There's almost nothing more frustrating, heartbreaking, and totally devastating for a travel lover than a totally horrible lodging experience. Let's paint a picture here: You've been saving up for that anniversary trip with your bae for the past six months. You've finally got your coins together and booked your flight. Now, all that's left is to find a place to lay your heads. You and your boo prefer to steer clear of traditional resorts or hotels—they're just not your vibe—so you go to one of the top online platforms for booking cool, short-term vacation rentals.
You see the perfect spot: close to the beach, great views, chic decor, and within budget. The property even boasts a high rating and self-check-in. You take out your card, choose your dates, and seal the deal with no problems, until you finally reach your destination.
Though the listing looks somewhat like the photos, the toilets and showers don't work properly, and there are seedy characters posted up around the property. When you contact the host, they top it all off with insensitivity and apathy, so you and bae thug it out for a night and leave in the morning.
Well, this happened to me.
It Was All Good... Until It Wasn't
My man and I were catfished. Bamboozled. Hoodwinked. And we had to shell out more money or even risk finding no replacement lodging at all due to the efforts of a dubious host.
On top of that, said host was also rated very highly and decided to send a nasty message about how I was jeopardizing the rating when I told the truth about my experience in my final review. And this isn't my only horror story. In the second of my top five worst lodging experiences, I had a host cancel my booking just a few days before I was set to travel, claiming that the rate I'd gotten when I booked the home was "out of date" and snarkily wishing me "luck" in finding a budget-friendly replacement during "high season."
Hundreds of dollars for the booking had already been debited from my account, and it would have taken up to 15 days to get the funds back had I not contacted the platform's customer service reps multiple times via multiple channels and advocated for myself. I got my funds back within 48 hours, but only after a lot of stress, dozens of emails, numerous chat messages, and back-to-back phone calls.
Needless to say, I had to give privately owned spaces a break for a while, and for the past few years, I've mostly stayed at traditional hotels, booking them through the usual channels (either the brand's website or the tried-and-true third-party sites.) But what did I learn? Always contact the host before booking, even if they're rated highly. (It's a great opportunity to find out more about the property, get a sense of what type of host you're dealing with, and gauge whether something could be fishy or too good to be true.) Keep those emergency funds on deck. Have a plan B, C, and D. And last, but certainly, not least, trust my gut.
While there can be amazing experiences offered by hosts on popular vacation rental sites, there are also cautionary tales that we all can learn from. Check out a few more vacation rental horror stories from travelers and how you can avoid a totally horrible experience.
Chanice took her love for travel to the next level, starting an online travel platform, Fly with Queenie, and hosting experiences in the U.S. and abroad. She's traveled to Mexico, Jamaica, and Tanzania, to name a few, and has booked lodgings and experiences via popular online sites like many other travelers. She's definitely had her fair share of both amazing and not-so-amazing experiences while globetrotting.
"I had a client who wanted me to plan a birthday trip for her and her friends to Jamaica. I wanted to give her multiple options instead of just hotels, so I checked on Airbnb as well," she recalled. "I saw a property that was in a good area, had a 4.5 rating, the photos looked good, and it had a local owner which was great because I'm an advocate of supporting locally owned properties."
Adding Insult to Injury...
Things took a turn when she contacted the host about details that she said weren't listed via the online post. "I had specific questions regarding whether it was possible to pay to have someone make an authentic Jamaican meal, as well as specific questions pertaining to transportation options the host mentioned, were available."
"The host wrote back almost immediately and basically told me I could not book the property, accused me of not reading the ad clearly, and even threatened that if I were to book, my reservation would be canceled. The tone of the correspondence was so rude and it was a complete turn-off."
Chanice said the exchange made her feel "insulted," as if she'd done something wrong by simply asking questions about the property and its offerings. She added that the host even blocked her. "The customer service was horrible, especially from one Black person to another. As someone who has a business, even if a customer asks a question that is already answered in your ad, you should be nice and courteous to them. Your tone should always be kind and friendly to retain the customer."
