldn’t in good conscience simply rent our Vintage Cruiser to someone who could be injured if he or she loaded the camper incorrectly. In late spring, we listed the trailer on outdoorsy.com. To avoid endangering others, we stipulated that we would tow and set-up the camper in any of several campgrounds within a few hours of our home.  Not one person inquired about this arrangement.

Finally, in early summer, we fashioned a semi-permanent site in our backyard, and listed the Vintage Cruiser on Airbnb. We listed a studio apartment on Airbnb just over 2 years. We understand a bit about how to set up and market a listing. So, we landscaped, decorated, and cleaned, then prayed fervently and listed our 23BHS. After 2 months, our occupancy rate isn’t earth-shattering, but we are providing a unique lodging experience. Our guests have been pleased, and we have met some fine folks. And–here’s a big bonus– the camper is paying for itself!

Bedroom area in our camper.
Listing Our Camper on Airbnb Has Worked Well
Things we have learned by listing our camper on Airbnb
  • Campers are by nature less durable and more cramped than homes. Although a Vintage Cruiser 23BHS could sleep 5 or 6, we limit the number to 4 in the hope that fewer people will lessen the overall wear on our camper.
  • Campers are generally quick and easy to clean, but have lots of little, hard-to-reach spots.
  • Campers are unusual listings that provide a competitive advantage. In our town of Greer, SC, the number of overall Airbnb listings has skyrocketed since we listed our apartment in 2016. Competition is stiff. A new camper modeled in vintage 50’s decor fills a niche with few similar offerings.
  •  Sometimes thinking “outside the box” introduces you to ideas that really work. Listing our camper on Airbnb did that for us.

Mustard . . . and Other Things Vacation Rental Guests Leave

Mustard jars--the things vacation rental guests leave most often in our homes
Mustard is the single item that gets left behind most often.

I never planned to monitor the things vacation rental guests leave behind when their stays end. But after removing yet another squeeze bottle of mustard from the refrigerator, I mentally noted what my husband and I most often find while cleaning the Airbnb and VRBO rentals my husband and I own/manage:

Hair Accessories

We have picked up bobby pins, hair picks, ponytail holders, and barrettes in an assortment of sizes, shapes and colors. Often they are located under the bed, squeezed between the couch cushions, or in some other easy-to-miss spot.

Food

As you’ve gathered, mustard (particularly Heinz mustard) gets the dubious distinction of being left behind most often.  Apparently people like mustard well enough to purchase it, but not well enough to pack it and lug it home. Fairly frequently we find eggs, milk, and condiments to complement the mustard. Cabinets frequently hide peanut butter, jelly and pasta. One couple left all the fixings for a steak dinner in the refrigerator—T-bones, sweet potatoes, tossed salad and dressing. Every now and then I find food items in unusual places, like the ABC gum I found under the bed or the pizza box containing crust remnants that my husband pulled from a dresser drawer.

Chargers and Cords for Electronics

We’re getting a collection of wall chargers and cables for Smart phones, and even a few adapters for computers. I occasionally forget these when I travel, so I understand how this happens.

Small Toys

We usually find these left-behinds when we are down on all fours and looking under things like coffee tables, sofas and beds. We have spied blocks, balls, puzzle pieces, action figures, Hot Wheels cars, and assorted other small toys.

Toiletries

Two people have left an entire toiletries bag. Mostly we find one item—shower gel, shampoo or body lotion. Frequently, the forgotten item is in the shower, waiting forlornly (I assume) for its owner to rush in, grab it, and throw it into the toiletries bag where it belongs.

Coins

We find coins in all sorts of places– in the washer, under a bed, hidden in the pile of a thick rug, or in a corner under a table. Mostly I find pennies or quarters. Apparently they are either the most common coins found in pockets, or the easiest coins to drop.

Clothing

We’ve found button-down shirts in the closet and T-shirts under the bed. We’ve also located underwear  and socks in various places. So far (sorry to say it, guys!) the vast majority of the left-behind articles have been men’s clothing.

What We Have Learned by Cleaning Up Things Vacation Rental Guests Leave:

We know the necessity of:

  • Opening and inspecting every cabinet, cupboard, and dresser drawer for left-behind items. You really do not know what may be hiding there.
  • Getting down and visually inspecting under the beds and sofas. Bits, pieces, parts and crumbs can end up right under the middle of a large piece of furniture.
  • Checking the refrigerator and freezer every time.  Things get left here most often.
  • Wearing gloves when we clean. Some of these “finds” have been a bit gamey.

