Villa Rentals Around the World,
An easy base to explore from and an economical solution to family travel.
Living here presents us with the rare life opportunity to travel extensively. As expats with families though, living out of a suitcase presents some unique challenges, and can prove to be less than a relaxing escape.
Our solution has been to rent villas and create a base of exploration whenever we travel for a week or more and we usually do so over the summer months. We have rented homes in the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and around the US states. Generally speaking, we have had excellent experiences. But, as with anything there were a few pitfalls. Hopefully, sharing some of our experience can help others to avoid the same mistakes.
First of all the websites Homeaway.com and VRBO.com which are owned I believe by the same company, offer the best choices and have given us good success. You can sort by type of accommodation, date, location specific and even by certain amenities. Depending on the time ahead that you book, you can be fairly selective as there are plenty of choices.
The first tip to share would be to make sure, once you’ve found some options in your selection criteria, that you read the reviews…carefully. If the property hasn’t been reviewed, then I would be extremely cautious. The reviews are important as you need to read between the lines. And, be sure to read all or many of the most recent reviews. I once was looking for a flat in New York City, and saw one that looked perfect, on the Upper East Side in a very nice neighborhood. I was reading the reviews, when I came across the third one. It wasn’t rated poorly, maybe 4 out of 5, and it started out well. Then it stated that unfortunately the apartment was situated too close to the trash cans, and that the rats in the apartment were a nuisance!!! They didn’t seem to fussed about it, but WOW, that turned me away completely. This listing was NOT a listing on HomeAway or VRBO, and sent me right back to those 2 websites, and I never went back to that website again. So first tip, I would stick with these websites.
The next tip I would offer is to ask A LOT of questions. And be sure you don’t assume certain things up front. Our worst experience was with a large home on a lake in Michigan we rented for a week long family reunion. We had several families all together, and lots of kids of varying ages. So we wanted to be out on the lake, doing water sports, swimming off shore, with a small beach and a nice boat included in the rental. There were lots of options to choose from, and we settled on a lake house that was on an All Sports Lake.
We never asked WHAT sports…and made the assumption, since it included a pontoon, we would have sports included. It turned out OUR lake was not sports at all, and you really couldn’t swim, or tube or water ski, as it was a very small lake. Nearby was a gorgeous lake with all the amenities…but we had chosen the wrong one. Anyway, if I had done a google maps search, and looked at other reviews of the lake itself, I would’ve not made the mistake. The reviews on the house were good on the house, but our goals and expectations were different. So, the moral here is also do a bit of extra research and be sure your amenities are understood upfront.
For us, being able to have laundry facilities is important, to cut down on the amount of luggage we carry. We also like to eat in for breakfast and having a coffee pot is important. These little things are good to make sure of upfront, again, depending on your needs and preferences. Think about your daily routine and the little things you will need..and ask upfront to be sure these are included. Often in Europe, because fuel prices are sky high, there will be a washer, but only a line dry for clothing. Also, the air conditioning is often not included in Europe. In the US, all that is pretty standard and would be unusual not to be included. Just check with the owner to be sure you understand these details before signing the contract.
Transportation is also important, and the topography of the area. When we rented in Italy, we wanted to be biking distance at least to the small village nearby, where we could either take long walks or bike to eat out or grab a few groceries. We had a car for exploring, but wanted to give the kids the freedom to go off and get a gelato without us. We rented bikes as part of the package with the owner, and the villa was above and beyond our expectations. The only problem we faced, and again, never thought of in advance, was that the region was extremely hilly, and biking was very challenging. We ended up using the bikes for exercise only, as going for a short bike ride was just not all that relaxing. Again, google maps and some additional questions might have avoided this pitfall.
Since we have been renting for over a dozen years now, there have been more mechanisms for avoiding these pitfalls put into place. These websites offer insurance programs, and pay online through their portals, which help protect you, to some degree. However, the little details are also important, and would not be covered by your insurance, so due diligence is really the best and surest way to avoid making mistakes and assuring a great time.
The last helpful tip I will mention is that it is important to read the signs as far as the responsiveness of the owner or property manager while you are in the initial rental stages. I found that inevitably, the more responsive and quick to get back to us the owner was, the more likely we were to have a great experience.
Please write us and share your experiences renting villas or flats around the world. We would like to hear about them.