Planning a trip to a major European City such as Paris or Rome? Staying at least seven nights at a single destination? Consider staying in a vacation rental apartment rather than a hotel. An apartment will give you more room and privacy, the option to cook in, and the opportunity to experience living in a foreign neighborhood.
A vacation rental apartment is not necessarily the cheapest option, but prices are generally comparable to centrally-located, mid-range hotels. Where you will save both money and time is in having the option to eat at least some of your meals at “home.” My husband and I have had wonderful vacations staying in rental apartments in Paris and Rome. Here is how it worked for us.
Details will vary with the location and specific apartment, but places we’ve stayed have included:
- Fully equipped kitchen with stove, oven, dishwasher, microwave, and coffee maker, as well as dishes, utensils, and pans. In other words, you won’t need to take any household items.
- Nicely fitted bathroom with a shower.
- Washer and dryer.
- Wi-Fi, satellite TV, and phone. International calling may even be included.
- Elevators are not always present, but it’s something we’ve found particularly useful for transporting luggage up several flights of stairs.
- A house book with instructions for appliances, contact numbers, and information about local markets and restaurants.
For many travelers, exploring restaurants is a large part of the experience. Having your own kitchen available won’t prevent that, but will give the option of not having to find somewhere for each and every meal.
If you’re not particularly interested in cooking, you can still come out ahead. Just preparing your own breakfast and coffee will save money and time over a café meal. Fix your own picnic lunch to take along for a day’s sightseeing. Also, just like in the U.S., many markets sell prepared or semi-prepared meals, so there’s no need to put out a lot of effort at the end of a long day on your feet visiting the Louvre or Vatican Museum.
If you do like to cook, the appeal is obvious. You’ll be able to try out options from open air markets or local specialty shops. Even the local supermarket will carry produce and baked goods that you won’t see back home. I fell in love with the sweet, tender, “chokeless” artichokes readily available in Rome. I don’t know why we don’t grow them in the California. I’m sure they’d be very popular!
For those with a food allergy or intolerance, being able to prepare your own meals will make life so much easier. I have a dairy intolerance, which can seriously complicate dining out in cultures famous for their cheeses and rich cream sauces. In Paris, I was able to find coconut creamer for my morning coffee. I could cook with olive oil instead of butter, and flavor our dishes with fresh herbs rather than cheese.
How to find an apartment abroad:
The simplest way to find an apartment vacation rental is to work with an agency. Find a good agency through word of mouth, or a recent, reputable guidebook. I found “Italy Perfect” by recommendation from a friend, and “Paris for Rent” in Rick Steves’ guidebook on Paris. I have personally used both agencies, and would recommend them.
Start by going to the website and looking over the properties. Information posted will give you an idea of prices and availability for the dates of your trip. If you decide to book, the agency will put you in touch with a U.S. agent. The agent will help you finalize your booking, and provide you with all the information you need about your vacation home.
When you arrive at the airport or train station, you’ll have an English-speaking local “greeter” to contact by phone. The greeter will meet you at the apartment, but the rental agency can usually arrange ground transportation for you as well. At the apartment, the greeter will give you a quick tour of how everything works and anything else you need to know. Fortunately, all this information is also left for you in printed form, because you’ll probably be too tired to take it all in.
So get out there and brush shoulders with the natives while choosing your légumes and fromage. You might even be mistaken for a real Parisian, like I was!