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Category: Lodging

Airbnb Alternative With Growing Pains: Blueground Review

The Blueground is an alternative to sites like Airbnb and VRBO with a focus on longer term rentals of at least a month long and furnished with a premium aesthetic consistent across their global apartments. If you’re a traveling professional, digital nomad, or tend to have extended stays in one of 18 major cities around the world, then the Blueground has a lot to offer. It basically gets right a lot of what Airbnb gets wrong but unfortunately the Blueground has a lot to learn about what Airbnb and sites like it get right. You can watch my full review in the video above or read on.

Booking And Cost

The way Blueground works is it rents out apartments in 18 cities like Washington DC, Madrid, Istanbul, and Dubai. Their design team then furnishes all of those apartments with similar shelves, beds, televisions, and aesthetic touches. The benefit of that consistency means you know the style you’re going to to get inside the apartment. A modern, minimalist, metallic, white and black look. And it’s a look that’s welcoming and really easy to settle into. The floors and furniture are all nearly new – and the apartments are all professionally cleaned before you show up.

Searching for an apartment is fairly standard although Blueground isn’t entirely upfront about their pricing. You’re shown the lowest prices – no matter the duration or dates the apartment is available – unlike hotel booking sites or Airbnb. You can adjust the dates for a more accurate listing of available apartments but nearly always the difference between a 1 and 6 or 12 month rental is significant. Listings also don’t immediately show you the final price, which can be 30% or more expensive due to utilities, fees, and other insurance.

blueground

The Blueground is a premium service so the higher rates are expected but having to wait several clicks to get the final price is a bit disappointing. Ultimately it makes budgeting more difficult.

The Actual Apartments

Once you do book a place though, the furnishing and top notch. The furniture from the couch to the granite tables, and minimalist lamps are all new or in very, very good shape. You’ll have at least one large screen TV with complimentary YouTube TV giving you more than 85 channels to stream from. The silverware and pots and pans are high quality and the kitchens are fully stocked. The refrigerator, coffeemaker, microwave, and other appliances are updated and you definitely don’t feel like Blueground have skimped on interior furnishing. It’s a premium service that does deliver on a premium feel.

blueground

Bed sheets and blankets are really soft, I’m not sure what the thread count is but it feels like linens you’d find at a high end hotel. When you move in, Blueground also have some fancy shampoo, conditioner, and lotions waiting for you as well as soft towels a hair dryer, and ironing board.

The Internet connections too are lightning fast.

What’s Lacking

The Blueground does a very good job of the premium experience. The apartments are very nice, the customer service is responsive, and their app lets you manage your bookings and find out useful information like where to put out the trash and wifi password. On the flip side the site search listings don’t show final prices and there are no reviews of apartments available either. Lacking community feedback can be disconcerting, especially since changing apartments carries a $1,500 fee.

Blueground do fill a niche for the growing digital nomad, remote working population looking for consistency in high end temporary accommodations. Still, they have a lot to learn from their established competitors Airbnb and VRBO, starting with transparency.

How Airbnb Rips You Off With Cleaning Fees

Once the lower cost alternative to hotels, Airbnb prices have gone steadily up, even if it’s not apparent from the nightly rates that pop up in the search results. That’s because Airbnb hosts have adopted a strategy commonly used by airfare search engines to get you to pay more than you want to – by using the cleaning fee.

Clearing Up Cleaning Fees

You’re probably familiar with the service fee when booking on Airbnb – the cut the site takes to run their service but much, much more variable is the cleaning fee. Cleaning fees on the other hand are there to cover costs like labor, cleaning products, toilet paper, laundry – as the name suggests, to cover the costs of cleaning an Airbnb after your stay. The cleaning fee, unlike many hotels, is a one-time (non-refundable) upfront cost – in other words you pay a single cleaning fee rate whether you’re staying for a night or two months.

airbnb cleaning fee

Cleaning fees, in theory, vary based on the size of the accommodation, location, and any special circumstances like being on a ski resort for example, where you might have a lot more mud tracked inside. But cleaning fees, at least for the host, are somewhat arbitrary.