Are you a vacation rental host? What have you discovered are the most frequent things vacation rental guests leave behind?

Dealing with Difficult Guests on Airbnb, VRBO . . .

In 18 months with a listing on Airbnb, my husband and I have hosted only a few difficult guests.  We’ve gotten good feedback about our apartment, and earned Superhost status. Our place has never been trashed, but we have been grateful to see a few people leave, especially one woman who just seemed to want to hang around.  She kept finding excuses to prolong her stay–even though at one point she insisted that the neighborhood was not safe.  These experiences have convinced us that hosts on Airbnb, VRBO, or some other vacation rental platform should take these 4 precautions:

1. Install security cameras.

Cameras record what actually happens. Usually this isn’t a big deal. Most guests come and go without incident. They abide by the house rules. However, difficult guests make themselves difficult in very specific ways. Ours have either 1) broken our house rules, or 2) misstated what actually happened. In either situation, having cameras record exactly what is going on is very helpful. Our camera footage showed guests: 1) arriving in greater numbers than were stated in the reservation, 2) smoking on our property, 3) bringing a pet and 4) exaggerating problems. We charge extra for extra guests, so we take issue with guests who we were not expecting.  Smoking is absolutely prohibited anywhere on our property. We don’t accommodate pets. In one situation when a small disturbance was presented as a huge difficulty, the cameras revealed that the actual events were considerably smaller than what was claimed.

picture of a keypad lock
A keypad lock is a marvelous safety feature–for you and your guests.
2. Use electronic keypad locks.

Keypad locks are a great investment for any Airbnb or other vacation rental host. Keypads make it easy for guests to get into and out of your place. They provide an extra level of security for your guests. They are particularly valuable when you deal with difficult guests. Once troublesome guests leave, you want to be able to immediately make your space unavailable to  them. Changing the keypad code is a fast, easy, effective way to accomplish this.

3. Contact Airbnb early on if you are dealing with seriously difficult guests.

On the rare occasion that you need Airbnb to step in, you’ll want to involve them earlier rather than later, for several reasons. First, if they know of your difficulty early, Airbnb staff may be able to resolve the issue right away, before it escalates. Second, if you alert them to your difficulties, they can follow your actions and interactions with your guest. This will allow them to verify that you are acting in accordance with the information in your listing and with your agreement with Airbnb.  Third, you may simply need their clout to get a resolution. This was the case with our guest who kept making excuses for not leaving, even after her reservation expired. She finally left after she received a call from the Airbnb resolution center.

4. Take lots of pictures.

Photograph the cigarette butts on the front porch, the permanent marker scribbles on the living room wall, and the chewed edges of the dining room table. Document the difficulties so that you can verify your claims and receive remuneration. The more proof you have, the easier it will be to resolve things fairly and quickly.

Hopefully, you won’t need these precautions with most of your guests. However, having them in place will make things so much easier if you do host the occasional difficult guest.

 

How to Use Airbnb Stats from Your Listing

In a previous post, Making Sense of Airbnb Stats: What They Really Mean, I explained how Airbnb calculates the statistics it provides. This post discusses how to use Airbnb stats when making long-term and short-term business decisions.

1. Clarify your business goals.

The critical prerequisite of knowing how to use Airbnb stats is that you are crystal-clear about your business goals. Is your primary goal related to revenue, occupancy, meeting people, or something else? Regarding income, do you want maximum income, enough income to cover the mortgage and expenses, or enough to fund your own travels? Do you want to maximize your occupancy rate or book only on weekends and special events? Knowing your goals provides the foundation that allows you to use Airbnb stats effectively.

To clarify each of these steps, I’ll provide an example from personal experience. My husband Michael and I list a small efficiency apartment on Airbnb. We focus primarily on maximizing our earnings/booking; that’s our main revenue goal. That is more important to us than is overall earnings. Our goal of maximizing earnings/booking affects our overall pricing strategy, guiding us toward certain activities and away from others.

