Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Guide to Staying in Vacation Rentals with Children
Lora Shinn (lora) from WA
Imagine creating a gourmet spread in your apartment, with warm bread, fragrant brie, and tiny strawberries from neighborhood markets. After lunch, your toddler naps in the apartment's loft while you catch up on your reading. She wakes and you head to the local playground. There, your family exchanges a bonjour with newfound friends.
It's like a little slice of Parisian life.
Or perhaps you'd rather stay in Florence, cooking a fresh pot of minestrone on your stove (it tastes even better in Italy). Then again, how about a flat in London, if only to be closer to the neighborhood pub – which welcomes children, of course.
Vacation rentals are both romantic and practical. "Little children often don't totally adjust to new time zones," says Pat Byrne, who owns the Excellent Europe vacation rental agency. "When they wake up at 2am, they want to do whatever they are used to, often play or have breakfast. So, the poor parents have to get up. But they can take the child to another room to avoid disturbing the rest of the family."
Byrne adds that vacation rentals make great stays for older children, who enjoy having their own space.
Yet, not all temporary stays are equal in terms of amenities, location, and layout. Using our family's vacation rental experiences, suggestions from other Slow Travelers, and input from a few agency owners, here's a guide to renting with kids.
What's your Domicile Style?
From Tuscany's vintage villas to London's cosmopolitan condos, vacation rentals exist in every locale. Choosing your location first (city, country, or suburb) will determine rental options.
In the countryside, houses and villas welcome large families, or those with young, very active children. It's easy to explore a wide radius from your "home base" (a la Slow Travel) from a rural home, via car. Look for access to arterial roads and plentiful parking.
Apartments and condominiums are typically the only option in cities. "We definitely take the time to let parents and children know that apartment living is not like suburban home living," says Madelyn Byrne, owner of the Paris Perfect vacation rental agency. "We ask that they keep voices down in the hallways, and take their shoes off in the apartments."
In-city living means you won't need a car. Buses, bikes, and buggies (don't forget to pack that stroller) will take you to museums or restaurants.
Searching for Kid-friendly Vacation rentals
The simplest method -- contact a vacation rental agency. Agencies recommend specific properties, provide photos, and act as vacation rental-family matchmakers. They also help resolve renter-owner disputes, and most agency personnel speak English.
Want to do your own digging? Ask friends for suggestions, and read the Slow Travel archives and vacation rental reviews to find prescreened gems. Search a vacation rental-by-owner website or do a Google search.
My favorite Google term: +city +"children welcome" +vacation rental type (apartment, house, villa) or +vacation rental. For example, if searching for a vacation rental in Paris, type into the Google search bar: +Paris "children welcome" +vacation rental.
Do-it-yourself renters find low prices, but it may take a little more time. It's best if you can speak the native language for communication or contract issues.
Most vacation rental-by-owner or agency listings specify whether children are welcome; or only children over a certain age. A quick way to tell if families are a benefit or a burden? If the vacation rental says it accommodates two, they're probably thinking of honeymooners, not the Hansen family; and probably won't be happy with even a parent/child duo.
Looking at Layout
Ask about vacation rental measurements. Personal space becomes more important as children age, but can be as simple as a small nook for favorite toys or clothes. Multiple bathrooms are nice for teens, who need more time and room to prepare for the day.
Adequate sleeping places for everyone are necessary, unless traveling with small infants or toddlers, who can sleep in a port-a-cot or with mom and dad. We rarely rented an apartment with more than one bed until our daughter was two.
And whatever your children's ages, inquire about noise levels inside the apartment (for longer naps). Are the walls thin? Can you hear neighbors or street noise?
When traveling with kids, take a very close look at those rental photos. Do decorative vases and irreplaceable antique statuettes decorate the shelves? Ask yourself, "If my child accidentally broke items in this home, would it affect her college savings?"
"Our apartment descriptions state whether there are precious items." says Pat Byrne of Excellent Europe. "If there are, usually smaller children are not accepted."
Look for solid, high railings on balconies, particularly the second floor and up. In many countries, toddler-proof is not the norm – so ground-floor vacation rentals are a great pick.
Ask about safety issues, such as a scalding hot water heater. You can also bring or buy simple childproofing fixes (door handle covers, duct tape for electrical sockets).
Some families don't need vacation rental-provided entertainment, preferring to bring their own books or games from home. Other families pack light and appreciate a well-stocked library of English-language books, magazines and/or board games.
While not a necessity, television is one way to cope with jetlag. As our two-year old watched Scooby-Doo in Italian (at 4am) we dozed on the couch. English-language stations or satellite television are also a bonus.
Check out recreational facilities if renting in the countryside. Many vacation rentals offer pools, sports facilities (tennis, cricket), or small play structures.
Our house in Provence came with backyard entertainment. I'm not sure which our toddler enjoyed more – the swingset or pet chickens.
Toddler with the pet chickens
If renting with younger children, onsite equipment will make your stay easier. Owners sometimes make cribs, high chairs, toys, and strollers/push chairs available. Some owners don't have items onsite, but can acquire them from friends/relatives – it's always worth asking if your vacation rental will have the equipment most helpful to you.
If you're bringing baby gear with you, ask about storage areas. Can you park a stroller in the entryway?
Your nine-year-old son's Nutella escaped the crepe, and now it's all over his jeans. A washing machine spares rigging your bathroom as a laundromat. Dryers aren't usually available, but a backyard clothesline works. No washer or dryer? Inquire about nearby laundering facilities, or bring your Woolite and laundry accoutrements.
Ask about heating in winter, and air-conditioning in summer. Our French farmhouse only offered a woodstove for warmth, so we packed wool sweaters for chilly spring nights, and indoor house slippers for cold stone floors.
But most importantly – make sure your vacation rental offers adequate storage, cooking, and eating space for your family.
Take a look at photos or ask questions. Can you boil a big pot of pasta on that burner? Will your family of five fit around the table? Is the fridge full-sized or a miniature version? Microwaves provide a handy self-serve option for older children and teens.
In-home dining is undoubtedly one of Slow Travel's biggest benefits, so ensure that the food prep and dining space meets your needs. In one vacation rental, we only found dishes and silverware for two, although the ad said it was furnished for four. After the owner's dash to the store, we had plates for everyone.
Love Your Location
Whether traveling with toddlers or teens, walkable is the word to remember.
Toddlers love making the local park their hangout. Playgrounds provide free kid entertainment; and are great spots to meet neighbors. We loved chatting with other parents as our children chased pigeons in the piazza or zipped down neighborhood slides.
Children playing in the piazza
Ask about physicians, hospitals, grocery stores, farmer's markets, and other important services. 24-hour pharmacies offer cold remedies, diapers, and other last-minute necessities. Most vacation-rental owners present a notebook upon your arrival, with emergency contacts and local services.
Teens want the autonomy to explore, shop, and run errands. Madelyn Byrne of Paris Perfect suggests asking about neighborhood safety. "We were careful when choosing our Paris apartments that the neighborhood is safe and established Byrne says. "We let our 11 year old go to the patisserie or shops, on her own."
See You on the Plane
Reserve your vacation home and pack your bags. You're going on a family adventure that you'll cherish for a lifetime.
Once you return, don't forget to come back to Slow Travel and let everyone know about the little kid-friendly gem you found in Venice, Paris, or Amsterdam.
_ Size of vacation rental (measurements)?
What is Slow Travel? Vacation rentals and what to expect.
Lora is a freelance writer and traveler. She lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband and two children.
© Lora Shinn, 2007
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