Reservation Pricing

An Airbnb host can set the cleaning fee to whatever they want and I’ve seen places where the fee is the same as the rental rate, meaning it can double the cost of your stay if it’s only for a night. See, Airbnb calculates service fees based on the total amount of your payment, which includes the cleaning fee. A high cleaning fee can mean a larger service fee meaning the price you saw in the search could be a lot more each night than at first sight.

reservation pricing

This all makes sense from a logical perspective for Airbnb but for you, the consumer, you still have that original price – the one you saw when you were searching in the first place – you still have that first price in mind. And because of that, you’re more likely to book the Airbnb, high cleaning fees and all. This is due to a psychological phenomenon called “reference price” and it works even better to get you to book an Airbnb if the search price – that first price you see is really low.

Airline Tactic

See, this is a tactic airlines have been using for a long time. You’ve seen it, you search for flights and pick a cheap one, only to watch the total price be way above what you were hoping to pay when airline fees are added. Fees for seating, fees for luggage, fees for food, fees for who knows what else. But you usually end up booking that flight anyway because our brains unconsciously evaluate prices based on the first base cost we’re presented with.

So it’s not a 949 dollar flight, it’s a $600 flight with fees and taxes tacked on. And just like that it’s not a $288 a night Airbnb but a $147 Airbnb with a $105 dollar cleaning fee. For Airbnb, holding off on how long they show you the total price – or rather by showing you the lowest base price for a booking, they increase their chances of you booking. And Airbnb hosts know this as well – so they can lower the nightly rate but make up for it a bit with a higher cleaning fee.

For longer bookings of a week or more, large cleaning fees probably won’t impact the total price too significantly. But for one or two night stays, they can significantly add to your totals. And that’s how hosts can really turn a profit since it probably doesn’t cost them close to the cleaning fee to spruce up after a one night guest.

Overall, hosts get to lower their nightly rate at first glance, profit off the cleaning fee, and all the while Airbnb makes more off increased service fees. To avoid falling for the reference price trap, check hotels, other rental sites, so for better or worse, you’re not just relying on Airbnb.

5 Pickpocket Tricks To Use Against Them When Traveling

aer travel pack 2

Part of any good security strategy is to learn from what the other side you’re trying to protect yourself from is doing. You can’t always avoid an elite pickpocket or completely prevent getting robbed at knife point – but what you can do though is minimize your losses by thinking like the criminal who wants to steal from you.

Your personal security plan needs to have many legs to stand on as well as distractions to keep your real valuables safe.

1. Distribute Your Money

Always distribute your valuables in several places when you travel. This include both on your person, in you bag, and your hostel or hotel room. Never keep all of your money in the same place. You can hide some emergency cash in deep in your socks, in the side of your underwear or in a bra and in your front pocket as well. While you may get robbed or pickpocketed you’ll have minimized your loses.

hotel room pakistan lahore falettis

For extreme circumstances do the same and have some money hidden in your hotel room too. Some in the safe if there is one and inside of a dirty sock in your laundry. Have kids? Their toys make great hiding spots.

2. Use A Decoy

Your wallet is the first target of any pickpocket so make it where you keep your least valuable stuff. Put in a small (but not tiny amount) of money along with some of those inactive (or expired) credit cards you get in the mail. If you don’t get any in the mail cancel your current card and request a new one from your bank – instant decoy. Include a student ID or some other photo identification with no personal information on it. A wallet without an ID might give you away.

trove wallet

Make sure your wallet doesn’t have sentimental value and never keep important things in a big purse – they are very easy targets.

3. Set a Trap

A decoy can be a way to potentially set a trap for a pickpocket. It won’t work in all places but if your bank offers a free checking account or credit card with no fees and is free open one up. Keep this card (with no money in the account) in your decoy wallet. If it’s stolen call the credit card company or bank right away to let them know.

ridge wallet

In most countries the companies will keep close track to see where and if that card is used. If there happens to be a camera at the first place the pickpocket tries to use the card you may be in luck.

4. Make Your Things Ugly

There are several techniques on how to make uglify your camera but the same premise goes for all of your valuable electronics. Get over the need to keep your things shiny since they won’t do you any good if they’re enticing and get stolen. Stickers, worn duct tape, and ugly carry bags work too.

red iphone 11

Oh, and that iPhone – be careful where you flash it. If you’re traveling in a place and worried about the area bring along the cheapest, oldest Nokia you can find and save the Twittering until you can get back to the hotel.

