Why I Rent Apartments When I Travel

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I've been lucky, these past few years, to travel frequently and visit some wonderful places. This week, I'm in Paris! Would you like a peek into the apartment we rented? Yes — an apartment. Have you also discovered this lovely way to travel? Here's why I usually prefer to stay in an apartment, instead of a hotel. 

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If you had told me ten years ago how much I would travel now, in my 30s, I would have been delighted. My job, and even more so my husband's, has brought us to some wonderful places, and the fact that I couldn't afford to travel at all in my 20s helps me appreciate these trips that much more. 

I also find that I prefer a slower, less jam-packed approach to a week in London, or Paris, or Lisbon than I might have when I was 23. I want to have a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, without getting dressed or leaving the room. 

Since I am usually working for at least part of the time on these trips, it's also nice to have extra space, like a living room, and a dining table. I get claustrophobic when cooped up for a whole week in a hotel — especially in those wee European or New York City rooms. 

And then, there's the cooking. It's Travel Month at The Kitchn; over the past two weeks we've talked about travel snacks, and good recipes and ideas we've discovered while traveling. This week we're focusing on the cooking we do when away from home, and cooking is one more reason to rent an apartment. While eating at good restaurants is an essential part of travel, it can be more memorable and pleasurable to buy a rotisserie chicken and baguette from the shops downstairs, and eat them at your own quiet table, next to an open window, with a bottle of wine at hand. Especially if the view is something like this: 

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Fresh herbs, and a familiar tower in the distance. 

An apartment lets you do all these things. And while renting a whole apartment, instead of a tiny hotel room, may sound extravagant, the reality is that short-term apartment rentals are often less expensive than a decent hotel. 

The difference in price can be stark, especially in the off season. We've saved money in cities from Nice to San Francisco renting apartments. Sometimes when traveling for one of my husband's academic conferences we share a larger apartment with a colleague or two, driving the cost down even more. 

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None of this is particularly groundbreaking or surprising; there's a large market for short-term rental homes all over the world. But I do have friends who find it a little overwhelming to rent an apartment or don't know where to start. So here are a few more thoughts and tips on renting an apartment while traveling. 

  1. Apartments are best for five days or more. Getting settled in an apartment is a little more complicated than a hotel, I admit. They often don't have the amenities of hotels, like doormen and a concierge and even, sometimes, elevators. Often we've had to meet a representative or go to an office to get keys before dragging our suitcases up five flights of ancient stone stairs. Personally, I find this extra hassle not worth it for a quick trip of a couple days.

    Also, many rental companies and owners don't want to rent an apartment out for less than a full week. 

  2. Apartments are best in busy, interesting neighborhoods. When renting an apartment, I do a lot of research on the neighborhoods. I try to balance the convenient transportation of city center areas with the interesting neighborhood qualities of outer areas. I like to rent places that have lots of shopping and restaurants close by, so we don't spend too much time getting out and back. (But I also don't want them to be in the noisiest party district — it's always a balance!) It's so much easier to go downstairs and buy a baguette than to have to prowl for blocks and blocks, looking for a place that's open.

    When I don't know anything about a city and need to do neighborhood research I ask people on Twitter and also check in at Tripadvisor.

  3. Start early, spend a lot of time looking, and then trust your gut. This might sound obvious, but I find that I find the best places when I start a few months ahead of time. I also have had the most success after a lot of searching through listings, reading the details three times, and getting a good gut feeling from the place. Sometimes this is in how the owner or rental company interacts over email, or something special about the apartment that grabs me. I am cautious with apartments that seem too cheap or too good to be true. 

    But in the end, I trust my gut, and if we find a place that works well for us, we use it again when we go back to the city. For instance, in San Francisco, where my husband has a work meeting every December, we rented three different apartments before finding one well-located spot. This will be our fourth year renting that same apartment, and it makes it so much easier since we know which buses to take and how to get to our favorite restaurants. 

Here are a few of the places I look for good apartments: 

What about you? Do you ever look for apartments when you travel in the United States or abroad? Do you have any good tips, advice, or best practices for renting and enjoying a vacation apartment? 

→ Our apartment in Paris this week: Abbesses - Montmartre 1 Bedroom - Rental apartment from Haven in Paris (highly recommend them!)

(Images: Faith Durand)