Private accommodations an option in travel abroad

Your Money

November 26, 2006|By Carolyn Bigda | Carolyn Bigda,Chicago Tribune

When traveling in groups, finding spacious accommodations that are affordable can be tough. That was the challenge my brother, sister-in-law and I faced this past summer during a trip to South America.

When we arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where we would stay for a week, we skipped the hotels and rented a two-bedroom apartment instead.

Total cost: $300.

Renting space in a private residence -- whether a room, apartment or the entire home -- while vacationing is not especially new. The British have long preferred to travel this way, said Pauline Frommer, whose father launched the namesake guidebooks.

But more U.S. travelers are opting for this type of accommodation, in part because the Internet has made it easier to search for spaces around the world, see pictures in advance and communicate with owners.

Rentals offer more space, often at a fraction of the cost of a hotel stay for families and groups.

A good thing, too, because hotel rates are on the rise: For the 12 months preceding September, room rates in Europe climbed by an average of 9 percent or more, according to Smith Travel Research, which tracks the industry.

"Throw in the strength of the euro compared to the dollar, and affording a hotel becomes a lot more difficult for travelers," Frommer said.

Frommer addresses this issue in a series of guidebooks that she is rolling out, Pauline Frommer's Travel Guides, which are available for Italy, Hawaii and New York City.

In the books, she lists agencies that can connect you to "alternative accommodations," such as apartments to rent. "You not only pay less, but you often have access to a kitchen and you're staying in a real neighborhood," Frommer said. "You get to live more like a local than a tourist."

If that appeals to you as you get ready for holiday travel with family or friends from school, here are a few things to keep in mind:

How long will you stay? Many owners rent their apartment for a minimum of four days or more.

How much pampering do you want? Unlike at a hotel, there won't be a front desk to help.

Maid service also will be minimal, or nonexistent, if you like having fresh sheets, made beds and clean towels every day.

"You really need to be an independent or no-frills traveler," said Linda Cabasin, editorial director for Fodor's Travel.

Where is it located? Cabasin said that in some cases, cheaper apartments will be located farther from a city's center or transportation.

Other questions to ask:

How much street noise is there?

Are utilities and phone calls included in the rate?

How many beds and rooms are there? Will linens be provided?

What's the plan if something breaks, or if there is an emergency?

Will there be an English-speaking contact?

How will you pick up and drop off the keys?

How will you pay?

Finally, you'll need to make sure you get all the terms in writing.

If you're budget conscious, check out travel books and online forums for recommendations.

Then, enjoy your stay.

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