Posts for TRAVEL Category

What Happened to Instant Quotes?

TRAVEL - February 17, 2024

Have you noticed when you book a hotel or look at airline tickets they have different rates for each day and if you check back tomorrow, the rate may be different than it was today? This is known as “dynamic pricing” and has been quite common in the travel industry for many years. Recently, this technology became available to vacation rental owners as well.

At this time, approximately 50% of our listings display a rate table and about 50% are using dynamic pricing. Because the rates change frequently, we are not able to show the current rates on our website if they are using dynamic pricing. When that happens, you will see a message on our quote calculator to contact the owner for a quote. Some owners will display an overall range for their rates where the higher end is for peak (summer or high demand periods such as festivals) and the lower end is for winter or off-season rates.

In the future, we hope to integrate with those services to bring you more accurate pricing. In the meantime, please submit an inquiry to the owner for a quote. If you do not hear back from the owner within a reasonable time frame, please contact us and we will follow up with the owner to make sure they received your request.

About half of all our owners have a verified “Book Direct” website associated with their account. If you see the “Book Now (Owner Website)” button, you can safely go to their website for an accurate quote and the ability to book instantly, if desired. We have also started adding a listing specific link which will appear just below the photos (not all listings have this enabled yet but you can always use the red “Book Now” button). See image below:

Look for the Book Now links on most listings

The Alabama Gulf Coast in particular is in very high demand for the summer months. Holding out for a “last minute deal” usually backfires – prices tend to go up (way up!), not down, for last minute openings in June and July. If you are on a budget and your dates are flexible, we have great weather and good rates from mid-April to mid-May and the prices start going down again in mid-August. September is a terrific time to visit – the weather is still warm enough to enjoy the pool and it’s less crowded.

And remember, you are already saving up to 20% just by avoiding those high booking fees and site commissions charged by those “big sites” – your vacation dollar goes farther on AlaVHR! Each listing is individually owned and operated. All owners on AlaVHR are verified. Please contact the owners directly through the website for more information or to book. Good luck and have a wonderful vacation!

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February is #BookDirect Month on AlaVHR

TRAVEL, TRAVEL TIPS - February 3, 2024

February is Book Direct Month

February 7th is International Book Direct Day!!!! Here at AlaVHR, we celebrate #BookDirect Day everyday, but we thought we would take #BookDirect Day a step farther and celebrate the entire month of February!

What exactly is #BookDirect Day?

The “book direct” movement started in 2018 when the “big sites” like VRBO and AirBnB started charging ridiculous fees to travelers and hosts to advertise on their websites. These fees are now 20-25% of the total that the guest ultimately pays for their vacation. #BookDirect Day was created to educate travelers why they should book direct and how to do it safely.

When you “book direct,” you are going directly to the owner or property manager and cutting out the middle man. At AlaVHR, we connect you directly with owners and property managers with NO ADDED booking fees and NO site commissions! Owners pay us a small annual fee, and you, the guest, pay the owner directly. Super Simple and Super SAFE because we verify every owner that lists on our site.

You will see a lot of posts on social media or digital classifieds where someone is offering to let you book directly with them – be very careful! Scammers are real and all too common. It’s very easy for them to pretend to own a vacation rental and scam you out of a down payment or worse, the entire payment for a vacation. We hear stories of families traveling 8-12 hours only to find they have no place to stay! Don’t let that happen to you – learn the signs (check out our short video with real life examples here) and be sure to check first!

If you ever have questions about booking with one of our owners, Contact Us and we will be happy to look at it with you to verify you are communicating with the verified owner.

Besides saving money and not getting scammed, there are many other reasons to #BookDirect:

  • Direct communication between owners and guests. Do you have any special needs or concerns? Speed up your selection process by going straight to the source.
  • Local Expertise – Our owners know the area and can offer tips on where to eat or things to do. At AlaVHR, you can also call us directly for information about your next stay.
  • Best rates – You are automatically saving up to 20% off those “big sites” – the average family saves over $400 – yikes!! Think of all the FUN your family could have with that extra money!
  • Supporting local small businesses

So go ahead, #BookDirect with one of our Verified Owners on – you will be glad you did!

