The benefits of staying in a furnished apartment when traveling are innumerable – including lots of space, local insider knowledge, and the ability to stay in less touristy, more authentic neighborhoods.
However, finding a good apartment can feel overwhelming.
There are a lot of variables to consider, including price, location, cleanliness, and convenience.
I LOVE housesitting because it offers an incredible opportunity for all people involved.
For the homeowner, they know that they’ll have people taking care of and watching after their house while they are away (and in some cases, their pets as well).
For the traveler, it provides the unique ability to stay in some amazing places across the world while having all the conveniences of home – and sometimes even more – for free.
Housesitting is part of the new wave of accommodations opportunities that every traveler should look to take advantage of.
From short weekend stays in penthouses in Manhattan to long term opportunities on remote islands, Trusted Housesitters has a wide variety of options, and with new ones being posted every day, there’s always something for everyone!
So, what are you waiting for?
Sign up today (don’t forget the discount code) and let me know what amazing housesits you’ll be applying for in the comments below!
Our GoWithOh apartment in Florence, which was located right in the heart of the city.
[My accommodations in Venice, Florence, and Rome were complimentary courtesy of GoWithOh but the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. I’d recommend GoWithOh to anyone, even my own mother (in fact, I have)!]
When I travel, I’m a snob.
Not a “I want to have only the most expensive rooms and meals” type snob.
But a “I want to have as authentic and unique an experience as possible” type snob.
I want my trip to be different.
To have special touches.
To have magic.
And while traveling has a way of doing that on it’s own, I also think that the type of places you decide to stay can play a big part in what type of experience you have.
Which is why I usually eschew chain hotels for something more local.
Something with more personality.
Something that can give me a sneak peak in to the culture of an area, and provide me with a unique and interesting experience.
And one of the best ways to do that is renting apartments for a short period of time, a trend that is taking off in recent years.
Here are a few of my favorite benefits of staying in apartments.
The Benefits of Staying in an Apartment
The bedroom of our GoWithOh apartment in Florence.
Apartments provide many conveniences hotels don’t
Almost all apartments will come with a fully equipped kitchen, a huge plus, especially if you’re staying in a place for a few days.
Also, it may have a washer and dryer, which means you can easily do laundry if need be.
Apartments are bigger than hotel rooms
One of my favorite things about staying in apartments is having some room to stretch out. I hate walking in to a hotel and having my bag and all my stuff right next to me.
In an apartment, you don’t feel like you’re right on top of everything.
Apartments can be found in unique areas of a city
Most of the bigger hotels are found clustered in one spot of a city, usually the most touristed area.
Oftentimes, you can find apartments there if you’d like, but you can also find apartments in some quieter, more local, and more authentic spots of a city.
Apartment owners are a great resource for local tips
I always pick the brain of the apartment owner when we first arrive, asking them their favorite restaurants and activities.
It’s like having a built in local guide, and it’s helped us enjoy some really amazing places we would never find in a mass produced guidebook.
You can’t beat the human element, which is what traveling is all about.
Every apartment has it’s own quirks
What may be a turn off to some is a huge plus for me. You can never quite be sure what an apartment will be like until you get there, which is part of the fun.
In almost every instance, we’ve been pleasantly surprised, and the quirkiness of a place has helped make the experience more memorable.
Apartments come in all shapes and sizes
Renting an apartment really can be for anyone. Couples can easily find studios and 1 bedrooms to fit their needs.
For bigger groups, like families, apartments are an excellent choice because they allow you to all be together under one roof and are typically much cheaper than getting a couple of hotel rooms.
Sold on renting an apartment for your next trip?
Great, here is my favorite resource for renting apartments in Europe!
GoWithOh- Where I “Go” For Apartments in Europe
Our GoWithOh apartment in Rome, which was right next to the Roman Forum.
During our trip to Italy, Heather and I stayed at apartments in Venice, Florence, and Rome that we had found through GoWithOh.
GoWithOh is a European accommodation site that has over 2,800 apartments in 17 of the major cities across Europe, including London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, and Barcelona, among others.
It was our first time using GoWithOh and we couldn’t have had a better experience.
Here are a few of the things I particularly enjoy about GoWithOh.
If you want a smaller, more affordable apartment for 2 people, they’ve got that.