Airbnb has "host reliability standards" listed on its site, and they include an expectation that hosts or co-hosts "are available to respond to guest inquiries or unexpected issues that may arise during stays," and that they "should be responsive and willing to answer questions."
While Charmin never got a chance to be an official "guest," (and dodged a bullet in terms of a potential problem for her clients) she said she reported the host's behavior via the appropriate channels. "I'm not sure what the resolution was but I hope that he was talked to about the feedback I gave."
For travelers using online booking sites to book private homes and experiences, Charmin recommends reading beyond the first few reviews of a place or experience. After using her own online platform to share what happened to her, she found out that other travelers who'd actually stayed at the host's listing had issues including water pressure outages, rude exchanges, and unanswered questions. Also, upon looking further into reviews about the property on multiple sites, there were several that went into detail about issues with the host and property.
"Had I read more reviews despite the host having a 4.5 rating out of 5, I would have seen the many comments about the host being rude in person," she added.
"My advice is to also check to see if the property is listed on social media websites or other property booking websites and read those reviews as well. Even if the host has a good rating, there may be a bad review in the middle of a decent review or constructive criticism that you may be overlooking."
It's also a good idea to ask other travelers and locals via forums like Trip Advisor or Facebook groups, and see if they've ever either stayed at the property, are familiar with the host, or live near the area. While you want to be fair and make the best decision for your travel needs, it's always good to be armed with the information in order to do so.
Latrice, a Paris-based educator and founder of lifestyle platform Paris Chic Code, took a trip to Curacao a few years ago and was expecting the best at a luxurious property where she and her friend would be staying in separate but nearby rooms. "We rented this gorgeous apartment in Curacao and it had a beautiful view," she said. They'd enjoyed lounging at the beach, visiting historic sites, taking a trip on a yacht, and vibing with salsa dancing.
When Luxe Goes Left...
"After a night staying there, my friend kept complaining about itching and, after about the fifth day of our eight-day trip, we decided to lift the sheets on her mattress," she recalled. "It was bed bugs. My friend was hysterical." She added that they got in touch with the Airbnb customer service line based overseas. "We were arguing back and forth. They wanted us to take pictures of the bed. We sent them the photos and the woman said, 'That's not bed bugs.' Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do. If you want to check into another hotel, Airbnb will not be responsible for it.'"
They were devastated but wouldn't take no for an answer, so Latrice continued calling and asked for Airbnb's U.S.-based customer service. She also contacted the management for the building. "They were Dutch, and they were saying, 'Look we've never had a problem like this before. If we order a mattress, it's going to take another day to arrive. We can put you in another apartment,'" Latrice recalled. "My friend was enraged, and she didn't want to stay at that property. Then, because there was a dispute going back and forth, the management said, 'We've never had this problem. How do we know that it wasn't you who brought the bed bugs?'"
Latrice was sure that neither she nor her friend could've brought the bugs because they'd only been there for a few days and the mattress was stained as though there was an infestation way before they'd arrived. She ended up sending photos to the U.S-based customer service representative and a rep ended up offering to cover the cost of the remainder of their stay. Since her friend didn't want to stay at the same property and it would take a while for them to find another Airbnb, they decided to just book a hotel room.
She eventually got a full refund for the stay but it took months to get her money back and she had to use her credit card to book another hotel in the meanwhile.
"I didn't get my money back immediately. I'd already paid for the hotel. They credited me for the two nights that I didn't stay, for a new Airbnb," she said. "When I got back home, I got credited for the stay and the inconvenience but it took about two months for them to reimburse me for the full stay."
Despite the horrible experience, she and her friend were able to complete their trip. "In the second hotel, we had a beautiful view but we had to share a room. That was a bit of a bummer. We were annoyed by the situation and totally inconvenienced because we had to run around trying to find a hotel comparable to the original lodging we had. For the most part, it was fine. We had two days left, we had a pool and we made the best of it. If I were in a situation where I didn't have extra money or credit cards, I would've been up a creek."
