2017 Year in Review

As the year draws to a close, I always like to take a few moments to reflect on all my experiences over the past 12 months. As with most years, 2017 will be remembered as a year of curve balls and unexpected surprises, but what would life be without occasional surprises and detours? Here’s my 2017 Year in Review. . . 

Amanda & Josh overlooking Honolulu
Overlooking Honolulu

Work

I just passed the two-year mark at the University of Kansas at the Center for Public Partnerships and Research, managing the Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals project. The Institute officially launched our free, online learning platform on November 1st and things are going well. As the project continues through 2018, a career map feature will be added to the platform that will help guide users to trainings that will help them become proficient in a national set of core competencies that were developed by the project. The project involves a team of stakeholders from many different organizations, spread across four different states and most of the work is done virtually via video conferencing. You can learn more about the Institute and even sign up to take some of the courses yourself at www.InstituteFSP.org.  

 

My husband, Josh, spends his time working in content marketing and communications strategy for a Victoria, British Columbia-based marketing and consulting firm. He is the account lead for several Fortune 1000 clients and has spent some time this year writing about something he’s really interested in – blockchain and cryptocurrency.  You can find some of his writing at www.CoinCatalyst.com. The Bitcoin learning curve has been steep for me, but I feel much more educated in the world of cryptocurrency thanks to Josh’s devout research skills.  We even spent the drive back and forth to Central Kansas for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year listening to Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money on Audible.

 

Travel

We’ve continued traveling fairly extensively throughout 2017.

 

Hawaii

In May, we celebrated our 7th anniversary by flying to Honolulu, spending four days on the island of Oahu, followed by 12 days on a cruise ship visiting three additional islands for seven of those days and crossing the Pacific for the additional five. While in Hawaii, we stayed in an Airbnb on the North Shore of Oahu, visited Pearl Harbor, did a driving tour of Oahu, had coffee in Kona, visited our first active volcano in Hilo, went mountain tubing at Kauai Backcountry Adventures through the irrigation canals of an old sugarcane plantation in Kauai, marveled at the beauty of Waimea Canyon, took a 6-person cruise along the Na Pali Coast with Na Pali Experience (seriously, if you ever get the opportunity to do this, DO IT!!!), did the entire loop on the Road to Hana, and visited art galleries in Lahaina.

Vancouver

After spending five days at sea, we disembarked the cruise ship in Vancouver and walked 25,000 steps the first day off the ship. Vancouver is one of our favorite cities in the world and we always appreciate the opportunity to explore our favorite places when we’re there. We even made the drive along the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler.  They’re not kidding when they say the Sea to Sky Highway is one of the most beautiful drives in North America.  It’s truly spectacular, and was made even better because of an app I stumbled upon when we were planning our time on Oahu.  If you’re ever traveling in the Hawaiian Islands or in British Columbia (and a few other locations), and you’ll have a car, I HIGHLY recommend looking into the GyPSy Guide.  The company has several tours of varying lengths for each of the Islands, as well as many tour options in British Columbia, and several popular National Park destinations in the United States.  We probably downloaded 6 or 7 of their tours for our trip and they were worth every single penny.  You download the tour and pair your phone with the car’s Bluetooth, then play the audio of the tour through your car speakers while you drive.  The tour is triggered by GPS signal, and the guide gives fantastic directions.  We saw things during those driving tours that you would never find in a guidebook or by just using trial and error.  I wish every destination had something similar.

Brandywine Falls
Brandywine Falls Provincial Park

 

Family Health

When we returned from Vancouver, we found that my mom had become very ill while we were away. She’d lost a lot of weight and was very weak. Her liver specialist at the University of Kansas Hospital decided that it was time to talk about being placed on the liver transplant list and I spent three days working from the hospital while my mom went through the tests and evaluations that are required before being placed on the list. During this process, it was discovered that my mom was also in kidney failure and she was admitted to the hospital for about a week while the doctors worked on getting her healthy enough to be placed on the transplant list. The treatment she received while in the hospital helped her regain enough strength to officially receive approval to be placed on the liver transplant list on my 35th birthday. Her health continues to be stable and she will likely have to get much worse before she will be able to receive a transplant, but we’re fortunate that she’s on the list.

