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