We took a side-trip to Hosteria Izhcayluma in Vilcabamba, Ecuador based on the recommendation of a fellow traveler who we met in Montanita.
I knew I was splurging when I chose the Huagra Corral. My thought was that it would be better to stay on the ground of the Cotopaxi National Park, to enjoy the peace and solitude – after being in Quito – than to stay at the nearest town (Latacunga) and have to get taxis or buses to and from the park.
I’ve just returned from my annual work conference in Las Vegas. As with last year, my husband and children joined me for part of my stay. Last year I chose to stay at the MGM Signature to be away from casinos and for the condo accommodations. This year, we all stayed at the Bellagio – where I was working – and I actually got to see more of my family during the day. My room at the Bellagio was paid for by Virtuoso.
During my stay, I didn’t really get a chance to explore the whole property or try out, for example, the award-winning Spa Bellagio which I would have loved to do. Some of the hotel features jumped out to me as a plus for a family, but just to ensure that there wasn’t something I’d missed which is worthy of a mention on a family travel blog, I contacted the MGM PR office (the Bellagio is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MGM Resorts). In an email exchange MGM Resorts, acknowledged that even though “many of our visitors are families traveling with children, we typically do not market our resorts as family-friendly destinations”. Fair enough. Full steam ahead with my own personal take on this property so.
Bellagio Layout, Design and Ambiance
My least favorite thing about Las Vegas hotels is that you typically have to walk through the casino floor to get to the rooms. My perception is that this is less painful in the Bellagio than in other hotels. It’s a quick walk from the front desk (and the beautiful atrium) to the guest elevators. Given that this is also the route to the “O” theater, this is a busy walkway where it’s not uncommon to pass strollers and groups touring the hotel. Your eyes are equally as likely to be drawn to the glass art pieces as the activity on the casino floor.
Bellagio Las Vegas Accommodations
My room at the Bellagio was a spacious Queen Room with two queen beds and a huge bathroom with a shower and a soaking tube. The beds were ultra-comfy. Honestly. Our kids were supposed to share a bed but since they’re just at the age where “I can’t share a bed with my brother” is becoming a regular complaint when we travel, BigB usually went to sleep in a nest made of pillows on the floor. I thought about ordering a roll-away bed, but since they weren’t complaining it didn’t seem necessary. I have two gripes about the rooms at the Bellagio: the Bellagio branded bath products were great, but the soap was very drying – not inconsquential when you’re in skin-drying air conditioned rooms all day; secondly in-room internet access is available at an additional fee of $15 per device per day! (Such charges are something I’ve ranted about on this blog before).
Bellagio Hotel Family Features
I spent my first afternoon at the Bellagio by the pool (that was one of only two times when I actually got to the pool during my entire stay!). The thing that struck me the most and which prompted me to write this review was how much more suitable the Bellagio pool area is for families than the MGM Grand (where we stayed last year). There wasn’t a lazy river, but also there were no buckets of beer or couples pre-mating – or, at least, none that I saw.
The excellent gelateria by the main entrance to the pool was a favorite spot where I met my family during my work day to say “hi” and also have some excellent gelato. Next to the gelateria, so neatly tucked away that you’d easily miss it, there’s a kid’s arcade. My kids disappeared. CAM was fascinated at the game selection in the arcade “a kid’s casino” he called it, explaining that all the games in the arcade were games of chance to fit with the casino location. Funny how kids notice weird details that you or I might not pick up on.
The Bellagio’s Conservatory and Botanical Garden is a stunning interior feature of the hotel. If you want your child to feel as if he has walked on to the set of Alice In Wonderland, plan to visit this – regardless of where you’re staying in Las Vegas. The conservatory is free and open 24 hours daily. Similarly, the Bellagio Fountains mesmerized my children every evening. A sound-and-water show is always fun, but this one has 1,200 dancing fountains on a lake of more than 8.5 acres of water. The music varies from opera to Sinatra, but the display is always worth watching – and it’s free too. Saving the best to last, the Bellagio has one more out-of-this-world display which is free and will enthrall you and your children: the chocolate fountain at Jean Philippe Pâtisserie. This 26 feet, 3 and 3/16 inches fountain circulates nearly two tons of melted dark, milk and white chocolate at a rate of 120 quarts per minute and is certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest chocolate fountain. That’s Vegas!