Amanda & Vickie outside of Palma de Mallorca
Amanda & Vickie outside of Palma de Mallorca

Through this process, I’ve learned more about the process of organ transplants than I ever knew existed and have started preaching the importance of registering to be an organ donor to anyone who will listen.  I even organized an organ donor drive for the Midwest Transplant Network at my office, in August.  If you’re not already registered to be an organ donor (not just with a sticker on your driver’s license, but through an actual registration process), please consider registering at www.OrganDonor.gov today.  Five minutes of your time could mean the difference between life and death for someone you know.

More Travel

Boston

In late September, Josh and I had the opportunity to visit Boston for 4 days for a marketing conference. Since both of us have a professional interest in marketing, it was a perfect opportunity to attend a conference together and get in a little sightseeing while there. Last year, we visited Boston on a cruise, but only had the chance to be in the city for a one day, so it was nice to get to spend more time there and actually get to explore a bit. We stayed in an Airbnb in Beacon Hill, right in the middle of everything. We even took Amtrak to New London, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island, so we could check off a couple of additional states. It was a great, albeit short, trip.

Vancouver (again)

One day after returning from Boston, we flew back to Vancouver, BC for a few days ahead of another cruise. We woke up before dawn one morning and drove our rental car to the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen to go to Victoria and visit Josh’s childhood friend, and his family for the day. We got to enjoy high tea in Butchart Gardens before walking around Downtown Victoria, and spending a few hours at their home before taking the ferry back to Vancouver that night. We also had the opportunity to take another GyPSy Guide tour and drive east out of Vancouver to Kamloops, BC. Someday, we want to take a trip to the Canadian Rockies (Jasper, Banff, etc.) and Kamloops is halfway between Vancouver and the Rockies. It was a beautiful drive and we’re eager to get back to the area.

West Coast

From Vancouver, we boarded the Ruby Princess and headed south. We stopped in Astoria, OR, to see Mount St. Helens, spent a day in San Francisco, where we visited Sausalito, sailed under, drove over, and walked over the Golden Gate Bridge, saw the Full House Painted Lady houses, and walked around Haight Ashbury. We spent the last day of our cruise in Santa Barbara on a food & drink walking tour (Eat This, Shoot That) of the “Funk Zone” which reminded us a lot of our own East Lawrence. The cruise ended in Los Angeles and we flew home that afternoon.

Staying Busy in the Community

After founding the Girlfriend’s Gala in 2014, I’m working with our planning committee to wrap up plans for our 4th annual event, on February 2nd. The Gala is an American Cancer Society fundraiser resembling a “prom” for ladies 21 and over and features a photo booth, snack bar, raffle, and bachelor auction. It’s an event that’s becoming really popular in Lawrence and I spend a lot of time each year preparing for it and soliciting donations.  It’s always a blast and it raises a lot of money for a good cause.

 

I also spend time as a member of the Board of Directors for Just Food, the food bank, here in Douglas County, Kansas.  I serve as a member of the fund development sub-committee and help with a lot of the plans for fundraising events throughout the year.  

 

This year, in my capacity as a Board member for the Social Media Club of Lawrence, I’ve helped to revamp the format for our 2018 meetings.  Since the club was founded, it has been meeting weekly, on Wednesday mornings at 7:30.  With many of the members starting families and having to drop kids off at school at exactly that time every morning, it was becoming difficult to get many members to attend meetings.  We’re excited to start hosting monthly lunch networking meetings and monthly evening meetings with presentations, starting in January.  For more information about attending or becoming involved with SMC Lawrence, visit our Facebook page.

