Handy tips for planning your Arizona vacation, including getting here, road trips and itineraries.

I’ve always wanted to be one of those “carefree travelers” who breezes along with the perfect suitcase.

Having been full-time travelers since 2011 we know what makes the best 4 wheeled suitcase. We show you what to look for–and what to avoid when choosing spinner carry on luggage and more.

We literally live out of our suitcases. My husband and I have been full-time travelers since 2011, so luggage plays an important role in our lives. I’ve learned to be efficient in my packing, using luggage that’s functional, sturdy and not too big. And that comes in handy when taking an Arizona Road Trip. (Or any other road trip for that matter 😉)

Here are some guidelines to help you do the same:

Which is better: a 2 or 4 Wheeled Suitcase?

For several years we used 2-wheeled suitcases (some people call these “Rollaboard” suitcases, a brand name trademarked by TravelPro.) Two-wheeled suitcases work well, but you must “tilt and pull” them along behind you. This is fine for short spurts, but eventually that motion was wrenching on our shoulders. Additionally, adding an extra bag (such as a tote or computer bag) was cumbersome. Stacking it on top of the main bag changed the ergonomics (trust me on this one), making it super-heavy to pull. Using an “add-a-bag” strap made pulling the bags along easier, but the bags were out of balance when standing still and had a tendency to fall over.

blue and black 4 wheeled suitcase side by side in front of an adobe wall

When it came time to upgrade (after a particularly shoulder-wrenching sprint through an airport to catch a connecting flight, we investigated 4-wheeled models. We ultimately opted to upgrade to these 4 wheeled suitcases, also known as “spinners.” The name “spinners” comes from the fact that the suitcase can spin around on its wheels. The transition has been much easier on our joints. Spinners are terrific on smooth surfaces, such as airport floors and parking lots; even densely packed bags glide along with very little effort.

Note that spinners can get difficult to maneuver on carpeting or rough surfaces, such as cobblestones. During these instances it’s best to tilt the bag so it works like a 2-wheeled suitcase. Shop for spinners whose rear wheels rotate smoothly and are sturdy enough to handle this conversion. Otherwise you’ll be dragging along a bag that behaves like a reluctant shopping cart (no fun at all!).

All that being said, all 4 wheeled suitcases are NOT alike. Following are points to consider when choosing a 4 wheeled suitcase:

Size and Weight of 4 Wheeled Suitcases

Most people have a tendency to overpack. A good rule is to bring along less (or smaller) luggage than you think you need. Overly large suitcases encourage packing unnecessary extras, which adds weight that you’ll have to heft around. Even if your cruise or tour includes luggage transfers, you still have to hoist your baggage to the airport and in your hotel or stateroom. These are the awkward moments when backs get wrenched.

Size limits for carry on bags vary by geographic location. If not checking your bags is important to you, be sure to check with the airline you’re flying regarding their carry on size limitations. For example, United Airlines carry on policy allows for a bag as high as 22″ to fit in the overhead bin. Whereas your Southwest Airlines carry on can be up to 24″.

Overall weight is also an important consideration. You might think, “but these things are on wheels, isn’t that the point?” Then answer to that is “yes, BUT . . . ” Even though you’ll be breezing through airports and down hotel corridors using the wheels, you still have to lift your 4 wheeled suitcase into overhead bins. If you’re taking a Route 66 road trip in Arizona you’ll likely be taking your bags in and out of your car every few days.

There’s no sense starting with a heavy bag, then packing it with even more weight. Look for luggage brands that offer a “lightweight” line and purchase the lightest bag possible—without sacrificing sturdiness. My main suitcase is a 21-inch model that weighs just under 6 pounds. It’s small enough to fit in most overhead bins, yet large enough to hold what I need.

Spinner suitcases: External Features

Hard Shell vs. Soft-Sided

There are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to exterior materials: hard shell vs. soft sided (fabric). Both come in lightweight versions. I prefer the soft-side fabric exterior as it has a little extra “give” in case I need to cram in a few more items (also known by the highly technical term, the “squishy factor” 😉).

Soft-sided luggage is also more forgiving for the inevitable times when your luggage bangs into your shins. Fabric 4 wheeled suitcases also offer exterior zip pockets that are handy for stowing tickets or often-used accessories.

Some people prefer the hard shell version of a 4 wheeled suitcase. The hard shell case is more resistant to moisture (if you spend a lot of time traveling in rainy climates this might be a consideration) Many of them come with built-in locks, a handy feature if security is an issue.

Both hard shell and soft sided varieties are available with zippered expansion panels, allowing you to add a few cubic inches of packing space without moving up to a larger size bag. This feature comes in handy for any souvenirs that are picked up along the way.

When shopping for soft-sided luggage, look for rip-stop fabric, which resists punctures and minimizes tearing. Cheap luggage is often made of basic canvas fabric, this allows tears to “bloom” along the width of the suitcase. If you prefer hard-shell cases, look for lightweight material that is flexible (think of that old TV ad with the gorilla stomping on luggage); bags that are too stiff are prone to dent or, worse yet, crack.

Handles on 4 Wheeled Suitcases

Examine the handles carefully. Quality luggage will have sturdy telescoping handles that adjust to different heights. Inexpensive pieces have flimsy handles (usually just a single metal tube) that aren’t height adjustable. Some (good quality) 4 wheeled suitcases have handles that are a single central bar that telescopes up. They are sturdy, but we’ve don’t like them because they make stacking tote bags on top of the luggage difficult. A traditional dual pull-up handle acts as a brace for any smaller back you might like to stack on top. It also serves as a more secure anchor if your totebag has a trolley strap.


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Interior Features of a 4 Wheeled Suitcase

Open Suitcase: single compartment or half & half?

Think of where a suitcase will be placed when it’s opened—likely on a luggage rack in a hotel room, on a bed, or on a floor. A single large interior compartment works best for maximum storage. A single zip compartment in the suitcase lid is useful for separating accessories or dirty clothes; look for models where the zippered side faces upward when the open case is propped up against the wall. This allows you to access items in this pocket without them slithering onto the floor.

Most hard shell luggage opens “half-and-half” style, where the zipper that opens the luggage basically slices the luggage in half, leaving you two equal compartments on the top and bottom. Some people like natural organizational ability of this half-and-half configuration. However, the tradeoff is that, when opened, this type of 4 wheeled suitcase will be too large to fit on a luggage rack. (And one half will be too heavy to prop up against the wall). In most cases you’ll need to keep the suitcase open on a hotel room floor.

4 Wheeled Luggage: Price Range

We prefer moderately-priced suitcases, generally $125-$250, depending on size and brand; all the features described above can be found in this price range. Avoid those cheap “4 bags for $100” sets sold in discount stores. They are poorly made and unlikely to withstand the rigors of travel. Expensive designer bags may look stylish, but they scream “expensive items are packed inside” and are a magnet to would-be thieves.

Once you’ve chosen a suitcase, test pack it at home and put it through its’ paces. If it’s too heavy or some feature doesn’t work, exchange it. There are plenty of variables when traveling. Your suitcase shouldn’t be one of them.

Our Choice for a 4 Wheeled Suitcase?

Based on all the features discussed above, we like the Travelpro Maxlite soft-sided series. We’ve had them for a few years now, and can attest to both their functionality and durability. We like the 21″ carry-on version, (more about packing that in a future post!), which is also sturdy enough to withstand being checked. This series also comes in 25″ and 29″ checked baggage versions, if you really insist on packing a lot. I purchased my suitcase on Amazon.

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We love Airbnb but every now and then one of those rentals looks too good to be true . . .

Scams on Airbnb and other vacation rental sites like VRBO and Flipkey are rare, but they DO happen. Learn how to spot the scams on Airbnb and other sites using tips based on our extensive experience. Over the past 10 years we’ve spent more than 2,000 nights at Vacation rentals (We’re not kidding-we live on the road!) After all this time–which includes over 100 Airbnb stays–we’ve figured out how to avoid bogus deals.

ratty old shack in the desert-scams on airbnb
Probably NOT your ideal vacation rental

Vacation rental scams: The Craigslist “scrape”

We were really enjoying our Airbnb rental in Prescott, Az one autumn when there was a knock at the front door. Since we didn’t know anyone in town we assumed it was a salesman. So we were surprised to see a young man on the porch with several pieces of luggage. Um, a long lost friend visiting? Nope. He said, in all earnestness, that he was ready to move in and where should he put his luggage? Well that’s awkward! Fortunately, since we booked the cottage through Airbnb, we were fine; unfortunately for him he hadn’t–he had been scammed.

Our caller had found the cottage on Craigslist at a monthly rate that was half what we were paying. Too good to be true? As it happens, yes.  The listing included the same description and photos as those on the (legitimate) Airbnb listing, but the contact information was different. He had signed a lease and mailed the contact a deposit check for $500.

