Creating a Sensory Guest Experience!

In my therapy practice, I use a grounding technique I call 5-4-3-2-1. I instruct anxious, dissociated, dysregulated, or stressed clients to pan the room, the full extent their necks will allow their heads to turn, and list out loud:

-5 things that they see with their eyes

-4 things they hear with their ears

-3 things they feel, not emotionally, but sensate

-2 things they smell

-1 thing they taste.

This simple exercise engages all five senses, grounds them in their bodies, and roots them in the present moment, right here-and-now leaving behind stress and anxiety.

#12 rift valley historic farmhouse view

One of the reasons I love international travel is because my anxiety levels are very low when I am on an adventure. I attribute part of this fact to being in a state of intense sensory stimulation while traveling that keeps me grounded in the present moment. Travel is a feast for the senses: scenery, colors, native tongues, music, textiles, chicken buses, tuktuks, stench, spices, foods, and flavors, newness all around.

It is long supported that human sensory experiences are linked to memory. What small details does your vacation rental offer to create a signature sensory memory in the mind of guests? Yes of course the view, the clean bathroom, but how about other small sensory experiences beyond sight? How do you tickle your guests’ sense of smell, delight their sense of taste, excite their sense of touch, and arouse their sense of hearing?

#12 butchering chicken for dinner (1)

I have had the pleasure of experiencing several sensate charms that I have carried with me around the globe:

-The smell of the fresh milled soap at Grand Tikal Futura in Guatemala City, our Spanish was not that great and we were asking the housekeeper for “más sopa, más sopa?” translated more soup, not more soap! We wanted a few extras to take home with us!

-The fresh squeezed, room temperature orange juice offered on a silver tray while waiting to check-in at La Inmaculada in Zona 10 in Guatemala City.

-The chunky, not too sweet, owner made jams served for breakfast at El Tesoro del Elqui in Pisco Elqui, Chile.

-All of the crazy sounds coming out of an antique kalliope music box played by the owner at the Cedar Beach Inn, in Door County, WI.

-Butchering a chicken for dinner at the Historic Farmhouse in Rift Valley, Gilgil, Kenya. I got to see the chicken’s ovary and all of the eggs soon to be released, interesting stuff!

As a vacation rental owner, you want guests to remember their stay with you, for booking return visits or to recommend your property to others. You want guests to leave behind stress and anxiety, be grounded in the beauty of their vacation and your amazing rental. Are you thoughtfully offering guests experiences that touch all five of their senses multiple times over?

This post was written by Cori Hildebrandt, avid traveler and psychotherapist.

Cori Hildebrandt

8 Tips for Repeat Stays: Family Edition

This post was written by Volo for Dwellable.

Catering to families is probably one of my favorite vacation rental niches. Not just because I have two kids that travel with me a lot, but because of the connections that deepen and the memories that are created during those times.

That is what this industry is (or should be) about! Connections to something, someone, somewhere.

Most vacation rentals that are “family friendly” are actually pretty generic; generally a larger home (3+ bedrooms with a couple of bathrooms), are central to tourist draw of the given area, and may offer a few recreational activities.

While a foosball table and pool are great to have, there are many more opportunities to take a thoughtful approach to creating a family-friendly experience and making your rental a magnet for a specific guest.

“Obsessively specialize. No niche is too small if it’s yours.” Seth Godin

First, start looking for gaps. Who is catering to families in your market? What type of property are they offering? What’s missing?

You don’t have to have a large home to build a killer family experience. Understand what type of family you are catering to (or that needs to be catered to); a large, extended family or a young one with a toddler or two? Or maybe you have the ability to cultivate a family experience by appealing to an ethnic group? All can cater to families, but are extremely different experiences.

Regardless of the experience, there are some mandatory basics for “family friendly” rentals; safety items like a pool gate (if you have a pool) and hard-to-travel-with items like a portable crib, highchair and basic linens.