2. Relate the findings to each of your broad business goals.

Michael and I handle the cleaning and maintenance for our apartment. As I mentioned, our primary revenue goal is to maximize earnings (and minimize expenses) for each booking. Because of this, we offer weekly and monthly discounts to attract guests who book for several days or a few weeks. We make cleaning arrangements with guests staying more than one week. Even with that, we spend much less time with cleaning and maintenance than we do when we have a series of bookings for 1-3 days. These actions fit with our revenue goal of maximizing earnings/booking. In order to discover possible ways to use Airbnb stats to our advantage, we look at each of our business goals in a similar fashion.

3. Formulate specific action plans that use Airbnb stats.

This step requires mixing creativity with detailed analysis in order to find ways to use Airbnb stats to give you a competitive advantage. This is especially critical in growing markets like the vacation rental market, since growing markets attract competition. Increased competition requires specific action plans designed to provide the exact services your target market values. Used thoughtfully and creatively, Airbnb performance stats provide an objective platform upon which to build tailored, effective action plans.

Let’s go back to our example of maximizing earnings /booking. Our performance statistics indicated that months with a few bookings of a week or more yielded the highest earnings/booking. We coupled those data with 3 bits of information from our guests. People staying longer: 1) value privacy and comfort, 2) put a premium on a safe, homey location, and 3) often are traveling due to work.  They like the convenience of our keypad entry and the homey, country feel of our suburban location. More than once we’ve had long-term guests extend their original reservation once they have tested our accommodations. This is a double win for us; we get several weeks booked in advance and also increase our earnings/booking.

Lately we have explored ways to make our guests feel at home in our town.  First, we added a fairly extensive online guide book that guests can view once they book with us. It’s accessible on the Airbnb website before guests arrive, so they can discover a good bit about our area in advance. We also purchased a special discount card available from our little town’s business association. Guests who want to experience Greer, SC can use the card to receive discounts at more than a dozen merchants located right downtown,  which is only a 5-minute drive from our apartment. These tactics fit with our revenue goal and demonstrate how we use Airbnb stats from our listing to help us improve our service and our bottom line.

What hints do the Airbnb performance statistics from your listing provide for you?

Making Sense of Airbnb Stats: What They Really Mean

Airbnb provides its hosts with statistics–like nights booked and occupancy rate–to help them evaluate their progress and identify opportunities. Most of the information is straightforward and helpful. However, some Airbnb stats are a bit tricky to know how to apply.

I sat down with our Airbnb stats from 2017 to try to make sense of the data.  Using Excel, I made a month-by-month spreadsheet with the information provided by Airbnb. Next, I ranked each category from 1 to 12, with 1 being the best and 12 the worst. Then I analyzed the results. I wanted to see if any obvious correlation exists between stats like views, bookings and earnings, so that I could formulate action plans based upon what I learned. This post addresses what I learned. Part 2–How to Use Airbnb Stats from Your Listing–covers how my husband and I are using what we learned.

The Airbnb Stats

Booking Rate: Airbnb defines booking rate as, “the percentage of guests who book with you after viewing your listing.” For 2017–our first full year as Airbnb hosts–our average booking rate was just over 1.8%. It’s hard to determine what a “good” booking rate is; opinions from Airbnb forums vary greatly. People also disagree over how important a high booking rate is. We’re not sure. We do know that our booking rate varied considerably, from a low of .4% in March, to a high of 3.6% in February. Most of our guests stayed at least 3 days. Several booked a week or more. A few stayed more than a month.

Occupancy Rate and Earnings: Occupancy rate is calculated by dividing the # of days your space was rented by the # of days is was available to rent. For example, if in June you blocked 5 days for personal use, and had guests staying 17 days, your occupancy rate would be 68% (17/25) Last year we logged 240 booked days and 36 blocked days. This yielded an annual occupancy rate of 73% (240/329).Interestingly, our monthly occupancy rates ranged widely, from a low of  12% in January to a high of 100% in June and July. As  I expected, January showed the lowest earnings. February’s earnings eclipsed those for the fully-booked months of June and July.  This surprised me. I went back to our calendar to see how many bookings (groups) stayed each month. June and July showed 2 bookings; February showed 3 bookings.

The numbers made more sense when I factored in our pricing strategy. We discount our nightly rate by 10% for weekly stays and 15% for monthly stays. February–with a 96% occupancy rate–had slightly higher total earnings because the guests paid a higher rate. However, June and July were the best months in terms of earnings per group. This number is especially important to me, since I clean the apartment myself. I would rather earn a little less if doing so means I can decrease the amount of time and money I spend for cleaning.

