How to Book a Vacation Apartment

orlando condo1

See that photo? That is why we no longer use hotels, but rather, vacation apartments. When you are of a **ahem** certain age, comfort becomes paramount. When you were a teenager, you could sleep on the floor, in the car, sitting up in a chair, on the beach, etc., etc., But now that you’re a grown up, if you try sleeping that way, you may find that you can’t get up. You prefer more comfortable surroundings.

We stayed in hotels for many years; some very nice hotels. But the first time we took a chance on renting a vacation apartment, we were hooked. Why? Read on…

1. Space, space, space. Both of us usually try to do some work when we’re vacationing, and having a nice, big apartment allows us to spread out and not get in each others’ way. Need a little quiet? Go into the bedroom. Wake up early while he’s still sleeping? Head to the living room. Having trouble sleeping? Head to a second bedroom. Having so much extra space has made our vacations so much more enjoyable. Whether here in the USA or abroad, we have found some fabulous vacation apartments.

2. Budget. You’re probably thinking, “Sure, renting an apartment is all well and good, but my budget is too small.” And you would probably be wrong. You can rent a 1 or 2 bedroom vacation apartment for about the same price (many times for even less) than a single hotel room. The apartment that you see above was a 3-bedroom apartment that we rented in Orlando, Florida for just 2 nights at $125 per night. And consider the fact that you’ll have a full kitchen, allowing you to have some meals without going out, if you prefer. We typically do a big breakfast in the apartment, then have a picnic lunch and then dinner out. Putting together a picnic lunch is simple when you have a kitchen at your fingertips.

3. Service. Apartment owners are not usually big businesses. Their business relies on the satisfaction of every single guest. So they go above and beyond to make sure that your stay is fantastic. Let’s face it – if you complained about your hotel room to one of the big chains, it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference. But one bad review on a vacation apartment could be devastating for future rentals. They are going to make sure you’re happy!

vienna apartment

So how do you go about doing this? There are several websites that list vacation apartments. My two favorites are (stands for Vacation Rental By Owner) and Both of these sites are very safe. For instance, with AirBnb, you pay through their portal and they do not release the payment to the apartment owner until 24 hours prior to your arrival. If your host cancels for some reason (this has never happened with us), then AirBnb refunds your money. VRBO has its own policy, but they stand behind their listings and as long as you pay through their portal, you’re covered.

On both of these websites, you will put in your travel dates, destination, and then you can “filter” your search with other features, such as how many bedrooms or bathrooms, area of the city you’d like, etc. If you put in your dates, your search will only bring up properties that are available for you.

What to look for:

1. Reviews: Make sure that the property has several 5 star reviews. If it has no reviews, I personally would not book it.

2. Air Conditioning: Depending on the time of year you’re traveling, make sure that the apartment has air conditioning if you feel you’ll need it. True story: last year we were heading to Portland, OR for several days, and we found a fabulous 2-bedroom apartment for less than $100 per night. Two days prior to our arrival, the weather forecast said that Portland was having a heat wave and would be 97 degrees. Whew! That is HOT! Upon checking the apartment listing, we saw that A/C was not listed. We immediately called the owner, who, in turn, went and bought a window unit and had it installed and running by the time that we arrived. A/C is not common in Europe, so if you’ll be there in the summer, look for an apartment with A/C.

3. Elevator: Need an elevator? When you book apartments particularly in Europe, the building may not have an elevator, especially older buildings. We personally don’t want to haul heavy bags up 3 or 4 flights of stairs, so we look to see what floor the apartment is on and whether or not there’s an elevator. Something to note: in other countries, their floor numbers are different than in the USA. Our bottom floor here in the States is the 1st floor. In Europe, the bottom floor is the Ground floor. So their 1st floor is our second floor, and so on. If you see an apartment in Europe that’s on the 2nd floor with no elevator, just realize that you will be carrying your bags up 3 flights of stairs.

4. Number of Rooms: If you’re looking for a certain number of bedrooms, keep in mind that some properties, especially in Europe (I’ve noticed this a lot in France) consider the living room to be a bedroom if it has a pull out sofa bed. So if you’re looking for two distinct and separate bedrooms, make sure that’s what the apartment has.

5. Parking: If you will have a car, check out the parking situation. If it’s not described in the listing, a quick email to the owner will tell you what you need to know. Don’t assume that parking is available. It may not be.

6. Fees: Check for additional fees. I noticed that in South Florida, for example, final cleaning fees were very pricy, whereas in Europe, there may not be a cleaning fee at all. Airbnb charges a non-refundable service fee (around $35 or so) and VRBO has no fees associated with their website. (There will be fees to the apartment owner, but no fee to use the website).

7. Booking: Make sure that you book through the website. Don’t attempt to do an ‘end run’ around the website to try to get a better deal by going straight to the apartment owner. It can be done, but when you do this, you don’t have the guarantees offered by the website.

Bottom line? We will always rent an apartment over a hotel if there’s an option. We have rented apartments in several states and several countries and we have never, not even once, had a bad experience. The apartments have always been clean, well-maintained, as advertised and comfortable. And we have gotten to know some pretty great people, too!

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