If you’re looking for an apartment that can fit a whole family, they’ve got that.
Or if you want a super-chic upscale place to really spoil yourself, they’ve got that as well.
The Attention to Customer Service
What really sets GoWithOh apart is that they take special care in making sure everything goes so smoothly.
While you interact directly with the apartment owner to get the keys and check-in, there are also GoWithOh staff members (who speak a total of 13 languages) constantly ready to help.
They aren’t simply a site that has you book a place through them and then puts you out on your own.
They’ll be there every step of the way, if need be.
A High Standard of Quality
GoWithOh doesn’t allow just anyone to list their apartment.
Instead, each apartment has to go through a vetting process and meet a certain standard before it can be listed.
After this, if an apartment doesn’t receive a high enough feedback rating from people who have stayed there, it will also be pulled.
This helps ensure that you’re always getting an apartment that meets a high standard of quality.
An Easy to Use Website
I love to do a ton of research before booking a place, and so using GoWithOh is like heaven.
You can set all types of filters, from number of bedrooms to price, to narrow down your search.
You can also search by map view, my favorite function, so you know exactly what area you’ll be in.
To top it off, each apartment has TONS of pictures as well as reviews of past guests.
Next time you’re traveling, I would highly recommend taking a look at renting an apartment if you’re staying in an area for a couple of days.
Apartments make very comfortable, easy, and enjoyable home bases for exploring cities and provide a unique travel experience that can’t be matched.
If you are traveling through Europe, I can’t speak highly enough about GoWithOh.
They’ve got an amazing variety of choices, and every single GoWithOh apartment I’ve stayed in, from a 2 bedroom in northwest Venice to a 1,000 year old apartment in the heart of Florence, has been phenomenal.
The personal attention and customer service they provide is incredible, and you’ll be in good hands should you choose to use them.
Have you ever stayed in an apartment before? If so, where, and how was your experience?
To read more about traveling cheap in Italy, check out these posts:
It’s no secret that I prefer airline miles over hotel points by a wide margin. The reason for this is that I when I’m traveling, I really enjoy staying at places that provide what I deem a more authentic experience.
That isn’t to say that I don’t have any hotel points, because I do. And don’t get me wrong, I’d appreciate a stay at the Park Hyatt Vendome or the Hilton Bora Bora Resort as much as the next person.
But while those places are amazing in their own right, as a general rule of thumb I look for other alternatives when traveling.
Here are 4 different ways that you can stay in a place while traveling that offers an experience that is unique from the typical chain hotel experience. Oh, and I should mention: they’re almost always cheaper!
The media has given hostels a bad rap. In short, hostels are far different from the perception that many people have of them. Nowadays, they are much more like unique, boutique hotels (try saying that 5 times fast) as opposed to slummy, skeevy dens full of backpackers.
In fact, one of the major reasons I recommend hostels over hotels is that they have much more character to them. Each one is different and has its own quirks and personality, which makes them far more memorable than a concrete monolith emblazoned with some corporate logo.
The vibe is usually much more friendly and social, and the staff usually has a much more vested interest in your enjoyment, seeing as they are often the owners themselves. I could go on and on about the virtues of hostels, but again, I’ve already done that.
Give hostels a try, and I’m betting you won’t regret it.
Hostelbookers– My first stop when looking for a hostel because they charge the hostel owners less than other sites.
The popularity of couchsurfing has exploded in the past few years and for good reason: couchsurfing is about as authentic an experience as you can get!
The premise behind couchsurfing is that you, the traveler, stays at a local’s house or apartment for free. That’s right, a stranger opens their home to another complete stranger…asking nothing in return but to learn from each other!
This may seem completely nuts to some of you (as it did to Heather when we first started doing it), but really, it is an amazing experience for both people. I have both “surfed’ and “hosted” and each and every time, the experience has been a great one.
Obviously, couchsurfing has a high element of trust, both as the surfer (“I hope I’m not staying with some lunatic”) and as the host (“I hope I’m not hosting some lunatic”).
However, the Couchsurfing website has continued to add more and more safeguards each and every year to ensure that both parties can feel as comfortable as possible without having met the other firsthand before.
How Couchsurfing Works
The first step is to create your Couchsurfing profile, filling in details like your age, where you live, awesome experiences you’ve had, etc and adding any pictures you want. You’re also required to then fill in if you have a couch available and if you can host.