The Rankings: The chart below shows each month’s occupancy rate and its rank in 3 categories. You’ll note that August was the month with the most views of the listing. As I already noted, February had the highest total earnings, and June had the highest earnings amount per booking.  Look closely, and you’ll see some interesting numbers. For instance, June–with 100% occupancy–had the fewest views, but ranked first in earnings/booking and 2nd in overall earnings.

Month/ Occupancy % and Rank View Rank Earnings Rank $/Booking Rank
January (12%/12) 10 12 8
February (96%/3) 11 1 3
March (83%/5) 7 11 7
April (73%/7) 3 6 10
May (68%/8 -tie) 4 5 11
June  (100%/1 -tie) 12 2 1
July (100%/1-tie) 9 4 2
August (60%/11) 1 7 9
September (74%/6) 6 10 5
October (89%/4) 5 3 4
November (68%/8-tie) 8 8 12
December (62%/10) 2 9 6
What the Airbnb stats mean
  1. Occupancy rate and earnings are directly and highly correlated. DUH!! Of course they  are! The more often you have guests, the more money you make. However, occupancy rate and earnings aren’t exactly correlated. The rankings for the 2 categories are close, but seldom the same.
  2. Occupancy rate and listing views are inversely correlated. At first glance, this is puzzling. However, it makes sense when you remember that a listing doesn’t show up as a possibility if it is already booked for any of the dates being searched. As your listing gets higher occupancy rates, it shows up on fewer searches, and is seen less frequently. Again, the correlation is not perfect, but it is noticeable. Generally, a high occupancy rank results in a lower viewing rank, and vice versa.
  3. A host of variables not listed on the chart also affect your Airbnb stats.  These include–but are not limited to–pricing strategy, length-of-stay requirements, local competition, and seasonal fluctuations. In order to make sense of your Airbnb stats, you must understand your particular situation and factor in those variables.
  4. The great benefit of analyzing the data carefully is that you can then use the findings to further your business goals. Is it more important for you to maximize earnings or occupancy rate? Are you a start-up who is willing to reduce your nightly fee in order to get more listings and more reviews? The answers to these questions affect daily decisions and long-term plans. They are covered in the next post–How to Use Airbnb Stats from Your Listing.

Heading to the Airport? 5 Times to Get a Lyft (or Uber) Ride!

When we left for a recent trip to England and Scotland, Michael and I decided to get a Lyft to the airport. We are grandparents who are learning to use and appreciate the benefits of the sharing economy, and getting a Lyft ride was a good decision for us. It could be a good idea for you, too. Here are 5 times you might benefit:

1. You live relatively near an airport that has contracts for Lyft, Uber or other ride-share companies.

We can get a Lyft or Uber ride and be at the airport in fewer than 10 minutes. Most people aren’t in our situation. However, at an estimated cost of $2.00 per mile, even a ride of several miles isn’t terribly expensive, especially when you can ping a driver whenever you need one, and be dropped off exactly where you need to be.

2. You don’t have family living near you.

Somehow it seems less imposing to us to get a lift from a brother, sister, cousin, or parent than it is to ask a friend. We know we would be glad to return the favor for a family member, so it seems fair. However, our closest relatives live 2 hours away.  Getting a ride from family is never an option.

3. You leave and return at awkward times.

Our departing flight was right in the middle of a workday.  Our return flight arrived just before midnight on a week night. We hated to ask a friend to leave work to cart us to the airport. We didn’t want anyone to be up well after midnight to bring us home, and then have to be at work early the next day.

4. You would pay to leave your vehicle in long-term parking if you didn’t get a Lyft or Uber ride.

We live very near Greenville/Spartanburg (GSP) International Airport. GSP charges a nominal $5 daily rate for long-term parking. Even at that reasonable rate, a 10-day parking fee would have been substantially more than the charge to get a Lyft. The difference in cost would have been even larger if our trip lasted longer and/or we traveled from an airport with higher daily parking rates. Another benefit was that not using long-term parking allowed our vehicle to sit at home in our driveway, giving the appearance that we were home.

5. You are toting lots of luggage.
6 suitcases and bags on a front porch
Get a Lyft and make toting luggage SO much easier.

