July 14, 2014

Tourist Apartments: The Hotel Alternative -- Guest Post by Linda Fernandez

It's Sunday, July 13, in Copenhagen. I've just spent the weekend here, recovering from jet lag, having a reunion with two treasured friends who flew in from London, and seeing the sights (forget the mermaid -- take the train to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, sit on the grass and look across the water to Sweden).

Our hotel -- the Babette Guldsmeden -- is very nice and perfectly located for boarding our cruise ship tomorrow.

But in my recent travels, my favorite accommodations have been tourist apartments. My son, his partner, and I spent a week in a terrific apartment on the Île Saint-Louis in Paris last summer. I stayed in an incredible apartment in Buenos Aires this spring. I learned about the BA apartment from my friends Linda and Kurt Fernandez, who had rented an apartment in the same building when they lived in BA. The Paris apartment was also the result of a friend's recommendation.

I asked Linda to write this guest post because I'm looking for tips about finding and appraising these apartments. As you'll see, she's done a great job.

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Tourist Apartments: The Hotel Alternative
– by Linda Fernandez

When you’re staying at a hotel for more than two nights do you keep the do-not-disturb hangtag on the door so as not to be bothered by daily maid service? Do you rearrange the over-priced items in the mini-fridge so you can chill a bottle of wine and store some cheese and crackers? Do you gag at hotel internet connection fees? Would you love to wash your clothes while eating dinner?

If you answered yes to these questions, you ought to consider renting a short-term apartment as your next multi-night home away from home.

I’m a big fan of tourist apartments, especially when travelling outside the United States. I like the flexibility, convenience, and value-added they provide. Generally they’re more spacious: a separate bedroom (or more) versus the “uni-room” of the traditional hotel. They also have kitchens, making possible a relaxing morning coffee in my jammies or an afternoon snack or even lunches and dinners if I’m so inspired and/or trying to economize a bit. Sometimes it’s nice NOT to have to eat out, even in Paris! Most tourist apartments also provide wifi and many have laundry facilities. And all offer the opportunity to blend into a community and it’s way of life rather than being segregated as an “alien” in a cookie-cutter establishment catering only to aliens.

In our technologically savvy world, it’s easy to find short-term rental apartments on the internet. There’s everything from individual websites and blogs to Craigslist.org to VRBO.com and HomeAway.com to AirBnB.com. And more! So how do you choose? Good research is critical. Here are some tips:

  • Get a map and make an activity plan. Define the sites you’d like to see and the things you’d like to do in your selected destination. Then pick two or three neighborhoods that are convenient for these activities. You don’t want to spend most of your vacation getting to and from Point B.
  • Consult friends. There is nothing like a referral from a satisfied customer, especially someone you know and trust. A referral eliminates many of  your search and research tasks.
  • BUT, lacking a referral or just to validate a referral, Google “short-term apartment for rent + CITY or NEIGHBORHOOD” and gauge the options. Compare location, amenities, and prices, especially seasonal rates. Automatically disregard any listings that lack photos. They’re not showing for a reason!
  • Carefully review the most appealing options. I pay close attention to comments from previous guests, though I do keep in mind that some folks are just born whiners.  Examine the photos. An overabundance of stock photos of city sites and/or “mood” shots of filled wine glasses next to flowers on the dining table always makes me suspicious. Show me the bathroom! I’m also turned off by photos highlighting those “decorative” items; I look for less riff-raff and more bare surfaces where I can put bags and keys and guidebooks without to rearrange the furnishings.
  • Contact the owner/operator for further information. Are the desired dates available? Are there any extra charges? (“Final cleaning fees” unfortunately now seem to be a fairly standard item, even though some of us think the nightly rate is the perfect place to incorporate that element.) Is early check-in or late check-out available (a plus when travelling internationally)? Is there any flexibility on the rate (something rare in the hotel world)? Then assess the response: was it prompt, to the point, and helpful? If yes, ask for the rental agreement. If not, move on.
  • Review the rental agreement. Make sure everything is spelled out: arrival and departure dates and times; the amount of any deposit and the precise charges (including any taxes and those “final cleaning” fees!); cancellation policy and refunds; rules (e.g., no-smoking or pets); and final payment. Many tourist apartments now ask for cash payment on arrival to avoid those also pesky merchant fees on credit card charges.
  • Act promptly once you’ve made a decision. You are probably not the only person looking for an apartment for X time period in Y city. If you’re satisfied with the price, the amenities, and the location, go for it. And start planning what you’re going to pack.
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Linda Fernandez is especially sensitive to those special touches that make the difference between a short-term rental and a real vacation home. She and her husband have owned and managed their own tourist apartments in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and now in Barcelona, Spain. Details on the Barcelona apartment at http://barcelonaapartmentforrent.blogspot.com For the curious, no “final cleaning fees” are charged! :-)

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