|Our private terrace and villa rental in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico|
Most tightwad travelers have more time than money and won't mind a time-consuming search, but if you are in a hurry, worrying about making a mistake, or simply need someone to walk you through first-time-jitters, there is an alternative.
Untours, a company that has been providing independent travel accommodations and support services for 36 years, shares my travel philosophy. Their 2011 brochure states that they want to meet people's travel needs, "...in a way that would allow people to unpack their bags, absorb the local culture, and actually live in Europe....Untours provides curious travelers with virtually everything necessary to enjoy a new culture as an insider."
To accomplish this, Untours provides trip-planning information; ground transportation in the form of a city transit pass; an orientation session with the on-site expert who is also available, via telephone, to help with any problems that arise; a dinner or special event with the other Untours visitors in the neighborhood; and, of course, an apartment.
You will undoubtedly find it comforting to have someone meet you at the airport and provide you with some basic groceries for your first breakfast in Europe, but the apartment where you will, "...enjoy a new culture as an insider," is expensive. When someone else does the legwork finding you an apartment, such convenience is costly.
I checked the "sampler" prices for a two-week package: one week in Florence and another week in Rome. The base price is $2349 but the Rome apartment I chose had a $91 surcharge (I noticed other surcharges for other apartments of $400-600 per person.) so the total price was $2440. Per person. That means two weeks of an Untours trip costs $4880 for two people or $349 dollars per day!
The Untours apartment rental costs each person $174 per day as opposed to the apartments David and I are renting in those two cities for 44 euros* ($63 at 70 cents to the euro) per person per day.
Here's the simplest way to look at it. If you do your own homework using the sites I've recommended to you, a two-week trip with one week each in Florence and Rome could cost you what we are paying--$1769 for accommodations. Or, if you prefer the ease of using Untours' apartment rentals, the cost is $4880. That's a difference of $3,110; peace of mind comes at a hefty price.
I think David and I will stick with our approach. Yes, we will have to pay for our own transport to and from the airport plus our city transit card, but that will be less than $100 per person. We already know that our landlords in each city will provide us with ample orientation materials, and we are not afraid to get help from the police or the embassy should an emergency arise. For us, saving $3,100 or so is far more important than having someone provide an easy rental process.
I know, however, that while many people agree with our rental philosophy, our rental approach may not be appropriate for everyone. If you want to experience life as a native, shop the markets, prepare your own meals, and ride the bus or metro along with your "neighbors," then do rent your own apartment. Use whichever method works best for you--the tightwad or the Untours approach to renting. But, whether you stay in luxurious digs at hostel prices, or pay hostile prices to stay in luxurious digs, you'll soon be convinced that an apartment is the only way to go!
*Note that we average 39 euros per person per day for the entire five-week trip, but our two weeks in Florence and Rome are a little more costly.
Untours has a web presence, an e-mail update service, and a brochure. In the US, call 888-868-6871. From outside the US dial 1-610-565-5242.
A practice by tour companies and Untours is a mystery to me. I do not know why they charge by the person rather than by the accommodation. For example, Untours quotes a price of $2440 for its two-week-sampler in Florence and Rome, but two people must share the accommodation making the actual price of the apartment $4880.
The lodging industry, however, does not set prices based on the number of occupants. With rare exceptions (Hostels do routinely charge per person rates, but hotels do not.), prices for hotels and apartments are determined by the room's or apartment's amenities, not by the number of people staying there. In other words, a hotel owner or landlord doesn't care whether one or two people sleep in his accommodation -- there is one set price for the rental. I assume when tour companies or Untours sign a contract for a lodging, they pay that set price whether one or two--or three--people will inhabit the space.
Why, then, do tour companies and Untours turn around and quote you, the customer, prices based on double occupancy? Why do they add insult to injury by adding a surcharge if someone travels solo?
As I said, I'm sure there must be a reason to justify the seemingly unfair practice, so please enlighten me if you know the answer.