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How to Spot a Scammer – Updated for 2023


How to Spot Scammer ALAVHR Watch our video and learn how to spot scammers!

Article by Susan Forson, Owner,, first published June 29, 2018

How to Spot a Scammer

Vacation rental scams are not new, but they have recently increased in our corner of the world.  In July 2018, I received a frantic phone call from a traveler who arrived in Gulf Shores, suitcases in hand, and discovered that her family had been scammed out of their vacation rental.   She called me because we have a very active Facebook community where we help connect travelers with vacation rental owners.   I helped calm her down, and went through the scenario with her – yes, she had been scammed.   It is very difficult to prosecute these scammers but I did encourage her to contact her bank and to file a police report.   Fortunately, we were also able to help arrange a legitimate condo for her and her family to stay in.    It breaks my heart to hear such stories – and they are becoming all too frequent.

We issue many warnings and reminders in our groups about scammers, but this phone call spurred me to action.  I wanted to pull together what we have learned about scammers and make a video that you can share to educate travelers.

The bottom line is that no matter how careful you are, there is no way to prevent scammers from contacting you on Facebook or Craigslist.   The best line of defense is to learn when to be suspicious and always choose a payment option that provides fraud protection.  We cover all of these topics and even share real life examples from recent scams in our video.

Please take a few moments to learn how to spot a scammer and how to protect yourself – and please share with your friends and family.  The examples used in this video were reported to the Scammer Busters group.  Travelers may also contact us to ask whether someone has been reported or if you are not sure you are being scammed.

Facebook Profile Tips

  • Newly created accounts
  • Older accounts with very few photos or activities
  • Time stamps have been changed on photos
  • Profile and Timeline photos were BOTH recently changed, often at the same time
  • Account name does not align with URL version of account
  • Friends list not visible
  • Many foreign friends, particularly from Nigeria or other English speaking third world countries
  • If friends list is not visible, check to see who has “liked” or commented on photos – go back a month or more
  • Check which groups they belong to:
    • Are there a LOT of vacation rental groups scattered geographically?
    • Are they in mostly buy/sell groups?
  • What types of links are they sharing? Red flags are rental links from VRBO and AirBnB but the locations are literally all over the world.  Click the links – is there any consistency in who is the named owner or property manager?
  • Lately Scammers select listings that are through very large property management companies so that it is impossible for you to know whether they are telling the truth.
  • Claim to be a realtor – check the company they claim to work with.  Many scammers use the same fake company name
  • Claim to own their own property managemet company (Their Name Vacation Rentals), plus an “impressive” history of working for other vacation companies, such as AirBnB, VRBO, Vacasa, etc.  Some even claim to “work” for AlaVHR!

At Alabama Vacation Home Rentals, we are dedicated to stopping scammers.  We verify every owner that lists on our site and never charge booking fees or site commissions.    Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or concerns before booking with one of our owners.

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Top Reasons to Visit North Alabama

About the Region

The northernmost portion of Alabama is shaped by the Appalachian foothills and the Tennessee River. With dense forests and high bluffs overlooking the river, the region is particularly scenic and many Alabamians consider it the most beautiful part of the state. The region is also dotted with numerous lakes and spectacular natural features such as waterfalls and deep caverns. As with the central and Gulf Coast regions of Alabama, tourism is a major part of north Alabama’s economy, although the region’s largest cities, Huntsville, Florence, and Decatur, are primarily dependent on manufacturing. Known by many as the Tennessee Valley, the northernmost part of the state is blessed with remarkable natural beauty and biodiversity and its cities—Huntsville, in particular—are younger, better educated, and more affluent than many other parts of the state.

