Author: midlifesnowbird

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30 Tips for Successful Hotel Stays with your Dog

A stunning sunset view from the Quality Inn on the Bay in Gulf Breeze, Florida featuring a convenient on-site restaurant with patio for our dog

30 Tips for Successful Hotel Stays with your Dog


Pet friendly hotels are becoming increasingly popular and the internet and web sites such as bringfido.com makes it much easier to find them. Typically, these are going to be the "highway hotels" rather than the upscale beach resorts and five star luxury properties. Some hotel brands, such as Best Western and La Quinta, promote their properties as pet friendly. Be open to all options when looking for a place to stay, you never know when you might find a hidden gem, as we did.

One year, we knew we would be in transit to our snowbird destination for our wedding anniversary, so we decided to make a small detour and spend the night along the water if there were any good options. At the time, it was difficult to find online information for the independently operated waterfront hotels in the area I was searching, so I began calling each one to inquire. I used Google Maps and went right down the line until finally, I found a pet-friendly property in Gulf Breeze, Florida. Not only did they accept our dog, but the Pensacola Bay waterfront location was outstanding! The Quality Inn on the Bayfront in NW Florida was exactly what we wanted: Gorgeous view, a decent room for a reasonable price and onsite restaurant with patio dining so our dog could be with us. It was the perfect place for us to celebrate our anniversary. 

No matter what your ideal hotel is, make sure the property you are considering accepts the size, weight and type of breed you have. Check into any other restrictions, such as only registered service pets or whether there are limited pet-friendly rooms that may or may not be available.

Inquire about how much the additional fee will be. Do not try to sneak your pet into the hotel to cut costs or think you won't be found out. Cameras are everywhere these days and it is unfair to the hotel and your dog. Not paying for your dog is a quick way to either be asked to leave and/or put on a "do not return" list. Yes, these lists exist. Remember, some guests refuse to stay in a hotel or hotel room that allows pets due to allergies, dander and the possibility of fleas, so the hotels have to enforce their pet policies to avoid potential problems with their guests. 

Travelling with a pet, whether near or far, is stressful for all involved. Concerns such as safety are always top of mind. No one wants their pet to accidentally escape or make themselves sick with anxiety. Don't take unnecessary chances, be overly cautious and it is possible to have an enjoyable time with your dog. These are my personal strategies that can help pet parents and their fur babies have a better experience when staying in a hotel. 


30 Tips for Managing Your Dog in a Hotel

1. If your dog isn't already micro-chipped with current contact information, talk to your vet and get the procedure done well in advance of your travel dates. You need adequate time for the micro chip to be properly registered. It is well worth the cost and inconvenience.

2. Prior to travelling, make sure your pet is current with all vaccines, kennel cough, flea and heartworm treatment and bring your up-to-date veterinary records showing the information if needed.

3. Your dog needs to wear a collar with current tags at all times. No exceptions.

4. Always keep your dog on a leash when outdoors. Even normally calm dogs become nervous and skittish when in an unfamiliar environment. Most hotels and public spaces require a leash and it would be devastating for an off-leash dog to get spooked and run into traffic, scare fellow guests or chase something, never to be found again.

Midlife Snowbird, The Emerald Coast, FL
Don't forget to update your pet tags

5. Make sure your dog wears a distinguishing collar and perhaps an additional item such as a bandana when traveling. Make sure you have quick access to a recent photo of your pet. If your pet somehow gets loose, it's easier to find a dog with a photo and full description such as 80 pound, male, chocolate Lab with blue collar and bright red bandana around his neck.

6. Mature dogs make better hotel guests. If your dog is accustomed to hotel stays, that is a huge advantage for you and your pet because they will acclimate more quickly.

7. If you have a house-trained puppy and must stay in a hotel to/from your snowbird destination, take every precaution to ensure the puppy is safe, can't escape and isn't going to destroy the hotel property or furnishings. Bring a crate if the puppy is crate trained. Distract from noises. Puppies tend to bark and react to every creak or sound in the hallway, which is not easy for owners or puppies to deal with. If possible use white noise to distract from other guests talking in the hallway or doors opening and closing. Bring your own fan or play "sounds of nature" or other soothing music on your portable device. Let the puppy know right away that barking won't be tolerated. They do learn. Our now five-year-old Golden Retriever has dramatically improved from his original skittish puppy behavior in hotels.