If you want to crush the competition, you have to step up your game from the basics. Even if you are on a tight budget, your guests will love the thoughtfulness. They will talk about it and probably even post pictures on social media (be sure to provide the appropriate links to be tagged). Some ideas:

Arrival snacks: I love my kids dearly but sometimes they can become pretty annoying after a long day of travel. Especially when they are “hangry.”

Taking into consideration that most kids, of all ages, are a hot mess by arrival, providing an assortment of healthy and kid-friendly snacks is an amazingly warm welcome for parents and kids alike.

Kids Welcome

Depending on the ages you attract, a fruit assortment with some juice boxes or Horizon milk singles is great. Complete the care package with a unique itinerary and small toys for kids to play with during their stay.

If you’re short on ideas, Pinterest never fails! ☺

Games! There will always be down time at your rental for guests. Some of it by choice, other times because of illness, fatigue or because of inclement weather. Additional activities are key when disaster strike.

Books, DVD’s and toys are great go-to’s. We turned one of my clients’ lofts into a rainforest themed Lego Land. Décor was complements of Ikea, so it was awesomely inexpensive. The walls were painted in chalkboard paint, classic books covered the shelves, and beanbags littered the floors.

When parents presented rental options to their kids, do you think this house was at the top of the list? Never underestimate the power of a child’s opinion.

Above all, I’ve found that the best activities are board games! Risk is quite possibly the best game in the history of the world, in my opinion, but be sure to include games suitable for all ages. I particularly love those that engage an entire family and create a good ‘ol fashioned connection.

Extras: Paying attention to details and being ample with extras are what make a good vacation rental great. Especially if there are kids! Kids are messy, they get sick, and they have different needs. More often than not, families need a true home away from home:

a. Linens: Provide extra sheets as no parent wants to wash a load at 2am if someone gets sick. Same holds true for towels, throw blankets, and pillows. Complimentary detergent (and other cleaning supplies) is also a plus if you can fit it into your budget.

b. To-do lists: have unique itineraries available! Both for nearby attractions and those requiring a small/medium length drive. You know the area best (hopefully), so share it along with tips and tricks you’ve picked up being a “local” (buying discounted passes, for example).

c. Kitchen: Stock your kitchen so a family can cook, and eat, a proper meal. This is one of the foremost reasons for choosing a vacation home. Unfortunately, so many kitchens I visit are devoid. If you’re going to spend money on one room, make your kitchen amazing.

This post was written by Kris Getzie.

Kris Getzie Hospitality Consultant

Vacation Rental Nightmares & How to Avoid Them

This post was written for Tripping by Volo.

There are a lot of vacation rental horror stories online: from guests refusing to leave, to being sued for an accident, or even nasty reviews. Although I’ve personally never experienced a circumstance needing legal intervention (knock on wood), there have been a handful of instances over the years where I was happy to have a solid plan of protection in place.

Legalities are important, and they’re something I cannot adequately speak to. Max Neuhaus, a real estate attorney, has chimed in with some advice to help you properly start your vacation rental business:


Consumers that are “guests” subject to vacation rentals are typically going to have more legal rights than consumers that are subject to other kinds of rentals, such as car rentals or commercial real estate rentals. The only way to be sure your rental contract is protecting you to the fullest is to consult with an attorney licensed in the jurisdiction where your vacation rental is located.

I always advise my business clients as follows: “I know the law, you know the industry. Tell me what you want, and I’ll tell you if it’s legal.” So let’s take some specific vacation rental issues below and see what the law has to say.


First, make sure your lease specifically spells out in easy-to-understand terms what the consequences will be. Consider a provision in your contract that includes a promise that you will call the authorities to have the guest forcibly removed. It is likely that enforcement will consider a guest that has overstayed their welcome an illegal trespasser, and the authorities will forcibly remove them.

That said, be careful that you are not advertising your vacation rental as “residential housing.” If you do so, the trespassing guest may be able to convince the authorities that they are actually tenants. In most cases, a tenant can only be removed by legal eviction, which could mean weeks if not months before the guest would be required to leave.

