Travel tales

I added Google Ads into the sidebar towards the top on individual archive pages. We’ll see how they go, but it was fun last night opening up different pages and seeing how the ads change based on the content. The most interesting result so far was with the Elk entry.

I also finished up the book proposal that was one reason for me traveling down to Florida. It’s my first attempt to break into travel writing and because I’m new to the genre, and unknown, I wrote the first three chapters in addition to creating the TOC to send to the publishers. For non-fiction book companies, most don’t want the entire manuscript–just enough to get a good idea of what the book is about and to see if you’re the absolute pits as a writer.

What was an unusual experience for me, as a tech writer, was creating hard copies of the photos and the writing, as most of the travel publishers won’t accept digital submissions. I had almost forgotten about margins for editor markup, and double spacing, not to mention having to tweak the photos to get the color just right in my printer. I’m rather excited about the book, but not expecting a quick result–travel writing doesn’t have the same level of urgency that governs the tech book industry, where new technology becomes old technology in a week or so.

The title of the book is One Ticket, Please, and is about traveling alone. There are other books out on the market on this subject, but most of these are full of facts of safety and about group tours and booking and the like. I focused more on solo travel as a way of opening yourself up to the world and to new adventures and experiences. It’s not Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; but then, I’m not trying to discover the truth to the eternal struggle between quality and quantity in a society given over to ’supersizing’, all from the back of a two-wheel ride, either.

(Come to think of it, though, I would like to learn how to ride a motorcycle.)

I rather liked the photo I took as a possible book cover. It’s from the patio of the condo studio that I had found through, and as you can see, had a nice view overlooking a body of water in Orlando called, I think, Turkey Lake. The title could cover the float with the swan boats that sticks out in the view.

The condo was lovely and had a tiny kitchenette and a Jacuzzi in the open space between the vanity area and the bedroom; walking through sliding glass doors took me to a large, screened-in outdoor patio, with walls on either side to provide privacy. I could walk around naked in front of the window and no one would see, unless they used a telescope on the other side of the lake.

As nice as the room was, the experience I had with the resort was less than lovely and actually led to an article idea, which I submitted to a magazine, and we’ll see how that goes.

It was due to this experience that I wanted to give you all a heads up about one particular pitfall with online hotel booking. If you go to certain cities such as Orland or Vegas that have significant timeshare communities, and if you book a ‘condo’, chances are it will be a timeshare, not a traditional hotel or resort. I didn’t know this until after I had made my booking at, as the company doesn’t differentiate between properties that are timeshare and those that are not. I only found out before the trip because I researched the property, Westgate Lakes and Resorts, after I had made the booking and had provided the name. Supposedly, though, as was explained to me by the Hotwire people after I gave them a concerned call, the properties are required to treat guests that book through the online sites differently than they treat those who book through a timeshare ‘guest’ program. And, I was reassured, I would not be required to sit through any meeting or be hassled to buy a property.

Whatever the ‘rules’ between property owner and booking agency, they failed in my instance. Badly.

When I got to the resort late in the afternoon, I was tired and there was a bit of a frenzy checking in. I had to sign in at one desk and then go to another to actually check in, but so far no sales (though I did see banks and banks of seats and computers and surly looking folk in the lobby who, I can only suppose, were the sales staff). When I had received my room key and the map of the property, the lady at the desk mentioned that I needed to see some folks at another desk for ‘directions’. I said since she had given me a map, I didn’t really need this and left to go to the room.

The next day I headed to Epcot Center to take photos and was pretty tired when I got home that night. I was getting ready for bed at 9pm when I got a call from the hotel sales staff. The cheerful, heavily accented voice asked if I had received a “tour of the villa” yet and, puzzled, I said no, why would I? He then started into a long spiel about meeting with him for breakfast and getting this tour and filling out a survey. I responded that I was visiting Orlando for a purpose, and my time was very limited and didn’t have any to spare to attend any form of meeting. I also told him I had booked through Hotwire, as I had been instructed to tell any of the staff if they called.