8. Prior to bringing your dog into the room, visually sweep every nook and cranny of the room for items that may be under the bed or within reach of your dog. You don't want your curious dog to find a pill or sharp object before you do.

9. Put the "Do Not Disturb" sign on your exterior doors and keep them there for the duration of your stay. Housekeeping won't inadvertently be confronted with an unpredictable pet or worse, the pet escapes due to the simple act of accessing the room.

10. Make sure the door is secured and locked for the duration of your stay, regardless of having a pet with you.

11. Keep the bathroom toilet lid closed at all times for sanitary reasons, no dog should be exposed to a toilet bowl.

12. Place the waste baskets out of reach of your dog if s/he is prone to digging through the trash. If necessary, keep your glasses, keys, shoes, socks, clothes, wallet or purse out of reach of your pet.

13. Familiarize yourself with the exits. We stay in a highway hotel that has hallway doors to the guest rooms. At first, this may seem safer than hotels with rooms that open right to the parking lot. However, the hotel has lobby doors that automatically open when anyone, including a loose pet, steps on the sensor. It would be an easy escape down the hall and right out the hotel's front doors before anyone can react. An alternate option is to request a room on an upper floor so there are fire doors in between your room and the outdoors.

14. If you stay in a room with a door that opens directly to the parking lot, leash and/or hold onto your dog's collar every single time the door opens. You don't want a panicked dog to dart out! Your dog will be afraid of being abandoned and their behavior may change for the worse if they think they are being left behind.

15. If you and your dog need the convenience of a ground floor room due to navigating stairs or elevators, then be extra cautious your pet doesn't escape.

16. Be careful when entering and exiting elevators. Do everything possible to swiftly enter/exit and avoid having the leash extended in front of you. Elevators and pets are not ideal, there's many safety issues to consider, including pinch points, navigating thresholds and becoming separated via closing doors. Research your own options for safely navigating elevators so you can avoid disasters.

Snowbird Packing Timeline Midlife Snowbird
Don't forget to give extra attention to your pet/s -- they sense and react to your stress and all of the changes. Help them feel safe and secure with extra love

17. Make your dog as comfortable as possible in the hotel room. We bring our dog's large, heavy bed in and out of each hotel room because it's important that our dog sleeps as well as possible. Everyone is road weary when travelling for multiple days at a time. If the hotel has a cart, it's much easier, but make sure your dog has a comfortable sleep space. Many hotels do not allow owners to permit pets to be on the linens or furniture, so if your dog likes to sleep in bed with you, bring your own sheet/s to cover the hotel's linens.

18. Position the dog's bed so they can keep an eye on you as well as the door.

19. Place the water bowl in a low traffic area where it won't get spilled.

20. Put the leash on the doorknob so you easily can find it, especially in the event of a fire or emergency.

21. Avoid leaving your dog alone in the room if possible. If you are travelling solo, take the pet with you if you need to leave the room, it will help keep them calmer. If you travel with a spouse or partner, take turns for trips to the breakfast buffet, pool, spa, lounge, lobby, your car or going outdoors to smoke. It's not ideal, but your pet is a higher priority than almost anything else.

22. Exercise your dog with a walk in the designated areas. Pets who are crammed into a packed vehicle need to stretch and unwind after a long day of travel.

23. Promptly pick up after your pet. We bring our own plastic grocery bags to take care of the pet's business and properly discard the waste in an exterior trash can.

24. If no pet-friendly onsite restaurant is available, order pizza to be delivered or hire a service to bring your food directly to your room so your pet isn't left alone.

25. Spoil your dog more than usual when staying in a hotel. Give them special treats and extra attention. Help reduce their stress by speaking in a calm voice and keeping the TV volume lower.

26. If the hotel offers breakfast included, bring a plate of extra food back to the room. Our dog gets a hard boiled or scrambled egg, yogurt, sliced bananas or fresh blueberries and a low fat protein. These are all part of the start to a good day for you and your dog. Perhaps reward your dog with a few tiny bites of a powdered donut. It's better for your dog to eat a little too much and have extra energy than have a stressed out dog who is not able to eat at all.