Dining At The Bellagio
The Bellagio is the only hotel in the country with two AAA Five Diamond restaurants, not that any hungry, grumpy child will care. The food at the Bellagio is nothing short of sumptuous, but it’s expensive – even BigB was shocked to learn that a croissant at the cafe by the pool was almost $5. That said, we found Circo a perfect choice for our family. This upscale Italian restaurant has a great view of the fountains and although the menu has plenty of interesting options, you can also get a plate of plain spaghetti for your picky eater. The staff were friendly, accommodating and very patient. My husband chose the Prix Fixe menu and I the Lobster Gnocchi (see note on patient staff above). All of the dishes we sampled were beautifully presented, contained interesting and unusual flavor combinations or food preparations and were delicious down to the last bite.
Photo Credit: opalsson
In the past couple of years as we’ve been preparing for our family world trip, we’ve been trying out bits and pieces of our planned travel style from traveling with backpacks using public transit to, most recently, staying in hostels. We’ve done this to introduce our children to this style of travel (or remind them of it) and to verify to ourselves that it’s possible to travel like this as a family. This past April we did a mini (four-day) road trip in Ireland staying in hostels. From that experience here are four things to remember when planning to hostel with kids.
1. Hosteling With Kids – Yes You Can!
Sure, hosteling may be something you think of as something for young, single, twenty-somethings, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t enjoy this experience with children. The first step is to be sure that staying in a hostel is right for you and your children. I know I wouldn’t have attempted this when my kids were younger because they wouldn’t have settled at night-time and hence I wouldn’t have been comfortable or slept a wink. At nine and 14, the shared-room, shared-kitchen environment of a hostel was a novel and fun experience for my boys (I don’t think they realize yet that they’ve got a year of this ahead of them!).
2. Research Family Friendly Hostels
All hostels are not created equal and you need to do your research in advance. Read property reviews – and read in between the lines, if every review talks about the party scene that property may not be a good choice for your family. Many hostels have more room options than the standard single-sex dorm room configuration. Two, three and four-bed rooms are great for families – preferrably with an ensuite bathroom. Look for properties with laundry facilities, reduced lock-out hours and plenty of common space.
3. Hostel Prices Are Right For Families
It’s tough to beat hostel prices even if you’re paying a premium for a “family suite”. Keep in mind that prices are typically per-person, per-night rather than per-room which can mean that the total cost for a family of four may be similar to the room rate at a local three-star hotel. That said, the hostel’s kitchen facilities will help keep your budget in check.
4. Children And The Hostel Community
My kids do chores at home. We may fight over when and how they do them, but there’s a definite requirement that everyone in the household pitches in for regular tasks such as post-dinner clean-up and laundry. If we were staying in a rented house or apartment (as we have many times) I would expect my boys to help out. When we stayed in hostels it wasn’t a big deal for all of us to help keep the shared community and kitchen spaces clean – and the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic aspect of staying in a hostel added an educational dimension to the whole experience.
I’ve used HostelBookers.com and HostelWorld.com to research hostel properties. The booking engines on both of these website allow you to specify your room preferences which is a handy way to know if options other than dorm rooms are available. If you have a favorite resource for finding or booking hostel accommodations, do let me know by leaving a comment below.
This is the second post in a series on easy family weekend getaways. With school in full swing and budgets tight, the dreaded stay-cation may be around for a while. This is my way of showing that you don’t need to turn your back on family vacations altogether, that mini-vacations in your own region can be fun and affordable. This guest post is by my friend Margaret who recently spent the weekend with her family in Westport, Washington.
If you live in the Seattle area, you have children (and maybe a dog), and you want to take a three-day weekend vacation during the school year, sometimes the thought of planning a getaway seems more trouble than it’s worth. But what if it could be easy? What if you could pack your car and drive two hours away, stay in a nice, roomy place with a view of the Pacific Ocean from your living room, a state park next door, and more sand dollars on the beach than your kids can fit in their pockets? And your dog can come, too. Would you do it then?
Everyone deserves a break from routine, and it doesn’t have to be a lot of work. When I discovered our kids had a four-day break from school this October, I decided to plan a little trip to the coast. The catch was that I wanted a place that could accommodate our family dog, and I knew we wouldn’t be relaxed in a cheap motel. After looking at a map of Washington, I decided to start my search in Westport, which looked like the shortest drive from the south Sound area. An internet search with keywords “Westport dog-friendly accommodations” turned up a number of links, but one caught my attention. A resort called Westport by the Sea, a condominium complex, offered a number of dog-friendly units for rent.
