Smart Traveler Tip: Rent an Apartment

Renting an apartment when you're on the road -- as I did when visiting Buenos Aires, Argentina -- can give you a stronger sense of "home" than a hotel room. You'll not only enjoy more space, but get to live like the locals do -- even if only for a short time.

Over the years, I’ve picked up plenty of wisdom that has made my travels, both in the U.S. and overseas for business and pleasure. It’s far more rewarding and economical. Starting this week, I’ll periodically serve up a Smart Traveler Tip that offers food for thought as you’re considering your future trips – where to go, where to stay and what to do once you get there. For me, the planning is 80 percent of the fun of any vacation, and perhaps I’ll convert some of you (even those who only want to get to their destinations and couldn’t care less about the journey) to my way of thinking.

This tip is for those who like to feel more like travelers when on the road than tourists. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter, but if you like the notion that you’re returning to a home after a long day of sightseeing – or even midday when you need a pick-me-up siesta before again hitting the streets – renting an apartment can be just the ticket.

Granted, it’s not as carefree as dialing downstairs for 24-hour room service, or to enlist the aid of a concierge just waiting for your call. But the benefits, not to mention the financial savings, of renting an apartment/flat are many. I’ve stayed in elegant, wonderfully furnished apartments that cost me less per night than even an average hotel room would. So why not trade up when you’re on vacation?

I  especially love renting flats when I’m abroad. During a stay in Buenos Aires, I rented a lovely flat in the city’s trendy Palermo district through Reynolds Propriedades, which has friendly, English-speaking agents. I’m convinced my stay in a real neighborhood (albeit a chic one) made me fall even more in love with the Argentine capital.

But my first tourist apartment rental experience was in Paris, when I rented a studio flat in a charming courtyard building in Le Marais from Parler Paris Apartments. “Le Provençal,” which was as bright and sunny as a day on the French Riviera, remains dear to my heart, as its tiny space was expertly furnished and possessed wonderful energy. Parler Paris owner and American expatriate Adrian Leeds is an absolute doll, and the next year I stayed in another nearby apartment, Le Beau Marais. This one was a gorgeous aubergine-colored flat where I became its first renter. (Not only that, but it’s been featured on the über-popular “House Hunters International” on HGTV — and you’ll occasionally still catch the episode on the air!)

When treating myself to a 40th birthday week in the south of France, I rented an incredible one-bedroom place called “Artist’s Atelier” in Villefranche-sur-Mer. Owned by another fabulous female American expat, Riviera Experience offers lovely, meticulously maintained flats in this lovely seaside town. I loved it so much I returned to Villefranche five months later and rented the “Waterfront Penthouse,” a two-story gem which was just as amazing as it sounds.

But you don’t have to wait ‘til you travel abroad to rent apartments. I plan to do the same next time I visit my two favorite American cities, New York and San Francisco – both places with charming neighborhoods I’d love to get to know better.

Whether you choose full-service agencies like I did, or reputable do-it-yourself sites like HomeAway, here are other reasons why it’s worth renting an apartment instead of a hotel room:

  • Even if just for a few days, you get to experience life as a ‘local.’ That means stopping in at the corner café, picking up fresh produce at the nearby market, passing by the same shopkeepers on your way to the train or bus. What better way to soak up the authentic vibe of your temporary home?
  • You set your own food agenda. Not that you’re not still a grown-up who gets to call her own food shots if you stay in a hotel, but an apartment with a fridge and stove — even tiny ones, if you’re traveling in Europe — give you far more culinary options. You can drop into your neighborhood’s supermarket, pick up fresh bread and meat at family-owned shops, or chow down on carry-out meals while you chill in front of the TV. And you’re likely to save major cash if you do at least a bit of your own cooking while on the road.
  • Your space is your own. Granted, when you pay for a hotel room, those four walls (or however many you’ve got) are yours. But if you’re like me, you don’t want the housekeeper to think you’re a total slob, so you try to pick up after yourself before she comes to clean. And you’ve gotta lock up your jewelry and valuables and laptop every time you leave the room. In an apartment, your stuff is your stuff until it’s time to pack up for home.
  • You get to ‘try out’ life in another place. Always in the back of my mind when I travel is the question, “But could I live here?” That’s why I generally rent apartments in neighborhoods I could actually afford, but sometimes I like to check out places (like Villefranche-sur-Mer’s’s Waterfront Penthouse) that are merely aspirational. But that’s okay, too. Why not use vacation time to dream?

Safe travels, wherever yours may take you!

Maureen_Jenkins

About Maureen Jenkins

Maureen Jenkins is a food/travel writer and communications professional who's visited nearly 35 countries and territories, lived in Florence, Italy, and recently spent a year living in a charming village near Paris, France. The self-proclaimed 'urban travel girl' talks travel, food and wine – abroad and in Chicago – in "TCW Travel Connection.” Read more of her thoughts on living globally at UrbanTravelGirl.com.