Renting an apartment rather than a hotel room or hostel bed is a key way to keep the cost of traveling/ living abroad low, raise your level of security, have the amenities that allow you to live more self-sufficient and conveniently, have more personal privacy, all while becoming more embedded within the local community that you are visiting.
In point, when I plan to be in a city for over a week, I look past budget hotels, hostels, and guesthouses, and right at living as the locals do: in an apartment. The apartments that I look for are often little more than over-glorified hotel rooms, but they often offer far more than any budget hotel could ever provide at a fraction of the price. I’ve been renting out apartments for short term stays throughout my 12 years of world travel, and to date have used this type of accommodation in China, Japan, Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Portugal, Hungary, Turkey, India, the Dominican Republic, and in the USA. My shortest term of stay in an apartment was one week, while my longest rental was four months.
What follows is a run down of the benefits of renting apartments when traveling or living abroad.
Budget Apartments are Cheaper Than Budget Hotels
One of the major reasons why I aim to stay in apartments over hotels is that they are usually vastly cheaper. I generally pay between $80 and $400 per month for an apartment depending on where I am in the world. Latin America is a very cheap region to rent an apartment in, and I tend to drop $100 to $200 per month, while in Europe I often find myself paying around $400 monthly — and even apartments in Paris are affordable. Both ends of these pricing extremes are often far cheaper than even the grungiest of backpacker hostels.
Once you step into the realm of renting apartments you are operating in the local economic market — not the foreign tourist one — and the prices you should expect to pay are fixed to the earnings of the people who live there. If you’re looking for an apartment in a neighborhood where the average local earns a hundred dollars per month, expect the cost of accommodation to likewise be very low. While hotels and hostels price their services to match the earnings of tourists, apartments are almost invariably priced to match the earnings of locals. Getting an apartment allows a traveler to jump the local/ tourist economic divide and find good and cheap accommodation.
As a rule of thumb, a cheap one room or studio apartment will generally cost a quarter to a third of the price of a budget hotel in almost any location. Opting for an apartment can easily enable the savvy traveler to save 60% to 75% on accommodation expenses. Even in expensive countries for travel like Japan or Iceland, apartments can be had for $300 to $400 per month. Truly not bad when you consider that a single night of accommodation in a “cheap” hotel in one of these countries can easily set you back $40 to $100.
When you stay in hotels you are in the realm of the tourist, and the reputation of tourists is that they have a lot of money — and are likewise targets for thieves, con men, an other unscrupulous individuals out to make a buck at your expense. When you stay in an apartment you are able to step out of tourist realm and skirt around many security issues.
Apartments tend to be located in more residential areas that lie outside of the tourist districts, and staying in such areas allows a traveler to subvert many of the urchins looking to take advantage of tourists. When you stay in an apartment, you’re a neighbor not a tourist. Neighborhoods tend to be very tight throughout the world, and people are generally prone to look out for their neighbors. When you move into an apartment abroad you are moving into the “living sphere” of a culture: there are locals living all around you, and, in this setting, people tend watch out for you more than if you were just another tourist breezing by on the streets.
I often worry far less about someone breaking into my apartment and robbing me than I do in a hotel. An apartment is viewed as more of a private living space than a hotel, and I don’t need to worry about maids coming into my room when I’m gone, a receptionist opening my door to show off the room to a prospective guest, or thieves who move into hotels with the intention of robbing other guests (happens often). I prefer to stay outside of the rich tourist bubble as much as possible when traveling abroad, and this means avoiding tourist hotels. I feel as if my living situation is far more secure this way.
Increased Cultural Integration
I want to meet and befriend the people who are from the country I’m traveling in. If I wanted to hang out with a bunch of Americans I wouldn’t travel abroad. In point, hotels and hostels are often full of people from my own country, backpackers from Europe, Japan, Australia etc . . . Hotels often serve as barriers between a traveler and the places they visit: foreigners are barricaded on the inside and the local culture is kept on the outside. It is my aim when traveling to meet, observe, and interact with the people who are from the places I pass through, and I’ve found that this is often best done by living where the locals live: in residential neighborhoods.