27. Do not allow your dog to go into restricted areas such as the food service areas, pool or surrounding deck or housekeeping closets.

28. If no professional pet sitters are available and it isn't against the hotel's policy, plus the hotel isn't especially busy and you've verified management is ok with it, there is one strategy we have used when leaving our mature, experienced and acclimated dog unattended in a hotel. The key words here are mature, experienced and acclimated. We set up a laptop computer to monitor our dog through the computer's built-in camera. My husband sets up a Go To Meeting or a Zoom meeting with his phone and then "invites" our laptop computer to attend (or you can set it up the other way around). We position the laptop to show as much of the room as possible. Remember, if you leave the TV on for white noise in the room, the monitor will also pick up all of that noise, so leave the TV off. Be sure to test your operations before leaving your hotel. If your dog starts barking, you can hear it through the monitor and speak to him through the computer's speakers and tell him to stop. Yes, we've done this and our boy typically listens. You can also monitor to see if the dog is sleeping by the door waiting for your return. If your dog is too stressed out in your absence, you know it's time to get back to the hotel, ASAP. Beware of losing your internet signal if you go to somewhere that happens to be out of range for cell service. Yes, this happened to us and it was stressful. Thankfully our dog behaved in our absence. I do not recommend leaving a dog, especially a puppy, unattended if at all possible, but a monitor is one option to check that everything is OK.

29. Being loyal to the same hotels helps you and your pet know the layout and the general vicinity of the area. Our dog is more comfortable of what to expect and we have our systems worked out of how the room is set up and where to walk him. Even though we only stay at our highway hotel twice a year, the staff knows us and our boy Bodie and welcome us back each time.

30. Practice makes perfect! Over the years, our Golden Retriever has improved dramatically when we stay in hotels both to and from our snowbird destination as well as for mini getaways all year round.

"In life, it's not where you go, it's who you travel with.

-- Charles M. Schwartz, American Cartoonist

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Outdoor Summer Entertaining

Individual charcuterie boards are fun for small outdoor parties

OUTDOOR SUMMER ENTERTAINING

Tips to Host Your Guests 2021 Style

The global pandemic brought an entirely new appreciation for the simple things in life. Time spent outdoors. Good food. Friendships. And the ability to host loved ones in our homes and back yards. Because of the massive realignment of what is "normal," entertaining guests in our homes has evolved into a new way of thinking and a more careful, conscious effort to be safer in the ways we interact, as well as how we serve and consume food and beverages.

For me, personally, gone are the days of a large gathering in favor of a smaller, more intimate event. Potluck food is still possible, but perhaps in a different presentation geared towards individual portions and a "hands free" attitude. I admit, even though we socially distanced for meals outdoors and in garages during 2020, it took time to readjust to entertaining. Despite extensive experience, I had forgotten how to be a live host versus a virtual host. Below, I've compiled an overview of tips for Summer outdoor entertaining, "2021 style." 


Restyled Summer Entertaining

Glass carafes and recyclable aluminum cups are more eco-friendly than individual plastic water bottles

When the Covid-19 pandemic completely turned life as we knew it inside out, reinvention was the key to keeping our sanity. Virtual events became accepted as a reality and live events emerged in new formats. As an example, we met up with our neighbors for evening "fence parties." Each couple sat in the very back of our own yards with snacks, beverages and lawn chairs pulled up to talk across the 20' expanse of grass that was separated by our own fences. It gave me a beautiful new perspective of my yard from a different angle and an entirely new appreciation for being able to socialize at a distance.

Now the summer of 2021 is restyled into a new normal of entertaining in person again. For me, it's about going back to the basics of summer entertaining. We've hosted 20 or 30 guests for parties and cookouts in the past and no longer feel the need to be as elaborate. Now, I prefer to host a limited number of guests; serve good, flavorful food; add a splash of color with accessories; sit on comfortable chairs with ambient lighting surrounded by a beautiful garden or night sky backdrop. Less is more.

