Donna Long is a travel writer for empty-nestopia.com, a website dedicated to empty nesters rediscovering the joy and adventure in life after the kids have moved out of the house.
We recently asked her advice for vacation rental property owners and managers on making their vacation rentals more appealing to empty nest guests. Here's what she had to say:
Tell us about Empty Nestopia. What inspired you to start the site?
Empty Nestopia is so much more than a travel blog. It's about discovering everything that life has to offer - new adventures, staying young, and having fun in life after the kids have moved out of the house. When our kids moved out of the house to start their own adult lives, we became "empty nesters." I realized that until that point, everything we did and every vacation we went on focused on our kids and what they would like. It was time to focus on us. That is what inspired Empty Nestopia.
What do you look for in vacation rentals? What types of features grab your eye?
As a travel writer, I will first look for a unique property—one that has something unusual to offer will draw my attention over a property that has a better location. If there are no unique properties, then I will look for one that is close to activities I am interested in so I have the option of walking. I also look for a personable owner/inn keeper—someone who will take the time to ask what our interests are before we arrive and suggest sites we might enjoy.
My ideal vacation rental doesn't have to be fancy or upscale, but it does need to be clean. Owners often get used to seeing maintenance that needs to be done and their eyes gloss over those areas, but renters definitely notice. Guests see places that need paint, bathroom caulking that needs to be redone, and other eye sores.
Can you describe one of the most unique and wonderful vacation rental experiences you've had recently?
We stayed at a working farm in Scotland that had highland cows and sheep. The sheep escaped the pen one night and we helped the B&B owner coral them and put them back in the pen. It made me feel like I was back home on my farm growing up.
What about an experience you'd rather not repeat?
We rented a holiday rental in London and we were so disappointed! There were many discrepancies regarding the description and condition of the property, from the number of bedrooms to the extent of remodeling work being done to the landscaping. The pictures on the website showed a beautiful garden courtyard with a fountain and flowers in all the windows, but it looked quite different when we got there. The owner also stated there was an abundance of shopping and nightlife, but there was only one local bar that closed at 10 p.m. By the end of our trip our humor had worn thin, but now we laugh and make jokes about the experience.
How would a travel writer describe a vacation rental property?
When writing your property descriptions, you want the reader to be transported to the property destination and picture themselves enjoying a stay there. As you are writing a description, it's best to highlight the positive features first.
For example, if your property has a patio, instead of saying that "there is an outdoor patio with seating", you could describe your patio as:
"a peaceful garden with a sitting area that is perfect to watch the sunrise with a cup of coffee or the sunset with a glass of wine."
Instead of saying that your property is "located near attractions", describe it in this way:
"it is a very short taxi ride or walk to this amazing ... " (café, romantic restaurant, eclectic shop, etc.)
Instead of saying that you are located next to the train or bus, say:
"you can easily access attractions via the city-wide transit system just a short walk away from the front steps of the property."
Give the renter a reason to put your place above others. Everyone has a bedroom, kitchen and living room.
What can rental property owners do to attract empty nest couples like you?
Empty nesters are very diverse. For the most part, we enjoy amenities. We like to be able to walk (five to 20 minutes) to cafés, shops, restaurants, nightlife and attractions. Have maps of the area handy and accessible for the guest.
Compile a list of the top five or so places to eat, drink, visit and why they made the list. If a restaurant, a family may prefer one that is child friendly with hamburgers and fries whereas a empty nest couple might prefer something quieter. If an activity, a family may prefer something along the lines of miniature golf, laser tag or aquarium/zoo whereas a couple may prefer a night club with live music, botanical garden or a dinner cruise. A picture or two of that special feature is helpful, also. Empty Nesters look for and will remember personal touches.
What are your favorite tools for researching and booking rental properties?
I look at the area I want to visit and consider what I plan to do during my stay. Do I want beach time? Do I want peace and quiet? Do I want to shop? Then, I look up rentals online that are close proximity to my activity - B&B sites (selectregistry.com, and bedandbreakfast.com are two of my favorites), Travelocity, TripAdvisor, and Booking Buddy are all places I have used. I will read reviews and how they were responded to, and have even used Google maps in satellite mode to view the property and neighborhood.
What have been some of your most memorable travel experiences so far?
One experience was at a B&B loft in Dover, England. The place was not fancy or upscale but the owner (a single male) made one of the best English breakfasts I have ever had. Then there was the windmill in Bath, England and a colorful converted nunnery school in Mexico.
What destinations would you recommend for your fellow empty nest travelers?
We love New Orleans. There is so much to see and do, so much diversity and history. After a long day exploring the city, taking tours and listening to musicians playing in the street, it was fabulous to go back to our quiet vacation rental with its secluded garden. We were able to relax with a glass of wine without the feeling of being in a cramped hotel room. We could spread out and have our own personal space.
It truly felt like we were visiting a friend's house, which is why we prefer vacation rentals over hotels.
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