Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
How to Search for a Vacation Rental
There are two ways to book vacation rentals:
Use the Internet to plan your trip. Before the Internet age, I found ads for vacation rental agencies in travel magazines and then called the agencies to get their catalogs. Then I spent weeks looking through lovely catalogs with descriptions and photos of vacation rentals. Or I contacted the tourist office for the region I was interested in and booked through them.
But the Internet has changed all this. Now I go to Google, search on "vacation rentals Tuscany" (or whatever country/region I am interested in) and get pages of listings for agencies and places I can rent directly from the owner. Instead of flipping catalog pages, I flip through pages on web sites. I can book with an agency that represents many places and prescreens their listings or book directly with the owner.
The Internet has also made it easier for individual owners to create a web site for their own place. Many estates in Tuscany used to be available only through agencies, but now they have their own web sites and do their bookings themselves.
Of course we recommend that you use the Slow Travel web site to do your search. Go to the Vacation Rentals section and read reviews of places that people have stayed in, then go to our vacation rental listing section and look at the listings for the country/region you are interested in. Start with our SlowTrav Favorites, agencies and properties for whom we've received several positive reviews from people we know. Or go to our Classified Listings and see the places we have listed.
Use a Vacation Rental Agency
Personally, I feel the best way to find and book your vacation rental is to use a reputable agency. In a good agency, the representatives know their listings, travel regularly to Italy, have a good understanding of what people expect from vacation rentals, and will honestly tell you which of their listings would suit you. They also represent only good listings. This saves you endless hours of searching. They have done the upfront work of finding the good vacation rentals. They travel frequently to the areas they represent and can advise you which areas you will like best.
But, not all agencies are good. Stay away from agencies who have an "butts in seats" attitude or who do not know their listings. Consider it a red flag if the representative you contact seems mainly interested in your travel dates; they may offer little genuine advice to help you make your decision, instead recommending listings that are available for your date range (whether suitable to your needs or not). A good agency will either spend time with you helping you make your choice or will provide a web site with all the information you need to make your decision. Good agencies will cheerfully provide a detailed description of any of their listings you are interested in, accompanied by several photos.
Before the Internet, each agency had a catalog that they mailed to you. You looked at the descriptions in the catalog and picked a few places that sounded like what you wanted. Then you phoned the agency, discussed the various places, checked availability, and booked the place.
Some agencies still work this way today, but most have a web site that duplicates their catalog. Some are more extensive (for example, some sites have availability calendars), some are just an online version of the catalog. Some newer agencies have dispensed with the printed catalog altogether and only show their listings online.
Advantages to booking through an agency
Disadvantages to booking through an agency
Rent Directly from the Owner
Some owners of estates with several vacation rental apartments or houses have their own web sites. There are also many web sites with listings by owner. These are usually owners who have one vacation rental: an apartment in their house or a second home that they live in some time and rent out other times.
Renting from the owner is fine if you know the place is good (maybe it is reviewed favorably on Slow Travel or they are one of our "SlowTrav Favorites"), but it can take endless hours searching for rentals from owners. You have to make many inquiries, talk to many different people. But, if you have the time, you might get a great place for less money than through an agency.
How to find rent from owner listings
Advantages to booking directly with the owner
Disadvantages to booking directly with the owner
But Don't Search Too Hard, Agencies Can Help You!
Martin from Italian Vacation Villas (www.villasitalia.com), December 2001: "Some people really tie themselves into absolute knots in the search process. They collect piles of catalogues, ask questions, go to message boards and chat rooms, and fret and fret and fret... We've been through the process ourselves and know everyone wants the absolute perfect place, but there is a point at which one just drives himself/herself crazy and, it seems to me, takes the pleasure out of the trip. I actually start to feel sorry for them. I think the ones that suffer this most are those that are the most serious web surfers. They find lots of private places on the web that look nice to them but then start to wonder whether they will be getting what they pay for, etc.
For sure, working with an agency is going to cost an individual more than going with a private rental. (We deal with private owners and know the difference.) But, if the person is working with a reputable agency and has realistic expectations in terms of budget to the place they want, the very things they are worried about are minimized. This might sound self-serving, but it is something that we watch and watch and watch."
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