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Destination Guide

Vacation Rentals

The hottest accommodation market these days is for vacation rentals—

apartments, houses, and cottages that you rent by the week or more. The

people who arrange such rentals are fond of calling them "villas," but that's

often a stretch. (I describe a villa as "a cottage with attitude.") Still, no

matter what the name, vacation rentals provide several key advantages over

hotel and motel accommodations, depending on where and how you rent.

And you'll find a wealth of Internet booking resources.


Typically, in any given area, the cost of a two-room or three-room

vacation rental is about the same as the cost of a standard room in a First

Class hotel. You can use the extra space to spread out and avoid the claus-

trophobia of a hotel or to cut the per-person cost. Groups of four or more

can spread out among several rooms for about the same cost as stacking

themselves like cordwood in hotel rooms.


Vacation rentals are especially attractive overseas. Staying in a vaca-

tion rental allows you to get much closer to locals and to experience life

as they know it.


But rentals aren't for everyone; they entail some disadvantages and

risks that you don't face with hotel accommodations. The biggest dis-

advantages stem from the fact that you have to prepay the entire rental

cost in advance—typically, months before you arrive. And once you

have paid, you're locked in to the rental regardless of any adverse—and

unadvertised—conditions that might be present when you arrive.


You can cancel your reservation with some vacation rental properties, but

cancellation fees are usually stiff. Or, you might get no refund at all. In

that case, you can protect yourself by buying trip-cancellation insurance.

However, although insurance covers cancellation, it doesn't cover dis-


Financial risks aside, the last thing some travelers want to do on

vacation is prepare meals and make beds. If you want to be pampered,

either opt for a rental with full housekeeping services or stick with a re-

sort hotel.

If you don't like to buy into a week's accommodation sight unseen, you

can wait until after you arrive at your destination to arrange a rental. Book

a hotel for one night or so, and immediately check local publications, real

estate offices, or the tourist office for short-term rentals.This works off-

season, but don't plan on it when rental space is tight.



Exchanging: Cheaper than Renting

The absolutely least expensive way to arrange a vacation house

or apartment is to exchange homes with a family in an area you

want to visit. Several Internet sites match travelers interested in

home exchange). You pay a fee of $30 a year to join, list your

property, and search for other properties. During the initial search

process, HomeExchange keeps your name and the names of possible

exchange partners confidential to make sure you aren't inadvertently

advertising your absence. Since you're potentially exchanging with

strangers, HomeExchange encourages you to get acquainted over a

period of months beforehand by e-mail, phone, photographs, and

postal mail.

Exchanges can go beyond just houses. If you and your exchange

partners agree, the exchange can extend to automobiles and such.

Even so, you'll probably want to lock up one room as "owner's stor-

age," where you can stash anything you don't want other occupants

to use and possibly damage.

Yet another possible approach to take is available through Servas

, an organization through which you can arrange

reciprocal visits with residents of other countries. Unlike a home

exchange, you stay with a foreign family while they are at home (and

host a foreign family while you are at home). During these visits, the

host family generally shows the visitors around, including at least

some sightseeing and cultural activities, while also leaving time for

independent exploration.



Given that so many vacation rentals are independently owned, or at

least part of small complexes, the Internet is an ideal way to match indi-

vidual renters with a diverse group of owners. It's no surprise that the

Appendix lists close to 50 separate vacation rental sites. Some are world-

wide, some deal in only a few countries, and many are limited to individual

cities or resort areas. Some owners operate sites to rent just one unit (al-

though I didn't list any of these).


Large or small, sites typically feature detailed information on accom-

modation size, number of rooms, equipment, and furnishings; location,

within the building or complex and within the community; and rates. Most

sites include either plans or photographs, or both.


Vacation rental rates are almost always seasonal—high in summer, low

the rest of the year in Europe and Northern North America; high in win-

ter, low the rest of the year at tropical beach and ski resorts and warm

climate areas. Seasonal rates are almost always reflected in Web listings.