Many expert travelers have long extolled the virtues of the bed-and-breakfast experience, especially when compared to expensive, impersonal and often inhospitable hotels and motels. A new service, www.istopover.com, helps travelers locate alternative accommodations at their travel destinations. As a first-time bed-and-breakfaster, I tried the service recently.
For spring break, I took my teen daughter to the Dallas area to shop at Ikea for a new bedroom set. I went to the iStopOver site, found an accommodation in Dallas that was in my cheapo price range and, even with short notice, was able to book it for the second night of our trip.
Then, I went online to find a “cheap hotel” in Dallas and found several options in the inexpensive range I was hoping for — about $60 per night. I chose to book a room for the first night of our trip in Plano because the price was right and, looking at a map, it seemed fairly close to Ikea.
I was half right about the hotel's location — it was close enough to Ikea but we found ourselves, driving all over town in order to get to some of our other destinations — West Elm, Greenville Ave. and Northpark Mall. Up and down the Dallas Tollway we burned gas, expanding our carbon footprints in a giant king cab diesel pickup we'd borrowed in order to haul our Ikea booty home.
The hotel was, at best, sub-par. It stunk of cigarette smoke, was tiny and dingy. I checked for bed bugs and, fortunately, found none readily visible. Price: $64 with tax.
This was the weekend of the recent time change, and when we went to bed Saturday night, we forgot to “spring forward” an hour. Consequently, at 11:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m. our time), a very rude housekeeper came banging at our door insisting we'd overstayed our welcome. So we hurriedly packed up the diesel and headed out for the day.
Again, we drove all over town, first to Northpark Mall, then to Ikea to pick out the items we would buy on our way home the next day. Exhausted after a full day of shopping and driving (and, for a frantic half hour, searching for a gas station that sold diesel), it was time to head to the B&B we'd booked on www.istopover.com
I consulted my GPS for the location of the guest house. It was located just a few miles from where we had already been spending half our time, in a lovely and safe feeling neighborhood near West End and Northpark Mall.
We arrived at the guest house and were greeted by a very friendly host. He showed us to our little apartment, located over the home's detached garage. Just outside the door to the guest house is a lovely and inviting garden and seating area our host told us we were welcome to use during our stay.
The apartment was clean and fresh and our host pointed out the refrigerator stocked with water, juice and milk. Fresh pastries awaited us for breakfast. The host showed us the finer points of the apartment's entertainment system — free wireless internet, full cable TV and access to his iTunes account where he stores more than 100 gigabytes of music and movies. He even offered to loan us DVDs to watch if we didn't find anything interesting in his iTunes. Price: $60.
My teen daughter thought this was the best place ever. We opened the windows for a fresh breeze, sat back and spent the evening relaxing, watching TV and just enjoying the light rain outside. We slept great that night and woke up refreshed — a stark difference from how we'd been awakened the previous morning.
Istopover seems to be a good resource for travelers looking for an experience other than the typical hotel stay. Anthony Lipschitz, CEO and co-found
“The nature of the site is such that people interact directly with each other so they get to know one another and can gauge their level of comfort before entering into a transaction,” Lipschitz said. He boasts the site represents 16,023 cities represented in 94 countries but admits that the site's calendar of availability for each site might not be entirely accurate if the host doesn't update it.
I'd always advise reading the reviews posted by customers thoroughly and doing some additional research about each accommodation you're considering, even with traditional hotels. But, I'm determined never to stay in a sub-par hotel again. With careful planning, a little extra research and options such as those found on sites such as www.istopover.com, there is usually no need to settle for stinky, loud and rude when you could have fresh, peaceful and friendly.
Throughout the year as part of our 2011-Year of Firsts project, the Life section will feature people who are doing something for the first time. This story is part of that series. If you're doing something for the first time, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some notable sites for Bed and Breakfast and alternative accommodations for travel: