another way to travel
Vacation Rentals
For years we stayed in cheap to moderate hotels, “Five Dollars a Day” style.   But in the nineties, on spring break trips to Hawaii from Japan, we discovered “vacation rentals.”  These are small apartments or condos that one can rent for a week or more for half the price of a room at beach resort.

Let’s take the island of Kauai for example.  In 1995 we easily found a a two bedroom, two bath condo for rent, right on the water in the popular Poipu beach area.  It was so close to the water that about every 10th wave splashed on a corner of the lanai (deck) just off the master bedroom, which encouraged wonderful sleeping.  The kitchen was big and beautiful and the living room was full of comfortable sofas and chairs.

A quick check on TripAdvisor shows dozens of condos in Poipu for under $300 for 2015.  Next door, within a ten minute walk, was the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa.  Rates for the fall of 2014 ocean view rooms are about $500 a night (including the “Resort Fee”), and are 200 yards back from the beach.  And they are for just a room with a tiny lanai, no kitchen, and often no free breakfast.

Renting an apartment on the beach is common in places like Hawaii, Florida or the Gulf Coast.  Let’s look at something in a big city like London.  In 2013 we stayed three weeks in a studio apartment with kitchen in Soho in the heart of London.  It was a 10 minute walk to Picadilly Circus and was one block from the theatre district.  The current price of our unit, for the spring of 2015, is $163 a night.  Looking at budget hotels in the area, prices are about double, although one can find hotels for this price in the suburbs.  “Name” hotels like the Hilton and Holiday Inn start at about $250 and go up to the sky, but the locations are not this good. 

But here’s one big difference. At a hotel, with no kitchen in the room, meals can be quite high in London.  A hole-in-the-wall Indian place can be as low as $20, but “table cloth” restaurants are double or triple that.  With a kitchen, (London, at right) even if you don’t want to cook, it’s easy to keep sandwich stuff and breakfast foods at hand from the neighborhood super market.   Shopping takes a bit of time, but so does waiting for table service at a restaurant twice a day.  (Breakfasts usually come with a hotel room except in, amazingly, the very highest priced hotels.)

The biggest difference is that, in a condo or apartment, you will feel more like a local.  You will meet London natives in the hallways. If you stay awhile you will get to know your neighborhood pub.  You will explore the supermarkets.  Sure, you will have to make your own bed, but, on the other hand, you won’t have to vacate the room when a hotel maid shows up.

We have rented apartments for two to three weeks at a time in London, Amsterdam (picture on left), Paris, Bangkok, Hawaii, Switzerland (pictured below), Mexico, Mallorca (Spain) and Boston.  Our plan for the future is to focus on vacation rentals (1) for the lower price, (2) for the quality of the experience, and (3) for the control we have over what we eat.  When we eat in restaurants twice a day I afraid we don’t eat a healthy diet.

How do you find them?  Our favorite on-line resources areVRBO.com (vacation rentals by owner),  TripAdvisor.com  (look for “vacation rentals”), and flipkey.com.  

Rentals always include everything you need to set up housekeeping:  linens and a completely equipped kitchen (dishes, flatware, pots, microwave, etc.).

Although we have never had any trouble, do be careful about sending money to a stranger.  When we started doing this 20 years ago, we had to mail a check to the landlord at a foreign address, but it always worked well.  However, most rentals these days allow a credit card to be passed through the booking company, like TripAdvisor, which will hold the money until you arrive and approve the accommodations.  

Try it, you’ll like it!