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why not try an apartment?

I like to stay in an apartment whenever possible. Florence and Rome are great for that. I get to settle in. Heading to the market every morning is something I really have gotten to enjoy as part of my vacation. Restaurants are expensive but buying fresh and fixing it yourself can be a money saver as well as just plain fun. In other places, to be honest, I prefer hotels. But after a few years in the same apartment - it's like coming home, the home of my dream.

Posted by
29 posts

Our April 3-week trip will have some apartments - but I have a question for you.

We're getting a flat in Paris for 3 days using air b and b, via the website. The surcharge was 35 dollars, but OK enough, for once, at least.

We wanted to do the same in Arles, but noticed that airbnb charges more the longer you stay. They wanted a $70 surcharge for our intended 5-day stay. I thought that was getting a bit high.

These surcharges are in addition to the actual cost of the apartment.

What's with the fees?

How are you getting your apartment? What are the fees?

Posted by
7585 posts

I'm finding the same thing with airbnb. I've always rented apartments using VRBO or Homeaway in the past and intentionally avoided the places that charged an additional amount for cleaning. I'm looking at airbnb for my upcoming trip and see the fee is anywhere from $35 to almost $100. It may have to do with the price of the lodging rather than the number of days. I'm looking at 2 places in London for the same number of days, but the higher priced place has a higher fee. I guess like with anything else you have to do the math to see if it's a good deal or not.

Posted by
1 posts

Are there certain apartments or sites you recommend for florence and rome. My husband and I are going in October and I would like to book an apartment, but have heard so many horror stories.

Posted by
833 posts

Airbnb's surcharge seems to be a percent they keep for themselves - so if the apartment you're looking at is more expensive or if the stay is longer, the total price goes up and thus so does the surcharge.

For the question about certain sites to use - VRBO, Homeaway and Airbnb all seem to be recommended sites. However, that doesn't mean that all apartments on that site would be good choices. Read reviews of people who have stayed - check how current they are, how many reviews there are, etc... It is the same thing I would do when choosing a hotel, see what other people are saying.

Posted by
203 posts

I have booked apartments for three of four "hubs" during an upcoming trip to Italy. This is a new adventure for us, and one that we hope will prove to be successful. I did a lot of research before making the final choices, reading all of the reviews, doing Google walking maps from the train station to the apartment and from the apartment to several sites we plan to visit, doing a Google maps street view to check out the area, and checking whether public transportation, markets, restaurants, etc. are nearby.

In Florence I booked the Domus apartment at Residenza Il Carmine in the Oltarno. There are also several smaller apartments available.
http://www.residenzailcarmine.com/aparts/i_domusz.htm

In Rome, I booked an apartment on Via Giulia near Campo DI Fiori through the Bed and Breakfast Association of Rome, which offers both B&B's and apartments.
http://www.b-b.rm.it/accommodations/desc.php?id=472

Emails for both bookings were answered very promptly and making the arrangements went smoothly. There were no booking fees and I thought that the cancellation policies were reasonable. Now I just hope that the apartments are as nice as they appear in the photos!

Good luck with your search.

Posted by
29 posts

Follow up:

We're back from our trip. Here's what happened:

We booked two "entire home-apartments" in France. One in Paris for 3 days and the other in Arles for 5 days. The owner in Paris canceled our reservation about 3 days before we were to depart! Her explanation was that the apartment above flooded and the floor collapsed. She said she was devastated by the event and I had no reason to doubt her story. Since then, the apartment has not been listed on airbnb, which supports the story - because before it had been booked pretty solid.

So the lesson is - no guarantees - it's not a hotel and sometimes things happen. We tried 3 more last-minute reservations with airbnb in Paris and the majority rejected us! Airbnb says this can be for various reasons and to not take it personally. We are seasoned travelers and my wife conjured up decent hotel for us and it wasn't terribly far from the original location so our trip went nearly as planned, sans the stove, fridge, and laundry.

