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Shannon Ullman of Lives Abroad Shares How to Create Unique Vacation Rental Experiences

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Shannon Ullman is a travel and lifestyle writer who has her own blog called Lives Abroad, and writes for big-name publications as well.

We recently asked Shannon to share about some of her most memorable travel experiences as well as discuss what she looks for in vacation rentals. Here's what she shared:

Can you tell us a little about yourself? How did you catch the travel bug?

I've always been a curious person, and asked my mom tons of annoying questions as a kid. As I got older, it translated into an obsession with books and reading stories. Once I got into my teens, I started going on local adventures but it wasn't until a cousin of mine convinced me to take a road trip to Tennessee for the Bonnaroo Music Festival that I fell in love with traveling. Getting in a car and being in a completely different place with stores I've never seen before and a whole new culture was fascinating. I started to wonder where else I could go.

I spent the rest of my teens and early 20s waitressing, saving up money and going on trips all over the country and the world. Eventually, I got a job in China, packed my bags and moved to the other side of the globe. I spent three years traveling around, during which time I started my travel blog.

What are the most important lessons travel has taught you?

1. Life is not always what it seems: Life in your hometown may seem one way according to your friends, family, upbringing and the media. Travel taught me that everything I know is not the only way to live or view life. There is so much more out there.

2. Being afraid is not an excuse: I'm scared of flying, scared of getting lost, scared of strangers and scared to take risks. I'm afraid to do tons of things, but I do them all anyway because if I didn't, I would never see any of the amazing benefits that I've seen over the years. Let yourself feel afraid but don't let it stop you.

3. Following my heart will always lead to more opportunity: My heart told me to travel and I listened. Only amazing things have come out of traveling and now I have started to listen to my heart in other aspects of my life too.

What's your approach to planning your travel? What draws you to a specific destination?

My approach has changed over the years. I used to plan around famous landmarks I wanted to see but now my travel plans are based more on experiences that I want to have or friends that I want to visit. If I'm not choosing a destination based around visiting a friend, I choose it based on a culture that I want to experience.

What do you look for when it comes to vacation rentals? What amenities are must-haves?

When looking for vacation rentals, I tend to choose based on uniqueness or themes. I like staying in places that are kind of destinations within themselves. A little quirky even. Having some kitchen facilities is a must because I like to save money by cooking for myself. I also prefer rentals that have some sort of book collection and an outdoor area for me to enjoy.

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Can you tell us about a vacation rental experience that was especially positive and memorable? What set it apart?

I once stayed in an "eco-hut" on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was located on the owner's property, way back in the woods. It was all eco-friendly, adorably decorated and had a stunning shared kitchen. Not only was it environmentally friendly, but it was a real, local experience in a place that I would never have seen on the tourist track. I got to mingle with the owners, stroll around their farm and walk to a nearby swimming hole that was completely vacant of other tourists.

What do you avoid when looking for vacation rentals? What are your pet peeves?

I avoid anything that screams "tourist." Listen, I don't hate tourists by any means but I just don't like the vibes of mass produced hotels that all look just like the next one. I don't really have many pet peeves except when vacation rentals are providing products that are wasteful.

What types of vacation rental listings catch your eye? What features get you excited?

Listings that catch my eye are ones that are themed or offer something unique. I once stayed at an "Art Hotel" in Auckland that was decorated with the owner's personal collection. I loved it there. I stayed in a place in Hawaii that I would have passed over if it weren't for the Starfish theme of the place. I thought it was really cute! Aside from the theme, I get excited when I see a place that is in a good location. I'm not talking about right in the middle of a tourist center either. I like places that are located in intriguing neighborhoods that are a bit off the beaten path.

Can you talk about a particularly memorable travel experience? What set it apart?

My experience in Ubud, Bali is really memorable. We rented a traditional bungalow in a residential neighborhood and stayed there for two months. The house was incredible. Honestly. It was slightly open to the elements, had Hindu sculptures all over the yard, a personal and in-ground swimming pool, bamboo fixtures, woven walls, a bathroom and shower that were outside and it overlooked the rice fields. It was so traditional and authentic that I won't ever forget it. Plus, the fact that we had real Balinese people for neighbors made it even better.

If you want to be more inspired to travel, learn and DO, please visit me at Lives Abroad!

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