Latrice's advice to other travelers who come across issues during their stay at a vacation rental is to document and report the issues immediately. "What I learned was that we waited too long to say something. We were there five days before reporting it, so it was almost like, 'Why didn't you say anything from the beginning?'" she said. "It's a very valid argument. We should have said something. She should have pulled the sheets back the first day."
She also added that though she had that experience, it doesn't stop her from booking vacation rentals nor has it added extra anxiety to her trips since. "I can't go into a hotel or lodging thinking something will be wrong. I trust that my trip will be amazing and deal with anything that might be to the contrary in that moment."
The travel tribe is sure to come through in times of need, so just know that if you've been through a horrible or uneasy experience at a vacation rental, they've got your back. Get some comfort and take heed from these stories. Be sure to be careful, diligent, and mindful when booking lodging or experiences online for your next travel adventure.
Featured image by
This post is in partnership with Ulta Beauty.
Gone are the days where we prioritize “the grind” over our own wellbeing. #Teamnosleep is canceled. Millennial women are prioritizing themselves and their rest above all else, and we love to see it. We’re seeing proof of this powerful shift everywhere we look, but especially in the #softlife hashtag that’s been trending all over social media. The soft life movement is all about pursuing the path of least resistance, choosing ease over struggle, and relaxing in your vulnerability.
xoNecole and Ulta Beauty have identified six beauty influencers who are fully embracing the “soft life.” They’re rejecting the notion that their worth is measured by their professional output, how many followers they have, or how hard they’re hustling. Each of these creative powerhouses has learned to make self-care a non-negotiable in their lives while walking into the fullness of their most authentic selves. There will always be a demand for more content amidst the ever-changing algorithms, but as influencers like Tiffany Renee, Caitlyn Davis, and Alanna Doherty know all too well, you can’t properly show up for others until you fully show up for yourself first.
Read all about how these six beauty influencers are approaching the soft life on their own terms.
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
As a full-time content creator and founder of the college clothing label HBCU Yearbook, Caitlyn Davis is no stranger to hard work. She started gaining followers while attending undergrad at FAMU, filming natural hair tutorials for YouTube in her dorm room. From there, she steadily picked up ambassador gigs for popular online fashion and beauty brands. “[They were] paying us around $300 a month,” she remembers. “I thought I was doing something with my money. I was like, ‘What? I'm getting paid to do something that I love?’ It became a snowball effect.”
After linking up with a cousin who had just become a makeup artist, Caitlyn fell in love with the idea of creating beauty content. “Beauty just elevates your personality,” she tells xoNecole. “And because it does that, you just feel better about yourself. And when you do that and show other people and they start learning and getting better at makeup and beauty, their personality and confidence starts to elevate as well.”
Caitlyn admits that maintaining a healthy work-life balance doesn’t come easy for her. She’s a self-proclaimed workaholic who takes pride in her business. “[I’ve learned] the soft life is working hard for what you want but knowing we're deserving of the best life has to offer, including rest.” When life gets overwhelming, she turns to the great outdoors. “I go on hikes,” she says. “There’s something about being in nature, being grounded, hearing birds, the trees moving, and water [flowing] that immediately de-stresses me."
Hometown: Knoxville, TN
Tiffany Renee grew up on a farm in Tennessee, where her first introduction to the world of beauty and fashion came via Tyra Banks. The smizing supermodel’s competition series “America’s Next Top Model” drew this southern girl in. “Beauty wasn't really a thing [in the environment I grew up in],” she says. “So I've got to give it to Tyra. A lot of my posing and wearing my makeup a certain way had a lot to do with Tyra and how she coached those models. As I got older and started experimenting more with makeup, I just grew to love it more and more.” Tiffany says she sharpened her makeup skills by learning one thing at a time, starting with winged eyeliner. Next brows, and then lashes. Along the way, she made it a point to develop the techniques that worked for her face rather than copying and pasting from YouTube tutorials.