Years ago we hired an in-home private chef to prepare my husband's milestone birthday lunch for quite a few guests. It was a wonderful, memorable experience that taught me many things, including this: a private chef is not less work for the hostess, it actually adds to the work to oversee each step to ensure your event goes smoothly. Anyway, one great idea from that party was the concept of serving individualized portions. In hindsight, it foreshadowed the future and it also provides an opportunity for the hosts to determine how many portions they need to prepare and serve.


Individual Servings in Lieu of Big Bowls

Think in terms of eliminating big bowls of chips in favor of individually wrapped chips and snacks instead. I used to think individual servings are rather wasteful. What if your guests don't want a specific amount of anything? Will they consume less or more than offered? However, it is the new reality of the pandemic world and if it reduces the chances your guests will be ill, it's worth it. Individual servings are good for:

Beverages: Bottles, cans, cups

Finger Food: small bite appetizers that can be picked up with a toothpick or arranged in single servings

Salads / Crudite / Chips / Sides: Serve in very small bowls, personal platters, short plastic cups or mason jars

Skewers: Serve meat, seafood, fruit, shrimp cocktail and/or vegetables on a small skewer or stick

Ramekins: Individual ramekins are great for baked casseroles or other hot food

Desserts: Cupcakes, ice cream bars, parfait cups, pies and more

Commercially Wrapped Packages: Chips, sandwiches, crackers, nuts, snacks, desserts, etc.

Condiments: Packets of ketchup, mustard, taco sauce and mayo

 

If your guests can't finish everything, offer to pack it to go home with them if they prefer.


Eco-Conscious Entertaining

My parents were way ahead of their time with reuse and recycling, even in the 1970's when you had to drive somewhere to drop off your newspapers, glass, plastic containers and cans. They grew up that way because of their depression-era parents and taught me the mindset way before the city provided each home with recycling containers that we wheel to the street every other week. In 2021, the level of eco-conscious has certainly evolved into another stratosphere.

--Skip the plastic. Use glass, ceramic, metal or washable flatware, carafes and dishes

--Omit paper products: use fabric napkins and/or personal washable/bleachable kitchen towels as a napkin

--Eliminate one-use products (such as disposable "red plastic" cups) unless they can be recycled. Substitute recyclable aluminum cups instead.

--Instead of plastic water bottles, serve carafes of iced tea, filtered water and cold beverages

--Place a pretty cloth or reusable plastic tablecloth or table runner as your anchor for a beautiful table. Flowers from the garden in jars or potted flowers will add a touch of charm.

--Don't forget to put bottles of hand sanitizer in key areas of your home, including the kitchen, bath and food area

--Tiki torches and/or overhead cafe-style string lighting add memorable charm as well as practical function to reduce trips and falls


Pot-lucks in 2021

Potlucks, buffets and large bowls of food such as chips/dip and so forth are a risk, so try to do everything to reduce the chances of spreading anything from guest to guest. Foods prepared in a home kitchen vs. commercial kitchen carry a higher chance of food-borne issues.

If you've never hosted or attended a themed pot-luck, this is a good time to give it a try: Baked potato bars, pulled pork/smoked meats, tacos/Mexican, Italian, Greek, Asian-fusion, deli salads or even chicken sandwiches can all be purchased from commercially prepared establishments. Suggest to guests in advance that they RSVP and bring $5 to $10 per person (depending on your budget) to cover the costs of the meal and have one or two families coordinate ordering and delivering the food.

If you prefer an old-fashioned potluck, keep plenty of hand sanitizer near the food and encourage guests to bring individual portions, as suggested above. If your potluck involves brats, hotdogs, pork, burgers, meat or poultry cooked on-site over a grill, have the grill master dispense the meat onto each person's plate.


Beat the Heat

During 2020, we spent every very small social gathering with family outdoors and distanced from each other. This meant dining al fresco during some very hot days of summer on the deck, but that was better than the alternative of staying home. Here's suggestions to beat the heat:

--Stay in the shade wherever possible under umbrellas, trees, awnings and so forth

--Bring portable electric fans and extension cords so each person has air blowing directly on them or provide paper fans

--Stay hydrated: consume cold beverages

--Use cold compresses on your neck and ice-pack hats for your head if available

--Serve ice cream, slushies, frozen treats and desserts and so forth

--Don't overdo it! Limit your time in the heat and don't let your pet/s be in the heat too long either

 


 

"Throwing an unforgettable party doesn't require a ton of time or money, it just requires a little thought, creativity and heart.

