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As I’ve mentioned before, finding affordable accommodation in Italy while traveling alone was more difficult than I expected. When I started out the trip at the PLUS Hostel Florence – convenient location close to the train station, good price and lots of fun extras like a pool and a sauna – I assumed that there would be similar options in other cities. Instead I only actually stayed in one other hostel, and the rest of the time was stuck with pricey hotels or B&Bs that sometimes didn’t even have anyone at reception to let me in…
In the past few years booking sites that offer vacation apartments and short term rentals have become more and more popular. Since I’ve been mainly in Southeast Asia during this time, where there are fewer of these options and guesthouses are so cheap, I haven’t checked out any of the sites and services but have always been intrigued. I love the idea of renting an apartment in Europe instead of a hotel room and being able to come ‘home’ after a long day of sightseeing to get a taste of what it’s actually like to live in a place, cook up a bit of dinner and feel like you’re getting a different view of local life.
That’s why I decided to try using FlipKey to find a little apartment when in Rome to…do as the Romans do.
FlipKey is run by TripAdvisor and has 240,000 vacation homes located in more than 11,000 cities around the world. Essentially people who want to rent out their apartments or rooms for short stay travelers list their properties on the site and users search through them by location as they would a hotel.
While I like the concept and would definitely want to try renting an apartment again in another city, I actually would put my experience down as another thing I did wrong in Italy.
I ended up staying in a small apartment outside of the city center – though the description said the apartment was near the cool Trastevere neighborhood, it really wasn’t. I was kind of stuck out in an odd part of town that my Scooteroma guide actually apologized for saying it was the ugliest neighborhood in the city. The room was nice enough and I had no problem finding it, but since I was by myself and staying in an apartment building, there also wasn’t anyone to ask for help, answer questions or give any recommendations on where to go/what to do like there would have been in a hotel. If I had been with other people it would have been fine, however on my own it was a little isolating and felt odd to go into this building and room where I didn’t know anyone.
That said, it was also my first time trying out the service and there are several things I learned throughout the whole thing that I would remember for next time.
Are you going with someone or on your own? – I think renting an apartment with a significant other, family or group of friends would be the way to go – more space, privacy and amenities – but on your own it didn’t seem to have much added benefit.
Consider the location and transportation options – Since I had never been to Rome and wasn’t familiar with the city, I ended up being in kind of a funny place with limited public transportation. Especially being alone, I had to really think ahead about how and when I was going to get back at night and didn’t feel comfortable staying late in the center of the city knowing I had to take a couple of night buses to get back to the room. Also, since the apartments are individual places throughout an area, be careful to not get stuck somewhere you don’t want to be. I noticed a lot of the listings that came up when I searched for rooms in Rome, were actually out of the city on the coast but ‘close to Rome’…
Know Your Travel Style – Do you like doing things on your own, or are you more comfortable having things more laid out for you and people around to help?
Have you been to the city before? – In hindsight, I think it would be better to stay in a hotel your first time visiting a place, get a feel for it, and then look at alternative accommodations when going back again for a different experience and perspective.
Since this was my first time using a vacation rental booking site I was surprised by a few things.
Information, descriptions and photos are provided by the owner – This makes sense, but it does lead to varying degrees of information and photo quality. There were several listings I quickly skimmed over and then left behind because they didn’t look professional or provide clear details.
You book directly with the property owner, not through FlipKey – In fact, I couldn’t reserve the room through the site if it was only a couple days away from my arrival date, I needed to contact the owner and work out the details with them. Not a problem at all, just different than I expected and something to keep in mind. You should probably plan out your stay and book in advance (to make sure everything is squared away with the owner) more than I usually do.
Some of the listings are actually hotels or guesthouses – I was curious what was available to rent in Thailand and searching for rooms in Chiang Mai and Bangkok brought up several guesthouse listings which rubbed me the wrong way. There are so many hotel booking sites out there that they shouldn’t be on a site supposedly for ‘vacation homes’ – if I thought that I was booking my own little apartment or bungalow and showed up at a guesthouse or resort I’d be annoyed.
Check out the reviews – Usually I don’t read too much into user reviews and ratings, but think they’re important for situations like these where you’re dealing with individuals rather than companies and never know what you’re going to get.
Have you rented an apartment instead of a hotel while traveling before? What booking site did you use? How did it work for you?
Note: I was a guest of PLUS Hostel Florence and received a monetary credit to test out the FlipKey platform but all opinions and recommendations are my own.