Dec 27 2013

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escaping hotels

I’m often asked by people heading to France whether I would recommend they stay in a hotel or an apartment. I say ‘apartment’ every time, and have been renting apartments myself in France once or twice a year for over ten years now. In an apartment, you will have more space, you can go to markets and shops and buy food, just like the locals.

If you speak, or are learning French, many shopkeepers or market stall-holders will be happy to talk to you, and if you can just say ‘Bonjour Monsieur/Madame’ and point to a few of the things you want, with a ‘s’il vous plait’, people are more than likely to do their best to communicate with you. Two of my French women friends originated as fellow shoppers with whom I struck up conversations.

There are numerous sites, in French or English, advertising apartments to rent, in all parts of France. But renting while away from home has now become much cheaper and more efficient with the wonderful Airbnb site. I’m an Airbnb newbie, but have recently used it twice, once in Australia, and—right at this moment—in Toulouse, France;  and I couldn’t speak more highly of the two places where I’ve stayed.

Airbnb makes it possible for ordinary citizens, as opposed to hotel chains or proprietors of commercial apartments, to rent out a room, or an apartment, or a whole house. The advertisements on Airbnb make clear how much is being offered, and whether the owner will be there or not. Previous guests write reviews so that prospective lodgers can assess if it’s for them or not. I’d be hesitant to stay with anyone who doesn’t have several good reviews. If you link your airbnb account to your facebook account, you will automatically be informed if any of your facebook ‘friends’ have stayed at a particular place, which is helpful if you want prior information.

If you see a place you like, you are required to sign up to Airbnb yourself, and then write to the owners and tell them something about yourself, so that they can accept or decline. This is perfectly reasonable, given that you will be inside what is, in many cases, someone’s private home.  You are encouraged to keep all communication within Airbnb for handy reference, something I’ve found invaluable. You can pay with your credit card, much the same as you would with a hotel transaction.

One little tip: If you see in the review section that a potential host has cancelled more than once, and for no good reason, it might be better to steer clear of them, since they might cancel on you at the last minute.  When this did happen to me once, Airbnb refunded my deposit and suggested alternative places to stay in the area. Airbnb are also responsive to comments posted on their facebook page.

I’m currently in Toulouse where I have several good friends, and my partner and I chose to rent an apartment here for a week.  But if I were travelling alone, as I frequently do, I would probably choose  to rent a room in a home, rather than a whole apartment or studio. When I’ve lodged in a home, I’ve become good friends with my landlady, and also gained lovely glimpses into the lives of French families.

Such glimpses are also possible in a whole apartment when it is the owners’ actual home, and they are simply renting it out while they are elsewhere.  In these cases, they change the sheets, put out a clean towel, and viola! In other cases, owners ask you to bring your own towels. Airbnb is a huge, worldwide virtual community, and each accommodation option is likely to be different from the next.

As every seasoned traveller knows, it’s best to leave inflexible requirements at home, and embrace the challenge of cooking in a kitchen that is different from your own, and of using a bathroom that is often of vastly different dimensions to the one you may be used to. My main requirements: an interesting but not-too-noisy location (although I always travel with my trusty earplugs), a comfortable bed, and—when they are present—a friendly host.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.escapetoparis.com/2013/12/escaping-hotels/

1 comment

  1. Sandra

    Hi Carolyn

    Unfortunately Airbnb does not have suitable criteria for making listers detail true wheelchair accessibility in their accommodation so it is not useful for wheelchair travelers such as myself. They do not have the criteria such as roll-in shower or step free entry or automatically opening doors. In fact, they allow listers to state they have wheelchair access simply if they have no steps into the building (but a bath and no wheel-in shower). I’ve also been caught out by the words ‘douche italie’ (variations exist) that mean the shower is a ‘walk-in’ BUT you must climb up a step first!

    There must be hundreds of apartments across Europe who do have amazing wheelchair bathroom access needs (all I want is a shower each day!) but no-one is resourcing all the info. By default I think many properties have what wheelchair users need.

    To my regret, it does appear that companies keep this info to themselves so wheelchair users have to pay for what non-disabled folk get for free.


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