Before the internet changed all the rules, you made a hotel reservation by phone, through a travel agent, or just showed up. Cancelation was a simple phone call. The choices were limited.
Nowadays things are not so simple. Choices and deals abound, but so do the pitfalls. I recently lost almost 50,000 frequent flyer miles because there was no cancellation option for a hotel reservation I made with miles on the internet.
Over the recent years, we’ve made quite a few trips, but with few or no stops in hotels. You might be wondering how we managed that. The answer is simple, the vacation rental apartment or house. There are quite a number of sites on the internet offering vacation rentals. My favorite is www.homeaway.com. There are many others including VRBO – vacation rentals by owner.
There are several advantages to renting an apartment or house. It can save you lots of money. Apartments and houses are almost always larger than hotel rooms and always include kitchens.
We usually rent one large enough to accommodate guests as most of our stays include visits from family or friends. Having a kitchen and being able to prepare meals, not only saves money, but gives the stay new dimensions. Continually eating in restaurants is expensive and can become monotonous. Shopping for groceries puts you in the shoes of a local.
Instead of dealing with a large impersonal organization, most often you contact the property owner and develop a one on one relationship. I’ve never had a problem with a property owner in all the time we have been renting this way. Down payments are usually high, up to 50% with the remainder due upon arrival. If there is a delay in arriving you can lose a day or two of the rent. Remember its essential to deal with a reputable website.
For the budget minded, there are dozens of house exchange sites on the internet. Also one can find a place to stay for free in exchange for caring for the owner’s pets. Try trustedhousesitters.com.
This type of travel is truly independent. In many cases renting a car is necessary. If you are not comfortable driving look for something in a city or near public transportation.
We’ve stayed in a sea view house in Costa Rica, a language school in Panama (room with private bath @ $25 per night), a 2 bedroom apartment in Palermo neighborhood in Buenos Aires, a Trullo (renovated rustic farm structure) in Puglia, Italy, a Scuderia (renovated stable) in a villa just outside of Florence, a huge 4 bedroom, 3 bath house in Umbria, a third floor walkup with of view of St. Peter’s dome in Rome to name some of the more memorable.
If you want to immerse yourself in the local culture and or practice a foreign language, this is the way to go.