 

Grad School

I’m so close to being done with grad school, I can smell it.  I’m officially half-way through my final year of a two-year Master’s program at the University of Kansas in Digital Content Strategy. I’ll walk down the hill at graduation on May 13th and finish my final class over the summer.  

 

Work Travel

I didn’t travel as much for work this year as I did in 2016, but still got out of Lawrence with colleagues a few times:

  • March – South By Southwest Education – Austin, TX
  • March – South By Southwest Interactive – Austin, TX
  • March – Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals Meeting – Harrisonburg, VA

 

2018 Plans

2018 will bring a trip to Texas and two trips to the Caribbean.

 

Texas

In January, we’re spending 4 days in Austin and San Antonio. Josh has never been to either city and I’m looking forward to getting back to Austin and visiting San Antonio for the first time. We’re staying in an Airbnb on Rainey Street, which is one of my favorite little pockets of Austin. We’re excited to get to see one of our friends and her family when we visit San Antonio.  We accidentally found out they would be there (visiting from southern Mississippi for a conference) the same weekend we would, so we’ll get to spend time with them both in January and in November.  

 

Eastern Caribbean

In May, we will be travelling back to the Eastern Caribbean on the same itinerary we sailed in 2016 (St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau, out of Miami).  We haven’t booked any tours yet, but if Josh has his way, we’ll be doing the same tours we did when we were in each location before.  Unfortunately, St. Thomas, St. John, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda all took pretty direct hits from two hurricanes this fall, and we’re not sure how many of the tour operators are back to functioning 100% at this point.  We really enjoyed touring St. John and visiting the Baths at Virgin Gorda when we were there in 2016 and would love to get back to both again.

 

Western Caribbean for Josh’s 40th Birthday

In November, we will be sailing to the Western Caribbean with at least 25 friends and family members for Josh’s 40th birthday. We sail from New Orleans, which will be a lot of fun! You can see our itinerary and learn more about the cruise HERE. If you’d like to go with us, we’d love to have more in our group, so please let me know. There’s plenty of room for more people in our group and you get quite a few perks by being a part of a group, so make sure you book through us. Deposits are always fully refundable through the final payment for cruises, so there’s not a lot of risk involved in booking early.  

 

Wrap Up

2017 has been quite a year.  We’ve been a few new places, made some new friends, been involved in our community, and learned a lot.  What were your favorite parts of 2017?

 

 

 

 

 

Banning Airbnb in Lawrence, Kansas???

Tomorrow evening, the City Commission of Lawrence, Kansas will discuss short term rentals in the city.  I have some very strong feelings about the subject and made sure I completed the survey the city sent out several months ago.  My perspective is not one of someone who owns a short term rental or who has any plans to have one in the future, but instead, is that of someone who has a great deal of experience using services such as Airbnb when traveling both throughout the United States, and internationally.


Our Short Term Rental Experiences

My husband and I have been customers of Airbnb since 2013 when our first experience with the service was renting an apartment with my parents in Barcelona, Spain.  The apartment was located one block from Sagrada Familia and, from the balcony of the apartment, we had a spectacular view of the cathedral from an angle few tourists would ever have the opportunity to experience.  None of us spoke Spanish, but we were able to communicate with our host (who spoke no English) easily through the Airbnb platform.  The apartment was across the street from a grocery store and in the same block as many local restaurants.  Because we were able to get such a great deal on the apartment through Airbnb, we spent significantly more just being “tourists” in a city we fell in love with.

Since our trip to Barcelona, back in 2013, we have been completely sold on the sharing economy idea of Airbnb.  We do not travel anywhere for pleasure without looking for an Airbnb property to stay in.  In fact, since 2013, the only time I have stayed in a hotel was when I was traveling for work, and we have even started to shift business travel lodging to Airbnb when possible, because it allows for collaboration between colleagues in an environment that isn’t full of the hustle and bustle of a hotel lobby.  We can sit around a dining room table and debrief all the things we learned at a conference, or we can work on presentations while sitting comfortably on a couch in the living room.  It’s really a fantastic way to travel with colleagues.

