A few years back, pop star Gwen Stefani’s song “Rich Girl” featured a line that talked about booking a first-class ticket to a fancy house in London town. (I’m paraphrasing.)
Chances are, Gwen Stefani is neither reading this post, nor does she have to worry about money. However, if you’re like me, are on a budget, and traveling with parents, you may be wondering how to maximize your experience without worrying about spending a lot.
Let’s put it out there. The British pound’s exchange rate has been worse for Americans than the Euro’s. London is also an expensive city to visit.
Should that dissuade you from visiting and taking advantage of the history, culture, sights, and diverse gastronomy? I’m biased because I love to travel, so I’ll say no; don’t let higher expenses stop you.
Aside from getting to London, your biggest expense will probably be sleeping in London. You have several choices: friends, hostels, hotels, guesthouses, or apartments. Since I was traveling with parents, and none of us had ever been to the U.K., I wanted to set up house, so to speak, somewhere that offered space, good transportation, safety, and local flair.
Web sites like VRBO, Airbnb, and HomeAway, and Booking.com, to name a few, have exploded in popularity, offering several, often cheaper alternatives to hotels and hostels. The sites offer anything from full-service aparthotels and studio apartments for one person, to larger apartments and homes for several. To date, I’ve had positive experiences going the non-hotel route when staying in Brussels, Rome, Montréal, and London.
If you don’t mind doing a little research and asking questions, you can find your perfect vacation rental in London town or anywhere else you decide to visit.
Here are some tips:
- Read reviews and cross-reference them. If you are on one site such as Home Away, visit another like Trip Advisor to see what people are saying about the property that interests you. Chances are, if it’s an apartment or house, reviewers tend to be honest and detailed about the location, check in/out process, and amenities. Large hotels, on the other hand, can receive a smattering of positive and negative reviews simply because people have different experiences based on the room they’re in.
- Use a reputable rental site such as VRBO or Home Away. Both provide rental protection in case you need to cancel or if you arrive and the property is not as advertised. I steer clear of Craigslist for rentals since many have been known to be scams. You don’t want to arrive in another city halfway around the world with no place to stay.
- Contact the owner with your questions first before booking. Sites such as VRBO and Holiday Lettings, among others, have a contact form where you can ask a few simple questions and get a response by e-mail.
- Be mindful of the check-in/check-out guidelines for each rental. If your flight, for example, arrives at 7 a.m. and check-in is at 3 p.m., ask for an earlier check-in or if there’s a place to store baggage while the apartment or house is being prepared.
- Most rentals I’ve used require a deposit for booking. Never send cash or wire money that can’t be traced or re-claimed (e.g., money order, MoneyGram, Western Union etc.). Many proprietors in Europe, for example, ask for money to be wired to them through a bank transfer. This process is safer because your money can be traced and you can take action to try to get a refund if you suspect fraud. Always check with your bank first on their guidelines and ask questions about “what ifs” if you are using a wire transfer for the first time. My experience is that transfers can cost up to $35. It’s worth looking into to send money safely. Other options are Paypal and Google Wallet.
- Finally, be aware of your online “social presence”. Airbnb, for example, asks you to create a simple profile when you register. Property owners can get a glimpse of who you are and your interests. Like any social media-related site you may use, impressions can be indelible. Make sure you have an appropriate photo and description that shows you’re responsible and would be a good caretaker of a property rental.
There are certainly more and if you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments.
London town, or wherever you land doesn’t have to break the bank. Your accommodations can even provide you with creature comforts of home if you want to just kick back and relax. Isn’t that what vacation is for?
Up next, I’ll review our apartment rental in East London.