• U.S.

Holiday Headache

3 minute read
Anita Hamilton

All I wanted was a cozy log cabin in Maine, somewhere deep in the woods, to toast the New Year under the stars. It was to be my first vacation with my boyfriend, and I wanted it to be perfect. So rather than waste money on a guidebook that was bound to be outdated before it hit the shelves, I decided to search online. Little did I know that when I typed the words Maine log cabin rental at altavista.com I was stepping into 48 hrs. of Internet hell.

Forget dinner, forget work, forget sleep. I was glued to my computer for hours as I obsessively scoured the Web. When I found my first megawebsite dedicated to vacation rentals, I giddily clicked from one listing to another, certain I would quickly find the perfect hideaway.

I was wrong. The first site that I tried, cyberrentals.com grouped rentals by region but had no map to tell me where such romantic-sounding places as Seal Cove or Owl’s Head were. So I had to log on to mapblast.com to locate each one, then return to slogging through listings. My computer was choking under the strain. Another site, vacationspot.com let me zero in on cabins and cottages. I got 50 matches right off, but most of the rentals turned out to be closed for the winter–something I learned only after reading a lot of fine print. I tried branching out and found a “millennium special” in Tennessee’s Smokey Mountains on a site called vacationhomes.com But at $1,300 for a long weekend, it sounded to me more like a millennium rip-off.

One day and hundreds of listings later, I was ready to throw my computer out the window. For every 10 vacation spots I looked into, I found maybe one that sounded good–and more often than not, it was booked, too far away or outrageously priced. For all the hype about the Net making searches easier, it often gives you too many options and too few real choices. All it was giving me was a headache.

I finally decided to put our log-cabin Web dreams on hold and search the old-fashioned way–at a bookstore. I bought a paperback called America’s Favorite Inns, B&Bs, and Small Hotels (St. Martin’s; $22). I was relieved to see that each city was neatly pinpointed on a detailed map, and most had good descriptions to help me figure out where in Maine we should go in the first place. Even better, I could read the book in bed or on the subway. It was so civilized.

When I saw that the guide listed most B&Bs’ websites at the top of each review, I almost cried. I knew I couldn’t resist taking a peek, even though it meant dragging out my search that much longer as I dutifully read the printed reviews, then waited for each site to pop up onscreen.

Then I found it: an old inn on the southern coast of Maine that rented us one of its best rooms for $100 a night. Guess what? It didn’t have a website. I took my chances based on a good review, a great location and a bargain price. It wasn’t a log cabin, and it was miles from the woods, but there were lace curtains, a hardwood floor and a quilt on the bed. With the ocean outside our window and a fireplace in the room, my New Year’s Eve was just as cozy as I dreamed it would be.

E-mail Anita at hamilton@time.com

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