Vancouver, BC Airbnb Short Term RentalsVancouver, BC
London, England Airbnb Short Term RentalsLondon, UK
Washington, DC Airbnb Short Term RentalsWashington, DCBoston, MA Airbnb Short Term RentalsBoston, MAAustin, TX Airbnb Short Term RentalsAustin, TX

My husband and I have stayed in Airbnb properties all across the US (Seattle, Downtown Kansas City (twice), Austin (twice), Denver, Washington, DC, the North Shore of Oahu, and Boston) and internationally in London (twice), Vancouver (in the same apartment on three separate trips), and Barcelona.  We feel like utilizing available short term rentals allows us to experience cities like locals do.  We eat at more neighborhood restaurants, shop at more locally-owned stores, spend more money, and really get to know each city we visit.  Because we’re able to experience the true nature of each city, we find ourselves much more connected to each place and much more likely to return for another trip.  Additionally, booking through services such as Airbnb has allowed us to stay in areas that are much closer to city centers and in much more popular areas for far less than we would have had to pay to stay in a hotel.  I can say, without a doubt, that we have been able to travel more and visit more destinations because we are booking with Airbnb rather than with a hotel.  Hotels in many of the destinations we have visited would have made the trip cost-prohibitive.

Lawrence is made for short term rentals

Lawrence is a city that’s primed to make people fall in love with it.  I’ve lived here my whole life and my love for this city is contagious.  Whenever I have friends coming into town, or even old high school friends coming home to visit for a holiday, I feel compelled to tell them about all of my favorite places in Lawrence and about all the new places that I’ve recently had the opportunity to love.  In my experience, Airbnb hosts are some of the very best ambassadors of the cities in which they have property.  They want the experience of their guests to be as positive as possible.  Hosts want those guests to come back.  They want people to love place they call home as much as they do.

I understand the purpose of regulating short term rentals, but I’ve encouraged our City Commission to do it in a way that will not suffocate their existence in Lawrence.  By keeping them around, we’re encouraging people who love the sharing economy to add Lawrence to their list of desired destinations.  I’m certain people staying in these properties are spending more money in town than those who are staying at a hotel.  My husband and I are those people in other communities and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

 

 

 

Getting Started as a Guest with Airbnb

My First Airbnb Experience

For someone from the Midwest, my experience with Airbnb started out pretty spectacularly. My parents, husband, and an extended family member were traveling to Barcelona to board a Mediterranean cruise and we needed a place to stay for a couple of days. We wanted someplace that was pretty close to the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus route so that we could do that one of the days we were there and close to the top tourist attraction in all of Spain, the Sagrada Familia Basilica.

I’d never used Airbnb or VRBO before, but was really intrigued by the concept of renting an apartment that all 5 of us could share and split the expense of, rather than three separate hotel rooms where we would each have to spend about $200 per night. I decided to take a look at the options that were available on Airbnb and see what we might be able to get. I centered the map on the Sagrada Familia and started my search.

The first property I fell in love with was located about a block from Sagrada Familia and it looked like I may have hit the jackpot right out of the gate. I plugged in the dates we were looking for and discovered that the apartment was available when we were going to be there. Horray!

I put in my request for the dates and waited for the host to respond. I was a little bit intimidated by the language barrier (in hindsight, taking Latin in high school probably wasn’t the most logical choice), but Airbnb includes a super easy translation option, so when the host responded, her message had already been translated from Spanish to English. The apartment was available and we were approved to go ahead with the booking.

I was thrilled to be able to try out Airbnb for the first time with such an amazing location and apartment. This was the view from the balcony off the living room of the apartment:



We ended up spending $404 for three nights in a three-bedroom apartment a block from Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. If we’d booked a hotel, it would have been closer to $1,800.