City Summaries

Though Huntsville is one of the oldest cities in the state, it only became a major economic engine during World War II. In a stroke of remarkable good fortune, the US Army missile research program, eventually named Redstone Arsenal, was established in Huntsville during the war. By the early 1960s, Huntsville was a central part of the space program thanks to the location of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center at Redstone. Decades later, Huntsville is still an integral part of the space program and generations of children have spent part of their summers at the center’s “Space Camp.” With a high concentration of engineers and scientists, Huntsville is, on the whole, a youthful, well-educated, and more diverse than many cities in the state.

ALAVHR has hundreds of vacation rentals across the state of Alabama

In addition to its world-famous Space Flight Center, Huntsville is home to numerous other attractions, especially for lovers of the outdoors. Nearby Monte Sano State Park is a great place to explore the natural beauty of north Alabama. Ditto Landing, in the city’s south side, is a great place to begin a day on the Tennessee River, whether boating, skiing, or fishing. Huntsville is also a city that appreciates the arts, and culture mavens can take advantage of the Huntsville Ballet, the Symphony Orchestra, and Lowe Mill ARTS and Entertainment, the largest privately-owned arts center in the United States. Huntsville may be a modern, technologically advanced city, but it hasn’t lost sight of its past. The history of both the city and the state can be explored at Alabama Constitution Hall Park and in the historic districts of Twickenham, Five Points, and Old Town. And if all of the city’s attractions and activities don’t leave you exhausted, it also boasts a vibrant nightlife with plenty of bars, breweries, and live music.

Located in a scenic spot along the Tennessee River and nicknamed the “River City,” Decatur has been shaped by the river. It began as a river crossing in the early 1800s and remains a hub of river transportation. These days, Decatur is known throughout the state for the Alabama Jubilee, one of the oldest hot air balloon races in the South, which draws tens of thousands of spectators and participants each year.

In the northwestern corner of the state are the “Quad Cities” of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, and Sheffield. It’s a particularly picturesque part of the state and an area rich in culture and history. The general Quad City area, which overlaps Lauderdale and Colbert Counties, is also sometimes referred to as “The Shoals,” which can be confusing for out-of-towners.

Of the Quad Cities, Muscle Shoals is arguably the most well-known, largely because of its role in the recording industry. FAME Studios opened in the 1950s with Muscle Shoals Sound Studio a few years later. Eventually a distinct “Muscle Shoals sound” developed. Some of the biggest names in popular music recorded in Muscle Shoals, including the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and Otis Redding, to name just a few. These are still functioning recording studios but they are also open for tours.

Florence, a stone’s throw from Muscle Shoals, has its own proud musical heritage. W.C. Handy, known as the “Father of the Blues,” was born in the city and a music festival in his honor is held in the area each year. As is fitting for a city named after the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is regarded as a small town arts center, with numerous galleries and museums, as well as the boutiques of two highly-regarded Alabama-based fashion designers.

Things to Do in North Alabama

ALAVHR log cabin interior
  • Northwest Alabama has more music history than some entire states. Take a look through Alabama’s rich musical heritage at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia
  • Unleash your inner science nerd at the Alabama Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville
  • Get retail therapy at one of the country’s most unique shopping venues—the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro. If an airline has ever lost your luggage, you might just find it here.
  • In Oakville, tour the museum dedicated to native son Jesse Owens, whose performance in the 1936 Olympics humiliated Hitler and the Nazis
  • In tiny Phil Campbell, Alabama, hike down into atmospheric and eerily beautiful Dismals Canyon, a National Natural Landmark
  • In Florence, see the Rosenbaum House, the only home in Alabama designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright
  • In northeastern Alabama, make a stop at De Soto Falls, one of the state’s loveliest spots and home to a state park
  • Who needs Aspen? Scenic Mentone, Alabama, is home to Cloudmont Ski Resort, the only ski resort in the state. Yes, there is a ski resort in Alabama.
  • Get away from it all with miles of hiking trails and scenic wonders near Albertville.
  • Enjoy boat life or take the family fishing on one of north Alabama’s pristine lakes including Guntersville, Wilson Lake, Lewis Smith Lake, Lake Martin and Lake Logan Martin.
  • One of the state’s more unusual attractions can be found in Cullman. Ave Maria Grotto is a four-acre, miniaturized version of some of the world’s most famous religious sites, such as St. Peter’s Basilica. A few secular miniatures were included for good measure.
  • Tuscumbia’s Rattlesnake Saloon has been featured in publications around the world, and with good reason. The watering hole is wedged underneath a large outcropping of rock, giving it a cave-like appearance. See what all the fuss is about.
  • Florence has its own unique dining venue—head up to the 360 Grille, a rotating restaurant perched in a tower overlooking the city.
  • Wander through north Alabama long enough and you’ll find all sorts of caves, gorges, and rock formations. Among the prettiest of these is Cathedral Caverns, home to the 45’ Goliath, reportedly the largest stalagmite in the world
  • Ivy Green, the birthplace of author and activist Helen Keller, is located in Tuscumbia and is open to the public
  • With waterfalls, caves, strange rock formations, and hundreds of miles of trails, Bankhead National Forest is a must for lovers of the great outdoors
  • Escape civilization for a bit at Huntsville’s Monte Sano State Park
  • Step back in time at the Alabama Renaissance Faire in—where else?—Florence, Alabama’s own “Renaissance City”
ALAVHR lake house in Florence
Charming lake house on Wilson Lake

