I’ve long been a proponent of renting apartments on vacation, especially when traveling in Europe. In fact, I’ve only rarely ever stayed in a European hotel. So when the vacation rental company HouseTrip asked me to write a post where I extol the virtue of this type of travel, I said a very happy yes.
Let me make three things clear up front: HouseTrip is compensating me to write this post; I’ve never used their services in Europe, so my opinions on that experience are speculative; and I do intend to use HouseTrip on a trip to Italy I have planned next spring because after staying in one of their properties in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, I was impressed.
I know that many North Americans are intimidated by the thought of staying in an apartment while traveling abroad – in the United States it’s not how families tend to travel. And it’s true that you usually won’t have a concierge or someone immediately on hand to answer questions if you choose the holiday rental route. But the advantages of this kind of travel far outweigh the downsides.
So why am I such a fan of vacation rentals for family European vacations?
There’s no better way to live like a local
The apartments I’ve rented in London, Paris, and Florence all were in neighborhoods I would probably have been unlikely to visit as a tourist. In Italy I had the pleasure of becoming friendly with both local shop owners as well as Lorenzo, who made my cappuccino every morning at the local bar. In England I found Clissold Park, one of my all-time favorite British parks with a small petting zoo and large lovely playground full of schoolchildren. And in France I shopped at the local market and prepared rabbit sausage and green bean salad in a kitchen whose window overlooked the rooftops of Paris.
There’s something about staying in a vacation rental that allows you to enter into the fabric of a place in a way that hotels do not.
European vacation rentals cost less than hotels
Vacation rentals themselves tend to offer more space for fewer dollars, especially for longer stays (many owners will offer a discount if you stay for a week or more). Add in the fact that when you have an apartment you can cook some or all of your meals and that can add up to significant savings.
Another way that vacation rentals save you money: Many of them have laundry facilities. The ability to wash your clothes while on vacation means you can bring fewer of them and save on baggage fees. I once traveled for two weeks in England with my husband and two children and only carryon luggage
European vacation rentals will give you a bit of space
Hotel rooms are generally smaller in Europe than in North America and often offer only one bed. You’ll often find that it’s necessary to rent two rooms, which of course is more expensive but also is not a comfortable thought for some families, especially when their children are young.
Although European apartments can also be small, in my experience there’s generally a good inventory of vacation rentals in my price range offering the correct number of bedrooms. And some apartments can be positively spacious – I’ve twice rented an apartment near the Place Monge in Paris that runs the entire length of the building it is in and would be big even by North American standards.
Holiday rentals are how Europeans travel
When Europeans go on family holiday around their native continent, they are likely to use vacation rentals for their accommodations. That means you’ll find that many of the owners or managers of the properties are prepared to make families comfortable. I went to Florence with my older son when he was 18 months old and the owner of our vacation rental provided us with a small bathtub, a crib, and even a tricycle. We were so much more comfortable in that apartment, which was tucked away on a quiet side street where I could give him naps in the afternoon, than we would have been in a hotel in the more touristed area of the city where crowds of people bustled by at all hours of the day and night.
The Internet makes it easy to find vacation rentals all over the world – you can look at pictures, get dimensions, and use online maps to check out the entire neighborhood and get a feel for where you’ll be staying. Many vacation rental sites, HouseTrip included, will tell you if a property is child friendly and whether amenities like cribs are available. You can read reviews from other guests and communicate with the owner prior to your stay.
One thing that I particularly like about HouseTrip is that they offer customer service in multiple languages – so if you arrive at your rental and it’s not what you expect, you are just a phone call or email away from help in your native tongue.
My sons refer to the apartment where we’ve twice stayed in Paris as “ours”. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t feel at home, or that kind of ownership, of a hotel room. It makes me really happy to know that there connection to a city I love has been deepened by our choice to stay in a vacation rental.
If you like this post, please check out The Family Traveler’s Handbook, which offers many more tips like these.