On the Westport By The Sea web site I was able to view detailed interior photos of each unit and a map showing the location of all the buildings. This set-up made it easy to select the best choice for our family, an oceanfront, second story, two-bedroom condo with a clear, beautiful view of the sea. The off-season price tag didn’t seem overwhelming, either. For $239 a night plus a standard cleaning fee, we stayed in “Baileys’ Surf Shack,” a nicely decorated and clearly treasured family getaway.
If that sounds expensive, consider that we didn’t eat a single meal out – we packed up our coolers and had a fully equipped kitchen waiting for us. We found every kitchen item we could have wanted, so cooking all our kids’ favorite foods was easy. And while $75 initially seemed a little steep for a cleaning fee, I understood why when we arrived. This place was nice, with granite counter-tops and down comforters and fluffy white towels and robes. We felt at home right away, which meant we could focus on the fun parts: walking the beach, digging in the sand, swimming in the heated pool, watching the waves as we played board games and enjoyed meals together. (For a less pricey option, a one-bedroom condo at $179/night still sleeps four, with a sleeper sofa in the living area.) There are usually a few more rules at this sort of accommodation (as opposed to a hotel), but this is the main benefit of condo vacations: you can take your family to a new place without rocking your world too much. That’s ideal when your kids have to make the transition back to school right away.
Some other attractions include the Westport Light State Park adjacent to the property. Grays Harbor Light Station is located here. One night we took a late evening walk into the park, on a path that led us into the middle of the dunes. Away from all the man-made lights, our kids got to see more stars than they ever see living in the city. We picked out all the constellations we knew and talked about how small we really are, living on this planet — a conversation we’d never have hanging out at home!
Another activity I brought along was a surprise, a ferris wheel Erector set (a Schylling product). Our two boys, ages 5 and 8, spent hours helping put it together. They liked receiving a “gift” on their trip away, and we enjoyed the peaceful view while working on a project together. Other hits were Yahtzee and Scrabble, which both came with the condo.
Family Weekend Getaways: Walla Walla
I stay in budget hotels. With kids. And, you know, it’s more feasible than you might think.
It’s much more common to see reviews for expensive resorts and luxury properties in travel magazines and on travel blogs than to see reviews for budget hotels. Sometimes I wonder who really has money to pay $250+ per night just for a room to sleep in on a family vacation. It’s not that I never stay at more expensive properties, I do, but for my family, that’s the exception rather than the rule – and that’s one of the reasons why we’re able to travel frequently.
Choosing budget accommodation for a family trip requires you think about your accommodation choice in a different way than if say, you were looking at staying at a four-star hotel on a beach somewhere. If we’re going to hit the beach to relax and reconnect and plan to laze about a pool or beach (i.e. stay around our accommodation) for most of the day, then a dingy hotel or condo would spoil the whole trip. If, however, we’re road-tripping, making one-night stops along the way, or staying somewhere for a long weekend which will be filled with outdoor activities during the day I always consider the budget option.
A budget hotel is cheap, that’s the benefit of the proposition. By saving money on accommodation, you can spend more on activities or maybe just travel more often. The potential down-side is that you may sleep on a sagging mattress, share your room with colonies of creatures you’d rather not ever see anywhere near your toes – not to mention crawling across them – and the cleanliness of the bathroom facilities may be questionable. Oh, and you may hear more of the conversations and nocturnal activities of the guests in the rooms around you than you ever really wanted.
But not all budget hotels are bad. In fact, most of them aren’t. Here’s three things I do when choosing a cheapie hotel to try to make sure we get a good room at a decent property:
Learn As Much As You Can About The Property In Advance
I read prior guest reviews on TripAdvisor; I ask friends who are familiar with the area; I Google the hotel name for information which may be on personal blogs; I review every detail on the hotel’s website – particularly the pictures. It was because of this that I discovered that the Budget Inn in Walla Walla (where we stayed this past weekend) had been recently remodeled. Our room was scrupulously clean with new beds, new carpet and a new flat-screen TV.