Things to do within 60 miles of north Alabama

  • Tiny Pisgah, Alabama, is home to Gorham’s Bluff, an elegant Southern inn on a high bluff overlooking the Tennessee River
  • Lake Guntersville, the state’s largest lake, occupies an expansive 69,000 acres and offers all manner of water recreation as well as hiking and camping
  • A stone’s throw from the Tennessee line is a popular hiking destination known as the Walls of Jericho—a deep cave with a waterfall. Getting there involves a hike which is considered difficult.
  • Nearby Gadsden is home to Noccalula Falls, a scenic 90-foot waterfall surrounded by a 250-acre park
  • North Alabama is home to several covered bridges, including the Horton Mill Bridge near Oneonta, which is reportedly the highest covered bridge over any US waterway
  • Chattanooga is an easy drive from northeast Alabama and offers numerous attractions, including Songbirds Guitars, Ruby Falls, and the breathtaking Lookout Mountain
  • Take a tour of the Jack Daniels Distillery in nearby Lynchburg, Tennessee

How to get to north Alabama

  • Numerous Southern cities are within easy driving distance to north Alabama. The region is easily accessible by Interstates 65, 22, 20, and 59.
  • If you’re coming from farther away, north Alabama can be reached by flying in to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, Chattanooga Airport, or Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
  • Numerous taxis and shuttle services operate in the region’s larger cities, as do Uber and Lyft, but transportation within rural areas will likely be scarce.

When is the Best Time to Go to Northern Alabama?

There really are no bad times of the year to visit north Alabama. North Alabama gets the high summer temperatures that the rest of the state gets, but without the humidity, making the summer months pleasant. This is especially true at higher elevations. With a proliferation of flowering trees and shrubs, spring is a particularly lovely time in any part of the state. While Alabama will never get the spectacular fall color of New England, the northern part of the state unquestionably sees more of a change in the autumn months than counties farther south. After what can seem like an endless stretch of summer, renting a mountain cabin in north Alabama as the leaves began to change color and the evenings get cooler is one of the best experiences you can have in the state. Winters in Alabama are generally quite mild, but the northern part of the state is a bit of an exception to that rule. You’ll probably never need snowshoes there, but if snow falls anywhere in Alabama, it will typically be from Birmingham north. turn this

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Insider’s Guide to the Alabama Gulf Coast


Alabama Gulf Coast

Occupying slightly less than sixty miles at the edge of the continent, Alabama’s Gulf Coast is more varied than a first-time visitor might imagine. The beaches, less well-known than their Florida counterparts, are less populated with tourists and still look largely as nature intended. The tourists go there, to be sure—tourism is one of the state’s most important industries—but not in the kind of numbers that Florida sees. The result is a stretch of white shoreline dotted with colorful and historic towns in a part of the state that happens to be one of the most biodiverse regions in the United States. And with a culture influenced by French, Spanish, and English settlers as well as African slaves, Alabama’s Gulf Coast is a region not quite like any other.