We try to pack light when we travel, but this last trip was an exception. We carried gifts for our son and his family, as well as several items that are hard for them to find. Also, our trip occurred in mid-March, when the weather was being particularly wintry, even for England and Scotland. We packed extra amounts of warm clothing. We each headed out the door with a bag to check, a carry-on, and a backpack, all of which were heavily loaded. Deciding to get a Lyft negated the need to haul all those bags from long-term parking to the check-in counter. Having a Lyft driver pick us up on our return was even better!  We were jet-lagged and bone-tired after a 22-hour day, and still hauling all those (somewhat lighter) bags. We just hopped in at the curb and let him get us safely home. Yay!

I think we’ll just plan now to get a Lyft for our next trip!

 

Keys for Coping When Change Comes at You Fast!

Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.

Sydney J. Harris, journalist

Most of us say that change is a good thing.  Some of us lobby loudly for dramatic change. However, I think Sydney Harris had it right. When change comes, we really want only good changes to come our way. Even then, we want those changes in small enough increments that we have time to adjust. When change comes fast, we feel like we’re drowning!

I speak from experience. In the past 5 years, my husband Michael and I have seen our family grow from 6 to 15. All four of our children married in an 8-month period—our 3 sons in consecutive months. Each wedding was held in a different state. Almost immediately the 4 couples scattered from Hawaii to Wyoming, and from West Virginia to Dumbarton, Scotland. Suddenly, we were empty-nesters whose closest nestling lived 400 miles away.

About 18 months after the last wedding, we welcomed our first grandchild, Tucker. We missed his first birthday; we were in Wyoming greeting Kimberlee, our 4th grandchild, who was born on Tucker’s first birthday. As I write this, we have added a 5th grandchild, and anticipate the birth of 3 more in the next few months. Shopping is great fun! Keeping up with birthdays, anniversaries and holidays is a bit challenging.

While our children were marrying and starting families, Michael and I faced our own life-changing events. He changed jobs just before all the craziness started, and we planned a move about 3 hours away, to Charleston, SC. I quit my job and began packing our belongings.  In the interim, we rented an apartment and maintained two homes, seeing each other three or four days a week. When our “wedding marathon” began, we shelved our Charleston move. I went back to work part-time with my previous employer. Michael and I squeezed the usual contingent of pre-wedding planning sessions, parties, showers, and shopping trips onto the calendar.

After the weddings, I sat for my real estate license and began a new career. I was nicely getting started with that when a routine mammogram revealed cancer. Thankfully, it was detected very early. After 2 surgeries and some recovery time, I am cancer-free and feeling fine.

Now you know my rapidly-changing story. Here is what I have learned are 4 keys for coping when change comes fast:

1. Embrace the change.

Embracing change–even sad, or heart-breaking change–is critical. If the change you’re facing is something you’ve always hoped or prayed would happen, embracing it is easy. Mentally, you can picture the warm embraces of a great-aunt you saw rarely. Each time she visited, she pulled you snugly against her ample person and squeezed you nearly breathless.  The analogy isn’t perfect–no change is entirely happy–but you get the idea.

What if the change itself leaves us breathless with sorrow or fear?  Well, suppose that your cat has just given birth to a litter of kittens, one of which is clearly a runt. Each time the runt tries to nurse, the others push it away or climb on top of it, leaving it bruised and hungry.  You hesitate to intervene; you know you will end up doing midnight feedings with the help of an eyedropper. Then the kitten looks up at you and mews pitifully. Sighing, you reach down and gently scoop the little ball of fur into your hands. Startled, the kitten scratches you. You are tempted to return the ingrate to the box, but don’t.  Embracing that kitten means that you’ve accepted the situation for what it is, and decided to work toward a happy conclusion.

One caveat–Learning to embrace difficult change doesn’t mean that the difficulty will get better. Your situation may worsen. However, you will be prepared to deal with it. While I was having my light brush with cancer, my 25-year-old friend, Marissa, was dying from the same disease. Marissa got great care. Her family helped her amazingly. Her friends, co-workers, and church family supported and prayed for her. Yet, after an 18-month struggle, she lost her battle. Embracing the change means accepting that we may not get the outcome we really want. (You can read Marissa’s sad–yet uplifting story–here.)

