Maybe it’s a tiny pied-à-terre in Paris with a great garden …
… a charming waterfront cottage on the Great Lakes …
… or a romantic attic loft in Tallinn.
Here are 25 of our best tips to seal the deal and make your stay everything you dreamed.
BEFORE YOU GO
1. Make a Checklist. When you arrive at your new apartment, there will be some confusion – lots of handshaking or bowing … and maybe some language challenges. So that you don’t get flustered, make a list as a reminder of your discussion points.
2. Gather Your Docs. To prepare for your stay, pull together all your communication with the rental agency or owner. Be sure to bring copies of:
• Agreements and contracts
• Your apartment’s ad with the photos that were included (*You’ll see why later!)
• Questions asked and answered
• Receipts for deposits and pre-payments
• Reviews with helpful information, such as grocery store locations
• Directions to your flat
• Contact information in case your flight is delayed or your plans change.
3. Set the Meeting. You’ll need a way to meet your contact and get the keys to your apartment. Be sure to confirm where and when this will happen.
4. Figure Out How to Get There … Really! Plot your destination on a map, determine if you’re going to use public or private transport, and have a contingency plan … trust me on this one!
The journey to our Athens apartment was a huge comedy of errors. When our plane landed, we discovered that the Metro had just gone on strike. Oh great! So we jumped on the bus, but it stopped running mid-route because of the riots. Then we flagged down a taxi, showed the driver the address, and off he went. We leaned back and breathed a sigh of relief. He dropped us off at an address, we rang the bell … it was the wrong place … way wrong! Arghhh! So we hailed another taxi, headed back across town. and finally got to the right place … 4 hours later! It was supposed to be a simple Metro ride.
5. Get Directions in the Local Language. Ask your landlord for an email with directions in the local language. Your transport driver will thank you. If we had only done this before arriving in Athens it might have saved us hours of grief and misdirection.
6. Know the Money Situation. Most landlords will ask you to pay all or part of your rent when you arrive. You need to know if they will accept credit cards or expect cash – if so, what currency.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE
7. Meet Your Host. In our experience, apartment owners who deal with world travelers are fascinating, patient, and helpful people. They’re accustomed to different languages, ready to answer your questions, and truly want you to be comfortable in your temporary home.
8. Get the Keys and Codes. We’ve had every kind of apartment “door opening device” imaginable – skeleton keys, padlocks, cards, and codes. We always ask for a set for 2 adults. You may also need the code or key to get into the building. Test the keys and locks to make sure you can get the doors opened and closed securely.
9. Ask About the Rules and Regulations. All landlords have rules related to things like smoking, pets, noise, etc. For example, some buildings strictly prohibit hanging any laundry or swimwear outdoors – others positively embrace it and encourage you to send your undies out to frolic in the breeze with the neighbor’s.
10. Do a Quick “Recce.” Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you have all the basics you were promised. We do a quick “recce” (reconnaissance) to determine if everything is there. We use a copy of their ad as a checklist to ensure we have:
• Bathroom towels
• Bed sheets, pillows, and comforters
• Hangers (notoriously missing).
The kitchen basics we expect include:
• Enough silverware, plates, bowls, cups and glasses for each person
• A way to make coffee and tea (although the equipment may be unfamiliar to you!)
• A skillet and cooking pot (at the least)
• Basic cooking utensils, one sharp knife, and a wine opener.
Consider anything beyond this a wonderful bonus! If these basic items aren’t present, just politely ask your landlord to provide them.
11. Learn How to Operate Everything! You may think you know how to operate a washing machine – only to face your Italian laundry nemesis in your stylish Florence apartment. Oh, and how DO you get hot water for the shower? Where does the heat or AC come from? And figuring out how to control some TVs is like launching the lunar lander. Remember, there won’t be any front desk staff to rescue you.
So get the demonstration on these biggies:
• Hot water
• Heat and air conditioning
• Stove top, oven and microwave
• TV, DVD player, and Wifi
12. Scope Out the Trash. One of the biggest complaints by landlords is that their temporary tenants don’t dispose of their rubbish. So be sure to ask where and when to dispose of all garbage … and your landlord will love you!