From there, Couchsurfing will send you a postcard to the address you have listed with a confirmation number. Once you enter the confirmation number in to your profile, your location becomes “verified”. You can also have your identity verified by offering a small donation to Couchsurfing.
After those safeguards are passed, you can also have people you know on couchsurfing serve as references for you. This is just another way for people to “get to know you” without having met you before. The more references you have, the more legit you’ll be in the eyes of others.
Since Couchsurfing has become so popular in recent years, if you are looking to stay in an area, there will often be multiple people who have been verified and also have numerous references. This helps alleviate some of the anxiety or nervousness of staying with that person, since they have been vouched for many times over.
The same goes for hosting people. I am much more likely to host someone who has an active Couchsurfing profile, has had a profile for longer than a few weeks, and who has references under there belt. The more ways you can prove your trustworthy and safe, the better chances you have of getting hosted.
The “Why Couchsurf?” question is hard to encapsulate in a few sentences but easy to understand if you’ve ever done it. Here’s my best attempt:
Couchsurfing provides an incredibly unique opportunity to see how someone who is a local lives. Maybe this means a crazy experience like staying with a family in a hut in Africa or maybe it simply means having someone to point you to the best pizza joint in New York City.
Regardless of where it is, you’ll be able to pick the brain of someone who knows the area much better than you, and getting to see the local side of things is something I’ve always loved (and being pointed in the right direction when it comes to the best places to eat is priceless)!
On top of that, you’ll get to meet someone completely new. If this person is opening up their home to you, chances are they are an awesome person. I don’t know how many people have built lasting friendships at hotels, but I’m willing to bet the percentage is much smaller than those who formed great bonds over Couchsurfing.
Amazingly enough, services like Couchsurfing, where people are helping out others and not asking anything in return, tend to bring out the best of society, and that’s something I want to be a part of.
So What’s the Couch Look Like?
The last point to consider is what type of place you’ll stay in. On the Couchsurfing profile, you’ll usually get a pretty thorough run-down of the sleeping arrangements and comfort level that each person provides. Many will even include pictures of the actual set-up.
This can range from “I’ve got a super tiny apartment and you’ll be sleeping on the floor of my kitchen on an air mattress” to “I’ve got a whole wing of my house devoted to guests with multiple queen-sized beds and its own kitchen and bathroom”.
Since you’ll be able to see this beforehand and almost every person is honest when talking about their hosting situation (I can’t think of any real reason to lie about it, seeing as that person will show up there), you’ll be able to pick and choose ahead of time what fits best for you. If you’re past the point where you want to be cuddled up next to the stove, then simply choose another host.
I know that Couchsurfing isn’t for everyone, especially those traveling in large groups or with children, but it is for more people than you may think. “Seeing the sights” is only one part of traveling, so get out of your comfort zone a little bit, stay with a local for a day or two, and you’ll be richly rewarded with stories that people in hotels can only dream of.
Couchsurfing Official Website– While there are other smaller sites that promote this style of travel as well, Couchsurfing is the major player and run amazingly well.
My Couchsurfing Profile- For those interested in seeing my “not recently updated enough” profile. Also, if you do decide to join, send me a friend request and I’ll gladly friend you back, giving you a little bit more validity love!
House-sitting is a great opportunity for people who are looking for to stay in some amazing homes and properties and do so for free! Yep, you read that right; for free!
The great thing about house-sitting is that it can be for short-term vacations of 1 week all the way up to year long sabbaticals. It all depends on what you want!
How House-sitting Works
House-sitting is pretty straightforward. Many people who will be away from their home for any extended amount of time want their place looked after. Sometimes this is because they have pets that they can’t bring with them, sometimes this is because they want someone to look after their garden and yard, and sometimes it is simply because they want someone to occupy their house while they are gone for safety reasons.
Whatever the reason, people will offer up their homes and properties to be house-sit. In exchange for taking care of the animal(s), yard work, or whatever the owners wants, the house-sitter will be allowed to stay at the property free of charge (although sometimes the owner will ask you to pay utilities).
There are a few reasons that house-sitting can an incredible way to spend your vacation. Like we’ve already mentioned, it is usually free (a big, big perk).