5. Set Up A Camera System

Hotel rooms can be vulnerable spots for your stuff and not all come with safes. You can though use an old smartphone as a security camera to monitor your things and get an alert if anything is disturbed. Also, while we’re at it, always use a “Do Not Disturb” sign and only have your room cleaned while you’re in it (and have packed away your valuables beforehand).

Be Creative and Add More Legs

There are plenty more ways to be shadier than thieves – be creative! Unique hiding spots, zipping your backpack like this, and other tricks are fun to come up with and there are almost an unlimited number of them. The important thing it to have more than one self-security plan and have your strategy stand on many legs so you always have a backup or two.

This is an updated version of a post I originally shared for a now-defunct travel blog in 2009.

5 Creepy Travel Sites You’d Actually Want To Visit

creppy contrails

There are a number of spooky stories. Some are completely based in fantasy while others like recent murders a little too macabre. Mysterious encounters, sightings, and places you would actually want to visit (outside of the creepiness) do exist. These are 5 creepy sites from the foXnoMad Podcast you might actually want to visit on your next trip.

1. Margate Shell Grotto

margate shell grotto

Located in Kent, England and discovered in 1835 by a father and son digging around a duck pond, the Margate Shell Grotto is a snaking 185 square meter cavern. Adorned with over 4.6 million shells, it contains an altar room and rotunda. Nobody knows who built this mysterious site and there aren’t any good guesses either. You can though visit the Margate Shell Grotto for a few British Pounds and explore it yourself.

2. Socorro UFO Landing Site

socorro ufo site

On April 24, 1964, just outside of Socorro, New Mexico, Police Officer Lonnie Zamora was chasing a speeding teenager. As he headed out into the desert though something caught his eye. Zamora stopped pursuit and saw a craft with beings walking around outside. The U.S. Air Force conducted an investigation, collection photos and physical evidence to corroborate Zamora’s story. Even to this day, the official government site of Socorro lists its coordinates.

3. Historic Anchorage Hotel

historic anchorage hotel

Built in 1916 and the only historic hotel in Alaska’s largest city, the Historic Anchorage Hotel is known for 3 ghosts whose sightings are so common, a guest book at reception records them. If you want to see the otherworldly little boy, murdered police chief, or ghastly bride, rooms 215, 217, 202 and 205 are know to be especially haunting.

4. Ruwa, Zimbabwe

One of the most conventionally un-explainable UFO encounters, the mass sighting and interaction between 62 students and faculty of an alien craft and beings in Ruwa, Zimbabwe has shook those who’ve studied it. Harvard professor of psychiatry John Mack interviewed the kids extensively and BBC’s local correspondent Tim Leach said after his investigation, “I could handle war zones, but I could not handle this.”

5. Bunny Man Bridge

bunny man bridge

The urban legend is creepy but the true story is even more bizarre. Studied for over a decade by Fairfax County Archivist Brian Conley, his paper on the government website is the foremost treatise on the Bunny Man. A small bridge in northern Virginia, there’s no asylum or gutted bunnies like the myth but a hatch through a car window? That happened to a couple on October 18, 1970 but a man dressed in a bunny outfit. Nobody was hurt and two weeks later, the Bunny Man was sighted again. Axe in hand, attacking an abandoned home, he threatened witnesses to stay away. Since then, he’s not been seen and nobody knows who this person was. You can try your luck (or lack thereof) on a Halloween at midnight, with a number of locals who dare to defy the curse of the Bunny Man.

How To Check For Hidden Cameras And Microphones In Your Vacation Rental, Hotel, Or Airbnb

Hidden cameras in hotel rooms and Airbnbs are much more common than we’d like to think but common enough that you should do a thorough surveillance sweep before settling in. Most people aren’t bug sweeping security experts though there are a number of lessons you can use from them to find concealed devices that could be recording you.

As you can see in the video above where I went through a rental that had devices hidden in it, knowing what to look for is as important as where.

The Threats

We tend to think of cameras first but hidden microphones can be trickier to detect since they don’t need a line of sight. A simple pen could be a microphone in disguise so don’t easily dismiss many common items. Another favorite for Airbnb owners are USB ports that plug into a wall. Those wall chargers can charge your phone but come with a hidden camera that can be very difficult to notice if you’re not looking for it.

Your own mind is working against you so be familiar with the common threats but don’t assume they’re the only ones. (Stuffed animals, alarm clocks, smoke detectors… there are many possibilities.) To be a good bug sweeper, you have to think creatively.