2. Realize that all change comes at some cost.

Even pleasant changes come at some cost. We buy a nicer home in a better community, but our commute time doubles.  We marry our sweetheart and realize that two imperfect humans can’t always live in perfect harmony. Perhaps the quintessential example is the superstar athlete in his early twenties who signs a multi-million-dollar contract with a huge signing bonus, only to succumb to the allure of drugs or a plethora of other vices that present themselves. A decade later he’s broken and bankrupt.  The reality is that every change carries a price tag.

3. Expect that your post-change “normal” could be radically different from what it was before.

Ours is. It has its own perks and pitfalls. Our home is empty, but our hearts are full. We have more people to love. Our income isn’t as steady, but we have flexibility with our schedules. We’ve learned new skills and discovered that the sharing economy fits us well; we keep discovering more avenues we want to try. Keeping up with children and grandchildren means that we get to travel to LOTS of places we never thought we would. My brush with cancer has helped me appreciate every day for what it is—a gift from God.

4. Understand that rapid changes spawn other changes, in a classic ripple effect.

Massive change affects routines, short-term goals, and long-term plans. They affect your relationship with your loved ones. You’ll probably find that you yourself are changed, at least a bit, when change comes at you fast. For example, when we added a son-in-law and 3 daughters-in-law to our family in less than a year, we saw lots of ripples! The dynamics between us and our children changed significantly. Each child naturally put his or her spouse first. We watched as each couple established different priorities and goals for themselves.  We saw each family develop its own personality.  The changes between and among the couples affected our entire family unit, giving us all opportunities to appreciate our differences and grow through them.

Hopefully, knowing these 4 keys for coping when change comes fast will help you appreciate the process and learn from it.

Insights from Rookie RVers

Last summer my husband Michael and I purchased our first RV—a light-weight travel trailer. By year’s end we had made a couple of short trips and one 1300-mile excursion in it. (Our experience has been tainted by product recalls and deceptive advertising by both the manufacturer and the dealer. But that’s another story with vastly different discoveries.) The story for today features the insights we’ve gleaned as rookie RVers.

  • RVing is great for people who have enjoyed tent or pop-up camping, but now want a few more creature comforts.
    Large storage drawers with lots of space delight rookie RVers
    Spacious, easily-accessible storage is a bonus for rookie RVers used to tent camping.

    As grandparents just entering our 60’s, Michael and I recall fondly the many years of tent camping when our children were growing. We have dozens of terrific family camping memories. Many of them center on a big tent with camping paraphernalia and bikes scattered around it. We graduated to a pop-up camper when our children reached their teen years. A couple of them weren’t convinced that hauling a pop-up was actually camping. I had no such qualms. I was very grateful for a softer bed, more plentiful storage, and protection from rainy weather.  On our maiden voyage with the RV, I really enjoyed the space, the amenities, and the attractiveness of the camper. It was easy to load, fun to use, and just so convenient.

  • RVing adds comfort and charm to the camping experience, without sacrificing the “down-home neighborliness” and camaraderie that make camping enjoyable.

    Some of our best camping memories involve the interesting people we met. I wondered if living inside solid walls and having indoor entertainment options would prevent us from meeting and chatting with people. It didn’t. As rookie RVers, we met lots of friendly people and spent many hours where we traditionally had—sitting around the campfire talking and laughing.

  • RVing allows you to feel at home wherever you are.
    Rookie RVers appreciate the camper's kitchen with sink, stove and frig.
    As rookie RVers, we appreciate a modern kitchen

    Because you have a mini-home right with you, you can relax and really enjoy the excursion. When you need a break from the road, you can simply pull off and explore a bit. You have freedom to adjust your travel schedule to your needs. You don’t have to worry about revising motel reservations or finding pet-friendly locations. When you arrive, you spend a few minutes setting up housekeeping, and then are ready for an adventure or a leisurely chat over a cup of coffee.

  • RVing gives you housing flexibility, especially when you visit a friend or relative who has limited accommodations.

    Our only long trip thus far has been to visit our parents, who live in Pennsylvania—an 11-hour drive away. We were able to make a mini-reunion of the trip, meeting up with 3 of our 4 children and their families (none of whom lives in Pennsylvania), as well as several siblings, nieces, and nephews. It was a grand time of catching up and making memories. The fact that we had our little home with us eased housing arrangements and gave us our own little space.

  • Long-term RVing or workamping appeals to us, and is now part of our bucket list.

