PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- For every rube on America's roads singing I'll Be Home For Christmas as they drive to a relative's house for the holidays, there's a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle or cousin wondering if it's too late to change the locks.
Home? This ain't your home, pal. It's your imposition that you're making on an already overworked relation who isn't expecting much help or financial restitution in return. A survey conducted a few years back by vacation rental website HomeAway AWAY found that 22% of holiday hosts think their guests overstay their welcome after a day or less.
They leave stuff strewn all over the house (31%), don't help with the cooking or cleaning (26%), need to be entertained constantly (21%), pick through their hosts' private belongings (2%) and kidnap the television remote long enough to burden the family with their favorite shows about screaming housewives or whiny manual laborers (2%). About 29% of hosts would kick their visiting sibling out of the house this holiday season if they could, while 22% think it's time for their grown child to make his or her own plans for accommodations.
Not that your scratchy old towels, neglected spare room and boring suburban setting are such great shakes for visitors. This year, HomeAway estimates that 38% of holiday travelers plan to stay with a friend or family member on Christmas. Of those, 64% percent aren't overly thrilled about it. A full 29% say they're not looking forward to the lack of personal space, 28% are dreading that spare mattress you picked up from the budget bed store and 5% say you or the other relatives hanging around the house this holiday season are enough of a problem on your own.
Is it any wonder why 29% of hosts have had it with their holiday guests after only a few days, while 51% of holiday travelers feel stressed out by the whole ordeal? We're exhausted just thinking about it and all we had to do was key in a couple of words. For the holiday hosts sacrificing their sanity and personal space in the name of family togetherness and travelers who'll give up hours in travel time and lots of square footage to stay with the ones they love, we offer this advice: Think it over.
You don't have to do this to yourselves. There's an entire travel and accommodations industry designed to prevent this kind of stress from happening. Yes, it costs money, but so do therapists and lawyers. You want to deal with the years of tangible and emotional fallout from a long family visit gone wrong? Go right ahead. If you're a harried holiday host who can't imagine going through another year of terrible jokes and bad reality television or a visitor who just wants a grown-up bed and a place to decompress at the end of the day, here are a handful of suggestions for alternate accommodations. Whether you're a host willing to spring for this gift or a visitor happy to pay his or her own way, these are all better -- if not cheaper -- options than the alternative:
You have about 21% of all travelers who say they'd shell out extra money for roomier accommodations this holiday season. That pairs quite nicely with the 20% of holiday travelers who told HomeAway they'd prefer to stay at a hotel.
That insistence on comfort is going to come at a cost, according to travel site Orbitz OWW . Hotel room prices in Los Angeles and New York for the holidays are 10% higher than last year. A room in Phoenix, Ariz., meanwhile, will cost travelers 15% more than last holiday season. If your family's in Florida or San Juan, Puerto Rico, however, there's more than just warm air to entice travelers. Daily room rates in San Juan are an average of 12% lower than a year ago, while room prices in Florida's Orlando, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale are down 3% to 7%.
Not that room prices have much of an effect on weary travelers. A survey by Orbitz and American Express AXP found 71% of travelers think the cost of travel has risen since 2011, but only 12% are planning to cut back on their holiday travel spending.
"The demand for holiday travel is clearly outpacing any effect of higher prices in some markets," said Jeanenne Tornatore, senior travel editor for Orbitz.com. "For many Americans, travel is now part of the holiday tradition."
Experts from travel sites including Travelocity and FareCompare also suggest looking into airfare-and-hotel packages to save a little cash. You won't save much on the flight, but hotels will often cut the prices on rooms to sweeten the deal.
What, you thought HomeAway would go through the trouble of putting together a holiday survey just as a courtesy? They're a vacation rental company and, as such, they're looking to see who'll fill property managers' vacancies during the holiday season.
While the percentage of HomeAway users who'll stay at a vacation rental is roughly even with those who'll stay at hotels during the Thanksgiving holiday, a whopping 31% will pick a rental house or apartment for their holiday vacation destination of choice. They can be cheap if you fit enough people into multiple bedrooms, they have kitchens that won't force you to eat out or with the relatives for every meal and can even take in some of the more tolerable relatives if the space is big enough.