Make Sure You Have A Backup Plan
This maybe something as simple as taking the time before the trip to call a more expensive property in the area and verifying that there is availability on the night in question. Or checking out hotels in the surrounding area online before you travel. The point is to have spent even a little time thinking about what you’ll do if you arrive at your chosen hotel and discover it’s an absolute dump and that staying their might actually endanger your childrens health. Which also means that realistically you can’t plan to show up at 11:30pm at night.
Drive Away If Necessary
This happened to us this past summer. We were driving from Las Vegas to Santa Barbara and since we’d taken a fairly long stop during the day, we decided not to push on for Santa Barbara that night. We thought we’d be fine with a budget motel in one of the coastal towns just for the night but when we drove up the place was a disaster. We didn’t even bother getting out of the car but instead drove across the street to a Marriott for a pricier, but more secure night’s sleep.
If you’ve got any other ideas or suggestions for families looking to make their travel dollars stretch further this year by saving a little on accommodation, do leave a comment below.
Related posts and topics:
Family Weekend Getaways: Walla Walla
Sydney Harbor + Harbor Bridge
I’ll be traveling to Sydney with my boys (but without my husband) in November. We’ll be meeting a new family member – LittleL, who was born in July – for the first time. We were able to take advantage of Quantas’ sale earlier this year to pick up flights at a fairly reasonable price (~$600 each) but I didn’t start looking for somewhere to stay in Sydney until this month and now that I’ve finally sorted that out I can share my experience.
I’m a huge fan of staying in vacation rentals when I travel with my family. It’s proven to be a good way for us find holiday accommodation which is more suitable for a family than a standard hotel room. We usually look for a one or two bedroom property with a kitchen so we can have separated sleeping spaces (so everyone gets a better night’s sleep) and we have the option of eating in rather than having to pay restaurant prices for every meal. I’ve been able to find well-appointed properties with per-night rates similar to three or four star hotels in many locations world-wide.
For our trip to Sydney, I started my search with two constraints: the cost couldn’t be more than $150 – $200 per night and a property in Balmain – which is the neighborhood where my sister lives – would be ideal. Surprisingly, HomeAway.com, Vrbo.com and Rentalo.com had little or no vacation rental properties which met these criteria. When there is limited inventory with these familiar brands, I find that the next best thing to do is to look for a local (to your destination) property rental company. The trick is to find one for which you can find sufficient additional evidence showing that the company is a reliable entity from whom to rent. In this case, I found an Australian company, Rent-A-Home, which has a large selection of properties all over Australia. I’ve written before about tips for finding vacation rental accommodation. The Rent-A-Home website and the vacation rental property listings fulfilled all my criteria for clearly written property descriptions, full amenity listings, plenty of photos, customer reviews of properties and a responsive administrative staff.
But booking a property became an issue. As the New York Times reported last week, many American travelers are finding that it’s not so easy to use your credit card overseas any more. My experience with this booking highlighted a different aspect of using a U.S. credit card for a purchase in another country. When I tried to pay Rent-A-Home the deposit on my chosen property, my visa card was rejected multiple times. After the first time, head-slapping myself for stupidity, I called the bank. I verified to them that the charge wasn’t fraudulent and they said that Rent-A-Home should be OK to re-process the charge. It was denied again. This was very frustrating. I wondered if I would be having the same experience if the merchant name was a well-known hotel chain?
I was tempted to settle for a hotel room, but instead decided to try another credit card. I logged on to my American Express account and used their handy-dandy secure message center to send an email to Amex customer service informing them of my travel plans and the need to place a charge in AUD$ to book accommodation. I received a response within a day and attempted to pay Rent-A-Home again. This time the charge was processed immediately.
Sydney River View
We’ll be staying in a two-bedroom apartment across the harbor from Sydney’s Central Business District. We have spectacular views of the harbor (see the top photo in this post) and of the river (above). The cost is an affordable USD$175 per night. We’ll be right next to the new Ballast Point Park and a couple of blocks from the harbor ferry terminal. The ferry ride into downtown Sydney is seven minutes. Now that all the details are (finally, painfully) sorted out, I can start getting excited about the trip
If you have any suggestions for must-see attractions or activities in Sydney, leave a comment below.