As for the Arles apartment - we really loved it and felt we got a real steal of a deal. It had 2 1/2 bedrooms (or 2 bedrooms and a living room) in addition to kitchen, washer, stove, 6-seater breakfast table, and more. We were scheduled to leave for the Alps and Switzerland but the Alps were so rainy and snowy that we opted to stay a few more days in Arles and the owner just happened to have a few more days open! So the Arles experience made up for the Paris loss and we would use airbnb again.

However, some cities are closing in on airbnb because the hotel industry is complaining. Additionally, you want to carefully read the reviews and check the pictures and select accordingly. Some of the actual "owners" in Paris didn't bother to post a clear picture of the themselves and that turned me off. I wonder if there isn't some creeping abuse or "gaming" of the system in some cities. It's a changing scenario. Hotels are still the least risky option, but what adventure it that? If you are seasoned, travel light, flexible, and can innovate at a moment's notice then you may want to venture out with apartment rental but as I've learned, it's good to have a plan B in reserve.

Posted by
29 posts

George's comment makes you think.

Concerning the pros and cons, I'm torn between the two sides. Sure there's some abuse and it looks like there are "profiteers" already operating in some cities and that may be changing the "local color".

On the other hand, the apartments we rented really seemed to be owned by just one genuine honest local trying to make ends meet with some extra cash. From all I could tell, they really seemed to care about their customers and had the same financial concerns as many of us in the USA. One owner mentioned that they were worried about their retirement savings - not being enough. It seems that this is the kind of contact we want as Back Door Travelers - local contact and getting to know the real people and their concerns. It ties us together, across continents and oceans.

I guess the question we should answer is whether airbnb and other systems are really supporting local business like I believe Rick Steves would do? Does the definition of "local business" extend to a mom and pop renting out some extra rooms?

Posted by
6752 posts

The problem is more complicated than the author writes. Indeed many buildings are empty in many of the cities as families keep unoccupied apartments from generation to generation like money in the bank. Rich people keep their little get aways that they use a few weeks a year. It's estimated that 50% of the apartments in Paris are empty. Look up at the buildings on the chic Paris Isle Saint Louis and you'll see all the shutters closed. People also leave the cities for better quality of life elsewhere. Paris and Venice might enchant a tourist, but not necessarily a working class person trying to provide for a family. Young people who stay can't afford the limited stock, but the limited stock has to do with more than renting to tourists. So perhaps that person in Venice would be alone in the building if it weren't for the tourists. A friend of ours is alone in his upscale building in Paris except for the concierge.

Posted by
137 posts

We just got back from our 16 day trip to Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest - stayed at apartments booked via Airbnb. We had used Airbnb for our previous trips to Switzerland and Korea. This is what we have learned: the apartments are usually more spacious and has kitchen facilities so that you can cook if you chose to. The locations can truly be terrific - near markets and transportation and in relatively safe areas. However, we found that the cleanliness of these places to be questionable. We do not expect immaculate, but greasy kitchens, moldy showers, and dirty floors (my husband spilled a bit of hair gel on one bathroom floor and used a tissue to wipe it up and the tissue was completely black when he turned it over). In Prague and Budapest, we were hesitant to use the elevators because they were "rickety" and I was afraid of getting stuck in them. I also noticed wiring in apartments that were "questionable". We read reviews before making our selections, but some of these issue are not addressed. I know I must sound like an "ugly American", but I guess my comfort level is different from another traveler's. We have yet to learn when to rent an apt and when to use a hotel or BB. At least with hotels and BB's, there may be more control or standards by the industry while companies like Airbnb may not have such requirements. For our next trip, we will forego the apt route and stick with Booking.com. Some Airbnb accommodations are being offered by individuals trying to earn some extra income, but some are really businesses - with multiple listings - so we can understand why hotels are fighting back.

Posted by
10899 posts

There is sometimes an assumption that an individual that rents out his home part time is going to provide some higher level of accommodation than a management company that lists multiple apartments owned by various individuals. All other things being equal I think you will find the accommodations handled by responsible management companies provide a better experience because the are a professionally run business with employees who's livelihoods rely on success and good reviews vs. a guy with a hobby for some extra cash. Both are available on AirBnB, it can be a little trick determining which is which though. (no, I don't own an apartment management company ;-)

@Bets hit it right on local flight from the tourist zones of many cities. If it were not for the holiday flats to provide the income necessary to keep the buildings in repair there would be no repair............in many instances.