It has been my experience that staying in apartments moves me a little farther outside of the backpacker/ tourist hoards. When I use this form of accommodation I find that I talk with my neighbors daily, that I form relationships with the locals who work near to where I’m staying, and that I’m often accepted (at least temporarily) into their community to a degree that I could not touch if I were just walking through as a tourist. Renting apartments is one way to take the travel experience to the next level, as you become a neighbor rather than a tourist. This shift in identity makes it far easier to make local friends, be invited into homes, and to come away with a deeper experience of a place and a people.
Within a week or two of renting out an apartment I’m often able to build acquaintanceships, social connections, and a sense of rapport within a community. It often does not take much longer than this before I’m being invited into people’s home for dinner, my kid starts going out for play dates with her local peers, and my wife finds herself with a group of female friends. By staying in apartments you are living where “the people” live, you are outside of the tourist bubble, and you stand more of a chance to see how a culture works and claiming a small role within it.
Apartments Have Amenities Which Allow for Increased Self-Sufficiency and Convenience
The more self-sufficient you live on the road the cheaper travel will be. When you’re on the road long term you are not on vacation but are living a regular life. Unlike most hotels — even 5 star ones — apartments generally always come with all the facilities you need to live comfortably, including full kitchens and bathrooms. Things like having your own private kitchen, bathroom, and leisure areas seem to become more and more important the longer you’re on the road, and apartments generally offer far more private amenities than any hotel or hostel.
Finding a good restaurant when traveling is work — you have to search for places that have good food at a good price that won’t poison you — and when looking for a good hearty meal for dirt cheap I know that it is better if I just cook it myself. I have an entire book of recipes that I ply on the road that can be made in bush camps, hostels, in the streets, or even in hotel rooms, but I know that it is far easier to cook if I have my own little kitchen with my own stove, sink, and refrigerator.
Apartments tend to come with a kitchen area as a standard amenity. How stocked these kitchens actually are varies greatly: I’ve had apartments that came with a stove, refrigerator, and all the cooking ware and dishes that I could ever use and I’ve also had apartments that came with a kitchen sink and nothing more. Of course I would prefer a stocked kitchen to the alternative, I travel with my own cooking gear (stove, pots, plates etc . . .) and simply having a “cooking space” in my room is often good enough for me.
Beyond kitchens, apartments also often have private bathrooms as a standard feature. Staying in hotels or hostels without a private bathrooms is enough to make just about any traveler truly value this amenity. In point, it is a great convenience to be able to roll out of bed in the middle of the night and stumble to your own bathroom rather than needing to get dressed and walk down a hall.
In point, if you wanted a hotel room that offered the private amenities of an apartment you would be looking in the luxury range. It is a point of travel irony that a fully souped up apartment with a private kitchen and bathroom often rents at a lower rate than a dorm bed in a local hostel.
Privacy and Personal Space/ Liberty
One of the biggest benefits of renting an apartment when traveling or living abroad rather than a hotel room is the added level of privacy that is often granted by this form of accommodation. In point, there is a big difference between staying somewhere where people live and staying where people are just visiting. Apartments tend to be set up in a way that allows for a resident to make a “home,” whereas in a hotel you are invariably always a guest.
Living in hotels often leads to an almost unending string of interruptions, invasions of personal space, noise, as employees/ other guests enter in and out of your personal sphere. Hotels do not allow guests to make any strong personal claim to space, and this often leads to severe breeches of privacy and individual liberty.
Renting out an apartment is to rent out a space that is yours and yours alone. The psychological comfort of having a “place” — albeit a temporary one — in the world is something that many travelers eventually come to crave. When you have an apartment you can entertain guests at your discretion, you can bring back romantic partners without needing to worry weather or not the hotel desk clerk is going to allow them into your room, and you can have your friends over whenever you want. Having an apartment is like having a “home” when traveling abroad, and this often increases the privacy level that a traveler can obtain many fold, and, in the end, allows for better living.
When I have my own apartment I usually don’t need to deal with 20 year old backpackers stumbling around drunk in the wee hours of the morning, other guests bringing unsavory guests into my living sphere, or sharing kitchen facilities (if even available) with a plethora of other guests as I do in hotels. In point, choosing to stay in apartments rather than hotels allows me to live cheaper, more securely, and better — all while having more in-depth cultural experiences when traveling abroad.
Read more of the Rent Apartments Abroad series to find out more about renting apartments around the world. Watch for articles on how to find good apartments, tips on negotiating with landlords/ managers over price/ deposits/ or time of stay, how to quickly rig up an apartment for good living, and more.