Thursday, July 23, 2015

Renting on Vacation

Mike is clueless.

His words, not mine. Mike is getting married then taking his new bride to a country they have never been to and know nothing about.This doesn't make him clueless but he did feel that way.

So he was asking my advice on travel in Europe. How do you get around? How do you find a good hotel? What if we witness a political assassination and we need to be smuggled out of the country in the back of a laundry truck by communists?
"I can see the boarder! Push harder comrade!"
Well I can't say I have all the answers but I can help with some things, especially when it comes to lodging. Renting is really a better option (in my humble opinion) if you're planning on staying in one place for more that 3 days. It allows for more privacy (which the SO and I prefer), we can cook our own meal by utilizing local foods (yay!), and you usually get more bang for your buck. So I wrote him a list of tips that I'm going to share with you!

The main sites I use when searching: (make sure you secure "private" or "whole") (limited but still good resource) (limited but usually refundable)

AND/OR (which searches some of these sites at the same time, although they don't catch everything)

A lot of these are overlapping and you will see the same properties over again but if you want to do your due diligence to find the perfect place, you should use more than one. (Usually 2-3)

My Tips:
  • My #1 most important tip (and starting point in any search) - Research the area you want to stay, learn the names of the areas (downtown, olde town,etc) and use maps. Really familiarize yourself with the layout of the city. Do you REALLY want to stay next to The Colosseum? (Tourists can be loud and dirty.) Yes, this apartment is amazing and close to attractions, but did you notice it's in the red light district? (Drunk frat guys getting laid at 3am isn't fun for me personally.) Your townhouse is awesome but if you can't walk home from dinner without stepping on used syringes or crossing a dark railroad yard, maybe it's not worth it. Be aware of noise levels, safety, and things that may/may not be important to you like a beautiful view or closeness to shopping, attractions, etc. 
"Maybe the market district was a mistake..."
  • Use your filters to search more efficiently. Set those price min/max points first thing. If you must have a pool, use that filter. If you want to be near Brandenburg Gate or Graceland proper, use the site's map feature. 
  • Make sure management speaks English or make arrangements to find a way to communicate. (I have used google translate in the past to arrange meet up, get directions to the apartment, etc)
  • Know your budget and stick to it! (You can filter to save time and avoid the dreaded "rental envy".)
  • Check reviews! If the property doesn't have any reviews yet, I am usually a bit wary. I check other sites to see if maybe they have reviews there but if there is nothing, it's something that you will have to use your own judgement. Also be aware there are a lot of people who feel entitled or just like to complain. I can't tell you how many reviews I've read that say "The rooms were so small! The bathrooms were tiny! There's no AC! The nerve!". Yeah. It's Europe. A home built in 1754 isn't going to be massive or have an HVAC system. If you need that stuff, rent the penthouse at the Westin. (or just search those filters)
Not that there's anything wrong with that!
  • Photos are key. If they don't have the forethought to have nice pictures taken, don't even bother. If they can't clean the home or open the curtains to let the light in when they're trying to advertise, they aren't managing the property correctly and they aren't going to be someone you want to work with.  Also, if the photos are of a really poor resolution, this can be a real sign that it's a scam. I've had an apartment advertised that looked great but the resolution was really awful. I inquired to the "owner" and later found out that they had saved large thumbnails taken from a real estate website and put this place up for rent posing as owners of the property. On the other end of the spectrum, really nice, photo-shopped photos (usually of high-end properties) can be suspect too. You can always ask for more/different photos from the owners or check google maps to find the property. (to make sure it actually exists)
  • If prices are too good to be true, they are. It's probably a scam OR they're charging by the person so read that fine print!
$69/night! What a deal!
  • Always call the owner/property manager/etc. I will usually think of a silly question and call them to get it answered. (Do you have a hair dryer in the home? Can you recommend a car rental company in walking distance?) If you get a weird feeling, don't do it. 
  • Always use a credit card. Don't wire money or send a check. If there is any problem, you can get some of your money back. (Airbnb holds the funds in escrow so both sides are protected.) That being said, like many places in Europe and around the world, people don't use credit cards much and prefer cash. Usually half of my interactions with vacation rentals involve paying 50% when we book on my Visa then the other 50% is due at the key hand-off in cash. This is not unusual. 
  • Style is important. At least for me it is. I feel that if someone take pride in styling and furnishing a place, that will show in other areas of the transaction as well. Even a modest home can easily be cared for with simple window treatments and nice linens. It feels more like a proper vacation if you stay someplace that looks beautiful too. 
Both top and bottom apts are in Rome, same price...

It's not like checking into a hotel...
  • If you have a phone while traveling, exchange numbers. Things happen and you can get delayed so having a phone is great. If you won't have a phone, make sure you have exchanged proper email address at the least.
  • Give your host your travel info. If you're flying in, they can check your flight if delayed. If you're driving or taking the train in, give them a time window and try hard to stick to it.
  • When you arrange a time, pick a very specific spot to meet up and get the owner's info and even physical description and tell them yours. Usually I say, "My husband and I will be together; look for the red head in the colorful scarf!"
  • If you're delayed, call, email, carrier pigeon a new time to meet because they will leave the meetup spot and won't come back til they hear from you. (I've run off in search of a wifi cafe to email our host after our plane was delayed and they had left when we didn't show up.) 
  • Check your fine print! Sometimes they charge per person, per day. Sometimes checkout is way early. Sometimes they charge you for using their linens. (Yes, really.) Also small things like if shampoo and soap is provided or if you will need to find a market to purchase those yourself. 
And don't forget to be kind, be respectful and be flexible! 

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