From Kris: I’ve never personally met someone who this has happened to. Don’t let the thought scare you from starting a vacation rental business. Do consider a provision, as Max suggested, so you are protected from an anomaly.

If you have personally had a guest refuse to leave, I’d be interested to hear the situation and how you resolved the issue in the comment section below!



Make sure your contract clearly states the circumstances where a guest is and is not entitled to a refund. Be careful when you use the word “guarantee” in your advertising. The difference between “you’ll love seeing the whales” and “we guarantee you’ll see whales” is the difference between good advertising (the first) and a legally enforceable promise you are guaranteeing as the owner (the second).

When guests are not entitled to a refund due to unforeseen circumstances, this is called a “force majeure.” It’s a French phrase adopted in American law that literally means “superior force.” If, for example, the municipal water plant has an emergency shut down causing you to close your vacation rental, it will be likely that a displaced guest will not be legally entitled to a refund. Granting a refund would, of course, still be a voluntary option for the owner.

From Kris: My personal contracts are pretty buttoned up to protect me. However, I do objectively look at each situation to determine if I should give a refund.

A guest once booked one of my homes for two weeks in the off-season at a very reasonable rate. Unbeknownst to me, the neighbor had planned a full exterior remodel and landscape project at the same time.

Needless to say, there was a lot of dust, noise, and commotion that irritated the heck out of my guest. Although she didn’t ask to be released from her reservation (nor was I legally liable to release her), I offered it and refunded her payment on a prorated basis. I couldn’t take the thought of getting another phone call from her without being able to remedy the situation. I just don’t want anyone to be miserable at my property.

A different scenario: Some guests’ business plans changed, they cancelled their reservation four days prior to arrival and asked for a refund. Of course, I also had no obligation to refund them but offered to accept last-minute bookings and refund IF rebooked. It didn’t get rebooked, and I did not refund. After all, this was peak season and I was running a business. They understood and appreciated my efforts.

Both guests mentioned above have referred their friends and returned themselves.

It goes without saying that there are people who you just cannot please, even if you have gone above and beyond. Don’t let the fear of a negative review push you into refunding when it’s not necessary.


As a general rule, the larger the population base of the area in which your vacation rental is located, the more likely there are to be additional county and or city regulations you will have to follow. Additionally, you should verify if there are any environmental regulations you should be aware of by contacting your local United States Department of Agriculture office as well as your local Department of Natural Resources office.

Kentucky Capitol

From Kris: The most common regulations I come across are the need for a business license and charging a transient sales tax. Many owners think that if their vacation home is personally used for a portion of the year that they do not need to do either. However, that is often far from true. In many instances, if the vacation home is rented out for more than a mere 14 nights per year, a license and applicable taxes are required. This is a great time to loop in your accountant for a personalized approach and set up a separate business checking account. (More on that in the next post!)


A rental owner’s first line of defense against liability is almost always going to be to insure against the loss. How you calculate your risk is typically a conversation you have with your insurance agent outside of the counsel of your attorney.

The second most common form of liability protection is for the owner to transfer their interest in the subject real estate into a business entity that is owned by the owner, and with that, modifying all contracts accordingly. In doing so the liability of loss falls on the business and is limited to the assets of the business.

From Kris: There can be tax benefits and consequences to putting your vacation home into an LLC (business entity referenced above), depending on your situation. It doesn’t hurt to consult an accountant before doing this.

Max Neuhaus is a business, family and real estate attorney practicing in western Wisconsin, and has served as corporate council for a number of realtors, real estate companies and real estate managers over the years. You can contact Max by visiting him and his law firm at

Expert Tips For Vacation Rental Photography

This blog was written for by Volo.

Vacation rental photography is one of the most important ways to engage potential guests and sell your vacation property. Check out these expert tips and get more bookings today.

In my recent post about naming your vacation rental, we discussed how important it is to consider everything when building your brand. Every aspect of your website (or listing ad, for those getting started!) needs to be consistent and engaging. By doing so, you will easily begin to convert more bookings.

This includes, but is not limited to, thoughtful copy, which sells your experience, and your vacation rental photography. You have three seconds to capture the attention of your guests and photography is the easiest lever.

