GROWING UP, one of my favorite parts of any family vacation was the ‘discovery’ of the home my parents had rented. For years we went to Cape Cod, and as soon as we pulled into the driveway of the property I’d be scoping it out, clamoring to find out what bedroom would be mine.
I remember details like the wicker chairs and the oars decorating one home’s three-season porch and the hideous abstract paintings from another home’s guest room, paintings that we’d temporarily take down and hide in the closet until our vacation was over. I hardly remember staying in hotels as a family, and what I do remember of them is my bleary-eyed mother complaining about the raucous neighbors or the stench of the over-chlorinated pool wafting up through our room’s air vents.
When I was a kid, staying in a vacation home was a bit of a gamble. My parents had to rely on real estate agents. Sometimes my father would take a weekend to browse properties on the Cape so there wouldn’t be any unwelcome surprises on arrival. Now the process of booking a short-term rental that you haven’t seen in person is much easier and more secure due to online services like Roomorama that connect guests and hosts in cities all over the world.
Whether it’s for a vacation, a stopover, or a temporary place to stay while getting settled in a new locale, I almost always prefer a house or apartment with a fully equipped kitchen to a hotel. Here’s why I think peer-to-peer rentals are a sweet deal.
1. You support the local economy
When you stay at an international hotel chain, only a percentage of the profit makes its way to the local community. When you stay at a home, your payment goes directly to the owner and you’re more likely to purchase goods and services from neighborhood vendors instead of going through the hotel front desk.
2. You can cook and eat in
Sure, you can still splurge on some restaurant meals, but if you stay in a place with a kitchen you can be more in control of your diet. If you have young children or have special dietary needs, eating in is often more convenient. You’ll also save money.
3. You live more like a local
Staying in a home or apartment is one of the Matador community’s top tips for living like a local wherever you travel. Instead of relying on concierge services, you can use the local phone book, take your host’s recommendations, or ask the neighbors. Some homes also include access to a yard or patio, and many are spacious enough to entertain.
4. You have a unique experience
Every time you rent a home it’s a unique experience. Staying in someone else’s space is more personal, and it’s the personal touches that you’re likely to remember. I recall one time when my husband I stayed in a guest room in Faial in the Azores archipelago. The room was a mother’s tribute to her college-bound son, complete with his kindergarten photos and locks of hair. That was a bit strange, but our next guest apartment, complete with pitchers of wine from the host’s vineyard, made up for it.
5. You get a different perspective
Staying in a residential area or residential building allows you to see a different side of the city, usually away from the main tourist drag. You can choose to stay in a quieter, suburban area and take local transportation in to see the sights, or you can find flats closer to the city center with pedestrian access. You’ll be surrounded by locals who can give you advice on places to eat and things to do that may not be mentioned in your guidebook.
6. You have more flexibility
Since you’re dealing one-on-one with the host, it’s easier to make flexible arrangements. You may be able to check in early, check out late, send the host some extra cash, or have a basket of groceries ready for a late-night arrival. If you click with some fellow travelers you met at the local museum, you can invite them over for dinner. Having your ‘own’ place means no worries about lock-out times or curfews.
Editor’s note: This post is sponsored by Roomorama.