I rented my first vacation apartment eight years before Airbnb even existed, let alone became popular. It was in Paris and, even adjusted for inflation, it was a steal at just $109 a night. Between the ample size (larger than my first abode in Chicago); killer location (a stone’s throw away from Place des Vosges); and luxurious chateaux-like décor; I felt as though I had won the vacation home lottery.
My obsession continued through many of my future voyages, including several more trips to Paris exploring pads in different arrondissements; a seaside respite in Cinque Terre, Italy; a villa in the Amalfi Coast; and more. Don’t get me wrong. I love a palatial hotel just as much as the next person, right down to the serene spa; fancy bar; and breakfast in bed. But I also love to travel—a lot—so my love affair with this alternative boarding arrangement works for my bank account, while still catering to my love of interesting places.
So, because I often get asked questions about renting, I put together a list of pros, cons, and things to look out for. And remember, while my experience has been international, don’t rule out a rental for your next domestic voyage, too. After all, just think about the extra spending money you’ll have if you do.
More bang for your buck: As mentioned, I’ve stayed in fancy apartments; an entire floor of a villa; and a seaside retreat, all for under $150 a night. Aside from the luxury of having a heck of a lot more space than a cramped hotel room at the same price, there’s also the option to save some cash by cooking a few meals on-site. Traveling with kids? Renting is a dream come true!
- You can budget your trip: While Airbnb requires full payment upfront, many rental agencies only require a down payment at the time of booking, so it makes it easier to budget for an entire trip—especially after shucking out bucks for airfare.
- Not cookie-cutter: An average hotel room couldn’t compare to some of the unique places that can be found via rental-by-owner. The one-of-a-kind nature of a rental property really makes the trip feel special.
- Feel like a local: While this might be more of a pro for international travels, it is by far one of my most favorite points. Without all the noise of a hotel; a set of keys in your hand; and a refrigerator filled with goodies from the open-air market down the street; you can (temporarily) live out that fantasy of living in Paris, Rome, or wherever your wanderlust takes you. It also gives you a greater appreciation for the culture and surroundings as you’re more connected to it.
- Check-in: There’s always a little anxiety between the time your plane lands and when you actually get to the apartment. For starters, most owners/managers want you to call to let them know you’re on the way. This can sometimes lead to a language barrier/confusion on the phone depending on your destination. Next, these places aren’t exactly lit-up with a neon sign. They can sometimes be difficult to find—even for a shuttle/cab driver. I try to combat this by looking at a Google map of the destination beforehand. This way, I’m familiar with any possible landmarks that I can use to navigate.
- You’re on your own: Seven flights of stairs in a 17th century apartment building with no elevator? You’re on your own when it comes to schlepping your suitcases—no bellman here. I look at it as a way to burn off some extra vacation calories.
- Security deposit: Most owners/agencies require a refundable cash security deposit, which can generally range from $50-$500. I’ve been able to negotiate leaving a signed check so that I don’t have to tie up my cash. It’s worth an ask.
- Plan ahead for food: If you’re staying in a more remote destination, it’s best to hit the local grocery store or market the first day you arrive. Without the convenience of room service or an on-site restaurant, you’ll want to make sure you always have fresh water and some snacks on-hand. A tired, hungry traveler is not a happy one.
- Not all handicapped accessible: Luckily, most rental websites clearly state whether or not a property is handicapped accessible. To save time on your search process, look for the filter so you can narrow down your options. Also factor in things like how easy it is to get to the property from the airport, etc. If it’s going to take a bus and two trains, it’s obviously not the best option—even if it does have an elevator.
- Service fee: I’ve never paid a service fee, but there are some agencies that require one. Read the fine print before you even begin searching on your site if that extra cost is an issue.
THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR
- Secure payment options: Anything that sounds shady probably is. Only book using secure online payment options like PayPal. Keep in mind that some of these renters want you to pay the remaining amount, after the initial deposit, in cash. If this is an issue, ask about charging the amount to a credit card instead. There might be a small fee, but it’s worth it for peace of mind.
- Poor email correspondence: Sorry, but if someone isn’t writing me back or answering my questions, I don’t even want to think of what’s going to happen when my plane lands and I need to pick up keys. It’s the job of the owner or agency to respond to you in a prompt and clear manner, so don’t be afraid to ask questions about transportation or amenities, or for additional images if you’re having a problem making a final decision.
- Reviews: Dig deep into those reviews. Read every single one and look for consistencies in pros and cons. Remember, though, reviews are subjective, so if someone was complaining that the television was too small and you have no plans to watch Law & Order reruns on your vacation, take the comment with a grain of salt.
- Do your research: Most importantly, don’t drop a deposit on the first place that tickles your fancy. There are a lot of options out there, so do your homework. It takes time, but personally, I’ve always found it enjoyable. Make a Google document and start a running list of places you find, complete with a link to the property and all applicable costs. If you’re not sure where to start, choose a few neighborhoods or areas you’d like to stay in and go from there. And don’t be afraid to start a conversation with the owners. The answers to your questions will ultimately help you decide upon the vacation home of your dreams.
Have a question about renting that I didn’t cover here? Email me at Rebecca@welltraveledbeauty.com. Stay tuned for a post on some of my top rental agencies and websites.