By Vera Marie Badertscher
Living like a local when you travel
We walked to “our” neighborhood grocery store in Paris’ St. Germain area on the Left Bank. We welcomed sons and grandchildren for a long weekend in a cabin in northern Arizona. We sat and stroked the black and white kitty-in-residence as we gazed out over olive groves to the blue, blue Aegean on the island of Siphnos in Greece.
I am a fan of renting a house or an apartment when you travel. I’m just sorry that I did not wise up sooner to the advantages of living like a native instead of hanging out with professional hosts at hotels.
Don’t get me wrong, I still do plenty of one-or-two-nights-in-a-place before moving on, and therefore must find reasonably priced bed and breakfasts, motels, chateaus, or whatever suits the surroundings. But my preference is for the slow travel that lets me meet more “real” people instead of just people who are there to be nice to tourists. A trip is counted as a success if I have met several people who are NOT employed as waiters, hotel receptionists or cab drivers!
Nowadays you can find an exciting variety of types of lodging when you travel, from the adventurous young people’s haven of couch surfing to rental of exclusive mansions that accommodate twenty people or even an entire island. Not being interested in either of those extremes, I stick with the biggest home rental company, Home Away and their subsidiary Vacation Rental By Owner. But there are numerous smaller companies, many specializing in one country, or even one city.
Are you nervous about trying something new? Here are some guidelines and tips.
1. Can I trust the renter?
Look at the pictures on the rental site. I don’t like to rent a place when I don’t see lots of pictures. Ask yourself, what are they NOT showing pictures of? You can send a note or call directly to the landlord asking for specific information about anything that concerns you.
The Home Away companies do not monitor the renters, that is true, but you can check the comments on their site. Additionally, Trip Advisor.com has evaluations of some rentals. Finally, Home Away has rental insurance you can purchase, that is similar to trip insurance, except it covers things like “property does not appear as it was described”, etc.
2. Money up front?
The deposit is standard, as is asking for a cash payment when you arrive. You cannot expect to be able to pay everything by credit card when you’re not dealing with corporations. When we rented an apartment in Paris, we knew that we had to pay the landlord upon our arrival, in cash–Euros not dollars! Since we were arriving on a Sunday, we were not sure how this would work, but he met us and walked with my husband to a money changing place nearby. Not the ideal situation, since the exchange rate would no doubt have been better at a bank, but on the other hand, if we had gotten Euros in the U.S., they would be more expensive.
3. Make a list of what is important to you.
The size of a rental, including number of bedrooms and how many each sleeps will be extremely important, but then you need to be honest about your personal likes and dislikes.
• Where is it? You will find plenty of variety in most places. Even when we rented on the little island of Siphnos in Greece, we could choose between beach properties, those higher with a view, in town or rural.
• What is included? Swimming pool? Kitchen equipment limited or not? Wireless available? T.V.? Phone? Our rental in Siphnos came with a car, and our Arizona White Mountains cabin appealed because they had children’s toys and games and we were bringing family.
• Price? Don’t forget to check on whether there are extras. Most places charge a clean-up fee. Some charge for utilities used.
• Convenient to necessities? How are you going to get to a grocery store? Is it close to the things you most want to see and do? Our Left Bank apartment in Paris was walking distance to just about every museum and other activity we wanted to do in Paris.
Of course if you have never rented before you are going to be a little nervous. But if you are staying in one place for a week or more, or if you are sharing a trip with family or friends, try moving in to the neighborhood instead of being yet another hotel guest.
About the Author:
Vera Marie Badertscher publishes A Traveler’s Library where, with six other travelers, she reports on new books, movies, and other things that inspire travel. She also combines her love of cooking and history at her site, Ancestors in Aprons, that is dedicated to the idea that food memories tie you to family and ancestors.
Photos courtesy of Vera Marie Badertscher
Thanks for sharing our rental experiences here. I’d be happy to answer questions that readers may have, or hear their own experiences with renting.
We’re toying with a longer vacation next year and have been poking around on VRBO and Airbnb. Amazing how reasonable it is to rent an entire home or apartment!
Your article was inspiring, Vera!
We also have started renting apts./condos when we can on our travels. Far more interesting to be a part of the community as you’ve described so well above. It is also nice on our extended explorations to have some ‘space’ and not be jammed into a small hotel room. It’s nice to linger in our ‘own’ place over morning coffee or have our own Happy Hours there. We’ve ‘lived’ that kind of travel in Greece, Spain and Italy now and highly recommend it. I too would be willing to answer questions or tell you about places we’ve stayed. Nice article, Vera.
I have stayed at this type of rental in the past. Now I own and run an inn and understand why innkeepers are not so gung ho on the development of what I term renegade rentals. So many people do it in the summer, here in my hometown of Wellfleet. They do not pay insurance the way innkeepers must. They do not have insurance officials do inspections, or even town officials for that matter. They do not always declare the income. They are running a business, but do not behave as if they were.
Happy to hear that so many others enjoy rentals when traveling. I can see the problem, with “renegade rentals”, Alexandra. There are a lot of people who also rent out a room and call themselves a B & B but their service doesn’t compare to your well-run Chez Sven in Wellfleet.
I have been surprised to discover how many places we rent ARE run by businesses, rather than individuals. I completely forgot to mention our beautiful condo apt. in Santa Fe. It was rented through a rental management firm, so the whole operation was very professional. And our Paris apartment search yielded many that were rented by companies rather than individuals.
People who duck the law are definitely a problem, but as I said, I use various kinds of lodging depending on the circumstances. Also, its good to see such a wide variety of prices available so young, or not so well-fixed people can travel, too.
I’d probably be a little nervous about it, but think it’s a great way to really embed yourself in the area.
Some great tips! I’ve just returned from 7 months in South America, during which time my girlfriend and I rented a little house in El Bolson, Argentina for 5 months, and an apartment in Lima, Peru for 2 months. I’ve done the hostel-jumping sort of backpacking too, but this was the first time I really combined medium-term rentals with travel – I loved it! Really allows one to sink into the experience of being in a place and culture 🙂
One other suggestion I’d add: as much as possible, communicate by email, and verify the important things by email (even when you see them in writing through, say, an online listing or an ad in a guidebook). Having things in writing and easily accessible can prevent so many headaches and resolve so many misunderstandings!
When our son was married in May, with all the relatives vying for empty beds, we could not accommodate my sister, husband and daughter. They also wanted to stay somewhere close to my mother’s retirement community and they would be staying for a week since they had made a cross country trip. My son has rented out his South Beach condo on AirBnB, so I gave them a try to look for a something for my sister. I found them a 2 bedroom apartment in walking distance of my mother in the Art Museum area of Philadelphia for a week. They were much happier than they would have been in a hotel room. The only weirdness is that the owner asked them if she could leave her cat. They’ve had cats in the past, so they said “yes”. Unfortunately, this cat was not happy at being left in his/her house with strangers and acted out by “spraying”. (I am not a cat person, so I do not know what this entails, but it sounds kinda nasty.)