City Summaries:

The largest city along the Gulf Coast of Alabama is Mobile, a port city located on the Mobile River and Mobile Bay. Founded by the French in 1702, the city’s look and feel is similar to that of New Orleans, but without the raucous elements and with a decidedly more family-friendly vibe. It was actually in Mobile that Mardi Gras began, and it’s still celebrated there, but Mobile’s festivities are definitely PG-rated compared those in New Orleans. In addition to its Mardi Gras celebrations, the city is famous for its springtime azaleas and its seafood, both of which can be found in abundance there.

Gulf Shores is the major tourist destination along the Gulf Coast, and has the most options in terms of accommodations. It’s popular for a reason—the Gulf of Mexico is warm and usually calm here, making it an ideal place for a lazy day by the water. But there’s more to the area than the beach. Nearby Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge offers a taste of what the region was like before development; sea turtles, egrets, and alligators outnumber tourists here. And every year in May, Gulf Shores is home to one of the nation’s most popular live music events, the Hangout Music Fest, which is held right on the beach.

ALAVHR Gulf Shores

Gulf Shores

Tourism was slower to develop in nearby Orange Beach, a small town coast. Here, the main attraction is The Wharf—practically a small town in itself—that features a movie theater, plenty of bars and restaurants, a marina, and a beachfront Ferris wheel that offers spectacular views of the water.  The Flora-Bama, a bar/entertainment venue/package store straddling the Florida-Alabama line, is a long-time favorite among locals and tourists alike.

For those who really want to escape civilization, the sparsely populated Dauphin Island offers pristine beaches and plenty of opportunities to explore nature, both in and out of the water. The island is also home to one of the state’s leading marine research facilities.


Historic Fort Morgan

There’s history along the Gulf Coast as well, and lots of it. Marking the entrance to Mobile Bay is Fort Morgan, which was built between 1817 and 1834 to defend the bay. It was near Fort Morgan, during the Battle of Mobile Bay in the Civil War, that Union Admiral David Farragut uttered the famously defiant phrase, “Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!”

Across the bay on Eastern Shore are the cities of Fairhope, Daphne, and Spanish Fort. One of the state’s loveliest and quirkiest communities, Fairhope began in 1894 as a “model community.” Today, the city maintains the free spirit that guided its early years and is home to numerous art galleries, boutiques, and the Grand Hotel, a beloved resort that served as a hospital during the Civil War. In recent years, a number of production companies have chosen Fairhope for film locations, most notably for the movie Get Out. Daphne shares some of the laid-back, slightly eccentric qualities of Fairhope. In addition to a variety of shops and excellent restaurants, Daphne is home to “jubilees,” unusual events when masses of fish, shrimp, and crabs become trapped in the shallow waters at the coastline, making easy pickings for anyone hungry for seafood. Spanish Fort, the smallest of the three cities, is home to Blakeley State Park, a Civil War battlefield, as well as the Alabama Oyster Trail.

Things to Do on Alabama’s Gulf Coast:

  • See pristine, undeveloped beaches at Gulf State Park
  • Get up close with wildlife at Gulf Coast Zoo
  • Get a bird’s eye view of the Gulf by parasailing over the water
  • Try the Flora-Bama’s signature Bushwacker drink
  • Explore some of the area’s shipwrecks, including the LuLu, which is now a marine habitat
  • Explore military history at Fort Morgan, Fort Gaines, and the USS Alabama battleship
  • Kayak some of the local rivers and bayous
  • Try your hand at deep sea fishing
  • Have a meal at Lambert’s, a restaurant famous for its “throwed rolls”
  • Take a stroll along Gator Alley Boardwalk in Daphne
  • Get your camera and take in the scenic views from the Fairhope Pier
  • Have dinner at Wintzell’s Oyster House, a Mobile institution
  • Try your hand at harvesting oysters in Wolf Bay and Longs Bayou with Sailaway Charters
  • Spoil yourself at the Grand Hotel’s indulgent spa
  • Try some local brews at Big Beach Brewing Company
  • Explore Mobile’s Africatown, a community settled by the last Africans brought into the US


