When I travel with my family, we often rent apartments for part of our trip. For the most part we’ve had good experiences. We’ve learned, though, that apartments in other countries are not like the ones at home. A few differences may be inconvenient, but most of the time, they are just interesting.
A Hotel or an Apartment?
There are many advantages to renting an apartment instead of a hotel. Even a small apartment will have kitchen appliances – a refrigerator, stove or hot plate, and sink at a bare minimum. Some will have ovens, dishwashers, and laundry appliances.
In an expensive city, you can save money by preparing your own meals. For me, part of the experience of travel is enjoying the local cuisine, but I have no problem preparing or eating breakfast in an apartment. On a longer trip, I like being able to do my laundry in the apartment.
Most apartments require a stay of at least three days, so if you are traveling to a different city every couple days, apartments probably won’t work out. Checking in to an apartment may not be as easy as checking in to a hotel, so choosing a hotel for your first night might be preferred.
On a recent trip our itinerary included: three nights hotel, three nights apartment, two nights hotel, two nights bed and breakfast, one night hotel, and six nights apartment. My daughter and I were able to do laundry on day five and day thirteen.
Finding an Apartment
Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) and the two largest apartment rental companies. These businesses act as a clearing house for apartment owners to rent to travelers. The companies charge commissions or listing fees to the owners and administrative fees to the renters in return for facilitating the agreements. Limited guarantees are included for both parties.
Finding an apartment on Airbnb or VRBO is easy, choosing the right one is more difficult. To begin, navigate to either website and enter the city where you hope to stay and the dates you will need lodging. The site will return a list of available rentals. If you’d like to narrow your search, you can do so by price, number of bedrooms, location within the city, and amenities.
When you have narrowed your search, look into each rental more carefully. One of the most important parts to read is the review section. If an apartment has very few reviews, renting might be more risky.
In addition to looking at the scores, actually read the reviews. Sometimes, you can tell if the writer is a complainer – pointing out all the negative details, or someone who never complains, saying everything was great, but giving no details. Look for comments about availability of the owner, general cleanliness and working appliances, location or area within the city, and overall impression. Look at the pictures, but know that pictures can often make spaces look larger and more desirable.
The main criteria that I look for in an apartment is whether or not it will accommodate the number of people traveling together. Are there enough beds? How many people will have to sleep on futons or pull-out couches? If I plan to cook, will the kitchen suit my needs?
Another important consideration is the location. Is the apartment close to the center of town or close to the attractions I am most interested in? Is the apartment close to public transportation, convenient for Uber, or does it have available parking, if I am driving?
There are a few other amenities that are important for me in an apartment. I always look for an apartment with an elevator. I can climb some stairs, but I’d rather not climb six flights. In order to connect to relatives at home, it’s important that the apartment has wifi. Laundry facilities are a definite plus. If I’m traveling in the summer, I look for air-conditioning.
We visited Tokyo in April 2016 for a long weekend. (Read about it here, here, and here). Five members of my family were traveling together. We found a very reasonably priced apartment in the Shinjuku area – our most desired location.
The apartment was small, but our stay was short and we spent very little time in the apartment, so we managed. As we entered the apartment, we were in a hallway. The bathroom was to the left, some storage to the right. As we walked further down the hall, the small kitchenette was on the left across from the entrance to the main – and only – room.
At the front end of the main room was the kitchen table. Beyond the table was a futon couch. At the far end of the room was a double bed. Across from the futon there was storage, bookshelves and a TV, with an additional single bed in the corner. When we opened the futon, there was room for five people to sleep. When it was open, though, there was very little room to walk around.
The bathroom was so small that anyone standing in it could reach from one wall to the other – in both directions. The entire apartment was small, but it worked for us.
A bonus for this apartment was that it included a Mifi device – a portable or mobile wifi unit that we could take with us when we went out for the day. We could connect our phones to the signal and check email or social media anytime. Mifi units seem to be more common in Japan than they are in Europe.
My daughter and I rented a very nice studio apartment in Barcelona for three nights. The main room consisted of the kitchen and living room, with the bed in an un-walled partial alcove off to the side of the living room. The kitchen had a full sized refrigerator, a stove and oven, a microwave, and a dishwasher. Next to the kitchen was a closet that held the laundry appliances.
The apartment was located close to the center of town and public transportation. The apartment was one of the nicest I’ve stayed in. The owner was helpful and available if there were problems.
I rented an apartment in Arles with my daughter and son-in law. It was a multilevel apartment with the kitchen and living room on the first floor, a bedroom and the bathroom on the second floor, and a bedroom and access to the outdoor deck on the third floor.
For the price, the apartment was large with a full kitchen and two bedrooms. There were laundry facilities in the bathroom so we were able to do a little wash before we moved on to our next accommodation. We enjoyed sitting our on the patio one evening – it would have been nice to stay longer and take advantage of it more often.
I’ve stayed in three different apartments in Paris. The first one was a large two bedroom, two bath apartment in the seventh arrondissement. I stayed there with three of my daughters. We got a great offer from a new (at the time) apartment rental company – it has since gone out of business. We loved the apartment, but the next time we went to Paris it was not available.
I tried to stay with one of my daughters in an apartment in the sixteenth arrondissement, but it didn’t work out. You can read about it here.
On the next trip, I stayed in a different apartment. This one was so nice that I stayed there on two additional trips. The apartment had a small kitchen with laundry, a full bathroom (tub/shower combination), a living room, and a separate bedroom. It was on the sixth floor with an elevator. The apartment was very close to the Metro station, so we could easily get to anywhere in Paris.
Since staying in that apartment, Paris has changed its rules for short-term rentals. In order to rent, owners must register and pay a visitor’s tax. Registration is allowed for owners who live in the home most of the year. If the apartment is not the owner’s primary residence, it has to be registered as a hotel and more rules apply. The apartment that I had rented in the past, chose not to obtain a license.
Although there are still some unlicensed apartments listed as available, I would not recommend them. At any time the government can levy huge fines on the owners, or even order them to close. Renters with reservations might be left without a place to stay.
During my last trip to Paris, I stayed with my daughter and son-in-law in an apartment in the fifteenth arrondissement. The apartment was large and accommodated us well, but the promised air conditioning was a joke. Unfortunately, it was very warm the entire time we were in Paris (90°+).
I’ve rented other apartments on other trips and will continue to do so. I’d recommend renting through a well-known company. Read the rental agreement and be sure to follow the payment practices they recommend – do not send cash or money orders directly to the owner.
What have your experiences been when renting an apartment in another country? Leave your comments below.