Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen
In April 2000, I created the Slow Travel website because I wanted to learn website design and needed a topic, so I selected my favorite topic - traveling and staying in vacation rentals. Over the years the website became my full time job and evolved into a community of like-minded travelers.
Contact Pauline from the Slow Travel Forums.
About Pauline and Steve
When my husband Steve and I got together in 1981, we knew that neither of us was "the family type". We did not have children - but we did have careers in the computer software industry that prevented us from extended traveling. In the mid 80s, the company we worked for (Steve was one of the owners) got bought out and we were able to leave the regular working world behind for a few years and travel! We were like kids in a candy store on our first trip to Europe in 1988 - delighted with everything and wanted to go everywhere.
Now we both work independently, mostly from home. We have arranged our working life to leave plenty of time to travel. We go to Europe once or twice a year and are lucky to be able to do longer trips - five to ten weeks.
We have spent many months in Italy, Switzerland, England, and France. Most of that time was spent in different vacation rentals one or two weeks at a time; only a few nights were spent in hotels. We have not traveled extensively in Italy, but have concentrated our traveling in Tuscany, Umbria, Liguria, and Rome. We have seen most of the mountain regions in Switzerland and have traveled extensively in England. We have only recently become obsessed with France. We are not experts on these countries, we do not live there, we do not own a second (or first) home there. We just love to travel and have picked up some useful information along the way. We still have a lot to learn.
We love to travel, but traveling has its difficult points too. That is why we created this website - to help others learn from our mistakes (and so we can remember our mistakes and learn from them ourselves). It is sometimes hard to figure out how things work, how you are expected to do things - especially when you are new to the country and don't speak the language well. We tell you what we have learned about various daily things: how to get a coffee, how to buy your groceries, some tips for driving, the best guidebooks, etc. We also want to help you find the best vacation rental possible, so you will have a comfortable place to set up your base; a lovely house or apartment that you can pretend you own, to pretend that you are lucky enough to live in Europe, if only for a little while.
About Our Travel to Europe
In 1987 we left our home in Vancouver, Canada and traveled for three years before eventually settling in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the end of 1990. We spent one year traveling in Europe; the other two years traveling in the US. It was the one trip to Europe that started our love affair with European travel.
When we started the big trip to Europe, we had some vague idea that we wanted to find an apartment in a Swiss village and live there for a year. This was June 1988. I had found a book about hiking in Switzerland called "Walking Switzerland - The Swiss Way" by Marcia and Philip Lieberman. This book talked about vacation rental apartments that can be found all over Switzerland in the mountain towns and villages. This book changed my travel life.
We took the train into Switzerland, stayed in hotels but booked two weeks in an apartment in Grindelwald and two weeks in an apartment in Zermatt for the summer. Then we went to Florence. In Florence, an Italian travel agent, working in an American Express office, told us about a seaside hotel with small apartments - Torre di Calla Piccola on Monte Argentario. She booked a week for us. We took the train out there. We did not rent a car - we thought we would not be able to cope with driving. We stayed at the hotel for a week, walking the 5 miles into Porto Santo Stefano for groceries and taking a taxi back. We rested and swam every day.
It was paradise for us having an apartment because we had been traveling for weeks already and could not face more restaurant meals. We are both vegetarians (Steve is not totally) and cannot eat restaurant meals every day for longer than a few days at a time. On that trip we hunted out vegetarian restaurants and Chinese restaurants all over Europe. We used Frommer's Europe on $50/day, where vegetarian restaurants were listed because they are inexpensive.
After the summer in Switzerland (in lovely apartments), then a month in Scandinavia, we went to England where I found a book with vacation rental listings all over England. Over the next two months, we spent one week at a time in cottages all over England. Then we settled in a cottage outside of London for the winter. After the year, we came back to the US.
It was because of this trip and the two books we found, that I learned about vacation rentals. Back in the 80s, Americans did not really know about this type of travel. Back then it was easier for us to travel in the US rather than Europe because we found cabins in the rural areas - you know those hotel/motel kind of complexes with a bunch of rough cabins in the countryside. This is how we traveled around the US. Now it is easier for us to find vacation rentals in Europe than in the US.
I started searching out ways of booking European vacation rentals - ads in the New Yorker, or in the back of travel magazines. I sent away for every catalog I could find - The Parker Company, Suzanne Cohen, Vacanza in Italia, Cuendet, Tuscany Now, Vacanza Bella. I kept a file of catalogs and agencies. I did not know anyone else who traveled this way. All our friends, if they traveled to Europe at all, stayed in small hotels. No one was interested in spending a week in one place.
We didn't travel much in the early 90s, but I looked at those catalogs endlessly. In 1996, we booked a trip through a vacation rental agency. I wanted nice places and I made that clear to them. The agent was very friendly and helpful, but they booked us into places that were not great. One was a perfect location, but was such a dirty and rundown cottage that we almost left after a couple of days. The other was a luxury resort - the cottage was beautiful - but in such a remote area that we would have had to drive an hour or two every day to get to interesting towns. We also went to Switzerland on this trip and had an incredible time because we knew just how to find good vacation rentals there.
We also had a great time in Italy, but it was difficult for us because everything seemed different from what we were used to - the driving - the restaurants - we felt we were just beginning to understand how things worked at the end of a month there. Because of this we immediately booked another two month trip for Spring 1997 (six months later). This time we used a different agency. Again the agent was very friendly and helpful, and this time one place was good, another was okay (but rundown and not comfortable) and a third was expensive and not great. But the trip was easier for us because we had learned so much on the previous trip.
Then came the World Wide Web boom and I was able to find places and more agencies on the web. We were no longer tied to one of a few big US agencies. From this point on, we found great vacation rentals for every trip. I started the website to collect my reviews and other people's reviews. Now I book my trips based on the reviews we have on the site. I have a short list of some great sounding places for future trips and you can too, by reading through this website, reading the vacation rental reviews and asking questions on the message board!
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Read more about all our trips in the Pauline's Trip Reports section. See Pauline's Slow Travel Member Page for the list of articles I have written for SlowTrav. For more about us, see our website Cohen and Kenny.
> Read more about us in the Pauline's Trip Reports section.
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