Our listings

Things to do within 60 miles of the Gulf Coast

  • Cross the state line and sample the casinos in Biloxi, Mississippi
  • Indulge in some retail therapy at Foley’s Tanger Outlets
  • Explore Gulf Islands National Seashore in nearby Perdido Key, Florida
  • Take to the skies at the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival each May in Foley
  • Aviation buffs should take in a Blue Angels show from Pensacola Beach
  • For one of the region’s weirder traditions, check out the Interstate Mullet Toss at the Flora-Bama
  • See the South in full bloom at the lovely Bellingrath Gardens
  • Nearby Pensacola has a bustling arts scene with numerous museums and live music events
  • Get close to nature at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center
  • Learn about other cultures at the Pensacola Greek Festival each October
  • Witness the Blessing of the Fleet each spring in Bayou La Batre

How to Get to Alabama’s Gulf Coast

  • Numerous Southern cities are an easy drive from the Alabama Gulf Coast. The region is easily accessible via Interstate 90 and Interstate 65.
  • If you’re coming from farther away, the Gulf Coast is reachable from both Mobile Regional Airport and Pensacola International Airport.
  • Numerous taxis and shuttle services operate from the region’s airports and between its cities and resort areas.

Best Times to Go

For most people, summer is the ideal time to enjoy Alabama’s beaches. The beaches are typically their most beautiful in the warm months of summer. The water is warm and calm and it’s when many of the region’s festivals and outdoor events are scheduled. But it’s the peak season, meaning the crowds are larger and prices are higher.  Spring is another popular time of year to head to the coast, especially if you prefer warm—but not hot—weather. The coast is a popular place for spring breakers, and it can become crowded in mid-late March through early April.

The off-peak seasons of fall and winter can be surprisingly lovely at the coast. After Labor Day, the crowds gradually diminish, and it’s quite possible to have stretches of the beach to oneself in the cooler months. There is also the added perk of lower prices once summer ends.  Alabama’s winters are mild at the coast, meaning that—aside from the occasional hurricane—there really is not bad time to visit.

If you are ready to enjoy more and spend less on your next visit to beautiful Coastal Alabama, check out our website.  We offer hundreds of beach houses and condos to fit every size and budget – book directly with Verified Owners and never pay booking fees or site commissions. – The site you can trust!













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Eating Well on Your Beach Vacation

alavhr eat healthy fort morgan

Article by Guest Blogger, Deb Panos, first published September 16, 2016 here

As I sit here, working on a menu and developing a shopping list for our next beach vacation, it dawned on me.  Someone really needs to develop a comprehensive guide for planning meals at a beach (or anywhere really) vacation house or condo.  Maybe someone has already done it but I couldn’t find it so I nominated myself.  Keep in mind, this guide is really for those people that drive to their destination.  If you fly, it is a little harder to prepare to this degree.

So what was my motivation?

“At this point in the day, we are not much interested in showering and getting dressed to go out to dinner…”

When we go to the beach, our favorite time of day is sunset.  We take a few simple snacks, a bottle of wine and our beach chairs and sometimes sit on the beach and gaze at the horizon until well after sunset.  At this point in the day, we are not much interested in showering and getting dressed to go out to dinner.  Our kids are grown now, but when they were younger, it presented even more of a challenge.  Plus, typically we are staying off the beaten trail so going to a restaurant involves a 20 to 30-minute drive.  Not to mention the cost of eating out for a week.

“Planning ahead is crucial”

However, we are not a “box of pasta and jar of sauce” family.  I love to cook and my entire family loves to eat and appreciates good food.  Plus, when at the beach, we have access to fresh seafood (caught that morning) that we simply cannot resist.  Eating well on vacation, to us, enhances the experience tremendously.  I do realize that this approach is not for everyone.  Many people consider cooking a chore and really want to avoid cooking on vacation as much as possible.  I get that. Maybe I can change your mind.  Just a little.