Posted by
449 posts

I've used VRBO and had good and bad experiences. One owner, American, owned a place in Italy. He was awful to deal with. Didn't want to give back our deposit even though we left the place spotless. Said he forgot. Right! Plus he was rude and obnoxious. Wanted our drivers licence and passport copied and sent to him in Miami. I refused.

We prefer to use an agency now or hotels. There are hotels with fridge and stoves in many cities. Or at least microwave and fridge, tea/coffee maker.

I'm hesitant to try airbnb.

Posted by
329 posts

I travel with my husband and two children and almost would not consider staying in a hotel. it is not impossible, but it is challenging to find a hotel in Europe that can accommodate four people easily. When my children were seven years old they could share a queen size or even a double bed with no problemand we could stay in one hotel room.. Now that they are in their early teens, sharing a bed is not a possibility. The alternative is to have 2 rooms, which can not only be expensive but it means that basically my husband and I are in a different room with each child. Not our idea of a good family vacation.

I have had great experiences with apartments and would encourag everyone to consider that option. I have rented from vrbo.com in Breckenridge Colorado, and a few locations in Florida and North Carolina but also in Paris, Seville, Barcelona, Padua, Italy, and Rome. the convenience of having more than one room, having your own kitchen table on which to read the newspaper or to write letters, never mind having a meal, is terrific. if one person wakes up early, they simply go to the living room or kitchen and no one else is disturbed. We love that breakfast can be grabbed quickly and we can get out and about without the delays that sometimes come with restaurants. I always have had a washer dryer and a full kitchen. I am pretty risk averse so i do a lot of research, I look at Google Maps and Street View and happily we have had nothing but positive experiences wherever we have been. I read ALL the reviews... And if an apt has only 5 stars I am leary---i fear the apt owner is cherry picking the reviews.

There are some downsides. There is no front desk to give you directions or to call a taxi for you for an early morning flight. If something doesn't work, getting it fixed relies on the work ethic of the owner. Sometimes you don't realize the apt is on the ground floor and you can't open the windows at night because of safety reasons---unlike in a hotel, you cannot move to another room. Sometimes the WiFi is slow. I have not had any of these problems but if they were to occur you don't have the same confidence that it would be fixed as promptly as in a hotel or b&b. I don't know if that is an accurate perception but it certainly does cross my mind before I arrive.

Lastly aside from the extra space, and even if i were traveling only with my husband, an apt allows me to pretend I am living in that location. I go to the small grocery store a block away and wonder at how different--and how similar-- grocery stores are. I go to the bakery for fresh bread every day. I see people sweeping their sidewalk or painting thir front door. I am well aware that this is a fantasy feeling, but I enjoy it, that is very much part of the experience for me.

Posted by
11411 posts

Suzie , having stayed in apartments and hotels I see no difference in the " fantasy feeling" you get from staying in only an apartment. People in hotels stock their mini fridges and go to grocers for picnic food.

I see apartments as good for groups or families, but a toss up for couples or singles( unless staying for a couple weeks).

In Paris my experience has been if going in summer one should get a/c and it is easier to find that in hotels then apartments. I have however rented two nice apart!ends in Paris with a/c ( Parisbestlodge ) . I also found they keep very clean apartments while vrbo it is a toss up depending on owners.

Posted by
177 posts

I'm with Suzie and Ginger! Perhaps it's because my husband and I were both exchange students in our youth, but we both value the opportunity to get as close to local life as possible when we travel. When our kids were growing up, we also did more than 10 home exchanges around the western US and never had a bad experience.

Next month, we will spend 16 days driving through The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Belgium and The Rhine Valley. Except for 2 nights at Kasteel Terworm in the Netherlands, we will be AirBnBi-ing it in apartments. I'm very much looking forward to it. Can't imagine choosing a hotel, but then I rarely choose a hotel stateside either! (Unless it is a very special experience.)

Posted by
6543 posts

Have you checked out the vacation rentals on Craigslist.com?

You can filter their website for major international cities. And they have many apartments for rent for very favorable prices without any upcharges.