The second reason is that house-sits can allow you to enjoy some really fabulous and amazing properties. The size, style, and condition of the property can vary greatly, but I’ve seen castles (literally castles) available for house-sits as well as places such as off-the-grid home in the rainforest in Costa Rica that is only accessible by boat. Of course, there are more “normal” places like apartments in the center of major cities or townhomes in the suburbs. The point is, the breadth and scope of the available house-sits is huge, which makes for some really cool opportunities.
Another great thing about house-sits is that you can find some for extended periods of time. While having a place for free is great for a short vacation, it really comes in handy when you are thinking of going somewhere for more than week or two. House-sits can range from a few days up to “indefinite”. If you have a profession that allows you to be location independent and you really want to immerse yourself in a culture, it doesn’t get much better than taking a house-sit for a few months. You’ll have all the comforts of home (just not your home, although it will probably start to feel like it after a few weeks) and you’ll be living for free. It’s hard to argue with that!
Just like Couchsurfing, there is an element of trust that goes in to house-sitting, on both the owner and the house-sitters part. While the owner is entrusting their most valuable asset to someone else, the house-sitter also has to trust the owner that that property and the conditions of the house are up to the standards specified.
Luckily, there are some great sites out there that can help you learn the ins and outs of how to score a good house-sit and how to make sure it works out for both parties involved.
Dalene and Peter Heck’s site, Hecktic Travels, is far and away the best place to go to learn all about house-sitting.
They’ve been doing it for a number of years and have had numerous experiences, both good and “not so good”, which they openly share on their blog.
Heck, they’ve even put out a guidebook with all their best tips.
On top of that, they have some amazing photography, so I highly recommend you check their site out. You can’t book house-sits on their site, but you can learn a “heck” of a lot!
There are a number of membership sites out there that connect owners and house-sitters.
Personally, I recommend and subscribe to Trusted Housesitters, which is not only the most user-friendly but also is growing the fastest (probably because it is set up so well).
Every day I get an email with the new postings and I can’t help but check it immediately, which is a bane to my productivity but wonderful for dreaming about where I want to head next.
The other good membership site I recommend is Housecarers. It was one of the first house-sitting sites and has a lot of listings.
The problem for years was that it was set up like it was the 1990’s.
Just recently, they’ve begun updating their site (which, oddly enough, looks very similar Trusted Housesitters), which means their design and ease of use is (slowly) catching up to quality of their listings.
Apartment or House Rentals
Most of what was written about house-sitting can apply to apartment or house rentals with one major caveat; it isn’t free.
However, you also won’t have to worry about having any major responsibilities like taking care of an animal, so you have much more freedom.
Renting an apartment or house is way better than staying in a hotel for a number of reasons. One, you can usually find rentals much cheaper than hotels, especially if you are in a large group.
Two, you have all types of amenities that might not be available to you in a hotel, such as a kitchen and washer and dryer.
Third, rental apartments won’t nickel and dime you for things like internet and/or parking. If the place has internet and parking, you’ll often be able to use it for free.
Lastly, if you get a chance to meet the owner of the place, they’ll often have some great advice on what to see and do in the area (and maybe even draw you killer handmade map with insider info like “all the best-looking girls are on the 2nd floor” and “mention my name to the owner and he’ll give you a free drink”….thanks Clint!)
Renting places has become much more common recently, and in almost every area I’ve looked, from Louisville, Kentucky to Munich, Germany, I’ve been able to find good rentals for a fraction of the price that I’d pay for a hotel. Every time, I’ve been extremely happy to have a rental as a home base. Not only have the properties themselves been great, but so has the experience.
Airbnb – Find apartments or house rentals anywhere in the world, with reviews from other people who’ve stayed there.
Craigslist – I’ve snagged apartments for super cheap both in America and abroad through Craigslist. Don’t be afraid to look at this as an option.
Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and give some of these other options a try. The amount of awesome experiences and crazy adventures I’ve had by staying in hostels, couchsurfing, or taking over someone’s apartment or house are innumerable. It is these experiences that I remember long after I’ve left a place and the backbone of why I enjoy traveling so much.
Branch out, fellow travelers. You won’t regret it!
Are there any other options other than hotels that I’ve missed? Have you given hostels, couchsurfing, house-sitting, or renting a try? What did you think of it?