Planning ahead is crucial if you want to prepare fast, delicious meals at the beach.  I am excited about spending a week at the beach so it doesn’t really seem like work.  More like vacation prep.  Kind of like packing.

It is also helpful to plan your menu for the week and be sure to include dinners out.  You want to be prepared but you don’t want to bring a ton of food back with you or even worse throw it away.  Also, be sure and find out if you’ll have access to a grill.  Gas or charcoal?  If it is charcoal, I wouldn’t haul charcoal from home.  For two reasons.  One, a bag of charcoal takes up a lot of valuable car space.  Two, there is a good chance that the previous renters left behind their charcoal.   Use that.   If no grill is available, consider heading to the local Walmart and buying an inexpensive charcoal grill.  You can leave it for the next renters.


Casseroles (like lasagna) can be prepared ahead and frozen.  Meats can be placed in plastic bags along with marinade and frozen.  Baked good, like cakes and cookies, can be made ahead and frozen.  Or, if you like your cookies fresh from the oven, prepare the dough and freeze that.  I like to review each recipe and make sure I take whatever spices and staples I need.  Otherwise, be prepared for sticker shock when you go to the local grocery store for your favorite spice.  Assuming they even have it.  I even go so far as to measure out the exact amount I need and put it in a resealable plastic bag.  If a recipe calls for multiple spices, by all means, combine them into one bag or plastic storage container.

I try and take small sizes of Dijon, olive oil, vinegar (you’ll probably need that if you steam seafood anyway), mayo, ketchup etc.  Partly because I know I can buy it for less at home but also I like to keep my local shopping list as short as possible.  I also buy one of those disposable salt and pepper sets.  Don’t assume your rental has a Keurig.  Bring ground coffee.

“You’ll want to keep it ultra-simple”

Since the first dinner will likely be on a travel day, you’ll want to keep it ultra-simple.  Last trip, I premade crab cakes (did not form them, just mixed the ingredients together) and brought along a boxed rice mix (not something I normally use but it is vacation after all) and a box of salad greens.  I also premade the dressing.  Alternatively, I could have made a rice pilaf and just reheated in the microwave.  Maybe next time.  Anyway, after unpacking, checking out the beach and toasting the beginning of a wonderful vacation we were not interested in getting back in the car to go out to dinner or spending a lot of time preparing.  I formed the crab cakes and broiled them (parchment paper comes in really handy here – just bring one sheet, not the whole roll), made the rice and added dressing to the salad.  Super fast.  Super tasty.  If you have access to a Costco, their pasteurized crab meat (in the refrigerated section) is excellent.  It isn’t cheap but it is less that you’d pay at a fish market.  And it is less than eating out.


I’m excited to share how we prepare for and enjoy great meals on our beach vacations.

Deb Panos and her family own a vacation rental in scenic Fort Morgan, Alabama.

For more tips from Deb, visit her blog at
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Book Direct with ALAVHR and Avoid Booking Fees on Your Next Alabama Vacation Rental!


It’s no secret – the vacation rental industry has changed dramatically over the last few years and not for the better.  These changes negatively impacted both the traveler and vacation rental owners alike.  As a result, more and more owners are leaving the online travel agencies (“OTA’s”) and listing their properties on regional sites like Alabama Vacation Home Rentals, where there are no booking fees and no commissions.   Most regional websites charge owners much less to list their properties and travelers pay absolutely nothing!    This is how the OTA industry actually started – before they got greedy!

Alabama Vacation Home Rentals (ALAVHR) is a pure and simple listing site that connects travelers and vacation rental owners. We believe in open and direct communication between owners and travelers before, during and after the booking.  In contrast, OTA’s want to control the process by making the rules to their benefit, at the expense of the traveler and owner.   The reason that OTA’s block communication between owner and guest is simple, they want their money.

On February 7, 2018, we participated in the first ever “Book Direct” day. Vacation rental owners, hoteliers and industry related websites are coming together as one common voice to educate travelers and guests to inform them that there is an alternative to the OTA’s.  Looking for tips on how to #BookDirect safely?  Read our article here.