-- Maury Ankrum, Event Planner, Author

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Vacation Rental Property Steps to Ownership

We considered every possible option, but ultimately the stunning view of the gulf was the best choice for us

VACATION RENTAL PROPERTY

21 Basic Steps to Purchasing an Investment Property

My husband and I set a long-time goal to buy a vacation rental property years ago and February of 2021 is when we made it happen! When the Covid pandemic hit the United States in early 2020, we realized we needed to delay our investment plans until the uncertainty of the rippling pandemic effects including the economic impact would become clearer.

Not only were we concerned about the viability of the vacation rental market, we worried about what would happen with our business and investment portfolio. During the extremely tumultuous year of unknowns, including the historic presidential election, we played our cards close and made a move when we felt the time was right, just after the 2020 holiday season.

Here's an overview of the basic steps that led to successfully purchasing our first vacation rental property in the Destin area of Northwest Florida. There's a lot of moving parts, at which any given time unexpected obstacles can derail the plans, so keep focused and don't let setbacks get you down. If you don't succeed on the first try, step back, re-evaluate and give it another shot in the future. For this post, I am referencing a true investment property, which is one that is largely rented to guests compared to a second home that is vacant for most of the time the owners aren't there. 


11 Pre-Sale Steps

Step One: Choose an appealing target area.

Step Two: Calculate expenses and rental income.

Step Three: Select and get pre-qualified with a lender to finance your property.

Pet-friendly Maravilla resort within the resort community of the Destin area of NW Florida is just seven houses from where we rented for six years

Step Four: Determine your target neighborhood, property, features, amenities and price range as well as what restrictions are deal breakers.

Step Five: Hire an experienced local real estate agent to help find your property, as well as do your own online shopping.

Step Six: Work with your realtor to negotiate an offer and accept the terms of sale.

Step Seven: Work with your lender to close the loan.

Step Eight: Plan your renovations, operations and marketing promotions.

Step Nine: Source, meet and hire your property manager, if you plan to utilize one, as well as any vendors such as a maintenance person.

Step Ten: Shop for and order the items needed to enhance the property with the caveat that it will not derail your loan closing or that you cannot return the items if the loan fails to close.

Step Eleven: Set up the insurance, HOA and utilities in your name.

 

10 Post-Sale Steps

Step One: Work with the property manager to begin or continue the process of marketing and promoting the property.

Step Two: Continue shopping, receiving (and returning) the items needed to renovate your property.

Step Three: Begin the renovation work, if applicable.

Step Four: Take photos where applicable to show the improvements.

Step Five: Set up your own web site, whether you do it yourself or contract with a third party.

Step Six: Announce the availibility of the new property online to your social media channels.

Step Seven: Invite local friends and business acquaintances to preview the property.

Step Eight: Set up a new bank account for the new business.

Step Nine: Set up your payments to auto-notify you and/or auto-pay your mortgage, utilities, insurance and HOA fees.

Step Ten: Manage and promote your vacation rental property.


Based on the above, my insight based on recent first-hand experience is:

--Before you even approach a lender or broker, you'll need to have 20% to 30% for the down payment (or more), six months' reserves of liquid assets, cash for pre-paids and closing costs. Plus you'll need to meet the lender's standards for the added debt compared with your existing assets, mortgage/s, revolving credit and loans. There's no point in going any further until finances are in place. As an example, to purchase a $500,000 investment property in Florida, you may need 30% down, which is $150,000 plus another 7-8% for points, fees, closing costs, pre-paids and so forth. That could mean another $25,000 to $28,000 outlay on a $350,000 mortgage ($500,000 minus $150,000 down payment). Buying an investment property is not cheap by any means.

--If you aren't prepared to outright buy a place, consider alternatives such as fractional ownership or less expensive property options that fit your budget and finances. Before we made our final decision, we looked at everything from the very least expensive park models in Central Florida, low and high rises in our southern community and a large condominium located in the same building where we rented for six seasons. We even considered a condo-tel studio unit in a golf cart community with a bay view. Ultimately, we purchased what we believe is the very best fit for us: a one bedroom unit with hall bunks, two full bathrooms, an amazing view of the resort's South pool and unobstructed views of the stunning Gulf of Mexico. Our unit is on the top floor, which means no noise from above and it's pet friendly to both owners and guests.

