by José Balido

Now, I truly do love good hotels. I love beautiful bed-and-breakfasts, intimate inns, ravishing resorts, and hip hostels. I love having a range of services (including housekeeping to clean up after me, God bless ‘em), stylish décor, and amenities like really cool bars to hang out in.

But let’s face it: it’s not like there aren’t drawbacks. There’s usually not enough storage space (and when was the last time you saw an actual closeable drawer or cabinet in a hotel bathroom?). On the budget end, there’s never a kitchen and rarely even a mini-bar. When there is a minibar, it’s inevitably overpriced and often doesn’t let you store your own potables easily or sometimes even at all. And unless you’re seriously shelling out, in-room kitchenettes can often turn out to be exercises in frustration. All the above goes pretty much double, of course, if you’re traveling en famille.

I’ve found that if you’re not too hung up on the daily maid service, renting an apartment or house or villa can deliver a good deal more lodging for your money, and for families it can be an absolute godsend, with more room to spread out and to prepare meals or even just snacks. And even apart from the added value, I’ve usually found that these rentals put you right into the community in a way that more conventional by-the-night digs rarely do. It can provide real insight into how locals live — whether you’re talking about Paris, Sausalito, or Buenos Aires.

I remember, to cite but one colorful example, renting a flat in downtown Prague, on the fairytale-beautiful street known as Havelská (no relation to ex-prez Václav Havel). By day, the arcades and the street in front of our 600-year-old building hosted an outdoor green market as popular with locals as with tourists, and we’d meet neighbors coming up and down the stairs with their shopping all the time. Late at night, when the area cleared out, the street and adjacent Coal Market Square turned into, er, another kind of market — never dangerous, but it was certainly a trip and a half to note the wide (in some cases literally) variety of ladies of the evening that strutted their stuff. Bittersweet, too, how coming back from clubbing in the wee hours, the only ladies left standing were Gypsy grannies (seriously!) who’d not yet discovered the wonders of upper-lip depilation.

OK, maybe that wasn’t exactly the best example for families. But it still shows the kind of insight you can gain into local societies — an advantage that most hotels, offering a very tourist-oriented experience, rarely offer. And as short-term rentals and rental agencies become more and more common in more and more destinations, it’s easier than ever to live more like a local when you travel. A Google search will produce any number of outfits renting apartments all around the world, such as the Apartment Rental Service Worldwide. Give it a try on your next trip!

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