How to Rent a Home While Traveling
Besides living in a campervan for eight weeks through New Zealand and Australia, we have spent the majority of our nights in rented apartments or houses around the world. We have always preferred to rent a home or apartment during a weekend or week-long trip over staying in hotels, and those experiences have helped us find unique and comfortable places to stay while being nomads for a year.
The pros and cons of renting a home/apartment while traveling
Self-catering - While indulging in local meals is one of our favorite travel experiences, the flexibility of a having a kitchen to make coffee, eat breakfast and occasionally make dinners allows us to often eat healthier and save money while traveling.
Free internet - Any of our family members can tell you what a struggle it has been to try to communicate while we have been abroad because of no WiFi or terrible WiFi connections. At rented homes, WiFi is free, often faster and more reliable than what we can find at hostels or hotels, some of which still charge for WiFi or only have it in designated areas.
Space - In the past eight months, we have stayed in tiny 20 meter studios, two bedroom apartments and giant yurts on the ocean. Typically, we get more space in a rental than a hotel room or hostel, allowing us to unpack, spread out and relax for a few days. Also, if you are traveling with a group of friends of family members, having one big house to all be in versus a bunch of hotel rooms can be more fun, convenient and much cheaper.
Clean clothes - As light travel packers, having our own washing machine is a luxury. When we search for rentals, we often filter by places that have a washing machine so we can guarantee we will have access to clean clothes in the near future. We aren't above washing our undies in the sink, but they need a good spin cycle every once and a while!
Flexibility on checking in - Vacation rentals can often be flexible with check in times if there is not a guest in the unit before you arrive. We have landed on someone's doorstep at 7 a.m. in London and been ushered right into our room, where we promptly passed out after a long day of travel.
Living like a local - The greatest benefit to renting places is usually the neighborhoods we find ourselves in. We try to rent places in non-busy locations to make sure we have a quiet, relaxing space to come back to at the end of the day. This typically puts us in the middle of a random neighborhood, where communication with the mini-mart clerk is all in sign language and broken hellos and thank yous, but also means finding some hidden places, like restaurants, that we would never see if we stayed in hotels in tourist areas.
Uncertainty - While living like a local is great, every time we arrive at a rental home, it is a gamble on where it is really located (up a giant hill, on a busy street). The unit could look different from the pictures or the beds could be uncomfortable. Reading reviews from past guests is really helpful, but you still never know.
Housekeeping - Just like living in our own house, we are responsible for cleaning and keeping a tidy space. It is never a big deal, but when we stay in hotels and come home in the afternoon to a freshly made bed and new towels, it reminds us of what we miss out on when we stay in rental homes.
On demand help - We are pretty low maintenance travelers who can find most things we need on our own, but there are times where a hotel front desk staff or a concierge would save us the time and effort of wandering around a city looking for a supermarket, restaurant or particular shop.
Lack of control - In renting a place, you are basically committed upon arrival. Unlike a hotel where you can ask for a different room, the rental is what it is. Our hosts have been more than accommodating if there have been any issues, but it requires an amount of flexibility and ability to go with the flow.
Overall, the benefits of renting a home or apartment significantly outweigh the small luxuries of a hotel for us, particularly because our travel budget rarely allows for a luxurious hotel stay. We have found some amazing rentals, not only on our current trip but on other trips in the last five years.
To rent a home for your next trip, here are a few things we continue to find helpful.
How to find a great vacation rental
Determine your budget for the time period you will be renting. Some rentals will have added taxes, cleaning fees and surcharges that you will need to take into consideration when searching properties. It is helpful to have an overall number you are willing to pay to help filter your search. Always look at cleaning fees and taxes, they can often increase the price of a rental dramatically.
Do initial research on the area. Most sites will allow you to filter by neighborhood or town so having an idea of where you want to stay will increase the odds of you finding the right rental for you. Find a guidebook or look at local tourism board sites to get an overview of the areas. Be flexible though - sometimes a neighborhood next to a popular area will be a better find and easier on the pocketbook.
Look at multiple websites.Airbnb has been our preferred site for rentals around the world, but other sites we have used with success are VRBO.com, Stayz.com and Homeaway.com. Many countries and states also have their own rental sites so a quick Google search will help you find the local sites where vacation rentals are posted. We found our amazing yurt in Japan by following the a Japanese Tourism Board on Facebook where they posted a review of the accommodation. Twitter is also a great resource for following sites with accommodations for special deals and promotions.
Decide what is important for your particular trip and filter your searches appropriately. Do you want a hot tub? Are you okay not having internet? Do you want a deck or balcony to relax on? Think about where you are headed, what you will be doing while you are there and what you will really need in an rental. Most rental sites will allow you to filter on amenities.
Read the reviews. Most rental sites have a place for past guests to review their stay. Read the reviews and see if anything stands out that may be important to you (i.e.. located on a busy street, beds are uncomfortable). However, don't shy away from places with no reviews. We have stayed in multiple places on our trip that had just been listed through Airbnb, resulting in no reviews yet, and they were some of our best finds.
Don't be afraid to negotiate. Are you traveling off season? Staying for a week or more? If you are renting during a low or shoulder season, ask the owner for any discounts they would provide for your stay or throw out a number you think is reasonable. We have negotiated in many instances and have been successful, especially when it's a non-busy tourism season.
Ask questions. If you don't understand where the property is located through the description on the site, ask the owner. Ask all the questions that are important to you up front so you aren't surprised when you arrive.
Reach out to multiple owners. To increase your chances of finding the best unit, reach out to multiple owners as you do your search. For example, when looking for an apartment in Paris through Airbnb, many owners came back saying their unit wasn't available during our dates even though their calendar appeared available.
Looking for an apartment or home to rent while traveling can be more time consuming than choosing a hotel, but in the end, it is often worth the investment in time. The best tip I have received that I will now leave you with is -- if you are renting a place and traveling to it from your current home (and planning on cooking while there), bring some necessities like spices, condiments and even a good knife. Kitchens are all outfitted differently and having these things with you can be a tremendous help in making meals.