    While in Pennsylvania, we talked at length with my niece Carolyn and her boyfriend Marvin, who have been full-time RVers and bloggers for well over a year. The more they told us of their adventures, the more intrigued we became. My husband is an independent insurance appraiser who travels often within a 4-hour radius of our home. I am a real estate agent with business and teaching experience. Even though we are still rookie RVers, we started talking about the skills we have that we could take on the road. Michael joined online groups of adjusters and appraisers who travel far and wide as catastrophe-claims (cat claims) adjusters. We will need to complete several projects and simplify our lives before we could both go on-the-road. However, we see definite advantages in doing so. All of our children live at least 350 miles away.  Workamping fits nicely into our sharing economy mindset, and seems like a feasible way to provide for ourselves while giving us the opportunity to see our children and grandchildren more than a few days a year.

As we use our RV, and transition from rookie RVers to (hopefully) seasoned workampers, our list of insights will certainly grow.  We are excited to see what future excursions will teach us.

5 Ways to Help Vacation Rental Guests Feel at Home in Your Town

Airbnb, the HomeAway family of companies, and the whole entourage of other vacation rental websites all want their guests to feel at home while experiencing wonderfully unique vacations!   HomeAway  says their goal is to provide “unique lodging alternatives” that let their guests “create unforgettable travel experiences together.” Airbnb takes that idea a step further, saying that “a house is just a space, but a home is where you belong. And . . . for the very first time, you can belong anywhere.” The challenge, then, for hosts is to make their guests feel that they belong to their temporary community. That’s a noble goal. How, exactly, do the average hosts living in small-town  or big-city America make guests feel at home?

Here are 5 suggestions:

Prepare an online guidebook so guests feel at home in your town.

Airbnb hosts can do this as part of their listing. Doing so takes some time. You’ll want to recommend local businesses in several categories and then write little blurbs about why you recommend them. Airbnb locates them on a map of your town so that guests using the guidebook can see where they are, and how to get from your place to the recommended restaurant, entertainment venue, etc. According to Airbnb, listings with guidebooks  advance their placement in Airbnb’s search algorithm; that perk makes the effort worthwhile.

Print the guidebook and post it in your rental unit so that it is handy and visible.

Sign for Greer Station, Greer's Historic Downtown
Greer Station, Greer’s Historic DOwntown

You can add the guidebook as an extra section of your house manual or display it separately so that your guests can browse through it while they are relaxing in your home. That way, when they are pondering where to eat dinner or play a round of disc golf, they already know what you suggest.

Post a monthly calendar of special events.

At the end of each month, download a monthly calendar template.  Then search the internet for events occurring within a short drive from where your guests are staying. Post those events to the calendar. Print the calendar on card stock and post it on the refrigerator or some other obvious spot. Guests looking for things to do will be grateful.

Offer guests discount cards to local businesses to make them feel at home.

Picture of the Greer, SC logo
Discount cards to downtown businesses help guests feel at home.

The downtown business association in our little town of Greer, SC sells a discount card that gives the holder a discount on purchases from participating retailers. In January they can be purchased at a discount. We purchase several and make them available to our guests to use.

Purchase gift cards for long-term guests.

Our location attracts numbers of guests who stay several weeks at a time. Generally, they are excellent tenants. They treat our apartment well and expect very little in the way of cleaning or extra services. We thank them for their confidence in us by purchasing a gift card or two to local coffee shops or restaurants. When they use the cards, our guests also “meet” our town and feel at home.

 

Full-time RVing and Workamping–Part 2

I find full-time RVing and workamping to be a particularly intriguing part of the sharing economy. For seniors no longer committed to full-time, fixed-location employment, workamping while living in an RV offers great travel and visiting opportunities.  Michael and I have added a stint of full-time RVing and workamping to our bucket list.  

I wanted to gather first-hand information about RVing and workamping, so I asked my niece, Carolyn, for her insights. She and her boyfriend Marvin have been RVing and workamping now for just over a year. In that time they have traveled in their travel trailer “Gypsy” throughout the U.S. and parts of Canada.  With their earnings they funded a trip to Cuba. They recently enjoyed a few days in Mexico.  Their blog is a treasure trove of travel guides and practical tips for daily living in a very small space.

