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Home Away from Home
There is definitely a place for hotels in anyone's travel plans. But sometimes you want to spread out a little, experience the local flavor – and save some money. In other words, you want to stay in a home.
You can rent a home, ranging from a condo or apartment to a sprawling castle, for as little as a night. Home rental lets you experience your surroundings in a way that may be more authentic than you would find in a tourist hotel. It also gives you more room, which can be especially important if you are traveling with kids. They can have their own space – maybe even with video games or a pool table. And you, of course, can get some peace and quiet.
You also will almost certainly save money. Although you may pay as much, or even a little more, for a house than you would for a hotel, you get more. In addition to the extra space, you get a kitchen, which allows you to eat in instead of paying for every meal in a restaurant. No one wants to cook all the time on vacation, of course. But stocking in some milk and cereal for breakfast, some sandwich makings for lunch and some snacks is not much effort, and it can help you avoid spending a small fortune eating every meal at a restaurant. Not to mention that it makes it easier to avoid eating too much or overdosing on junk food, and you can accommodate any allergies or special dietary concerns. You also don't have to roust your teens from bed when you are hungry for breakfast.
Home rentals are available throughout the United States and in most of the rest of the world. All you have to do is look, and the Internet is a great place to start. Search for vacation rentals at your destination, and see what you find.
There are many sites that allow homeowners to list rental properties, usually in fairly common vacation destinations. Among the more popular ones are vacationrentals.com, homeaway.com and cyberrentals.com, but there are many others. If your destination has a craigslist, the popular site also lists vacation rentals. These sites usually function as a kind of go-between for the homeowner and the traveler; the site may or may not do any background checks into the homeowners who use its listings. Almost always, you end up talking directly to the homeowner if you have any questions or complaints.
You also may choose to work with a real estate firm in the area you want to visit. Real estate firms often manage large numbers of rental properties in vacation areas. The disadvantage is that you may not be able to get as much information from the agent as you would from talking to the homeowner. But the advantage is that you can contact the firm if your air conditioner breaks, for example, and they probably have service people who can respond fairly quickly.
Some companies provide rental homes as part of a larger travel package that can include air fare and tours. For example, homeatfirst.com provides packages that include home rentals in Scandanavia, New Zealand, and Britain and Ireland.
You can also swap your home with someone else, like Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz did in the movie "The Holiday." Of course, you have to coordinate your schedule with that of another family, which can be challenging. But if you are interested, you can check out HomeExchange.com.
Whenever you stay in a home, be sure to ask all the questions you can think of. Find out exactly what the rental includes. For example, do you need to bring your own linens? What about kitchen supplies? Is there a computer hooked to the Internet?
Most likely your stay will go smoothly, but find out what recourse, if any, you have if the house is not as promised or if something causes you to cancel your plans. Ask what you should do if something breaks while you are there. Understand your responsibilities for cleaning the house when you leave.
Then, just settle in and enjoy your home away from home.