They're a bit tough to track down late in the season, mostly because 5% of vacation rental property owners like to keep those houses to themselves for the holiday. There are still deals to be had, though, and are worth looking into if you're willing to go into your pocket to pay for amenities that would be in short supply at the relatives' place. Those who'd shell out for access to a kitchen of their own (21%), a pool/hot tub (12%) or even laundry facilities (11%) that aren't vulnerable to distant aunts sifting through your underthings to make room for a load of dishtowels should thumb through rentals on a site such as HomeAway or TripAdvisor's TRIP FlipKey before committing to more cramped and exposed environs.
Bed and breakfasts
Can you guarantee either of the two items in the name "bed and breakfast" when staying with family? We're guessing not, which is why inns and bed and breakfast establishments are an increasingly popular choice among holiday travelers.
According to HomeAway subsidiary BedandBreakfast.com, 75% of travelers surveyed say they'll be taking at least one trip this winter. Of those, 50% say they'll be staying at a bed and breakfast during their trip.
While destinations known for B&Bs such as Key West, Fla., Charleston, S.C., and Asheville, N.C., are in guests' winter Top 10, BedandBreakfast.com found that inns and houses in spots such as top-ranked New York City, second-place Boston and No. 4 Chicago are also in high demand. Breakfast is still a key draw for 47% of those guests, but rare urban accommodations including free on-site parking (54%) and flexible check-in (50%) are essential for the holiday home.
Travelers worried that staying at a bed and breakfast still means enduring the shared bathrooms they were trying to avoid at the relatives' place probably haven't been to a B&B in a while. Of the 11,000 properties in BedandBreakfast.com's stable, only 12% have shared bathrooms.
Back in 2006, there was an $85 million Hollywood infomercial called The Holiday that focused on the online-house swapping industry.
Jilted editor Kate Winslet wanted to escape her dreary English cottage and disinterested boyfriend while workaholic Cameron Diaz sought to flee her Hollywood mansion, the drudgery of film trailer production and her philandering ex. The two swap houses and somehow end up with film score composer Jack Black and single dad Jude Law, respectively.
Despite the implausibility of all of this working out just in time for New Year's, audiences loved the idea and the industry took off. HomeExchange.com, for example, saw its membership jump from 20,000 back in 2008 to more than 40,000 last year as travelers faced increasing economic uncertainty.
The obvious downside to this approach is that you're letting a stranger into your home for days at a time with license to use a bunch of your stuff. The flipside is that you're doing the same with someone else. If you're OK with handing over the keys and laying out or parting with a few guest linens while you're gone and giving someone the key for a few days, the perks include access to homes in New York, San Francisco, London, Paris and thousands of other properties in more than 100 countries. Plus, according to the folks at HomeExchange, 20% of home swaps include a car swap as well (Diaz's character in The Holiday got to tool around in Winslet's Mini Cooper, because that's clearly the only car English folks such as Winslet and Austin Powers are allowed to drive).
While some home-swap sites have a free option for people who aren't posting their own properties, sites such as HomeForSwap and HomeLink can charge $75 to $110 per year. HomeExchange charges $120 a year for listings, but also offers a three-month plan for about $48.
We really have no other description for it.
A vacation rental won't let you just crash on a futon for $10 a night. Hotels don't usually include acreage and mansions among their offerings. Private islands, treehouses, rooms, boats and igloos seldom get thrown under the same heading, but on Airbnb they're all accommodations.
The basic gist is that a property owner rents you some space while he or she isn't around. The site takes a fee from both parties involved, provides 24-hour customer service for guest and host and -- thanks to some jackass who thought it would be hilarious to completely trash and burglarize an Airbnb property last summer -- gives owners a $1 million insurance policy to cover potential damages.
It's a bit of a risk for the property owner, but for renters it's a low-cost dream that lets them stay in funky little corners of the world for less than the price of a hotel room. Whether you're a single person who prefers coming and going at your leisure without Aunt Martha asking where you're going and who you'll be with or a pair of parents who doesn't see the point in staying out in some relative's subdivision when a city full of Christmas stuff is just a few miles away, Airbnb offers a wide variety of safehouses for your holiday solace.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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