Rocky Maloney Park City Photography

This isn’t groundbreaking information, but important enough for me to compile a list of most frequently asked questions regarding vacation rental photography. Rocky Maloney, known as Park City’s “Best Architectural Photographer” (a near impossible title to earn for the discerning demographics in our area) has graciously answered our questions!

For best results, I always recommend hiring a pro for your vacation rental photography. You will easily earn your money back with just a couple extra nights booked!

1. How do you capture tiny spaces (like a coffee nook or dark bathroom)?

Photographing small spaces comes down to using the right type of lens, and getting creative at times. I use a Canon 16-35mm L Series lens, which is pricy but you pay for what you get! Sometimes bathrooms are really hard to photograph because of mirrors and reflections, so you have to make sure you or your camera doesn’t end up in the photo. Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid and you will have to learn how to get rid of the reflections in Photoshop.

To avoid grainy images, you will have to shoot at the proper ISO, and aperture, which are basic concepts for a professional. Shadows are sometimes unavoidable during daytime, with the light shining through all the windows, so like I mentioned previously sometimes you have to get creative!

2. Those beautiful dusk exterior pictures, are they hard to get right?

Dusk or twilight images are tough to capture if you don’t know the timing. It all comes down to the short 15-20 min period just after the sunset. If you have the timing right, and everything in the image works out perfectly, the lights from the home will pop, the colors are still saturated and you get that beautiful twilight blue sky.


These are my favorite type of photographs to capture because everything pops so much more and it’s such a dramatic look, especially when you get some interesting clouds in the sky!

3. How important is correct lighting in vacation rental photography?

The interesting thing about my technique is I use only natural light. There are a few different styles you can shoot with that produce different looks. I know a few people who shoot with strobes inside a home, but honestly, it just becomes such a hassle. I have gone through a couple different styles to get to the point I’m at now and the style that I have developed, which is like a Chef working on a recipe and tweaking things every time to make it just right.

4. Do you stage homes?

Personally I don’t. I always have to remind people that I am a photographer not a stager. I will move around certain things to make the room look right, however I like to go into a home and concentrate on the reason I’m there… which is to shoot the best photos I can without being distracted too much.

From Kris: When hiring a pro, it’s important to understand what is included in their services. Some photographers will stage, while others do not. I personally prefer to stage my vacation rentals, or those for my clients, as I (not the photographer) have spent a lot of time developing a very special experience and want that clearly represented (branding!).

5. How do you assess the architecture so that your images bring the house to life in each frame?

Angles. It’s all about angles and getting the most in a photo. Find interesting lines in the ceilings and walls that help give detail. In large open floor layout homes you want to showcase how the rooms flow into each other. Finding what really makes the room lively and find different angles focusing on that. Architects are artists too; it’s our job as photographers to showcase that.

Park City Utah Vacation Rental Photography

6. Is it possible to get hi-res images from a point and shoot?

Absolutely its possible! A lot of point and shoot cameras these days are anywhere from 13-20 megapixels, which means you have a big sensor to be able to work with. They also provide features such as “HDR” and “Twilight” to give you the same effect.

You can edit those files just the same way as you can a DSLR camera, the point and shoot cameras also shoot HD video which is another benefit. They are more affordable and easier to use for the everyday person that doesn’t have time to learn photography, or the money to hire a professional.

7. Is there a best time of day to take the images?

I feel like the twilight time is the best. You don’t have bright shadows and sunshine coming through the windows. The colors are more true to what they actually look like. Like I mentioned previously, during the twilight shoots you only have a certain period of time to get the photos before all the windows go completely black and you can’t see the views.

It also depends on if the home has those unbelievable views. If so, you want to consider shooting daytime so you can see those views out the window better. I feel like every home has its special time where the light is perfect, but ultimately, twilight is the all-around best time to photograph.

