Why settle for just a hotel room when you can have so much more?
Now, perhaps you’re thinking why would I want to stay in an aparthotel or apartment or any other form of self-catering accommodation. I’d have to cook. That’s not a holiday, is it? Not for me thanks. But hold on a minute. Who made the rule that if you stay in self-catering accommodation you have to cook? Certainly not me.
You don’t have to cook
There is absolutely no reason that you should feel obliged to cook just because you’ve booked into an aparthotel or even rented an entire house for your travel group. Of course, if you want to cook then having all those lovely facilities is great. Whether I stay in a hotel room or rent an apartment I like to have a fridge so I can store cold drinks. Even the odd bottle of white wine perhaps!
Whether I choose to cook depends on what kind of trip it is. If it’s a super-budget trip and I’m trying to keep food costs down then I’ll probably cook breakfast in the apartment. Then I’ll make up some sandwiches for lunch. We rarely eat dinner in unless we’re on an extended trip and we’re getting tired of going out or if we’re on a long road trip and we’re just too tired. Otherwise, we either go out for dinner or we get a takeaway in. It’s nice to have the option though.
That’s why staying in an aparthotel, apartment or rental property can work so well. It gives you more options so you can please yourself. If you’ve got fussy kids travelling with you or you have some kind of dietary restrictions it can make a big difference.
Lots more space to relax
However, the reason I often look for an aparthotel or apartment is that you get so much more space. Rather than having to sit on the bed and watch tv while you’re relaxing you can spread out on the sofa. Depending on what you book you might even get several rooms to roam through. I’ve grouped the various self-catering options together in this article but there are some significant differences between an aparthotel, apartment and rental home so I’ll just go through some of them first.
Staying in an aparthotel gives you all the benefits of a hotel but with the space of a small apartment. The rooms do tend to be smaller although you may well get a choice of different sizes when you book. Often they will have small studios as well as 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments. We often stay in a studio if there’s just the two of us and it’s a short stay. They’re usually the cheapest but everything is in one large room. So you get a small cooking area with perhaps a fridge, hob, sink, kettle, microwave and all the cups, plates etc that you need. You don’t often get an oven in a studio though.
If you choose a bigger room in an aparthotel then you may get a separate kitchen with full facilities so it’s worth checking what they offer. We’ve stayed in aparthotels which were full apartments. What makes them different from a traditional rental apartment is that you’ll get hotel services. If they offer serviced rentals, which most aparthotels do, you’ll get housekeeping. Sometimes every day like in a hotel, sometimes less often. They’ll supply things like coffee and tea, milk sachets, soap, towels etc. It’s very much like staying in a hotel really except you get more space.
You get hotel-style facilities as well as space
You’ll also get access to any hotel facilities, for instance, the pool, spa, restaurant, bar, left luggage. All those little things that make staying in a hotel so comfortable and easy. You’ll check-in at a reception on-site and there’ll be someone on hand if you have any problems. An aparthotel is one of my favourite type of properties to stay in. I find them great value for money.
By apartment, I mean a traditional style rental apartment where you book a specific apartment within a residential block. You may well find that there are several apartments available for rent in any one complex but the building wasn’t specifically designed for tourists.
You can rent this kind of apartment directly from the owner if they advertise it themselves or sometimes the owner will use some kind of management company who will look after the property and also advertise it for rent. Dealing directly with the owner can mean good prices but you’ll want to know that the property is being well looked after as well so check if there is a local manager.
Book direct with the owner or through an agent
Booking through a management company may offer peace of mind if you needed to be moved during your stay for any reason as they may have multiple properties. However, the options for this are limited so this is one disadvantage over the aparthotel. There won’t be many, or possibly, any alternatives so you really are stuck with what you book. You shouldn’t let this worry you though. Staying in an apartment can be great.
One of the advantages of renting an apartment or house is that you get extra you wouldn’t get in a hotel room or even aparthotel. I like to find somewhere with a washing machine, preferably with a dryer as well. I like to travel light so it really helps if I can wash my clothes now and again. It’s a lot easier and cheaper than sending it off to hotel laundry.
If you’re staying somewhere for longer then you should look into renting an entire house to stay in. It’s ideal for smaller groups and families as well as larger groups of travellers. We’ve often rented an entire property just for the two of us. Rental homes come in all shapes and sizes and there are some huge benefits over staying in a hotel
You get so much more space to spread around. You can expect to get at least a separate living, kitchen and bedroom space. You’ll often get multiple bathrooms and may even get your own pool or hot tub. It’s much more likely that you’ll get your own dedicated parking, maybe even a garage. In popular tourist destinations, you’ll often find that the owners put loads of attractive extras into their rental homes to encourage travellers.
You get some amazing facilities
We’ve rented houses in Orlando for instance with their own pool & spa, games room with pool table, PlayStation, large screen tv with full cable packages, free international phone calls to name just a few benefits. It’s quite amazing what you can get. No waiting for a space in the spa or getting up early to put your towel on a sun lounger (not that I’d ever do that but you get my point).