Visual Inspection

Hidden cameras need a line of sight to get footage. Start with the places someone might want to film, the bedroom, bathroom, and common areas. Look at the angles a lens would need to be placed to film the larger parts of rooms or sensitive areas (near a shower). Walk around, making a careful inspection before you unpack your bags.

airbnb rental

Take a note of shelves, vents, or any cracks in wood panels or otherwise dark hiding places that have a line of sight.

Scan The Network

Once you’ve completed your visual inspection, logon to the rental’s wifi network with your phone. Using Net Analyzer scan to see how many other devices are connecting to the network. Minus you phone and any obvious devices like a smart TV, be wary if there are many more devices than you can account for.

Also note any networks that have a very similar name, for example RentalWifi1 and RentalWifiPrivate. Separate wifi networks could be used to hide surveillance devices from the network you happen to be on and common names could be a clue more than one network is in use.

Now that you’ve narrowed things down visually and wirelessly, the next step is to use a bug sweeper.

Sweep Like A Pro

I’ve written about a consumer grade bug sweeper you can use and how to properly scan with one. Those of you who watched the video above know that these devices do work in real-world situations if used properly and with a careful eye.

Remember to check the policies of the rental you’re staying in and the service you’re using since many allow for common areas to be recorded. (Though they hardly advertise that fact.) Still if you end up finding any surveillance device, get in touch with the company and get as much evidence as you can through photos of your own.

As for your legal options, it’s still a grey area in many districts so be wary of any temporary accommodation, especially before you do a bug sweep.

How NFTs Could Change Travel

Everydays: The First 5000 Days

The digital photo above sold for $69.3 million dollars. It’s called Everydays: The First 5000 Days by the artist Beeple and although the digital art was auctioned off at Christie’s, you can see I was able to easily copy and paste it above. That does not mean though I’m the owner of the NFT, a concept that may revolutionize how we travel.

What Are NFTs

NFT stands for non-fungible token, in other words something that is unique and can’t be duplicated. NFTs are in a sense akin to rare baseball cards like a 1952 Mickey Mantle that sold for 5.2 million USD. A baseball card is something tangible however, you can hold it in your hands, you buy it and it’s yours. With NFTs the digital file like the image aboven can still be copied like any other file except the NFT, like a public certificate of authenticity, belongs only to one individual.

To get more detailed: the only way to own an NFT is to buy it through a transaction that’s recorded on the blockchain. Blockchain is a way of publicly documented translations. The person who bought Beeple’s artwork above has a public record of that transaction. You can listen to a more thorough explanation of NFTs on the foXnoMad Podcast but your two main takeaways should be: NFTs establish authenticity and chain of ownership.

Wild West Of NFT Trading

Imagine your favorite musician minting songs from their new albums to sell as NFTs. Everyone can still listen to the music but only one person will own the NFT. Think of it as sort of an autograph: you can get the album anywhere but there’s only one Britney Spears signed limited edition.

listening to music

The same concept can be applied to a driver’s license or passport. Fakes are possible but when you check the authenticity of the document against the records of the government who issued them, the frauds become evident. Right now, NFTs are making headlines with high price sales of NBA video clips selling for $240,000 and the grumpy cat meme selling for $83,000.

So why would anyone want to buy one? Well, NFTs have made it possible for specific digital assets to be rare – a rarity people are so far, willing to pay for. The market for NFTs is a rapidly evolving on sure to make even more expensive headlines but aside from the art trade, it has implications for travelers.

True Digital Passports?

Given how digital everything is these days, it does seem a bit odd to carry around a paper book you get stamped when entering a new country. Of course those paper passports are authenticated through centralized computer systems but NFTs could solve that middleman process. Being one of a kind authenticated digital assets that are publicly documented could mean an eventual end to paper passports.

An NFT-based passport and visas would be much, much more difficult to forge and if you lose the device containing your NFT passport, regenerating one through a digital portal is a lot faster than today’s snail mail methods. Of course, how this will all look (an app on your phone?) isn’t clear since it’s the very early days of NFT popularity. The reach into the travel industry for NFTs though is wide from everything to plane and event tickets to yes, maybe your passport too.

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutHi, I'm Anil. foXnoMad is where I combine travel and tech to help you travel smarter. I'm on a journey to every country in the world and you're invited to join the adventure! Read More

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