After moving to Atlanta in 2012, Tiffany began to rack up followers on Instagram with her beauty, hair, and fashion content. She even created an online community called “Curl Gang,” which celebrates the beauty and versatility of natural hair. With all she’s accomplished, Tiffany says she’s most proud of shedding her tough exterior and learning to be vulnerable. “My life has been pretty tough, so that made me a tough woman,” she tells xoNecole. “In my relationships, I've always had this tough persona on the outside, but really, I'm internally very much a soft person.
“For me, taking on the soft life was doing the work to break that mold, and accept that it's okay to be vulnerable,” she continues. “It's okay to be expressive. It's okay to love people. It's not just about the tasks of my life, but more so about my well-being. I’m actively deciding not to hold onto things that make me [have to] be tough.”
Hometown: Napa, California
They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Kinya Claiborne is living proof. This lifestyle influencer has a professional resume that would make any recruiter salivate. She’s worked in print, television, and radio, and has even overseen public relations for billion-dollar projects. But like all creatives at heart, there came a point in her career where she felt a calling elsewhere. “My job wasn't sexy,” she admits. “I still loved my job and I loved working in corporate America, but there was a void. There were other things that I also loved that my job wasn't fulfilling.”
Inspired by the DailyCandy newsletters she used to read in college, Kinya launched her own lifestyle magazine called Style & Society which covers fashion, beauty, health, wellness, entertainment, travel - all the things Kinya loves. What started as a creative outlet turned into a booming business. Her readers wanted to know more about her, which led her to posting photos of herself inside her stories. “I started Style & Society back in 2013. The term influencer didn't exist back then. Brands started contacting me and wanting me to do product placements and campaigns. That's how my social media following started growing. Then eventually, the term influencer came about, and at that point, I had already been doing it.”
As you can tell from her Instagram, Kinya is always well put together. Her early beauty memories include getting her hair done at the salon with her mom and wearing different lipstick colors to school. Kinya says she’s always been a girly girl. but she’s as resilient as they come. The Northern Californian survived the Route 91 festival shooting in 2017. She also lost her brother to suicide. From her perspective, being soft isn’t just about pampering yourself, but showing up for those around you. “You can't just look at someone and know how they're feeling,” she says. “It’s so important to check in, because even a phone call, text message, or just saying hello to a stranger could really change their path.”
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
For Taylor Winbush, presentation is everything. Embracing that belief has gotten her far. “My mom would always say ‘dress how you want to be treated,’” she says. “She would always dress up to go to the grocery store, making sure her hair was always done, and she was fresh-faced. She taught me that when you look better, you feel better.”
As a dancer and theater performer, Taylor got to hone in on her makeup skills early. “I remember even from a young age, when I used to take ballet classes, they would make you do your makeup way in the back of the mirror to make sure you'd be able to see it [far from the stage].” After moving to Atlanta in 2019 to pursue a career in acting and commercial modeling, Taylor discovered she could book more gigs if she added “content creator” to her resume. As a beauty lover, it came naturally to her, and it’s paid off tenfold.
At the start of the year, Taylor stepped out on faith and decided to work for herself full-time. She acknowledges that it’s a risk, but nothing a little discipline can’t manage. “As long as I'm doing my part, then I truly and firmly believe that God will handle the rest.”
Aside from constantly developing her self-discipline, Taylor says she’s embracing the soft life by taking care of her physical and spiritual temple. “I'm a super giving person, so I would give a lot of my time to friends and family, making sure everyone else is taken care of before me,” she says. “There's a saying that if you help someone build their sandcastle first, then what will you have left to build? I’m learning you have to take care of yourself first in order for you to help someone else.”
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
Fashion and beauty haven’t always been a welcoming world for curvy women, but that hasn’t stopped influencer Thamarr Guerrier from accepting her rightful seat at the table. This bubbly and effervescent content creator started her lifestyle blog, Musings of a Curvy Lady, back in 2012 on her lunch break working as a nurse. “I started [my blog] as a way to promote personal style and beauty in this body of mine,” Thamarr shared on her site. “Visibility matters and you’re going to see me. I’m going to take up all the space and bring my own chair to the table.”