So, as I hope you can see, there are loads of benefits to staying in self-catering style accommodations such as an aparthotel, apartment or rental home. Which ones suits you best will depend on your budget and what facilities you want.
Where to book your aparthotel or rental property?
There are several options for finding and booking these kinds of accommodations. For the aparthotel, you should search and book in the same way as you would any other hotel. Things of the aparthotel as just a larger hotel room with more facilities. So, I’d search on booking.com first and then double-check the reviews on Tripadvisor.
You can now also book apartments and even whole houses using booking.com as well. It’s well worth taking a look on there but there are other options as well. If you’re travelling to a big tourist destination such as Orlando you’ll find specialist sites where owners advertise their properties. Or you can take a look at some of the multi-country sites for renting a property. Take a look at the property listings on TripAdvisor as that’s a growing market for them. Of course, Airbnb is a very popular option and you can get some very good value rentals on there. It also has it’s own review system so you can see what previous guests think of a property.
For booking properties directly from the owners, two sites I use are vrbo and HomeAway. They’re actually part of the same company but you’ll find different owners advertise on one or the other. Both are huge sites with masses of listings and you can get some real bargains.
Make sure you take a look at my article on reading between the lines of hotel reviews before you book.
Check the rental is legal
There are some extras things to check out before you book an apartment or house whether it’s directly from the owner or a 3rd party. You need to double-check that these kind of lettings are legal in the place you want to stay. Some cities have implemented restrictions on short-term lets and yet you still see them advertised to rent. New York is a good example of this. If you book an illegal rental then you have no protection and could be evicted. Also, you can be pretty sure the owner is not paying any tax and while you might not think this is your problem I have a kind of ethical objection to that.
Also, if they’re letting their property illegally, are they looking after it properly? Owning a rental property can be costly if you make sure everything is well looked after, routine maintenance carried out, all insurances in place etc. If a rental is illegal it’s not likely all these things are being done. There are a few places you can search to check but the Tripadvisor forums are an excellent place to start. If you look in the city you are travelling to there will be locals who can tell you straight away whether short term rentals are legal in their city.
Check if it needs to be registered
Even if a city allows short term rentals it doesn’t mean the one you’re looking at is ok. In Quebec City, for instance, short term rentals need to be registered with the city. You can check their list to see if your planned apartment is on it. I nearly got caught out myself with this but thankfully realised before I booked.
What other things do you need to know? Well, firstly where will you pick up the keys? It’s not a hotel so they may want to send someone to meet you to let you into the property and give you the key. This is great and very personal but it often means very restricted arrival times. Plus, you may need to ring them if you’re running late and you may not have a working phone in some countries. Or you may arrive early and have to wait around. Some apartments give you a lock box code or electronic door lock code instead and these can be very handy. Some properties make you pick up a key from their office which may be nowhere near the rental property. Not always easy or convenient especially if you don’t have transport. It pays to ask before you part with any money.
Who do you call in an emergency?
Ask who you call if there is an emergency. It’s very unlikely that there will be someone on-site to help you but what if there’s a water leak or something doesn’t work? You need a number of someone to contact and preferably you should be able to call them 24 hours a day in an emergency situation.
Make sure you know what is provided. Will there be towels? Do they provide shower gel, shampoo etc? It always surprises me when places don’t supply these things but it certainly does happen. Are there any restrictions on using the washing machine at night? Are utilities included? All these things might seem obvious but you’ll be surprised how much variation there is from place to place. What is common in Florida might not be so usual in New England for example.
Do you need to leave a damage deposit?
Most rental properties will make you leave a security deposit. Aparthotels might take a credit card authorisation but they rarely want cash. Some rental properties will want a cash deposit in advance of your arrival. Some will take credit cards but you can’t rely on it so you should ask. When I stay in a rented place I whizz round and take a few photos on my phone when we arrive. If I spot any issues – scuffed walls, broken tap etc then I take a photo. Make sure you turn the time and date stamp on so it shows on each photo. Then if you accused of breaking or marking anything you can show that it was like that when you arrived. You can also message or email the management company or owner to let them know so they are aware.
What happens on check out day?
Don’t leave it until the last minute to find out what the check out procedures is. If you’re renting an apartment or house they may ask you to strip the beds, take the rubbish out and even put on the first load of washing. I’ve never been asked to do this in an aparthotel yet though. It’s only nice to leave a property clean and tidy. Don’t leave your rubbish or leftover food lying around. You don’t need to spring clean but a wipe around the kitchen and collecting up all your trash is the least you’ll be expected to do.
In an apartment or house, you may be asked to leave the keys in the property and just shut the door behind you. You might have to return the keys somewhere or an agent might come and meet you. I prefer not to spend the last day of my stay delivering keys so I try to avoid places that ask for this. Leaving them at the property is easiest. Occasionally, I’ve been asked to phone and let them know we’ve left.
As you can see, if you do your planning you can get a great choice of self-catering accommodations to suit all needs. Absolutely no need to cook if you don’t want to. If you’ve found this article useful please check out my other travel advice tips.