Marvin and Carolyn together.
Carolyn and Marvin–Full-time RVers and workampers

In an earlier post Carolyn told a bit about herself and Marvin. She shared what drew them to full-time RVing and workamping.  Carolyn also described the workamping gigs she are Marvin have done and the people they have met.  This 2nd post provides ideas and tips for seniors in the sharing economy who are considering full-time RVing and workamping.

What have been the highlights of RVing and workamping for you and Marvin?

Workamping is somewhat like working in the “real world.” The more fun and rewarding jobs may not be the ones that pay the best. For us, our most memorable moments have been:

1. Meeting two couples who had just moved down from Michigan to the Memphis area. The men had been friends since high school, and each couple had two kids, roughly the same age. I had never met anyone more excited about Christmas than one of the moms. She had on full Christmas gear, including a sweatshirt with twinkly Christmas lights on it and an elf hat. She had her kids dressed in Christmas gear as well, and she could not contain her excitement over finding the perfect tree!

Marvin is unloading a tractor trailer of Christmas trees.
Marvin helps unload a trailer of Christmas trees.

2. Getting to know Stephanie and Bob in Ontario, spending nights around the campfire and a day on the lake, and making plans to go back to visit and go ice fishing.

3. Making friends with our Faith Ranch “neighbors” and some of the drivers we see regularly.

4. Seeing wildlife everywhere we go. We saw eagles in Canada, and here at the ranch, we feed carrots to wild bunnies and see all kinds of birds, wild cats, peccaries, coyotes, deer, and snakes on a regular basis.

What has really surprised you about the RVing and workamping experience?

One thing that has surprised us is how many of these types of jobs are available. With the rise of the RV lifestyle, thousands of jobs are available. Some jobs may be more rigorous than a senior couple may want to take on, but as long as you are friendly, you can easily find a place where you have free rent and utilities in exchange for a few hours of easy work each week. This type of lifestyle is one that anyone can do, regardless of age.

Do you plan to stop RVing and workamping to return to the world of 8-to-5 careers anytime soon? 

At this time, we have no intention of going back to a brick and mortar home and regular careers. Our schedules were never what you would call “normal,” since we were on call for our customers, co-workers, and managers 24/7 and often spent 60+ hours a week at work. The difference is that we live on site, the pay is guaranteed, and we get to work together. Other pros include the freedom to take off work when we need to without a manager’s approval (we do need to find a replacement if it’s just for a few days or give them advance notice to get another couple to replace us if it’s long-term); the freedom to travel; and the freedom to take whatever job suits us at a particular time. Right now we’re planning a couple big trips for 2018. We are working hard now and saving up so that we can take three or four months off to travel.

From what you have learned, what advice would you share particularly to seniors who are considering full-time RVing?

For seniors who are considering the RV lifestyle, I would first of all say, “Do it!” This is a way to visit your family and friends who are spread out across the country. You will meet new people, make new friends, experience new things, and see new places.

More practically, make sure you find an RV that fits your needs. Take your time, do your research, and don’t buy the first camper you look at.

Also, many people have a misconception that full-time RVing means full-time travel–with constant driving and movement. It doesn’t have to. Take your time. Yes, there’s much to see in this beautiful country, but take your time and really explore it. Spend a few days on the road to get to a new location, and then stay there for a month. Not only will you get to know the area more fully, but you can also save money, as most campgrounds and RV parks offer discounted monthly rates.

Most importantly, remember that there’s no right or wrong way to “do” the RV lifestyle. No matter what you do, someone will try to tell you that you’re doing it wrong. You’re not. Tailor your RV experience to fit YOU. Visit YOUR people, cross things off YOUR bucket list, move at YOUR pace, take workamping jobs that YOU want or don’t take workamping jobs at all. Just have fun!

Do you have any specific insights for seniors regarding workamping in particular?

As I’ve mentioned, some workamping jobs are more rigorous than others. Join workampers.com and put your resume on workampingjobs.com. Both are free. Before accepting a job, make sure you know EXACTLY what will be expected of you, and be honest with your potential employer about what levels of physical labor you are comfortable with. We read a book recently that had lots of unique ideas for making extra cash. It’s called Road Cash: How to Make Money While Living on the Road; you can find it on Amazon. The writing isn’t terribly clever, but the author does offer many suggestions for ways to bring in extra cash.

That recommended reading tip closes part 2 of my interview with Carolyn Bingham, full-time RVer and blogger.  For LOTS of information, tips and travel guides, go to Carolyn and Marvin’s website.