BookDirect to Save Hundreds of Dollars On Your Next Vacation Rental!

So say NO to VRBO!  Other OTA’s that will gladly take you hard earned money are: AirBnb, Flipkey, HomeAway, Booking, etc. All of these websites will charge both the owner and traveler very high fees. Buyer beware!  Ask questions and read the website!   Some sites, like Booking .com, try to hide their fees as commissions tacked on to the owner cost.  In the end, the traveler pays more for the same vacation and often times, the owner makes much less on their own property that the OTA’s.

Why pay more for the same vacation rentals?

Booking a vacation rental on a no fee-listing site can save you money, sometimes hundreds of dollars! Yes, hundreds of dollars!  At Alabama Vacation Home Rentals:     Our pledge to you:  We do not charge a traveler fee and never will!

Receive personalized service.

Vacation rentals are not hotels.  Each one is unique.  In fact, not every vacation rental is for everyone. Booking direct with an owner or property manager allows for open communication so that you can ask important questions before you book.

Want the inside scoop?  Owners are local experts who know their destination the best, the attractions,, the restaurants, the vendors, the happy hours the discounts, etc., and are more than happy to share with you their insider local tips.  Remember, owners genuinely want your repeat business and will go the extra mile to ensure you are happy and enthusiastic enough to come back and tell your friends.   Many owners appreciate returning guests so much that they offer special perks or discounts.

Receive the best possible price.

The cost for an owner to list their property on the OTA’s has become increasingly more expensive.   While many of these OTA’s want you to think that they are offering you the best possible price, the fact is they are not.   Owners have no choice but to pass the increase on to travelers.   Your cost goes up!    Speaking directly with the owner guarantees you the best possible rental price, access to special offers and/or last minute cancellations deals.

No fee regional listing sites are gaining in popularity.  Alabama Vacation Home Rentals  (a member of Vacation Home Rental Network) is one of them.  Owners and travelers can make a difference by spreading the word that there is an alternative to VRBO, HomeAway, AirBnb, Booking etc.

You have saved all year for your vacation, so save some of those hard earned dollars for enjoying your vacation and not lining the pockets of a big OTA.  Make sure it is your perfect vacation rental BEFORE you book.

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3 Ways to Bring Families Closer Together on Your Next Beach Vacation

alavhr grandpa with boy at beach

With so much of our time today spent disconnected through electronics and social media, it’s important to set aside a weekend or even longer to relax as a family.  A beach vacation is the perfect way to time to spend together and really connect. Here are a few tips to help make the most out of your time together.

3 Ways a Beach Vacation Can Bring Families Together

1. Get Everyone Involved in Making Decisions

Use the time planning your beach vacation to start getting everyone involved and excited.  Ask your children to choose one or two activities they are most looking forward to on the visit.  Once you arrive, even young children can help with finding the best spot on the beach, or send teens on an “adventure” –  a list of important shopping items bring back to the beach house.  Family members will feel more involved as they contribute to the trip’s success.

2. Create Unstructured Time Together

If your family members’ daily lives are crammed full of extracurricular activities, work, school, and other important obligations, finding time to relax together is tough.  While at the beach, it’s easier to sit down to meals together, enjoy the sunset, go for walks, build sandcastles, look for shells and simply enjoy each other’s company.

3. Plan a Family Adventure

Whether learning to knee board, looking for starfish, going zip-lining, deep sea fishing or parasailing – the beach provides ample opportunities for your family members to bond together by helping each other make it through new and challenging adventures. Sharing new experiences creates memories you will treasure long after you leave the beach.


To learn more about how renting a beach house or condo can be fun for the whole family, contact Alabama Vacation Home Rentals based in Daphne, AL.  With hundreds of rental homes along the Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Dauphin Island, Mobile, Fort Morgan, and Fairhope, they can help you find the perfect family getaway. To learn more about what they have to offer, call them today at (251) 333-6500, or visit their website to see their beach houses and condo listings. 

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