Thursday, February 1, 2018


Whenyou travel with small kids, you will need to bring more lugage. We brought our son's goat milk dry formula to Italy, diapers, linens for our rentals, dish soap, washer soap, tea towels, dish sponges, plastic glasses and dishes, microwave and storage containers, vinyl table cloth for picnics, beach towels.

If you are renting a car, you will need to bring a car seat, or rent one. Car seats are expensive in Europe and the rental means you will pay as for buying a new one.

We brought a collapsible and portable car seat for our son to Sicily. I purchased a Compass car seat, which he used for many years and into his tween age back home. To carry the seat I bought one of the first 4 wheels bags, where I could stuff lots of things. The bag was expandable. It seemed as a nice idea at the time. Finally, the bag being very big, it was not that easy to navigate even on 4 wheels. It was still possible, however I had lost a few pounds pushing it in hot Catania on our way from the ferry to the train and then to our hotel in Giardini Naxos. By the end of the trip one of the wheels broke, and the bag became unusable although in almost new state.

It was much easier with a booster seat on our next trip. Still I had to return one of them as it was too big and didn't fit in our suitcase.

We are usually renting a compact car, so we have to think and ensure our luggage will fit, and be out of sight if we want to visit a site. Really in this case less is more.

We migrated from 29 inch suitcases to a 28 inch and a rolling duffle of 30 inches. We reinforced it with metal gaskets so we could carry it as a backpack when needed. The advantage of a bag is you can easily reduce its volume by transferring clothes to a smaller bag and it takes the shape we need. It is an art.

For many years we traveled with suitcases with inline wheels and it was the easiest solution. We are going to Spain this year and will be using public transportation, so we need new suitcases. When I went to the stores, well, now 99% of luggage is 4 wheels. This is not a good solution for Europe. I believe the person who decided to convert all luggage to spinner sort has never traveled and just wants to maximize profits selling luggage.

I really believe it is a bad idea to have any luggage with protruding parts. It will break easily. It is a physics law. Then people are shown all sorts of tests on the suitcases. Funny, but none of them really test wheels, the real weakness. I don't see any advantage to have wheels in the air. On rough surfaces they won't roll. When you go up in the train or bus you have so many chances to damage a wheel or 2. Even lugging into a car, still protruding, so you can damage your car and the suitcase. I am not even talking of scratching yourself.

May be some airports have impeccable surfaces, but I am yet to see a street without a crack in the asphalt or pavement. People are tilting these suitcases, and damage the wheels, then you lose its purpose of gliding. I still have the image of my 4 wheels bag brand new but damaged with no possible repair. How about environment? This solution is very polluting as people just trow suitcase and buy new ones for each trip. There should be taxes to recycle these suitcases in the same way as for the tires and the manufacturer should take them back.

It is may be fashionable but not practical at all. I had a discussion recently about my insurance, and it is the same thing. People who sell insurance don't know anything about it, nor they own a car or a house, nor they ever have purchased an insurance or claimed any damage. Therefore, they couldn't answer any of my questions. They never traveled and live at their parents place. My conclusion is the companies are hiring students to cut the costs, and they provide very imaginative, but completely naive solutions.

I would like to have a chat with the engineer who designed these suitcases. They probably never walked 2 blocks with such suitcase, nor ever checked their luggage. The Romans knew big wheels are better than small. So, in 2000 years we are back to small wheels? Well this person should visit Pompeii to see for themselves.

2 wheeled luggage is not always solid neither, however, it is more common sense, and ours survived numerous trips to Italy, Spain, France, Holland to site a few, old streets and stairs. Now I am told to abandon common sense and buy 4 protruding flimsy wheels made in China. The worse part of it, some seem to enjoy it, but even worse we don't have choice anymore, as no sturdy 2 wheels bags are sold anymore.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The good and the bad when renting accommodation

Very often people just confuse staying at a hotel vs staying at an apartment. I could read numerous complaints, on the totally normal practices at rental apartments. It is very normal to expect a clean rental.

However, for the rest of the details you have to read very carefully the description of all terms and of what is included. You also want to read reviews and consult travel forums when in doubt. If you doubt is big, save yourself problems and just look for another rental.

 Examples of complaints:

No food at all left such as salt, coffee, oil or other: This is perfectly normal for many rentals. I talked to the owners and they said people complained if food remained from previous vacationers.

Food leftovers: many people don't like having food left, and therefore complain, so the owners simply remove it. Although we had been to rentals where the owners kept salt, pepper, coffee, dried pasta... and for us it was fine too.

No shower carpet, no soap, shampoo. This is perfectly normal, and you are expected to bring your own. Since there is no laundry service, unless you rent linens, it is normal not having shower carpet. Renting linens costs a fortune in Europe, for this reason I bring my own linens. It is possible to purchase cheap and lightweight linens and towels in North America. Otherwise you can buy it locally, however, they could be expensive.

No dish soap, no kitchen sponge or tea towels. Normal again and you should bring yours. Places with dishwasher usually had some. You also should bring your own soap for washing clothing, although some rentals had it.

No paper towels, no toilet paper. Normal, and you should buy it. Some owners and agencies are nice enough to have just some for you arrival.

No washcloth: this is normal anywhere outside of North American hotels. So you should bring yours if you need one. In any case you should bring your toiletries.

Some rentals may have umbrella and beach chars but other don't. Those that have it are usually left items from previous vacationer.

 In general, many items are not at all an obligation to provide by the owner, but there are well organized and nice owners who have their apartments well equipped. One of our rentals missed a spatula, so I had to learn to remove fried eggs with two big spoons.