The Bellagio was my home for a long week this past August. Well, it was my home from 6am until late every evening where I was working at the Virtuoso Travel Mart conference, but thankfully (for my sanity) I was actually staying at the MGM Signature. Since I was working, my trip to Las Vegas was fully paid for by Virtuoso. My husband and children planned their road trip around my conference so that we could have a couple of days together in Las Vegas before they continued their loop around the Western U.S.
I’d been to Las Vegas twice before but both times for less than 48 hours so until this trip, I really hadn’t explored the city at all – not even the infamous Las Vegas Strip. I had also never considered Vegas as a family destination and was really not sure whether I was ready to experience the sights and sounds of Las Vegas through the eyes of a teenage boy. What did the kids think? I think this video clip says it all…
In the four days I was in Las Vegas before my family arrived I couldn’t help but evaluate everything I saw through a fairly critical mom filter. I was abhorred by the street hawkers passing out business card-sized pictures of almost naked women. I’ve seen a lot of drunken behavior in my time, but it was particularly jarring to see families with young children in strollers sharing the street with groups of guys (and gals) who were far from sober – although still with beers in hand. I knew my boys would complain about the “nasty cigarrette smoke” in the hotels but I wasn’t sure how they would react to the lights and sounds of the casino floor.
The Las Vegas Strip is an expensive place to eat and drink and, in mid-summer, the lines at restaurants were long. I chatted to a local travel agent to get some ideas for off-strip dining. On my daily taxi ride from conference to hotel the taxi drivers provided plenty of ideas for family-friendly entertainments in Las Vegas while avoiding some of the seamier sights including the aquarium at Mandalay Bay and the Adventuredome at Circus Circus. Many of these drivers also lectured me on the many reasons why I shouldn’t bring my family to Las Vegas. “I didn’t let my children anywhere near the Strip until they were over 18”, “I don’t understand what people are thinking pushing strollers along the Strip late at night” were two comments I heard a number of times.
I chose to stay at the Signature at MGM Grand because with two growing boys a standard hotel room can feel pretty cramped. Instead, we had a spacious, one-bedroom suite with a full kitchen for $130 per night. This was fantastic value. In addition to large, comfortable rooms, the Signature is non-smoking and does not have a casino floor.
There is an air-conditioned walkway connecting the Signature to the MGM Grand for gambling, dining and entertainment. Although the Signature has three, small, private pools – one per tower – guests also have access to the extensive pool complex at the MGM Grand.
My family arrived late Wednesday and I had to work on Thursday so we really only spent one full day together exploring Las Vegas. We started with a buffet breakfast in the MGM Grand ($13.99/adult, $6.99 kids 4-12). I’m not a big fan of all-you-can-eat buffets since the food is generally mediocre and really, you can’t eat all that much more than you would at a standard meal. However, we’ve found that a buffet breakfast is a great way to start a busy day sightseeing with our children which sometimes means we don’t need to stop for lunch.
After breakfast we walked through the MGM Grand to New York, New York without going outside – which was a life-saver in the heat of the August sun. The kids got a kick out of the Jersey boardwalk area in NYNY – although they had no idea it was a simulated Jersey boardwalk. They could have spent a long time (and a lot of money) enjoying the array of kid-friendly games on offer but thankfully there was a rollercoaster to check out. If you like rollercoasters, you won’t be disappointed with this one. If, like me, you’d rather stick pins in your eyes than ever strap yourself into a cart which trundles at speed along a single, elevated track, hangs you off said track at odd angles and hurls you upside-down, you can commiserate with me as I pat myself on the back for having taken the ride with BigB. I consider it a very large deposit in my own parental karma bank.
So far, so good. We’d avoided the Strip at night entirely. The boys had walked around the casino floor as if it were the most normal thing in the world but hadn’t shown even the slightest inclination to check out any of the machines. Since we’d all enjoyed the Penn + Teller show the night before and were flagging after walking miles through casinos, we spent the afternoon at the MGM Grand pool complex. The kids had a blast. It was amazing: I was bothered by the groups of people lounging in the lazy river with buckets of beer, flirting and making out as if the future of mankind was at stake. My kids didn’t even notice. I guess a lazy river, a fake waterfall and a selection of pools was enough to entertain them to the exclusion of everything else. I retreated to my lounger and pondered on the conundrum of trying to protect a child from seeing something he or she doesn’t even notice.
