Lately, a lot of short-term rental companies have been asking me to stay with them. These companies offer furnished apartments for rent as an alternative to hotels. I’ve avoided them for a while as I generally like the social atmosphere of hostels. And, when I do want something non-hostel or hotel related, I usually just Couchsurf or stay with friends.
But the email barrage finally wore me down and I figured I would give this whole short-term apartment thing a try. I’ve written about them briefly in the past, but I figured it might be time to devote a full blog post to the subject.
I went in thinking that this type of accommodation wasn’t for me but that it could be useful to other people. My personal tastes don’t really fit this accommodation style. While having a nice apartment to relax in is great, I like hostels and would prefer to stay in one.
However, I’d personally feel like a bad travel writer if I didn’t try things that might help my readers travel better, even if it isn’t for me. After trying out a few companies, I can tell you that short-term rentals are still not for me – but they could definitely be a good alternative for other people.
How do they work?
These apartment rental sites list people’s apartments for rent. Instead of paying money for a hostel or hotel, you stay in someone’s apartment. The booking process is like booking any other type of accommodation. You go online, find a place you like, create an account, and book a place. After you are verified as not being an axe murderer, they connect you with the apartment’s owner (see safety below) and you now have a furnished apartment to stay in.
As an added bonus, most of the apartments listed on these sites are in highly local communities away from tourist centers, allowing you to get a feel for the local rhythm of life and eat at shops not catering to tourists.
The differences between the companies are pretty negligible. They all offer essentially the same product, but each puts their own twist on it. Airbnb has the best US inventory, Wimdu has a good European inventory, and 9flats is strong in Spain and Germany. Home Away has one of the biggest inventories of all.
If I were planning a trip, I would look at all the sites before I booked a place. (Unless you have a strong affinity for one company.)
Who is this for?
In all honesty, not me. I tried out this style of travel and it’s not a way I would usually choose to travel. However, while it may not be for me, I think these apartment rentals are good for business travelers, families, couples, groups, or anyone who is spending a long time in a place and can’t afford a week at the Hilton, but doesn’t want to spend a week in a hostel either.
Apartment rentals represent this in-between space between hostel and hotel. If you are traveling on business and want the comforts of home, you probably aren’t going to stay in a hostel. But maybe hotels are too expensive or too impersonal for you. A rented apartment, therefore, would be the perfect compromise.
If you want to travel the world but aren’t into the hostel scene and can’t afford hotels, this might be for you. A rental will be a lot quieter and more relaxing than a hostel. You’ll also be able to cook your own food, helping keep costs down on your long trip.
If you are traveling with a big group or a family, this is definitely for you. Squeezing a bunch of people into these apartments will work out to be much cheaper on a cost per person basis than dorm rooms in a hostel or a hotel room.
If you are looking to spend any extended amount of time in a city, these apartments are worth considering. The longer you stay in a place, the less you want to be in a place made for tourists. You want something that feels like home, a place that taps into the local pulse of the city. And this style of accommodation provides that.
There is definitely a specific niche this type of accommodation serves. I’m not it, though. I still enjoy hostels and Couchsurfing because I like interacting with travelers and locals. I’m more suited for that.
That being said, a few weeks from now, I’ll be going to London. I’ll be spending considerable time there catching up on work, meeting my friends, and going to a conference. I’m considering using one of these companies while there because I’m not looking to be in the “travel scene” then – I’m looking to just relax, rest, catch up with friends, and work. It’s in this setting that I would use this type of accommodation. Outside of that, I’d trade the homey feeling of a rented apartment for the lively social atmosphere of a hostel any day. And I think if you are a backpacker, you’re better off in the hostel too.
How much are they?
Prices vary of course, but in general the rooms on these sites are about half the cost of a hotel room. They aren’t as good of a bargain as a hostel, but offer way better value for money than a hotel.
Are they safe?
All these companies claim that they verify both buyer and seller to ensure no one ends up robbing anyone else. But a few months ago, an AirBnb homeowner got her place robbed and vandalized by her renter. They even cut through her wall to get her valuables. So sometimes, this doesn’t work.
But since then, all companies have added more security, insurance, and verification procedures to the process to ensure that this never happens again. There is risk in everything, but overall, I feel all of these companies are safe to use and the risk of something bad happening is minimal.
I especially like their growing reliance on user profiles. This is one thing I love about Couchsurfing and it’s a great form of verification. It really helps you figure out who is good and trustworthy.
At this moment, my travel style doesn’t really lend itself to using these services. I might reconsider it if I was in a city for more than 3 nights and wanted to get away from everything, but probably would not rent an apartment on a regular basis while traveling. But that’s just me.
However, I can see the value in this type of accommodation for certain travelers. If you aren’t into hostels but can’t afford a hotel every night, a short-term apartment rental is something you may want to consider, especially if you are looking for a place that feels more like a home.
Editor’s Note: This post was in part brought to you by Wimdu, whose constant prodding drove me to finally pursue looking into this accommodation type. They are one of the bigger companies and have a large inventory that is especially good if you are traveling Europe.