Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
When You Arrive at Your Vacation Rental
Here are a few tips for you to remember when you get to your vacation rental.
Contacting the Owner/Keykeeper
Many vacation rentals require that you phone either the day of arrival to arrange a meeting time or a few days before. Make sure you know how to dial a phone in Italy. Also be sure to have an emergency contact phone number, in case you cannot reach the keykeeper. Read about Dialing To and From Italy.
Honor the Check In and Check Out Times
Most vacation rentals are on a very strict schedule. Bookings are usually back to back, so you must be out of your vacation rental by the time specified so that the cleaning people can get it ready for the next group. Do not arrive early unless you have made arrangements; they will not be ready for you. Most vacation rentals give you a generous check in "window" - usually 4pm to 7pm.
If you will be later than the check in window, you might be able to arrange to have the keys left somewhere for you, but be sure you have a contact phone number in case there is a problem.
If you are unavoidably detained and will be late, phone them. They will not be waiting for you after the check in time. Think of it from their point of view. In Europe, the check in day is usually Saturday and it is a busy day. People are leaving in the morning and need to be checked out. Then they have the house or apartments to clean and get ready for the next set of guests. They may take a lunch break in the middle of the day, then go back to do the last minute things and wait for the next guests to arrive. When the end of the check in time arrives, they have had a very full and busy day and are happy to be returning to their families. Out of respect for the estate managers or key-keepers and to make things easier for yourself, try to arrive as early as you can in the check in window. That way you can get yourself settled, then have time to go to the village for some groceries. Everyone will be more relaxed.
I have heard from one Italy agency that people who arrive late for their Saturday check in may not get in that night or even the next day, because Sunday is traditionally a non-working day.
Getting Your Groceries and Household Supplies
Many European countries have restricted shopping hours. No 24/7 stores like we are used to in the US. Stores may be closed on Sunday and for a half day one day in the week. Find out the usual store hours of the area you are visiting so you know ahead of time.
It is a good idea to check in to your vacation rental first, see what is supplied with the place, and then head out to the shops. You don't need to do a huge shopping, just get supplies for the next day or two.
Our immediate shopping list is usually: bottled water, coffee for the morning, bread, butter and jam for breakfast, toilet paper and paper towels (if they do not supply much), olive oil for cooking, something for a quick dinner on the Sunday (we usually go out for dinner the night we arrive), a few deli things for lunch.
The Arrival Freak Out
This may just be me, but I have about a 12 hour freak out for every new vacation rental. It is never how I pictured it and that is the cause of the freak out. Even if a place is great, somehow it is never as great as I have made it out to be in my head. We have become used to this freak out routine of mine and by the next morning, I am usually in love with the place - or at least have rearranged and cleaned it enough so that it will do for the week.
Explore your Apartment / House
Make the house your own. Don't rearrange furniture and paint, but do set things up the way you like them. I look around for any of those toxic air fresheners and put them in a Ziploc bag and store them under the sink so we will not have to live with their smell. The same if the laundry room is full of half used boxes of fragrant laundry soap; I put them in a plastic bag and move them to a corner.
If you are sensitive to chemical fragrances like we are, do this "fragrance" inspection as soon as you arrive. One item that I am finding more often in US vacation rentals is scented candles. Even when not lighted, they give off a penetrating odor which, after a day or two, can make me feel quite sick (headaches, stuffy nose). Bundle them up in a plastic bag and put them outside.
If the owner has left too many knick-knacks around, taking up every available space, move them all to one place leaving some surfaces clear for your stuff.
Open all the cupboards and drawers in the kitchen to see what cooking things are provided. Take note of any essential items that are missing and either ask the owner/agent for them or go out and pick them up yourself. We usually purchase a cutting board for each trip because the houses frequently do not have good ones (plus I always imagine the last person was cutting raw chicken on the board and how long does that bacteria live anyway?). In Italy, the light bulbs are usually very low wattage and one agent recommended to me to go and buy a couple of higher wattage bulbs to replace the ones in the house.
Unpack your bags and get your stuff out so it is at hand when you want it. If you travel with your computer, get a nice work area set up. You might as well unpack right away so you will be comfortable for the next week.
Explore Your Local Area
On your first day in a new vacation rental, explore the things close to you. On many trips we found at the end of the week, if we had just turned left down a street instead of right, we would have found a great little cafe or store with just what we wanted. Now, the day after we arrive, we do a good exploration of the nearest towns to see what is close by.
Cooking Your First Meal in Your New Kitchen
There is a good chance that things will go badly for your first meal. Forgive yourself ahead of time. Give yourself extra time to figure out the new kitchen. You will be hunting for pots and pans, the stove will heat up differently than the one you are used to, your food supplies are different and may cook differently. It usually takes me one meal in a new place to get comfortable working in the kitchen.
You Made It!
You have arrived, done your first grocery shopping and you are ready to have a wonderful week or two!! It may all seem strange at first, but you have done the hard stuff and the fun part is just starting.
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