I’ve travelled internationally with my family many times. We’re immeasurably richer because we stay in people’s houses. I’ll share what we did — and why I loved it.
Here’s a list of places we’ve rented from Airbnb and similar outfits, in roughly chronological order. This list starts when my youngest kid was three and ends this week, 16 years later.
- Part of a house on a farm on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
- House in Cavaillon, Provence, France with my wife, two kids, and my mother-in-law. through Rentvillas.com
- Apartment in Paris (end of Provence trip).
- House in Sossano, Italy (Rentvillas.com)
- Apartment in Milan, Italy (same trip)
- Apartment in Venice, Italy (Rentvillas.com, same trip)
- House in Kona, Hawaii.
- House near Luton, UK.
- House in Palm Springs, California (VRBO)
- Apartment in Vienna, Austria (HomeAway.com)
- House in Gmunden, Austria (HomeAway.com, same trip)
- House in San Antonio, Texas (VRBO)
- House in Flaam, Norway (with my wife’s sister)
- Suite of rooms in Western Denmark (booking.com)
- Apartment in Copenhagen, Denmark (Airbnb, same trip)
- House in La Quinta, California (Airbnb)
- House in Palm Desert, California (Airbnb)
- House in Acadia, Maine (Airbnb)
- Loft in Gavere, Belgium (Airbnb)
- Loft in Rotterdam, Netherlands (Airbnb)
- Houseboat in Amsterdam, Netherlands (with my wife’s sister, Airbnb)
I am writing this on the houseboat.
This may seem like a lot. To be clear, it represents choices I have made about how to spend my money and vacation time. I had a good paying job that included travel (the trips to France, Italy, and Austria all included a day of business travel and consulting). I knew about these trips well in advance, and they allowed me to get a free airline ticket. I don’t spend my money on expensive cars and I don’t own a vacation home. I don’t go on many vacations without my kids (although now that they are adults, that is changing)
Every couple of years, we all planned a trip and all went together. I have chosen to spend my money on this kind of travel.
This kind of travel does not have to be obscenely expensive. We don’t eat out every night as we would if we stayed in a hotel — we buy and cook our own food, which is much cheaper.
I find this kind of trip exhilarating, because it allows us to immerse ourselves a bit more deeply in other cultures and expose our children to those cultures. I know my kids have a very different idea about people from other cultures and languages as a result of what they experienced on these trips.
You may notice a few things these trips have in common. While we’ve been to Paris, Venice, Vienna, and Copenhagen, we’ve spent more time off the beaten track. We like mountains and forests as much as cities and castles.
Here’s are a few things that are great about living in another country for a few days.
You get to plan the places you want to visit and fantasize about them. You can nail down the places to stay without knowing the exact things you will be doing at any given moment.
You get room to spread out. This is essential when traveling with kids, who need space and downtime.
With a rented car, you can take day trips and then come back home and relax. We did that all over France, Italy, the UK, Austria, Norway, and Denmark.
You can take whole days and just hang out and relax.
When you’re going to cook, you have to go to the supermarket. This is a great way to get to know the food specialities and culture of a region. You can also go to market days and shop with local merchants.
You can buy what you need to make lots of picnics.
Because you can do laundry, you can travel light. My whole family traveled throughout Italy for two weeks with nothing but rollaboard suitcases and carry-on bags. (Picture us trekking through Venice with our backpack and our suitcases rolling behind.)
You can go to local fairs and events that you see advertised.
And people’s houses reflect their personalities. I love to see how people decorate their houses and the cherished things they have around. Most of the houses we have lived in had character. Some had quirks, too (like the huge bathroom off the main bedroom in Provence that had a sink and a tub, but no toilet, and the bedroom on this houseboat that you access through the bathroom).
Life is an adventure. Travel is an adventure. When you stay in people’s houses and plan a new itinerary every day, you don’t know what’s going to happen — but you do have a nice place to come back. It’s nice to redefine “home” for a while.
Take your kids to other countries and rent from Airbnb. Your children will never forget it. Neither will you.