- Place du Capitole, Toulouse
What do you think costs more: a hotel room or an apartment? Ten years ago, I would most definitely say apartment. But things have changed.
When we travel with another person, as we have traveled with my friend Susie or with my Mom in the past, we need to have a bigger space than the usual hotel room. It is best if we have our “guest” in a separate room from where George and I sleep. With that, hotel rooms are out of the question and suites in hotels are most often priced too high for our budget. In the US, we have used many of the suite/hotel chains like Residence Inn or Embassy Suites with good results. But these are not found in Europe. There are suite hotel chains in Europe, Citadines, or Appart’Vallee to name a couple, and they will work, but the rooms can be super-small.
What works best is to book an actual apartment. Now, it used to be that you had to stay an entire week to even be able to take advantage of this option. But in these more troubled financial times, more apartment landlords are willing to price their rentals by the day (often with 3 or 4 day minimum) to attract more tenants. And we are attracted. We have apartments rented in Toulouse and in Paris, for 5 nights and 3 nights, respectively. They will provide us (and our guest Anna) a little bit more room.
To find them, the first place I always go is VRBO.com (Vacation Rental By Owner). They have apartments and all sorts of accommodations all over the world – we’ve rented a boat on the canal in Amsterdam, once – and are easy to deal with. It’s just a listing of individuals who have short-term accommodations to rent. There’s no agency representing them, so you deal directly with the owner (or the guy/gal who works for the owner) when renting. I’ve also used agencies like SpainSelect.com or ParisAttitude.com, and they’ve worked for us, too. I’ve even used the Craigslist of the place we’re going to find apartments. To find websites listing apartments, just Google apartment rental, vacation flat, Paris, or wherever you are going, and sift through the listings. Some sites have scads and scads of availabilities, and the best sites allow you to filter by neighborhood, date, or size of apartment.
I found our Toulouse apartment by Googling apartment rental Toulouse and found this awesome place right on the central square of the city, Place du Capitole. We met with the owner last month and saw the apartment (a rare thing) before we gave him the deposit in person. Many apartment owners want a deposit by bankdraft (costs us about $50 in bank charges – yikes!) but now that we have PayPal, I can often send deposit that way. There is still a cost of currency exchange, but it’s not as much and is much more convenient than going to the bank.
For our three nights in Paris, I used http://www.Homelidays.com, a British type of VRBO. I was a little nervous, not having reservations until just a week ago, but there were plenty of choices available and I even negotiated the rate down 100Euros for the stay. (Yes, everything is negotiable!) When we check in, we have to have 200Euros in cash for the refundable deposit (only 100Euros for Toulouse), and most of the time, pay the balance in cash, although being able to pay by credit card is sometimes available. If that’s an issue, you need to find out before you sign the contract.
Unfortunately, we can only afford a one-bedroom in Toulouse, with no air conditioning (the owner has a mobile a/c unit for the real hot days), so either George and Morgan will have the bedroom and Anna and I will share the pull out sofa, or I’ll sleep in the bedroom with George and Morgan will sleep in the huge beanbag chair (which he has deemed “so comfortable”) while Anna sleeps in the sofabed. We’ll see.
Here are some of the other benefits of staying in an apartment:
• It’s fun to shop at the grocery or market and get food for breakfast, lunch, and even dinner, saving money. There’s a full kitchen with a refrigerator and stove, sometimes even an oven.
• You really feel more like a resident when you don’t have to go through a lobby to get to your room.
• It’s nice to hang out in a room that’s not the bedroom.
• We don’t have to get up to be at the hotel’s breakfast by a certain hour, which allows us time flexibility. –Anna, note, we do like to get out of the room by 10am, sometimes earlier, depending on what we’re doing!! You don’t want to waste your precious France time sleeping in!
• We are truly centrally located and have a kicking view of the main square of Toulouse. Usually we host a cocktail party for the guys George works with, just to show off my awesome accommodation-finding skills.
• The Best Thing: For the size of the room, the apartment beats a hotel room on price EVERY TIME, and is usually under or just a little over George’s per diem.
So, next time you’re going somewhere for more than 3 days or so, consider renting an apartment!