There are lots of different types of trips and types of travellers, but I’ll narrow in on two: fast and slow.
We’ve all done it fast: the whirlwind trip. You skid into town and visit a good cafe, an interesting church/temple/museum, a quirky market, sleep in a 5-40 person dorm, strap on the money belt and the backpack, and roll out again on an early morning bus between 24 and 72 hours later.
But what about the slow? Enter the “move less, see more” philosophy of long stay travel. You pick an amazing place bristling with interesting opportunities and settle down for one week, two weeks, a month. You can skip the city bus tours and find your own little hideaways and treasures. You can stop totting around the 10 kilogram daypack and pretend, for a little while, that this town is your town.
But where will you stay?
Some hostels are great, don’t get me wrong, but would how many would want to stay at for month? How many days in a central Paris or Buenos Aires hotel could you afford? There are lots of interesting options for long stay travel (couch surfing, WWOOFing, etc.), but how about holiday apartment rentals? Sites like Home Away and Airbnb are making it easier and more desirable than ever to step into your own pad almost anywhere in the world
What’s the appeal?
Renting all or part of someone’s home can offer unique opportunities to mingle with friendly locals and see locations that don’t always feature in guidebooks (and still get to see all the ones that do). Plus, you can’t go wrong with the price. A week in a Central Park apartment in New York, low season: $600 (high season is another story; be open to less central locations). That’s less than $100 a night for solo travels, and many places can cozily fit up to 8.
Is it for you?
Apartment rentals are not necessarily for everyone, so you might what to consider are few things:
Group or solo?
If you’re travelling alone, apartment rentals are not the easiest places to meet people. While you may get to meet your neighbours and locals over the course of your stay, unless you’re a confident, independent traveler, you’re probably going to have some lonely evenings. If you’re used to relying on meeting people in hostel common areas, rethink an apartment rental. However, apartment rentals are excellent options for groups and couples who are comfortable meeting locals and travellers when they’re out and about but happy to relax with their buddies back at home.
Independent: yay or nay?
Before choosing an apartment rental, take a good look at what type of traveller you are: do you rely heavily on the advice of other travellers or hostel staff? Do tips exchanged over the communal batch of spaghetti in the hostel kitchen make up the bread and butter of your itineraries? While you’ll still meet travellers while renting an apartment, it’s much more likely that you’ll have to decide what’s worth seeing and doing on your own. You can also appeal to the advice and knowledge of your host instead. The degrees of assistance here will vary, but you can always have some specific questions ready like their favourite restaurant in the area, a good street for shopping, or maybe just a general probe about distinctive features of the neighbourhood. If you know you can handle this more independent type of decision making and planning, go for it!
How long is your long stay?
Generally, apartment rentals will only be worthwhile financially if you’re staying for at least a week. A lot of places have a three night minimum, but they’ll probably charge by the night and this is rarely better than a hostel or budget hotel. There are always exceptions to this, of course, but budget-wise, apartment rentals make the most sense in sojourns one week or longer.
Location, Location, Location
Apartment rentals make the most sense in large cities but can also be excellent choices for relatively touristy, mid-sized cities (for example, Nice or Positano). They can also offer really interesting options in a very small towns and rural areas, but you might be better off in a B&B for the same price. Make sure you shop around for the average prices of hostels, hotels, and guesthouses before booking in an apartment—sometimes they’re not as much of a steal as we’d like.
Good Form and How to Give Back
Most rentals will have a cleaning fee incorporated into their rate, but that doesn’t mean you should be a slob. Remember, you’re probably staying in someone’s home: treat it with the respect you’d want given to your space and possessions. Don’t be shy about asking about any possible fee incursions too, for example if you break a glass or smoke in a non-smoking joint—these costs can be substantial and, on some websites based on recommendation systems for guests and hosts alike, might result in getting you blacklisted.
And how about putting your own place up for rent while you’re away? You can help cover your own trip costs and possibly help other travellers looking for the same experiences as you. Either arrange for your guests to arrive before you leave or have a reliable friend meet and see off guests while you’re away. Share and share alike, right?
Happy slow travels!