Luxury for less: finding the best accomodations
Call me crazy, but I love a good deal, and for those who know me, a good deal doesn’t equate to going on the cheap. When I say I got a good deal, that’s code for “I got the luxury I want without paying triple.” In other words, I want the Four Seasons experience without the overhead, both financial and mental. (Can you hear the glee in my voice as I type this?)
This article is the first of what will be an on-going, detailed account of our accommodations. I do realize that by exposing our secrets, they will be secrets no more, but that’s my gift to you, the reader, traveler and explorer. If more people know travel can be both luxurious and economical, they’d do it more!
Our criteria: location, cost and convenience
When we travel for two weeks, we find a “home base” from which we can drive to lots of destinations. This allows us to get a major cost break for staying more than five days. We have found one pays a lot more when the stays are minimum, such as 2-3 days. Anything over five days can usually be negotiated down quite dramatically. 7-10 days is optimum.
For instance, during a four-week vacation, we picked Belgium, and specifically, Tervuren, for eight days. From this location, we visited many destinations in Brussels, the Netherlands and France. Using VRBO, we found a 5-bedroom, four bath, two story home with an in-ground pool. It was road off Park Tervuren, also known as the Empress’s Park. That meant it was also a ten-minute walk from the quaint downtown. It had garage parking for two spaces, and all the facilities one expects in a lovely home.
Luxury on Lake Cuomo: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, private elevator and rooftop terrace. Every door opening to a private terrace
The price? $1,200 US. That’s right. All that for $150/night. A comparable location in Brussels central (twenty minutes away) first off, wasn’t even available. Homes don’t have pools, and aren’t for rent unless you are paying diplomat fees, which are about $10K/month, or $2,500 a week. Hotel rooms are about $400/night, and a family needs two. (Our family does anyway. Don’t know about you, but we believe in intimacy while on vaca).
To provide another example, in Vienna, we found a 2-story, 3-bedroom downtown apartment near the Palace. It was $1,400 for a week. In Prague, it was a 2-story, 3-bedroom modern apartment about three blocks from old town for $800. Both places were penthouses, with decks, by the way. Where did we find such deals? VRBO. Don’t worry, I’ll be posting more in-depth reviews with more pics on each in that country section.
Two-story penthouse in Prague, modern, private decks and triple security (inner/outer doors)
VRBO and Airbnb
Generally speaking, hate mail doesn’t resonate with my soul, but on this topic, I’m going there, no matter what comes. In our experience (underline, bold and with emphasis), VRBO is the only way to go for travel, for the following reasons, each one vital to the safety and security of our family.
- Vetting. VRBO seems to have a process for background checks/screening, credit/reputation, management of the property and overall, quality listings. Compare this to Airbnb, where anyone looking to sublet out a room, couch or whatever can just throw it up and list it. It’s sort of like buyer-be-ware.
- Quality. Along the lines of the above, you can rent chalets, mansions, apartments, flats and just about everything in between. The next time I want to entertain 40 of my best friends, I’ll snap up that lakeside mansion on Lake Cuomo for $10K for 2 weeks, but until then, I’m super happy I got the two-story, 3-bedroom penthouse with it’s private elevator on the waterfront of Bellagio (which sits on a peninsula Lake Cuomo) for $1,100 for eight days. The accommodations, whatever they may be, must be true to representation, or risk getting a bad review, which results in the owner (and associated location) being banned from VRBO. This accountability really is fantastic for us travelers.
- Management and payment. On VRBO, most of the locations have an on-line calendar for direct booking. Depending on the location, direct communication is required with the owner and/or manager of the site. A small deposit is usually required, but we have learned over the years that negotiation is always possible—e.g. small deposit, part cash when we arrive if all is in order, and then the remainder of the cash when we check out. This makes it a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3, reducing the risk of the site being awful and us getting stiffed.
On that note, we have read horror stories about travelers paying half and showing up to find that the place doesn’t exist, the reviews were fake and someone took their money and ran. These were 100% Airbnb, never VRBO. Still, one can never take chances. If the owner/manager doesn’t get back promptly, the dates show up then disappear on the calendar, or other anomalies, they are red flags. Nothing is worth the risk of standing on foreign land without a place to stay
View off the deck of the 5th story penthouse on Lake Zurich. Most buildings are modern with natural treatment for roofs. Down the cobblestone lane (beside this building) is the waterfront. The apartment, waterfront and surrounding yoga studio and eateries are all featured in the Danielle Grant trilogy.
More on Parking
It’s not always possible to get a place with its own parking spot, so in those cases, we use a local garage. In Vienna and Prague both, the $10 daily fee (for a week rate) was nominal. Day rates can be higher, but we never paid more than $20/day. If your location doesn’t offer parking, ask your contact about local parking availability so you come prepared.
Final notes on rentals
When locating a home base for our travels, we look for laundry facilities and air conditioning. For Americans, many are shocked to learn that the majority of non-hotel accommodations (and even quite a few hotels) around Europe lack air conditioning. One must look, double and triple check these things or else you will be in for a nasty surprise. It’s usually in the ‘details’ section of the listing, along with things not allowed—think dogs, and quite a few places don’t allow children. On that note, we’ve found that if we identify the ages of our children, and that they are girls, we’ve had pretty good luck. Sorry to say that discrimination against young boys does exist, and there’s not a darn thing you can do about it but look elsewhere.
Feature image: taken from the balcony of the penthouse villa in Lake Cuomo