Few tips for those who want to continue to roam the world, en famille. Why not? Our daughter had been to 14 countries by the time she was about 18 months old, and both of our kids don’t think twice about long haul flights. The greatest compliment was when our son was merely two, he was sitting in a Business Class seat with a Frenchmen, returning to SFO from Charles de Gaulle airport. After we landed, the Frenchmen turned around and gave me the ultimate compliment, that our son was the perfect traveler! I digress
Really, continue traveling but think about renting apartments instead of hotels. One, you get to live like locals and really get to be exposed to another level of a culture and society. Two, it’s more economical and often, more luxurious, in space and in intimacy.
Few tips to consider when renting apartments, especially in France, and specifically in Paris.
1. Time limits
Be aware that many apartments require minimum stays of one week or one month, or even longer. If you’ll be in a city less than a week, a short-term rental is unlikely to be practical. There are now more rentals for less than a week but you’re likely to pay a premium which will make it not as economical to staying at hotel.
2. Book early
To get the best possible prices and selection, try to reserve at least four to six months before your trip. Many people who have been to a location many times tend to rent apartments, because they are in the fashion business or the design business, or certain industries that have seasonal events that always bring them to Paris. So book ahead as peak seasons go really fast.
3. Reputable Agencies
Agencies should provide references. Also, many sites now have reviews and ratings. Some of the most reputable sites for luxury apartment rentals in Paris: www.timeandplace.com, www.parisianflat.com, www.chezvous.com. They all have own agents or proprietors who are fluent in English and English speaking travelers. We have stayed at many of their properties. (Full disclosure: so much that we have Parisianflat.com manage our own property, 39 Vaugirard)
4. Numbers game
How many people an apartment can sleep is not necessarily the same as how many it sleeps comfortably. Find out the number of full rooms and beds a place has before you commit. Don’t rely on photos, which can be deceptive, to get a sense of the size of an apartment. The square footage is a more precise measure (one square meter is approximately 11 square feet). Finally, ask about elevator service, especially if you’re traveling with anyone who may have problems climbing several flights, especially little kids. Also, make sure about # of bathrooms. Often, the French list two bathrooms, but this only means two toilets, and not necessarily two full bathrooms that many Americans assume. Also, clarify floors. First floor in French means second floor in American. That can make or break whether you will require a place with an elevator or that you will be lugging all of the family’s luggage up two flights of stairs. Most important, ask for WIFI or HIGH speed internet. Even in the 21st century, many apartments do not have high speed internet. They will list ‘internet’ meaning only dial up. Most American laptops no longer have dial up modems so very important. Also, inquire about whether there is a local phone installed in the apartment. This will save you some roaming charges while calling local establishments and friends.
5. Cooling agents
Inquire about air-conditioning which isn’t standard in most European apartments. Also, many Americans, who are used to about 69 degrees temp inside buildings are surprised that the air conditioning within French offices do not kick in until the temperature reaches above 74/75 F degrees. I’ve never needed it in our place but my husband insists on it
, and you may want it for ventilation and to drown out any street noise if the rentals are located on grand boulevards, such as Blvd St. Germain.
6. Read the fine print
To ensure that your vacation isn’t a horror story of confused dates and missed expectations, read the contract carefully before signing. Also, check for cleaning fees and security deposits that most agencies require in cash, in local currency prior to getting access to the apartment, especially luxury apartment rentals. Also, don’t be surprised if there are specific number limits to children that may occupy the apartment, as well as arrival times and departure times. Often, there may be a surcharge if you arrive after normal business hours.
8. At your service
Most rentals include a onetime housekeeping fee, but if you are staying more than a week, you may want to arrange for additional maid service. Some agencies can also arrange for the kitchen to be stocked prior to your arrival. Also, ask if any concierge service is included. Even the most veteran of travelers many need some advice if there is a medical emergency or need to access medicine at the local pharmacie, which often there are when children are involved.
9. Phone home
Telephones in rental apartments are often restricted to local service. If you plan to make long-distance calls, get a country-compatible cell phone with prepaid minutes, or a phone card. One inside note. Often, when you arrive in Paris, you can purchase a SIM card that makes your American phone a local French phone. There is usually a 35-50 Euros one time registration fee, but it maybe worth it if you’re often in France and/or Europe. The best advice, launch SKYPE onto your computer and the phone calls are virtually free. You just have to purchase a headphone prior to traveling or can get one at the FNAC for about 10 Euros.
10. Plan ahead
You will be exploring on your own—exactly the fun of renting an apartment, but also the challenge. Unless you plan on using a private concierge service, no one will be there to score you reservations, so book restaurants and theater tickets far in advance and come with good guidebooks and maps. Use Gayot.com for your local restaurant guide. I find it incredibly useful. And really, iphone google map is the greatest. It cost us a bundle the first time we used it since our kids were having a field day mapping out their footprint, but used sparingly, it’s the great guide.