8. How to hire a pro? Average costs? What should be included in the cost?

Just remember just because someone owns a camera doesn’t make him or her a photographer. Architecture photography takes a lot of skill and a long time to get down. Unfortunately, not everyone can do it. I only started shooting real estate about 3 years ago and to this day I’m still developing my style, skill, and talent.

You pay for what you get, if you want to hire someone for $50 to shoot your home the photos might not be the best. I charge anywhere from $300-$500 per home pending on the size, and what time of day, twilight shoots being more because of the timing and the fact those photos are more difficult to capture.

If you plan on hiring an in-house photographer and you are going to pay salary, respect that not a lot of people can do what we do and we deserve to be paid for the talent we have. Its more rare to have a talented photographer than you think.

From Kris: I have worked in a lot of markets, hired a lot of photographers, and also taken a lot of photographs myself. While Rocky’s prices hold true for many upscale markets, I’ve found it possible to find talented photographers for $150+, depending on the location. I would fly Rocky to all of my client projects, if budgets allowed, because I truly think his work is that differentiated (do yourself a favor and look through his real estate portfolio).

I wholeheartedly agree with him that you cannot hire the first and cheapest “pro” you find. Take time to look through their portfolio, understand what experience you are creating, and make sure they match… it’s an art in and of itself to get all the pieces to work together.

Architecture Photography

9. Do you do a lot of post editing?

Everything I shoot goes through post-editing. I put all my images into a HDR procession program, and then do basic editing like straightening lines, brightness/contrast, fix coloring, and Photoshop out and reflections of yourself, your camera or anything unsightly.

It typically about an hour / hour and a half of post work per home. The biggest thing we have to deal with is all the yellow orange colors the light bulbs produce.

Contributor to this post is Rocky Maloney, Park City Utah photographer.

Rocky Maloney

Authentic Travel | Estancia Ranquilco | Patagonia

This post on authentic travel and experiencing Estancia Ranquilco, a 100,000 acre ranch in Patagonia, for one month was written by Cori Hildebrandt. Her previous post: Gathering Pearls of Joy

For those of you just tuning in, the purpose of my solo travels through South America was to find myself again. To live again. I gave up my corporate work and a long-term relationship to seek authenticity and connection again, something more and more of us lack everyday.

Changing locations every few days can be exhausting on a long backpacking trip so I decided to volunteer for a month on a 100,000 acre ranch in Patagonia. It was a break and made the ranch experience affordable!

Journeying from Buenos Aires involved a 20-hour overnight bus ride that landed in Zapala, then 3 rough dirt road hours in a truck to Buta Mallin, followed by another 3 hours on horseback. My company was another volunteer from London and our escort, the owner of the ranch.


What is more authentic than soot stained hands, stroking their calluses, and sneezing from your dusty leather boots? The feeling of swinging an ax, that is half your size, with confidence using a technique taught to you by a sweet 18-year-old girl. Gulping the few precious cans of lukewarm brewskies with your best buddy while you head out back to chop more wood?

All in hopes of enjoying a hot shower after a very long day of ass-kicking manual labor… Before there were electric and gas water heaters, they were powered by wood. You worked for your warm shower

What is more authentic than having a horse bite you in the tush while you hold up its hoof, so a stocky, singing gaucho can trim it with a machete? Sergio was a man who floated when he walked, he was solid and capable, but only graced the earth. I think because he was more a part of the earth than most men.

All he needed to survive was his horse, his dogs, and his facón, gaucho knife.

What is more authentic than learning to make alfajores on a wooden butcher block counter harvested from the land, watching the Trocoman River flow below through the panoramic kitchen window?

Gathering the necessary items from the root cellar pantry. No refrigeration, no electric or gas appliances. Rolling out the lemon scented dough, baking the cookies in a cast-iron wood-burning stove, and filling them with dulce de leche that was imported 3 hours, thanks to either a horse or mule.

I wish I had a picture because they were stunning. And they were served to Ted Turner and his guests who were visiting Estancia Ranquilco.

Estancia Ranquilco

Estancia Ranquilco

What is more authentic than racing the setting sun to the top of a mountain on horseback, all in hopes of being able to see the trail down the other side of the mountain to the puesto, Buta Mallin?