Thamarr’s beauty memories stem all the way back to childhood. “I was obsessed with watching my mother do her hair and makeup in the mirror,” she says. “I played dress-up in her clothes and would sneak and put on her mascara. I just couldn’t wait to be old enough to wear lipstick.”
If you peep her IG feed, you’ll notice Thamarr documents her globetrotting in head-turning looks that will make you want to book a one-way ticket to your nearest island. But it’s actually not her extravagant travel experiences that bring her the most peace. It’s the little things, like sipping a glass of wine during her skincare routine as Kacey Musgraves plays in the background. “After a shower, I always feel a little better, especially after a crummy day,” she tells xoNecole. “It’s also my favorite place to shed a tear or two. After my literal and sometimes emotional cleanse, I feel renewed. I talk positively to myself as I pamper myself with my favorite products. Taking the time and being purposeful as I go.”
Thamarr’s interpretation of “the soft life” is to live and love in a way that makes her inner being the happiest. “If it brings me peace, it’s the soft life for me.”
Hometown: Bridgetown, Barbados
It’s hard not to feel a spark of joy when you browse through Alanna Doherty’s IG page. It’s chock-full of Alanna dressed to the nines in bright psychedelic patterns. Her lush ‘fro bounces back and forth in all its glory as Alanna jams to her favorite tunes. Alanna is happiness personified, but her initial introduction to beauty was quite the opposite. “I started loving makeup and beauty products because I felt they were necessary in order to cover up my insecurities,” she tells xoNecole. “I’m finally starting to truly fall in love with them this year. I no longer need a full face of makeup to make me feel good. I’m perfectly happy going without any at all now, but love that I have the option to play with makeup. It’s more of a creative process now and I LOVE that!”
Alanna’s bold and colorful aesthetic is brave and inspiring. And when it comes to the soft life, she’s honest enough to admit that she’s figuring it out along the way. “For years I’ve been putting my own self-care behind work and I’m now starting to realize its importance in my life,” she says. “I’ve still got a long way to go but ‘the soft life’ to me would be creating the space to focus on myself and taking the time to enjoy it. I see long walks along the beach, spas, more hot yoga, and relaxing on the balcony.”
Featured image courtesy of Tiffany Renee
While there’s no perfect timeline for new mothers to get back to their workout routine after giving birth, tennis star Naomi Osaka is hitting the ground running (literally) with her post-baby fitness routine.
After giving birth to her daughter Shai with rapper boyfriend Cordae, Osaka, 25, took to Instagram to give her 2.7 million Instagram followers a peek into her training sessions just seven weeks postpartum.
In the carousel post, Osaka is seen taking in the sun and showing off her new mom glow, flashing a joyful grin and peace signs in the middle of a track field. To follow, the decorated athlete shared a video of herself pushing a fitness sled down the street with her workout partner on top, who jokingly asked, "Why are you going so slow?" To which she replied by attributing her steadier pace to enjoying a bit of Jamaican food.
The four-time Grand Slam champ took things up a notch in the next clip, showing her and a running partner engaging in a friendly race up a paved hill, with supportive cheers in the background saying, "Go, go, Naomi!"
When the tennis champ first announced her pregnancy on January 11, Osaka shared her sonogram and a heartfelt note reflecting on how she’s found “fun” in the most challenging moments of her life prior to becoming a mom.
"The past few years have been interesting to say the least, but I find that it's the most challenging times in life that may be the most fun,” she shared in the Instagram post. “These few months away from the sport has really given me a new love and appreciation for the game I've dedicated my life to."
She continued, "I realize that life is so short and I don't take any moments for granted, every day is a new blessing and adventure. I know that I have so much to look forward to in the future, one thing I'm looking forward to is for my kid to watch one of my matches and tell someone, 'that's my mom,' haha."
Whether it’s on the court or in her personal life, it’s clear that Osaka is no stranger to putting in the work to not only become the best tennis player in history, but the best mother she can be to her new daughter.
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Featured image by Taylor Hill/Getty Images