He persisted in telling me I had to meet with him, and I responded negatively each time. He then proceeded to get rather nasty and demanded that I schedule a time with him to fill out a survey that was ‘required’; after all, the unit I was in had dishes and silverware and they had to account for this after I left. I said I had no intention of coming down to the office to fill out this survey and if they don’t trust their own maintenance staff, that’s their problem. He then said I wouldn’t be able to check out until I filled out the survey. I hung up. The phone started ringing, and I ignored it.

I called Hotwire. com and blasted them a new hide, and called the manager of the resort and blasted him a new hide. He assured me that the sales staff should not have called me, and promised they would not call again. However, I was called again, later in the week, but this time I was offered the chance to ‘find out how you can have this vacation for free’, and when I declined, the woman rang off immediately.

When I returned home, I found out this particular resort is infamous even within the timeshare community, for being the worst of the timeshare companies — hard sales and out and out lies. Being curious, I checked out the timeshare community itself, and how it is using the Internet: to buy, sell, trade, and connect with each other. Timeshare properties and owners are even now using eBay to sell units and ‘points’–an interesting new twist on timeshare vacations.

Contrary to my expectations, there are many happy timeshare owners, and there are forums and other online sites focused specifically at connecting them with each other. In addition, there are large numbers of people who do most of their vacationing by visiting timeshares and taking the sales pitches to get cheap lodging and other goodies. These folk provide helpful tips and techniques to shut the timeshare sales staff down, as well as being up on the laws govering timeshares in each state and how to hold the companies to their promises. For instance, if you live in certain states and book a timeshare, you can’t be required to sit through a sales meeting, regardless of how you came to rent the property. It’s a fascinating world, and the focus of the article I hope gets picked up.

However, returning to my own less than happy experience, I had more than one conversation with about the incident. They refunded half my money from the hotel, as ‘Hotwire dollars’ I can use on my next booking. But when I questioned why they don’t mark that a property is a timeshare, replied that the agreement is between and the resorts not to ‘act’ like a timeshare with Hotwire customers.

That’s like telling email spammers, “Oh, hey — these people don’t want unsolicited email, so don’t send them any. OK?” In fact, one could call the timeshare intrusion into online booking the equivalent of ‘vacation spam’.

(I also did some research and found that and Expedia are owned by the same company, InterActiveCorp International, which also happens to own a company that facilitates timeshare swapping, Interval International. This company, in turn, is affiliated with none other than Westgate Resorts. )

I’m not sure about the ethics, or even the legality, of Hotwire not providing information that a property is a timeshare or not–especially since there are different and much more rigorous rules governing timeshares than there are regular hotels and resorts. With sites such as Expedia, you have the name of the property before you book, and even a cursory search in Google shows that Westgate Lakes and Resort is ‘bad news’ for anyone. But for and, you don’t have this information ahead of time, and you can’t cancel after you book.

A word of advice: if you use or, be wary of booking condos or rooms with kitches in areas with large timeshare communities. In addition, find out, first, from the company what its policy is about noting if a property is a timeshare. If the company doesn’t differentiate timeshares, and allows timeshares in its bookings, you may want to give the service a pass.

If you don’t mind if a property is a timeshare–as I noted earlier, this can be a very economical way to travel, and some people make this into an adventure–note that many states, such as Florida, have requirements on the so-called ‘presentations’ you need to sit through. For instance, they must be limited to 90 minutes, and you must be given whatever you’re promised by the end of this time. Check out the Timeshare Users Group for more info. And as they say, avoid the ‘maintenance meetings’ (i.e. my ’survey get together), unless, as one TUG member said, …like me, you like to mess with people.

However, if you’re taking a vacation and don’t want to be hassled, or end up with a turkey when you’re expecting a peacock, or want to ‘mess with people’ you may want to just bypass the ‘mystery’ booking agencies and go directly with one that lists the property names before you put your money down. Ultimately the cost savings may not be that big an issue; with and Expedia, I found that there wasn’t that much of a difference in prices.

Now, though, I have some “hotwire” dollars to spend on some trip somewhere. Hmmm. I wonder if Chicago has timeshares? Or maybe Branson, Missouri…

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