Now, don’t get me wrong. . . if you want to drop some serious money on a spectacular place, you can definitely do that on Airbnb, but that’s not typically the direction we go. When I’m searching for places on Airbnb, I’m typically looking for something that’s relatively inexpensive, but in a convenient location, and the amenities we can’t live without (AC if it’s going to be warm, an elevator if it’s higher than the 3rd floor – luggage for 14-day trips can be heavy, and the appropriate number of bedrooms/beds if we’re traveling with more than just the two of us).

Beginning a Search

So, where do you begin a search? I highly recommend doing an internet search for the best neighborhoods for tourists in whichever city you might be traveling to. The search is likely to give you some good ideas, so you can start narrowing down your options. In larger cities, this can be a pretty daunting task. I, myself, got pretty overwhelmed trying to figure out where to begin looking for a place to stay in Los Angeles after an upcoming cruise and gave up, booking a return flight the same day we get off the ship.

Once you’ve found a general area you want to search in, you can center your map and get started. Make sure you pay attention to the prices listed, as those are a nightly rate, and additional fees may be included once you get to the booking page. Just be vigilant about paying attention to the total cost and you’ll be fine.

If you’re going to a city with a great public transportation system, I recommend trying to find a place that’s close to a bus stop or a subway station. Being close to transportation opens the entire city up to you, and with apps like Citymapper, you’re just a few clicks away from being a public transportation pro and not looking like a lost tourist.

Referral Program

Airbnb has a great referral program for members. If you refer a friend, they get a $35 Airbnb credit, and if they make a booking, you get $35 in Airbnb credit. If they decide to become an Airbnb Host, you get a $75 Airbnb credit when they book their first guests. If you don’t have an Airbnb account yet and would like to sign up, get a $35 credit yourself, and do some exploring, I’d be honored if you’d use my referral link: www.airbnb.com/c/adavis350. We try to use Airbnb exclusively when we travel, so the credit will certainly be put to good use on a future trip.

Business Travelers

In the last year or so, Airbnb has set up a program for business travelers.  If you are traveling for business, the site will now indicate whether or not the property you’re looking at has standard business amenities (WiFi, laptop-friendly workspace, smoke & CO detector, essentials, iron, hangers, hairdryer, and shampoo).

In March 2016, I used Airbnb for business travel for the first time.  Three of my colleagues and myself were traveling to Austin, Texas to attend SXSWedu (the education conference associated with South by Southwest’s larger festival, later in the month).  The experience allowed for significantly more face time with my colleagues, as we could gather around a dining room table each night to talk about the sessions we’d attended rather than around a tiny table in a loud hotel lobby. We were able to cook with each other, collaborate on work projects, talk about the sessions we were interested in attending the following day, and really get to know each other. It made for a fantastic travel experience and 3 brand new close friendships.

Extra Income

Airbnb isn’t just for travelers looking for a place to stay. It can also be a great way to make some additional income if you have extra space in your home, or if you travel a lot and your home is in a home in a high-demand location. I’m not super-familiar with the ins and outs of hosting on Airbnb, but it’s certainly an option for someone looking to make some additional money.

Entire Place or Private Room?

One thing I never thought I would want to do with Airbnb is to select the “Private Room” option when searching for a property.  I had always been pretty adamant that it would be weird to share a home with a stranger.  That was until I discovered the most fabulous place we’ve ever stayed and the first Airbnb property that we have plans to stay in for a second time. . .

In 2014, Josh and I took a Pacific Northwest vacation which included an Alaska cruise.  Prior to heading to Vancouver, BC to get on the cruise ship, we stayed in an Airbnb in Seattle, took a day trip to Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands, to visit a friend of mine from childhood, and spent a few days staying with one of Josh’s childhood best friends, in Victoria, BC.  From Victoria, we flew into Vancouver to stay for a few days prior to the cruise.

