During our travels NewMan and I stayed in some truly wonderful hotels; luxurious rooms, stunning views, ideal locations, quaint and interesting, cheap and cheerful – we were lucky enough to do them all. However, it was the self-catering accommodation, which we remember as being particularly special and the way that we would like to travel more in the future. Prior to leaving UK we arranged a short term rental for Sydney due to it being New Year during our stay and this therefore meaning an unpleasant and expensive scrum for hotel rooms. Renting a flat for a few weeks was the most comfortable and cost-effective option. I’ve always thought that it is also nice to stay somewhere a bit more personal. And if I'm to be honest I also enjoy snooping around someone else's house. In fact, it was the personal décor and details, which helped us settle straight into our town house maisonette in Waverton on Sydney’s north shore during our stay in Australia. Consisting essentially of two rooms and a small bathroom, it reminded us pleasantly of the cozy London flats we’d left behind, but also served as a wake up call to city living again and the subsequent wince-worthy cost of a square metre. However, with temperatures soaring during our stay in Sydney we were also grateful for the small back yard area which served as a third room. I have very fond memories of playing poker in that small yard (with party poppers as chips!) with NewMan on New Years Eve as we waited for the fireworks.
We weren’t the only one who liked this small outdoor space. Every evening at around 9pm a possum would walk along the top of our fence and inspect what we were up to be it drinking with friends or watching the stars, just the two of us. We made a few attempts to get acquainted with the possum but with a rather rude swing to the side he would turn his posterior to face us and bend forward into next door’s garden to pick at their fruit tree. A very literal "up yours" if ever I saw one.
Unfortunately we had other regular visitors to our borrowed city pad. Rats. And unlike Mr Possum, they were much keener to invade our personal space. In fact one made even his dying presence known by leaving this world and his decomposing body in the kitchen wall. Thanks to this century old property having a few cracks in the interior wall we suffered his fate through our nostrils. If you’ve ever smelt a rotting rat you’ll understand, If you haven’t it was like inhaling the stench of French, Greek, and Indonesian drains with each and every breath in.
The owners did what they could to ease the pain (and as a result of this we will never be able to light lavender candles again) but ultimately there was nothing we could do but wait it out with "out" being the operative word. It did seem rather a shame to spend so much time away from a nice flat though I loved the forced opportunities to explore Sydney.
Rat-gate served as a reminder that when you do stay in accommodation which is effectively someone else’s home or property, there are potentially additional risks such as things breaking, things not working and things dying in the walls of your property. And how effectively the property’s landlord resolves these problems is potentially more of a gamble than in a hotel. We were lucky insofar as the property owner lived close by and was prompt to do what he can, albeit not much. We found this flat in Sydney on Gumtree.comand the booking process was fairly simple but still involved a huge leap of faith as we sent a healthy deposit to the owner, who was essentially a complete stranger, by Paypal five months before our arrival.
We now know that there are a number of websites that are specializing in this type of accommodation making it a more secure and transparent procedure and indeed the growing popularity of websites like Airbnb suggest that we are not alone in preferring to check into self-catering home from home style accommodation. If you're thinking of trying out a short term rental for your next holiday or adventure here are my five top tips or rather, things to think about to make the most of your stay.
1. Location, location, location. As with picking a hotel or house, location is key so if you want to be near to key sights and spots in a city do some research or ask the host themselves. We found out about a handful of great local places by asking our Sydney landlord when we met him.
2. Ask away. The process of picking your short term rental property doesn't have to be a one-off transaction and a couple of clicks. If you want to know if the property is south facing, how strong the internet connection is, if they have ever had a million cats living there which may affect your allergies - ask!
3. No room service. Remember this is not a hotel. As I mentioned landlords will only be able to do so much and won't have an army of on-site maintenance, housekeeping and room service staff on hand though likewise this shouldn't mean they leave you high and dry.
4. Home sweet home. Many of the self-catering accommodations on offer as short term rentals will be someone's home or second house so there will be personal touches throughout that may or may not meet your taste or preference, so be mindful but respectful of this when looking at photos of accommodation. You will be expected to keep and leave the property as you found it.
5. Feed it back. As with most products and experiences, honest and thorough customer feedback will help hosts and services like Roomarama and House Trip improve on their service, improving the experience for future guests and effectively for you!
Frances M. Thompson
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