- by Gretchen Richter de Medeiros
"Temporarily living like locals"
We love the experience of temporarily living like locals that we get by renting homes through VRBO.com, Homeaway and Airbnb. We double-love how easy it has become over the past 10 years to find and pay for rental online. With the exception of one apartment – I’m looking at you, Santiago! – most of the homes we’ve rented have been great. But invariably there has been one or two things amiss, so we’d like to share our thoughts with current and future owners of short-term rentals.
First and foremost, have enough stuff. If you list your house as “sleeping 6”, then, you need to have six spoons, six cups, six plates, six towels, six pillows, etc. Several years ago we rented an apartment “for 8” in the historical district of Salvador, in Bahia, Brazil. Imagine how tough it was to divvy up the three glasses, two coffee mugs, a handful of forks and spoons and four plates between seven of us. Similarly, have enough seating for dining. If you have real beds for 6, then you should also have 6 real chairs and space for 6 people to sit when eating.
Consider that travelers will want to use your kitchen to cook! In our case, we’re renting homes because we don’t have a limitless hotel budget. Additionally, we don’t want to spend our hard-earned travel dollars eating out for every meal. We love the cultural experience of shopping at local markets and trying to make traditional dishes. We don’t need a lot of kitchenware, but we do need more than one pot and one dishtowel. Ikea is your friend. Stock the kitchen with at least one small and one large frying pan, a saucepot, a soup pot, a colander, knives, large spoons (for cooking and serving), a spatula, and a half-dozen dishtowels.
We’ve loved the homes that provide dish soap, brand-new sponges – because let’s be honest, I don’t want to wash the dishes my family will eat off of with another renter’s sponge – and a few non-perishable staples (salt, pepper, olive oil, paper-towels). Our hostess in Nafplio, Greece provided local treats for our first morning’s breakfast. In Selcuk, Turkey, the homeowner asked us to send a list and she stocked the kitchen with the first two-days-worth of groceries. Both were above-and-beyond customer service touches that really impressed and helped us!
Despite living in a digital age, hard-copy House Books are still invaluable. When you’ve just arrived in a city, that three ring binder filled with tips about the neighborhood, maps to the local grocery store, ATM, public transport and pharmacy is greatly appreciated. Yeah, yeah, we know we could probably find all this stuff online, but what if the house’s internet is down? Or our computer’s battery is dead? Or, Lord Forbid, we’re traveling without a cell phone?
Along those same lines, take the time to write up instructions in English* for turning on the wash machine/heater/air-conditioner, what days/times we should take the garbage out (and where do we put it?), heating the water for showers, and whether there are circuit breakers we should flip if the electricity goes out. How can we contact you, the homeowner, if/when something goes sideways? Our apartment in Sultanahmet, Istanbul was amazing in this regard.
Be extra-specific about your expectations for payment. We rented one apartment that listed “cash only, payable upon arrival”. When we attempted to pay with local currency, our hostess was not happy. What she really wanted was dollars or Euro. Exactly the opposite happened in Northern Europe. A homeowner listed dollars as an acceptable form of payment, but when I emailed our intent to pay with US cash, she wrote back stating that she “strongly preferred” a different currency. Honestly, it doesn’t matter to us; we just want to know the exact details before we book. And while we’re on the subject, whenever possible, please get set up so we can pay you online!
Finally, cleanliness is next to godliness. We promise not to trash your house. We’ll tidy up before we leave, we’ll empty our food from the fridge and even strip the linens if you’d like. In turn, of course, we ask that the rental be clean when we get there. When we arrived at our rental in Rio de Janeiro we found a pile of dirty linens, no clean towels, and nobody to address the issue until the next morning. If you’re using a cleaning service, check in on them once in a while to make sure they’re meeting your standards.
We love staying in rental homes and can’t imagine traveling any other way with a group as large as ours. We enjoy the little idiosyncrasies that make each home unique, meeting the neighbors and making friends with the merchants we meet during our stay. We’ve even looked in to zoning in our home town, turns out that we could take our own advice and build the perfect little short-term rental in our back yard. Who knows!? Maybe we can live vicariously through other travelers while we’re saving money for our next RTW trip.
For more information about homes we’ve rented, read our reviews
"Decent for our family of five"
3 nights, October 2014
"Great Location and Price - a Value Apartment in a convenient Santiago neighborhood"
In retrospect, we were too kind in giving this home 3-stars. It was more like 2-stars. Our intent had been to stay 1 week in October 2014, but we were so unhappy with the apartment that we checked out 3 nights early.
Las Cruces, Chile
"Exactly Perfect for our Family of 5 on our RTW trip"
13 nights, October 2014
Buenos Aires, Argentina
"Excellent Apartment for Family of Five"
8 nights, October-November 2014
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
"This apartment was great for our group of 7 people celebrating New Years Eve in Rio de Janeiro."
7 nights December 2014-January 2015
"Location! Comfort! Affordability! One of the best apartments we've experienced in Europe."
10 nights, April 2015
"We stayed in this great apartment in lovely Nafplio for ten days in April, 2015."
10 nights, April 2015
"Gorgeous home, fascinating location, warm, authentic hospitality"
16 nights, April-May 2015
Uskudar, Istanbul, Turkey
"We are two families, long-time friends, both traveling on separate 'Round The World trips."
4 nights, May 2015
Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey
"We are a family of 5 traveling the world for 11 months."
6 nights, May 2015
*I say English because it is the most common language we’ve experienced on our travels and on short-term home-rental websites. Each home owner should consider what language most of their renters speak and have instructions in that language in their home.