Vancouver isn’t an inexpensive city, so many of the properties were out of our price range or weren’t close enough to the center of the city for our liking, so, on a whim, I selected the “Private Room” option rather than “Entire Place”.  I’m so glad I did, because we discovered a room in the 27th floor Penthouse apartment of a building in the center of Downtown Vancouver, within walking distance to everything we could ever want to see.  The views (below) from this apartment were like nothing I’d ever experienced before.  The amount of outdoor living space was almost as much as indoor, with an outdoor living room, dining room, and balconies off of each bedroom.  It was a truly incredible place and the hosts and their dog were fantastic. It was such a wonderful experience that, when we knew we would be sailing from Vancouver on our October Pacific Coast Wine Country cruise this year, I reached out to the hosts to see if their room would be available for us to stay in again.  I can’t wait to be back on those balconies and in the heart of Vancouver.  It quickly became one of our favorite cities in the world.




What’s Wrong With a Hotel?

Short Answer: Nothing. . . It’s what’s right about an Airbnb property that makes all the difference.  Josh and I truly enjoy experiencing the places we travel to.  We want to get to know the city and feel like a local.  A big part of making that happen comes with staying in a neighborhood, with people who actually live in the city.  While you might not get to meet the neighbors, you still have the opportunity to interact with your hosts both before and during your stay.  The connection with the host can be one of the best parts of the trip.  Hosts are familiar with the area, can give dining tips, can help you get a SIM card for your phone if you’re traveling in a country that’s not your own, and a multitude of other benefits.  Having someone in the city who you can connect with for questions can be invaluable.

Many hotels are situated in areas surrounded by other hotels and not really within a part of the city that would allow you to really feel what it would be like to live there.  Being able to go to a grocery store, bring home local food, and to cook for yourself, in a kitchen filled with local staples is something you could never do in a hotel.

There’s also a benefit to being able to have space to be separated from your travel companions.  For Josh and I, staying in an Airbnb property can be essential.  Josh has a bit of an odd sleeping schedule.  He typically goes to bed around 8pm and wakes up between 3 and 4am (he says he gets his best work done before anyone else wakes up).  I tend to go to sleep sometime around 11pm and I get up around 7am for work, or between 8 and 9am on weekends.  This schedule doesn’t work very well in a hotel room.  An Airbnb property, on the other hand, could have a living room and separate bedroom, which makes our trip much more enjoyable, as we can keep our sleep schedules without disrupting one another.

Now, I have nothing against hotels.  When we’re visiting a city for only one day, we tend to book a hotel because it may just be easier to stay close to the airport if we have an early flight.  But, when we’re staying for more than one night, we prefer the diversity and immersion that an Airbnb property allows, compared to a very cookie-cutter hotel option.

 

Past Trips

We’ve stayed in Airbnb properties in Barcelona, Seattle, Vancouver, Kansas City (twice), Austin, London (twice), Denver, and Washington, DC.  We’ve had fantastic experiences with each and every property and I know that our experience was significantly elevated because we were staying in an Airbnb property rather than in a traditional hotel.

 

Upcoming Reservations

In the next year, we have reservations booked at Airbnb properties on the North Shore of Oahu, back at the 27th floor penthouse apartment in Vancouver, and I’ll be heading back to Austin with colleagues for SXSWedu and SXSW for two weeks in March.  We’ve still got a couple of locations we haven’t booked yet, but we’ll be booking properties in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and back in Vancouver very soon.

 

Wrap-Up

Whether you’re a world traveler or not, Airbnb can be a good way to get out there and explore the world around you.  Immersing yourself in local culture and activities is one of the best ways to really experience a location and Airbnb is a fantastic way to make that happen.  Once you start using Airbnb, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to go back to a traditional hotel for your travels.  We certainly don’t plan to!
Some photos from some of our Airbnb stays: