CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The pictures online made the hotel or rental you booked look like paradise. You hop in the car or get on the plane and head to your destination.
When you arrive, you immediately realize this is nothing like you've planned.
That happened to Charlotte-area wedding planner Ivy Robinson when she traveled to Costa Rica for her friend's wedding.
"We were so excited. The pictures online looked amazing and we couldn't wait to get there," Robinson said.
Then they arrived late at night and were disgusted by what they saw.
"We walked in and the house is disgusting. The beds weren't made. You could tell that someone had just been slept in them. There was food in the refrigerator. The place was dirty. The floors were nasty and the bathrooms were nasty. The toilets hadn't been flushed," Robinson said.
After hearing many stories just like this, and reading hundreds of complaints online from disappointed travelers, WBTV took it's cameras to the Carolina coast.
"The more and the better pictures you have, the more likely you are to sell the room," said Rod Welch who is the President of website hotelguides.com.
He knows dishonest companies stretch the truth and rely on a touch-up program like Photoshop to remove mold from the deck railings and stains from furniture. They also use creative camera angles to make swimming pools and lounges look much bigger than they really are.
Others have been fooled by a very loose description of what can be called ocean view and ocean front.
One home that was advertised on Topsail Island, NC as ocean front proved to have two other homes between it and the beach when researched on Google Maps.
"We try very hard to take a true picture of the house and the surroundings. That's the reason most of our houses 10 or 20 different shots," said Buddy Rudd whose company manages more than 300 beach rentals on Oak Island, NC.
He adds, however, that there are some things a photo can't show you before you rent so you have to be sure to ask plenty of questions before signing on the dotted line.
Be sure to ask when was the last time the pictures on the website were updated. Also ask about the furniture and when was the last time it was updated or replaced. Be sure to ask if there have been any complaints about a moldy or mildew smell inside the property as well.
Rudd also suggests you make sure the online company you are booking with has a local representative. That way if there is a problem when you arrive it can be resolved right away.
Website president Welch adds, "When you have a bad experience, post it. Explain it to people. That will help other people and in turn other people do the same and that helps you down the line".
Robinson and her friends ended up in a hotel the first night of their trip. When they finally did reach their local connection they were moved to a better property. She has since been back to Costa Rica and has had great experiences but that may be because she learned her lesson.
"My advice is to really do your research and look into the agency you are booking through," Robinson said.
To hear more of Rod Welch's best travel advice before booking your next vacation, including the number one mistake most travelers make, watch the video at the top of this page.