13. Love That Local Knowledge. Owners know their cities like the backs of their hands – and they love sharing their expertise. They often have folders crammed with brochures, maps, and restaurant recommendations. Be sure to ask them about local markets and grocery stores. And in emergencies, they are your best source of information. When James became ill with Dengue Fever in New Zealand, our hosts in Wellington hooked us up with a great doctor.
14. Request a Contact. You will need to know who to contact for questions and emergencies, and how to reach them.
15. Note Anything that is Damaged, Broken or Missing. Using the owner’s *photos you brought with you, determine If anything is missing that you need. One time we arrived at an apartment that had a dining table, but no chairs (which were clearly visible in the photos). Evidently they had been “borrowed” by other tenants in the building, so we asked for their return. Also note anything broken so you will not be held responsible for the damage when you leave.
16. Ask About the Departure and Deposit Procedure. Determine what you need to do when it’s time to leave. And if the owner required a deposit, clarify how and when it will be returned to you. We always ask the Landlord to do a final walkthrough on our last day and return the deposit then.
17. Do the Deal. Pay the amount you agreed, and most importantly, get a receipt signed and dated, stating “Paid in Full” because you just might need it when you exit the country. Make sure it looks official – no scraps of notebook paper or the back of the Chinese menu. We always print one up in advance for the landlord to sign and verify.
18. Grab Your Tote and Go Shopping. Since the owner just told you where the closest grocery store is, head out and buy only enough to get you through until tomorrow. For us that means something celebratory (a local wine), and a light evening snack (local cheese, fruit, bread) or some lovely takeout goodies. You may also want something for breakfast. That way you can eat in or out – your choice! Now you’re ready for your first night in your “home away from home.” And for us, the quickest way to make it feel like home is to also grab some flowers!
WHILE YOU’RE LIVING THERE
19. Treat it Like You Own It! Most landlords take particular pride in their rental accommodations. They want you to feel comfortable – like welcome house guests. Your consideration and respect for their property will go a long way toward a harmonious stay.
20. Put Yourself in Your Neighbor’s Shoes. Often you’ll be staying in apartment buildings with many full-time residents … who have to go to work every day. They (and your landlord) will appreciate your courtesy when it comes to noise and activity.
WHEN YOU LEAVE
21. Leave It Clean. You may be able to save yourself a hefty add-on fee by cleaning the apartment yourself, thus avoiding an unnecessary travel expense.
22. Follow the Departure Procedures. Checkout procedures can be simple or amazingly complicated … and we’ve seen it all. Some landlords want you to wash the linens – others don’t. Just follow their instructions and you’ll be fine. Remind yourself that you don’t want to give your landlord any reason to keep your deposit
23. Get Your Deposit Back. You don’t want to have to chase down your deposit and the landlord after you’ve left. That’s a complication you don’t need.
24. Pay it Forward – Write an Honest, Informative Review and Help a Fellow Traveler. Thanks to reviewers of the apartment we rented in Tallinn, Estonia, we knew exactly where to find the local grocery store. The lock on the front door of our New Orleans short-term apartment was stubborn, but a reviewer told us to enter the code 4 times in a row … and it worked like a charm. And reviewers for Amsterdam flats steered us out of the Red Light District. So “Pay it Forward.”
25. Relax. No Matter What You Do, Not Everything Will Be Perfect … Just Like Home! You can’t anticipate … or control everything. Kitchen tools will be missing, the toilet will be weird, and the pillow will suck. Such is the traveler’s lucky lot. Remember, this is an adventure and you’ll probably have to do a lot of improvising. You’re living like a local in a very special place. Just think of the memories … and the bragging rights!
Enjoy your next adventure!
Updated January 2, 2020
***This is the final installment in our 3-part series: “Rent a Short-Term Apartment When You Travel.” If you want to catch up, check out