We did not make it, but luckily the horses knew the way. We traveled through complete darkness; the mountaintop blocked the moon. Imagine such a wide-open sky, in the middle of Patagonia, not being able to see your hand in front of your face. Your horse stumbling along on the rocky path.

All to find your destination where you slept in a one-room dirt floor puesto with several other people on the floor with no heat and not enough blankets.

Luckily the yerba mate was flowing before heading out in the morning.

What is more authentic than taking off your dusty boots and dressing up, feeling pretty to head to a birthday party celebration, unwinding on the veranda overlooking the Trocoman River, the red wine flowing, dancing with gauchos, goat roasting on a spit over the fire?

Getting busy in a sleeping bag, under a tree, next to a horse corral, on top of goat hides, gazing up at a sky filled with more stars than you ever knew existed.

What is more authentic than learning to skip rocks from a NYC guy on the Trocoman River?

Being successful at skipping rocks! Making a rock skip several times across the water seemed so rewarding and impossible prior. To celebrate, we hopped in the burning sauna, sweated it out, and then plunged into the frigid river. Exhilaration. Every cell of me screaming. Alive. Living.

Estancia Ranquilco was a magical, has-been sort of place. You were sheltered from the sounds of electricity and gas-powered engines. Most days were filled with doing what you needed to do to survive. It was lovely, beautiful, annoying, always surprising, lots of hard work, and often my heart aches to return.

Like many things, you do not understand what you had until it is past.


Just like when I travel, modern travelers seek an authentic vacation experience, where they can explore, and tap into a sense of local community. There was an authenticity about my Ranquilco experience that resonated with my soul.

What authentic experiences are you offering your guests?

Pat 1

9 scarf

Uruguay is Love.

I often talk about the importance of personalizing your guests stay. In part, understand what their needs are but also never be afraid to show your unique perspective on your community. No one can duplicate your experience! Checkout Cori’s latest blog on her South America trip…

I spent three relentless weeks in the Buenos Aires heat, surrounded by 16 million people. When I say relentless, you would know what I mean if you have ever been to Retiro Bus Station. Avoid that place at all costs, book online. I was primed for an escape and that escape included a pearl of joy moment.

Speeding down the Parana River Delta from Tigre, we were full force ahead aimed for Uruguay. I needed a vacation from my vacation. Something about the movement, the breeze, the wind blasting my face, forced down my throat and my hair whipping my face in every which way- felt like traveling. This felt like living, this felt like heaven and freedom all wrapped up in one. A river of dark, murky water encircled me, it was intoxicating. Sexy. I was in love with this moment.

A few days and a variety of boats, ferries, and buses helped transport us to Punta del Diablo, a small surfing village on the South Atlantic Ocean. In this one main dirt road town, we luckily stumbled upon La Casa de las Boyas and its owner Fabio Ganzola. Fabio’s the kind of guy that you cannot decide if you would rather have him as your father or your lover.

La Casa de las Boyas

La Casa de las Boyas

He’s a real cool cat. He is a nurturer, an adventurer, a proud Uruguayan and an excellent host. We were more than happy to be Fabio’s guests at his beach house. Being Fabio’s guests had many perks. For dinner, he would ask what each of us wanted and then source it fresh from the local market, bring it back to the hostel, and grill it up all while we lounged on the deck drinking, talking, and connecting with people from around the globe.

One afternoon he invited a handful of us, one American, one Canadian, one Israeli, one Swiss, to join him on a tour of the area in his truck. We literally drove over the rocky shoreline to get the best views possible of vacant, sprawling beaches and waded in Laguna Negra, a black lake.

Not falling in love with the natural beauty of this part of Uruguay is impossible, especially when experiencing it through the eyes of a native. Fabio offered an unheard of amount of personal attention and guidance to us. I will forever think fondly of Uruguay, La Casa de las Boyas, and its owner.

This blog is written by Cori M. Hildebrandt | Volo Blogger, Globe-Trotter & Therapist