Fortuantely for us, a quick call to our Airbnb host confirmed that we were fine. The guy on the porch was not. This was a Craigslist rental scam. Our host explained that her Airbnb listing had been “scraped.” Someone had taken her photos and posted a fake ad on Craigslist, lying in wait for an unsuspecting victim. Our Airbnb host also shared that this had happened to her before. She’s tried hard to stop the scammers, but they remove the fake internet listing before the police can take action and then post it again at another time. Though this was not one of the scams on Airbnb, hinky things can still happen on that sight as well.

Woman stranded on the side of a desert road with a suitcase-scams on airbnb
Don’t get left stranded. Make sure your vacation rental is not a scam.

Scams on Airbnb: the fake listing

Also known as the “travel scam,” this is basically the same situation as our Craigslist example above, except that listing is on Airbnb. You might think, “wait! How can this happen? Doesn’t Airbnb have systems to catch fake listings?” The answer to that is YES, they do, and they constantly monitor their site. But according to their own site, Airbnb has nearly 6 million listings (as of September 2020) in over 100,000 cities. With that kind of volume there are bound to be a few bad apples that sneak into the bunch every now and then.

We had firsthand experience with Airbnb scams a few years ago. We requested a reservation at an Airbnb apartment in Rome, Italy. It looked like a nice apartment in a good neighborhood, and the price seemed more reasonable than others nearby. Not “half the price crazy cheap,” that would have set off alarm bells right away. No this one was just about 10-15% cheaper than similar apartments.

But . . . once we put in our request the “owner” contacted us right away suggesting we wire the payment to them directly rather than working through the normal Airbnb channels—something that is specifically outside the company’s guidelines. This set off warning flags—sure enough, we contacted Airbnb, who confirmed it was a false listing and took it down. This was one of the scams on Airbnb that we didn’t get snookered by–we eventually found a terrific, legitimate, listing and spent a fabulous month exploring Rome.

Scams on Airbnb: the advance fee ploy

Here someone offers to pay you (or give you something) if you pay through a service outside of Airbnb. This one is really a variation on the “fake listing” scam we discussed above. It’s just a slightly more elaborate scheme, trying to sweeten the deal for paying outside the system by giving you something in return. There’s definitely a theme to these scams on Airbnb: scammers are trying to get you to pay outside the system. Bad. Idea.

The vacation rental “phishing scam”

When someone sends you an email or link that looks like it’s from Airbnb, but it’s really not. These messages are designed to trick you into providing confidential information such as passwords or other email addresses. How do these “phishers” know to send you an email? They don’t–they’re taking a calculated risk. Phishing isn’t unique to Airbnb; VRBO, FlipKey and others are prone to the same issue.

According to market research firm Statista, the industry is forecasting over 600 million vacation rental users worldwide in 2021 alone. When you think of those kind of numbers, it’s not that far-fetched that an email blast to 10,000 people with the subject line “There’s a problem with your vacation rental reservation” might actually get someone to click on it.


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How to Avoid Scams on Airbnb & other Vacation Rental sites

  1. If a property seems too good to be true, it’s probably not legitimate. Compare the listing to others in the area; anything that looks larger, more luxurious, or cheaper than the going rate should be suspect.
  2. Read property reviews carefully. As we discuss in finding an Airbnb in Arizona, read all the reviews very carefully. Only the stupidest scammers keep up listings that say, “this guy scammed me!” If a property has no reviews at all, or there have been long periods of time between reviews, we proceed with caution.
  3. Review all listing photos with a critical eye. Scammers who post fake listings often scrape photos from another site, which degrades their quality. (Think of a document that’s blurry because it’s been copied and then the copy is re-copied multiple times, or if you took a photo of a hard copy picture with your phone.) Consumer advocate Christopher Elliot provides an excellent example of this in his article about a fake VRBO rental.
  4. Work through legitimate rental companies. When booking a vacation, reputable sites such as Airbnb and VRBO (or established local rental agencies) offer a level of protection should there be an issue.  They all have business reputations to maintain so it’s in their best interest to resolve any disputes to everyone’s satisfaction. A legitimate site will also act as a go-between for payments and resolving any problems.
  5. Stay (and pay) within the system. Booking sites and rental agencies do charge a fee, which many people don’t like paying. But they also provide a valuable service in exchange for this fee, which includes protecting you should anything go amiss with your reservation. Avoid the temptation to save a few dollars by going around them—a trick scammers often use. Be very cautious when someone asks you to pay them directly. Additionally, paying outside the system violates Airbnb’s terms of service, which could cause you to get banned from the site.
  6. Don’t use Craigslist for vacation rentals. Craigslist is a terrific site for buying and selling a lot of stuff, but vacation rentals are not among them. Craigslist is an internet listing site only, there is no “book within the system safety net.” On their own site, they even address how to avoid a Craigslist rental scam: “Do not rent or purchase sight-unseen—that amazing “deal” may not exist.” (Full disclosure: Early in our travels we booked some apartments on Craigslist, back in the day when online rental sites were in their infancy. But we have not done so for years because there is no consumer protection, and therefore would not likely do it again.
  7. Be suspicious of emails regarding reservations that don’t make sense. Never provide any personal information unless you have verified the communication is legitimate. Airbnb has a very helpful guide to decoding suspicious emails, which explains what their links look like, and even lists all the internet domain names they use.
If a vacation rental like this Sedona mansion is available for $25 a night (or even $125 a night),
you might want to verify that listing.

