I am busily planning a trip for next week with my mother to Brussels and Italy. This reminded me of a fairly straightforward way of finding inexpensive accommodation, even in large cities: rent an apartment.
I have rented apartments for short stays in big cities like Riga and Prague and smaller towns in Slovakia and Germany. The amenities offered — such as washing machines and kitchens ready for cooking — help the no-budget traveler save money and travel lighter.
If you search for your city or country and the terms “vacation rentals,” more generally “apartment rentals” (this picks up long-term rentals too, however), or “self-catering apartments,” Google or your preferred search engine should come up with both targeted ads and websites from agencies or individuals offering exactly what you’re looking for. In Brussels, hotels for the four nights we are staying total were running high, with slummy places with bad online reviews already at the $100/night mark. After a bit of searching, we found a brand-new aparthotel where we get 60 sq m with full kitchen, washing machine, and internet access for 65 euros/night. Many of these places are aimed at business travelers (and in Brussels eurocrats) who would like more of a home-away-from-home atmosphere but who aren’t ready to invest in a property of their own. Tourists are always welcome too, however.
If you consider renting a vacation apartment, here are a couple things to watch out for:
+ Minimum Nights: many places have a three-night minimum. Sometimes you can still stay for 1-2 nights, if you’re willing to pay more than their basic fee. If you plan to stay longer than three nights, you might try to negotiate a discount on the rate.
+ All-inclusive?: some apartment rentals tack on an end-cleaning fee of 30-45 euros, which should be avoided unless planning to stay a week or more. Others don’t provide sheets, towels or even toilet paper. Further, some tally the power, water and gas usage separate, and this will be paid above and beyond the agreed price. Read what’s included (and what’s not) carefully, and if in doubt, ASK!
+ Deposit: some rentals will want you to transfer a deposit before arrival. This is easy in Europe where bank transfers are cheap or free; smaller places are unlikely to accept a credit-card deposit and will have no idea what to do with an American check. It is naturally possible to transfer money from abroad, but this will accrue fees starting around $35/transaction. Check with your bank to find out the exact costs and how long the transfer will take.
+ Convenience Services: if you will be arriving late, you may consider purchasing a convenience service if offered by your rental. Many will stock the fridge with breakfast items for you for a reasonable fee. Others will deliver breads and buns daily for a fee upon request.