 Examples of great surprises:

 Our apartment in Cassis had a fantastic port, sea and rock view, but the original listing didn't show any pictures of this beautiful view, just mentioned a sea view. So, it was a big wow!

The owner of the apartment came to pick us up from the train.

Renting from homeowners directly in Italy and France we had a bottle of wine and home made jam left in one case and a bottle of good olive oil in the other as a welcome gift.

When we traveled to Rome with a toddler, the owner bought him juice and milk, and walked us all around the street and introduced us to several places, so we could order from them food for our 30 months old. He also provided such nice linens for the child. In general in Italy people were just so kind to the child and the parents. This was very touching.

In Sicily a man in our little building gave our son a little car.

French were also kind to our son. He received gifts even from people selling souvenirs.

At deluxe campsites we received a cleaning welcome package with toilet paper, soap and sponges.

Thursday, April 5, 2012



It can be difficult finding a family room for an affordable price in Paris. You have to start looking early and book as soon as you find something. Of course you can find thousands of rooms, but not all have air conditioning and Paris is a big and noisy city. The hotel rooms tend to be very small. Also if a room is really cheap verify if you have to share the bathroom.

Cleanliness and neighborhood are also of concern when traveling with kids. I wouldn't stay right by Place Pigalle for example, but 2-3 streets to the West is a much quieter neighborhood in the 9th. So, consulting reviews will help to know the hotel style. If the reviews are by solo travelers, it may not be a place for a family.

It is not worth hunting for a hotel with included breakfast. Most of breakfast provided would consist of a low quality croissant, a bad coffee and an artificial juice. I would also recommend not paying for a breakfast at a hotel, which will cost you starting 6E and up, but just cross the street and have the most delicious café croissant from the bakery or a patisserie for as low as 2E.

In other regions it is relatively easy to find either a family room or 2 rooms for lower prices. Breakfasts can be delicious too especially in the countryside.

Many castles are also renting rooms in the hotel section, and some are very affordable.


As we travel for longer stays, we usually rent an apartment, but occasionally are staying at the hotels or bed and breakfasts for 1-2 days. Recently we tried staying in a camping and since we are also staying in campings. Gites or gites villages are country homes and are another option. Apartment hotels do exist also but often are more expensive than hotels and rented apartments.

Apartments and mobile homes are usually rented by the week, but in low season (outside July and August) it is possible to rent for just a few nights.

There is a security deposit to pay. Some offer cleaning services at the end of the stay, but this is expensive 40-60E. Most require you to clean yourself at the end of the stay.

The arrangements can be done by Internet and the payments are by bank transfer or credit card for the camping’s. Some homeowners, mostly foreign, as they don’t live there and use services of an agent, ask to prepay all amount in advance. This is normal practice; however we prefer dealing with French owners who only ask for a deposit to make a reservation. There are also rental agencies advertising on Internet. I used them in Italy and in France.

Our experience was good so far with British and French homeowners. I browse the web for a couple of months before finding something. The best places and more affordable can be booked more than one year in advance, so start searching early.

In terms of rentals themselves, they are not hotels. They are mostly located in old buildings, which is part of their charm. So, the toilet is often separate from the rest of the bathroom for example. Many French old towns or villages have narrow streets, so you won’t find many terraces in this area. If any, they are part of the roof, which can sometimes be very hot or windy. Old French balconies are tiny, and usually to protect a door/window rather than sitting there.

So, for having a terrace, one may need to walk longer distances to the modern part of the town, or rent a villa floor with a garden. For a few rentals in old towns with a terrace the prices can be prohibitive.

There is a caution to be paid for any damage, and is refundable on departure. Usually a check is requested or a lower amount in cash. I was shocked at first when some of the ads request a 2000E caution. I mean, what can be broken in a place that is worth it. So, you have to be selective, because if someone values so much their belongings, shouldn’t be renting to strangers or shouldn’t be using such expensive items, paintings or statues in a rental apartment. Not sure I want to live in a museum, especially with kids, but even by myself.

When reading a rental ad, verify the exact location, the distance in meters to landmarks, not in minutes, the cleaning fees or arrangements. Particularly in France, very tiny rooms are rented at times. One sort of bedding very popular there are bunk beds, but they are often placed in a tiny room with no windows, called a cabine. I am personally reluctant sleeping in a closed space.
Another popular invention there is a mezzanine. Some owners are using this to subdivide the existing studio, by installing a second floor in the same room. This ends in two rooms with low ceilings and in practice is 1 room as you can’t close the door in between. This type of room is not handy with children. The stairs or the lather is not too safe even for an adult. However some home owners consider they doubled the living surface and the rates are high.

Ask questions and insist to have a description or a floor plan.

Some apartments are subdivided to a ridiculous extent. For example a 35m2 can have 2 bedrooms and a separate kitchen. Each room is tiny.

Many homeowners are asking for 900E or more, but expect you to sleep in a sofa bed which can be less comfortable than budget IKEA sofa beds.

Some request a ridiculously high number of transfers. I had to explain to some how much an international transfer costs. Most of the time it is just because the owner has never left his village or heard of anything foreign. Generally, French owners are nice and want to rent, it is just they don’t know. And usually they will agree to change their policy. Just ask.

Linens and towels can be rented, but at the price you can get new ones.

In other words if something is important to you, ensure it is clearly stated.

Although I occasionally call an owner, if I am particularly interested in renting, I am not chasing anyone. Someone who answers emails and calls me is really interested to rent and the service is usually much better with these people.

For those who want to stay longer in one location I recommend referring to for reviews, trip reports and advice.

Resources: Homeaway with the French branch Abritel