All-in-all, Las Vegas was a success for us. Does that make it an ideal destination for every family? Probably not. If you’re considering a trip, I hope this post has given you some ideas for family-friendly activities – and a suggestion for an excellent place to stay.
I’m a huge fan of renting vacation properties directly from owners as an economical, affordable and sanity-preserving choice for family vacations. Sanity-preserving because I am a princess with regards to sleep in that I need my eight hours every night, no exceptions and that can be very difficult in a shared hotel room with two children – particularly when one of those children is a night-owl and the other an early-bird.
I recently helped a family member find a property for their upcoming vacation using Homeaway.com. My relative contacted me today expressing her satisfaction “for all my hard work”! I spent perhaps an hour researching and finding a property for them using a method I’ve practised many times when planning trips with my children. I’ve shared my steps below. Leave a comment and let me know if you agree, disagree or have any suggestions to improve this.
Research Neighborhoods At Your Destination
I use a guidebook for this step and if possible, I talk to someone who knows the area in question. In this case, I used the Lonely Planet Buy By Chapter service, picking up a couple of chapters of their guidebook for the state in question. I’ve found that it’s very useful to have some basic information on the neighborhoods in a city or the towns in a resort area before I start looking at property listings. If I can, I pick up a local map (or use Google maps) to get a feel for the geographic layout also.
Research Available Listings
With some information on the region you’re interested in at hand, browse through the property listings for that area. My current favorite site for this is Homeaway.com because I find their search tools very intuitive to use. Using their Advanced Search, I can search by keyword, property size, price, dates amenities and other criteria.
I use a $1,000/week price rule-of-thumb when browsing listings. Using this as my mid-point, I can scan for suitable properties at or around that price range as my starting point for further research. I’ve used this rule-of-thumb for a number of years while renting properties in various countries and so far I’ve had no problems finding comfortable, clean and usually pleasant houses and condos to rent. (See below for my math if you’re interested). It’s always great when I find that the properties at that price point are too big or too luxurious for my needs. If this happens, I re-start my search using a lower price point – usually dropping by $200 at a time.
The next criteria I use to cull the candidate property list is reviews. If there are no reviews for a property, I usually drop it from my list. If you really like the look of the property another option is to contact the owner and ask for reviews from previous customers.
Finally, I examine all the photos supplied critically. I expect there to be clear photos of the kitchen, dining areas, bathrooms and bedrooms. The absence of any photos of a room mentioned in the property description makes me suspicious. I love it when an owner includes a diagram of the floor plan however I have found that this is something usually not shown on the property listing but something which an owner will supply on request.
Contact The Owners
At this point you should have 3-5 properties which look interesting to you. The next step is to contact the owner and ask for further information. Many owners will have their own website on which they provide additional information on the property (and sometimes the area too) over what is shown on the bare listings on a service like Homeaway.com.
It’s been my experience that the more responsive the owner, the more likely it is that you will have found someone whom you can trust and from whom you can be comfortable renting. Owners who don’t answer enquiry emails or don’t answer your questions about the property directly in this research stage are not likely to be helpful if you have problems after you have arrived.
Repeat The Above Steps
At least until you’ve found a property and an owner which you think will work for you. This can sometimes take multiple concurrent conversations with a number of owners and sometimes it can take just one phone call. Keep in mind that your owner-direct vacation rental experience is likely to be more successful more quickly if you start to look early for popular rental periods such as high summer or winter holidays.
Additional Info: The Math Behind $1,000/Week Vacation Rentals
I don’t like to pay large amounts of money for the bed I sleep in when I travel, but I do like my bed to be clean. I love the ambiance and luxury – and room size – of a four or five star hotel, but the cost of such accommodations are generally well above my price range. So, stripped to bare bones, I did some research on the price of a bed in a hostel and in general, a private room in a hostel costs between $20 and $25 per night. Since there’s four of us, that’s $80 – $100 per night for the cheapest form of rental accommodation available or $480 – $600 per week. Pretty darn cheap – but it comes with very little privacy. I like having a private kitchen and bathroom and I love my kids having their own bedroom(s). Using $100 each as the value I put on each of these amenities gives a top-line price of $900 for a week for a family of four in a private house or condo, rounding up to $1,000 to account for extras such as air conditioning, cable tv and a cleaning service. As I say, using this as a starting point has worked for me for many years.