There's a lot of moving parts to purchasing a vacation rental property [pictured: Maravilla Resort in Miramar Beach, FL]
--Research the locations of interest to you and determine what will also be of interest to anyone looking for a vacation rental in that area. We chose a full-blown gated "resort" condo complex that is located within a popular resort community. Yes, it's expensive, but in the long run it's easier to attract guests when you don't have to sell them on why your less-travelled community is a better plan and try to compete against the very popular resort communities. Well-known examples include Destin in NW Florida, Orlando and Clearwater Beach in Central Florida; South Beach, Naples and Key West in South Florida; Gulf Shores in Southern Alabama; South Padre Island and Galveston in Southern Texas and Sedona in Arizona.

--Read the threads of specialty groups on social media. The questions that arise and subsequent conversations will tell you volumes of information. Look at the competition regarding decor, view, amenities, price, location. Sign up for daily notices from a third party web site such as realtor.com to let you know when properties in your target area go on the market.

--Enlist the advice of one or two close personal friends or family members to give unbiased insight. I thought I had found the perfect property and my sister pointed out that because of the stucco half-wall balcony, it would be impossible to see the gulf when sitting down in the main living area. So, we increased our budget and chose what turned out to be the perfect place for our criteria.

--For us, the two biggest deal breakers were:

1. Pet restrictions for owners, IE, no dogs at all or no dogs over a certain weight limit.

2. No view.

We bypassed many properties based on those criteria. We were OK with pet restrictions for guests, but ultimately, we bought a place that has the most lenient pet restrictions for owners and guests.

--Your lender may also have deal breakers. We found out our broker could not work with portfolio loans for

1. High rise properties

2. Condo-tels

3. Certain HOA restrictions

--When we made an offer on our vacation rental, we chose not to tell a soul except the two family members who had helped us research, our accountant and my husband's best friend. Why go through it all only to have the deal potentially fall apart and then have to walk-back everything? We waited until we had a closing date to tell our parents and close family and then waited until the loan closed to tell friends and make a general announcement.

Consider hiring the same property manager who the previous owners employed. We didn't even look at any other options because our first choice was the same firm who managed it for more than ten years. The fees and terms were fair with market rates, the vendors and client list are already in place and most of all, the familiarity with the property is worth a lot.

Once you close on the property, be prepared to move FAST. We thought we would have two weeks to paint, remove old furniture, install new pieces of furniture and wall art, deep clean, install a new faucet, chandelier, keyless entry, take new photos and so forth. Wrong. Because of circumstances beyond our control, we had just one week to get everything done and it was stressful. We had to make choices, sacrifice several of the projects and make alternate plans. As I was shutting the door to leave, the cleaning crew was right there waiting to get in to prepare for the next guest.

Be realistic about expenses, scheduling, booking guests and getting projects done. We set goals for all of these things and are ahead of some goals and way behind on others. For example, I ordered glass to be custom cut to cover all of the wood surfaces to protect them from spills. It was possible the order would be ready in time before we hosted our first guest, but the vendor had a large project ahead of ours that resulted in a delay. So we arranged for the property manager to receive the delivery three weeks after we hosted our first guest. All went well except one of the pieces was too large. I had measured incorrectly, so the glass had to be returned and redone. Now, because of schedules, the final piece of glass will be delivered more than seven weeks after the original target date.

Last but not least, remember that no one has more of a vested interest in your vacation rental property than you. Take time to learn the business and give your enterprise the proper attention it needs, whether in terms of investing in the furnishings or the marketing. If you take care of your property, your vendors and guests, it will have that much better chance of not just surviving, but exceeding your goals and ambitions.

To view the property we purchased, please visit maravilla2411.com for a photo tour, rates and availability. We hope to host you as our guest.

"The best investment you can make is an investment in yourself... The more you learn, the more you'll earn.

-- Warren Buffett, American investor, business tycoon, philanthropist, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

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