Vacation rentals in Arizona are a fabulous lodging alternative when traveling. However, the Internet makes it very easy for scams on Airbnb and other sites to proliferate, resulting in false listings. Don’t be that guy stuck out on our porch. Always do your due diligence, particularly when the property or price seem too good to be true.


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With so many Airbnb options, it’s a challenge filtering through all the listings. How do you narrow it down?

Before you choose your Airbnb Arizona, check out our list of tips-we’ll help you find the best Airbnb for YOU. We’ve stayed at Airbnb rentals throughout Arizona with generally positive results. In fact, we’ve stayed more than 1,000 nights at Airbnb places around the world. If Airbnb was a country, we’d probably qualify for citizenship.

Among the Airbnb places we’ve stayed in Arizona are a circa 1920s miner’s cottage in downtown Prescott, a mother-in-law suite with a private entrance in Tucson and a spare bedroom on a reservation in Navajo Nation not far from the eastern entrance to the Grand Canyon. (The hosts led us to a delicious place for authentic Indian fry bread.) The choices are varied and plentiful.

Airbnb Arizona cottage with prickly pear cactus out front
Airbnb in Bisbee, Arizona

Tip #1: Airbnb is not a chain

Each property is unique, with a more personal feel than a chain hotel room. Some have nice little touches, like fresh flowers or snacks in the fridge. (But remember, despite the name, breakfast is not usually included. These are not bed-and-breakfasts in the traditional sense.) In a cookie-cutter hotel chain, you might not remember where you are when you wake up because the room in Phoenix looks just like the room in Pittsburgh. Not so at an Airbnb in Arizona, where no two properties look the same.

Because of this uniqueness, it’s important be sure to view the photos of the listing carefully. One cottage may have leather sofas and a 72” TV, while a nearby basement flat sports a couch that should have stayed on the frat house porch. The prices should be reflective of the accommodations, but be sure to look before you book.

Tip #2: Book the “entire place” option if you like privacy

Many people think staying at an Airbnb is simply renting a room in someone’s house. While that is one of three lodging options on the site, we prefer having more privacy if we are are staying for longer than a night or two. For those longer stays we select the “Entire Place” option, which means we have our own fully self-contained living space.

The “entire place” at an Airbnb Arizona can range from an inlaw suite with a microwave and a coffee maker, to a full house, and every combination in-between. Each option works well, depending on your needs, so it’s important to know just what amenities are important to you. Which brings us to . . .

Tip #3: Don’t be afraid to ask questions

The Airbnb site makes it very easy to send questions to the property owner, most of whom respond within a few hours. In fact, that’s a good way to determine out how attentive a particular host may be. If you’re concerned about internet speed (a big one for us) or want to be clear about whether the kitchen has a full stove or just a microwave, just ask. Airbnb hosts want you to be happy with your choice; an unhappy guest is no fun for anyone. If they can’t meet your needs they’ll generally tell you, so you can look elsewhere.

queen size bedroom on tile floor in airbnb yuma arizona
Airbnb Yuma Az

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Tip #4: Know your payment and cancellation options

Airbnb is super-easy to use; all payments are handled through the site. However, payment is typically taken upon reservation (sometimes broken into multiple payments for longer bookings), and cancellation terms can vary from host to host. Again, look before you book. Usually you will not have the same cancellation flexibility as a hotel. Fortunately Airbnb has become a bit more flexible with cancellation policies due to the affect of Covid on travel planning.

