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The above are all good reasons but the main one is: we get to pretend we are locals. The kids LOVE this and therefore we usually try to stay in residential areas. We get to do things you wouldn't do in a hotel like shop for groceries, catch the public transportation with the neighborhood folks, learn to recycle (believe me, in some countries this is a challenge), figure out appliances and frequent the corner coffee shop to name a few. It is a way to live some of the culture instead of just observing.
We have rented in: San Francisco, London, Cartagena, Leysin, Montreux, Berlin, Florence, Varenna, Dubrovnik, Vienna, Budapest, Prague and Istanbul. We have been mostly lucky. Some of the places have been SUPERB and some not so much so, do your homework properly. Talk to the owner over the phone. Look CAREFULY at the pictures, if the bathroom is not displayed it is a red flag as we found out… Read the reviews, pay attention to the negative ones. Google the area and make sure you can find what you need near by.
Renting is not for everyone, if you are the type that does not want to cook and clean during vacation, this may not be for you. On the other hand, it can be a great opportunity for the kids to pitch in. I have had several run-ins with washing machines and odd coffee makers but the sense of “living abroad” if just for a few days makes it totally worth it!
Where to stay? Rent as space!
We are a family of 5 so we always need two hotel rooms. When the kids were younger, we would always travel as “girls vs. boys”. That meant hubby and child #3 in one room and us girls in another. We did it this way because adjoining rooms are never guaranteed and so suitcases would be packed accordingly.
Then I discovered Home Away. There are many sites like this one, but we liked it and so we have been married to it for the past 3 years! When planning trips we have a couple rules of thumb in terms of accommodations:
1. Try not to stay less than two nights in one Hotel. The one nighters mess up my suitcase because we don't get to unpack and they don't provide enough down time before you have to get up and get moving again.
2. If more than 3 nights, try to rent a place in the city you are visiting. Less than three days can be more trouble than it is worth since you do have to take into consideration the time it takes to meet the owner/get the tour/grocery shop/clean up before leaving.
3. We try to rent a week into our trip, that way we can do laundry and minimize what we all bring.
4. All places must have wifi, a washer/dryer and must have been reviewed by other travelers.
Renting a place for a couple days changes the dynamics of travel and it is the main reason we do this. Logistically, mornings are easier as we can have breakfast at “home”, we can leave electronics charging during the day as there is no hotel staff coming in while we are out. It is nice to relax on a proper couch and watch TV or read a book after a long day.