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While staying at luxury hotels can be quite exciting, nothing beats the feeling of coming home.  Before we started our selfish year of travels, Mrs. Selfish and took tons of weekend trips, culminating in our once-a-year international trip over the Thanksgiving holiday.

While getting out of the States and traveling to new countries was exhilarating, it was also exhausting. If you’re from the States, vacationing is about three things: maximizing, maximizing, maximizing.

By the end of each international trip, we were more tired then when we had started.  Coming home in itself was a treat – a chance to catch up on sleep and get back into the ol’ routine.

Traveling for a year straight is the same deal, except now there is no home to come home to.  It’s exciting, but also tiring – not to mention expensive.  Fortunately, that’s where apartment rentals come in.

Our loft in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The Advantages of Renting Apartments

Of the 369 days we’ll have spent on this selfish year of travel, Mrs. Selfish and I would have spent roughly 166 days in rented apartments.

Why use an apartment?  I find that they have several advantages:

REASON #1: APARTMENTS ARE CHEAPER

Apartments always run lower than a hotel of comparable quality.  Always. Especially in more expensive markets.

The cheapest apartment we rented thus far, was in Saigon – though the pictures don’t do it justice, the price tag did – ~$38 a night.

Saigon Apartment + view!

The most expensive, was unsurprisingly in Tokyo at an average of ~$129 a night.  It was a little on the pricier side (and I hate paying more than $99 for a hotel), but hotels in Tokyo are expensive and fortunately our stay is relatively short.

And what about Paris?  Paris can be quite expensive, though in our case I found we ended up paying closer to $65 a night.

Paris kitchen, and view from living room.

REASON #2: FACILITIES

Depending on the hotel and your status, the benefits can be pretty limiting.  Yes, you get a room, but you’ll often find yourself paying for the “extras” like: internet, laundry, water, food, etc.

If you’re traveling for more than a few weeks, having access to a kitchen or washing machine (and the occasional dryer) can be invaluable.

Mrs. Selfish and I have saved tons of money by cooking meals at home.  Not only is it cheaper but also healthier – plus it gives us the opportunity to try cooking local meals, or to cook meals that remind of us of home should we get sick of local food.

Our Saigon apartment had a grocery store in the building.

Cooking in Chiang Mai

Amazing kitchen in Chiang Mai – it even had an oven!

Laundry can also be a huge expense.  In Southeast Asia, you can usually pay to have it done by the kilo, sometimes at $1 per kilo, but in Europe and Northern Asia, it can get pretty expensive.  Hotels will try to charge you $7 to wash a pair of underwear, and coin operated laundromats are few and far between.

Laundry in Madrid

Mrs. Selfish hanging laundry in Madrid.

REASON #3: MORE SPACE

Kitchen and office in Shanghai apartment.

If you like having more than just a bathroom and an all-purpose room, renting an apartment is a definite plus.  For the price, the apartments we rented were usually 1.5x – 3x times the size of any hotel room we booked.

REASON #4: LIVE WHERE THE LOCALS LIVE, PAY WHAT THE LOCALS PAY

Our Shanghai apartment was next to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

Living where *real* people live has a few benefits.  For one thing, you’ll get to see the day to day lives of the people in the country you’re visiting.  In Shanghai, we lived across the street of the Conservatory of Music so we always heard students playing classical piano pieces or jazzy trumpet songs.

Another side benefit is services and restaurants are much, much cheaper than comparable services next to your would-be Hilton or Holiday Inn.

REASON #5: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

The view from our Paris apartment bedroom.

Short of paying a mint for a suite or club room, the views from most hotels suck.  When searching for apartments in Paris, I stumbled across a rental with an amazing view of the Sucre Coeur and the Eiffel Tower!  Unfortunately, it was a bit out of our price range, but the apartment a few blocks down the street was affordable and had an outstanding view of the Sucre Coeur.

Renting apartments also gives you an opportunity to stay in some truly wonderful places.  Like a machiya house in Japan, or a houseboat in Amsterdam:

Amsterdam Houseboat

Houseboat on a canal in Amsterdam.

REASON #6: THE HOST

Most hosts offer advice on local sites and places to eat.  The best hosts stock their apartments with maps, guidebooks, and supplies like shampoo, conditioner, toilet paper, and even cooking oils and spices.

Some have even gone as far to leave as little gifts, like an arrival fruit basket, or have even picked us up from the airport.

Apartment Rental Services

While apartment rental services vary by market, we’ve had success renting from the following:

  1. airBNB – the leader in the marketplace. They have tons of rentals in North America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania. Their slick interface allows you to narrow your search based on just about everything.  They charge a booking fee in addition to what the host charges.  Cancellation policies vary.
  2. VRBO – the grand daddy of vacation apartment rentals, VRBO has been around forever. A little harder to navigate than airBNB, and not nearly as easy to use, but doesn’t charge booking fees.
  3. Flipkey – sister website to tripadvisor and a newcomer to the vacation rental market.  We’ve had some success booking with flipkey, but have only used them when we couldn’t find anything on airbnb or vrbo.

Of the three, I’d recommend airBNB the most. Their search and sort tools make finding the right apartment straightforward, and the hosts tend to respond to emails within a few days.

If anyone is interested in a referral from airBNB, just let us know and Mrs. Selfish or I will send you an invite – you’ll save $25 off your first rental, and we’ll get a $25 credit for our next rental.

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