Tip #5: Verify the property location

Since the majority of Airbnbs are in private homes, there’s a much broader range of potential locations than typical hotels. In order to protect the privacy of property owners, Airbnb only provides an approximate location via a shaded circle on a map before you book. Once you’ve completed the reservation you’ll get the actual address. The circle is usually accurate enough so you can compare it to Google maps, which will help you determine if you’ll be near sights of interest, or overlooking a railroad track or highway.

Unfortunately, this is not always true. We once rented an Airbnb in California that was between a noisy railroad AND a busy highway. Since we had done our research beforehand we were a bit surprised, and disappointed when we arrived. The landlord’s only explanation was that Airbnb had their location wrong on the map. The moral of the story: if you’re concerned about the location, ask questions of the owner before booking (see Tip #3, above). They may not give you the exact address, but if you ask “how close is the nearest busy road or train?” the owner should respond with enough information to help you make an informed decision.

Desert garden in an Airbnb tucson arizona
Backyard of this colorful Airbnb in Tucson Az is available for guests to use

Tip #6: Verify what areas are available to you

In some Airbnbs you have access only to your own space, while in others you can use outdoor areas like the garden in the Tucson Airbnb above. If that’s important to you, verify ahead of time. It’s no use seeing pretty pictures of things you can’t use.

Tip #7: Read the reviews CAREFULLY

Much like Yelp,TripAdvisor or Booking.com, each listing on Airbnb provides reviews from prior guests. Poorly-maintained properties (or ungracious hosts) are generally easy to spot, and are quickly eliminated. But even once we’ve narrowed down our search to highly-ranked options, we still find some are a bit trickier to decipher. People have no problem leaving one-star reviews for an impersonal name brand hotel, but with Airbnb they’ve developed a relationship with their host and are less likely to say something negative. So you must read reviews more closely for subtle nuances in how the review is written. But even that is no guarantee . . . the properties are all unique and so are the standards of the guests staying in them.

We eliminated one rental in Pennsylvania because the toilet bowl was in the bedroom out in the open. Yet in over 30 positive reviews NO ONE mentioned it. Apparently their idea of “romantic” was different from ours. Ugh!

Comments about one Airbnb Arizona rental we stayed in described the “quiet neighborhood,” yet no one mentioned that the home backed onto a noisy freeway. We were diplomatic—yet honest—in our review, stating “light sleepers might be bothered by the nearby freeway.” More honesty in reviews will help everyone. As mentioned earlier, if you have any concerns, don’t be afraid to ask the host.

Tip #8: Some things can’t be seen in a photo

While pretty photos are nice, they don’t tell you what a place sounds or smells like. If you are particularly sensitive to odors such as cigarette smoke or cats, ask the owner if there’s been a smoker or a cat owner as a prior tenant. That’s where carefully reading reviews may help, but not always.

Also, don’t be shy about requesting that they use fragrance-free detergent to clean the sheets. Our philosophy is the best smell is no smell at all. The best quality hotels smell like . . . just plain clean. It makes for an awful night sleeping when sheets are doused with Febreze, or some other strong fragrance.

front door of a cabin in the woods at an airbnb arizona-flagstaff
An Airbnb in Flagstaff Az

PRO TIP: The lingering effects of Covid have upended the housing market, which has had an effect on Airbnb properties. If you’re concerned about an owner cancelling your reservation, for now be cautious when choosing an Airbnb Arizona that’s a stand-alone property

Tip #9: Be aware your Airbnb Arizona may be sold

One of the unexpected side effects of the Covid pandemic is that the residential real estate market has gone bonkers. Houses are being sold above the listing price, in many cases without the buyer even looking at them. So how does this affect Airbnb Arizona renters? Well, we’ve had several of our Airbnb rentals cancelled in 2021 because the landlord decided to sell the house we were supposed to be renting. We can’t really blame them, but this left us high and dry with no place to rent in an increasingly tight market. So what to do?

Tip #10: Avoid rentals at a freestanding place

Freestanding home are more likely to be properties that the owners fixed up as an investment, which makes selling them in a hot market attractive. Airbnbs that are adjacent to the owner’s home–such as a separate apartment, or in-law suite are a more stable option–at least until the real estate market settles down. They are less like likely to sell that and you are less likely to lose your rental.

Casitas (small guest houses) are very popular at Airbnb Arizona properties.They are located on the owner’s home property and make a great option for a short or long-term stay.

Overall, we highly recommend Airbnb Arizona but recognize that, compared to staying at a chain hotel, it takes a bit more work to find just the right place. That extra effort yields the reward of lodging in places all over Arizona that are well off the crowded tourist path, while providing rewarding friendships and an enriched travel experience.

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