One of the best parts of any trip is getting to know a new destination on an intimate level. It’s not always easy to do but once achieved, going local always makes the travel experience richer and more memorable. One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is to live like a local in a short-term vacation rental.
I’ve used HomeAway Vacation Rentals a couple of times, and each time I’ve been surprised about the experience. Unlike a hotel, staying in an apartment or condo automatically draws you in to the local culture in a way that’s hard to duplicate. Just like my first stay, Homeaway partnered with me on this one as well but as always all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.
Neighborhood living – I always thought I had done a good job ‘going local’ when I travel until I stayed in my first HomeAway Vacation Rentals condo. Then I realized that I had never really even come close. My second time renting with them further proved this fact as I came to know and love Milan on an intimate level. At first it’s the small things that wins me over, the doorman who waves hi to me every day (and who on our last day wore an American flag sweater for me), the familiar routes home, even the neighborhood cafe and newspaper stand. I saw the same people every day, got to know them a little better and really felt like I belonged. But it’s the big things too like being able to buy groceries to take home, looking like you know what you’re doing when traipsing around town and eventually really feeling like a part of the neighborhood. It may sound silly, we were only there for a week after all, but staying in an apartment quickly and with determination forced me to travel differently and with these differences my experience was so much better.
Dining like a local – Food is the great benefit and bane of travelers everywhere. It’s one of the most expensive on-the-ground expenses and is something many of us, including myself, forget about when planning a trip. Unlike being at home where I can open the pantry and pour some cereal for a light meal, when we’re on vacation every meal becomes an expense, a chore; unless we have our own condo that is. Both times we’ve rented with HomeAway Vacation Rentals we’ve had kitchens that have allowed us to stock up on basic essentials and save some money. Instead of getting up daily to forage for breakfast, we had the option of keeping a variety of foods at home to get our day started. (Although I came to love Italian espresso culture, which simply cannot be duplicated at home) Aside from the ability to cook for yourself, staying in a local neighborhood reveals aspects to any city you wouldn’t otherwise notice, including cafes and restaurants. We were close to the main tourist area in Milan but just far enough away that we were able to discover these truly local haunts that we would have otherwise missed. My favorite quickly became the cafe across the street where I stocked up on morning pastries and loaded up on enough espresso to down an elephant. It wasn’t fancy and I don’t even know if it has a name, but the memory of going there everyday will always stay with me.
Comfort – Ok, this doesn’t exactly fit in with the whole staying like a local theme, but it’s an important aspect. I love hotels and have stayed in some of the best in the world, but there’s nothing quite like coming home to your own apartment or house at the end of the day. I really enjoy having a space to call my own that isn’t claustrophobic like some hotel rooms can be. For a night or two, a couple or even a family can deal with the limited space of a hotel but for longer trips they just aren’t as comfortable as renting a condo can be. Sure there are some drawbacks, no one comes to clean every day and you have to pick up after yourself but for me this made the experience feel more real. I began to feel as if I belonged in Milan, that I wasn’t just another tourist following the same tourist path. I said hello to my neighbors every morning and got to see how they lived. It was like peeling back a curtain on the lives of the every day Milanese and is a quality that can only be duplicated by staying in a house or apartment.
These are just a few ways staying in a short term rental can make you feel more like a local and greatly enhance your trip.
Have you used a service like HomeAway Vacation Rentals before? What did you like about the experience?