Planning a Family Trip to France: Booking Rooms
Whew, am I breathing a sigh of relief– all of our rooms for our trip to France are booked! As I mentioned in my post about tickets, to me booking rooms is hands-down the most stressful part of planning. I’m not entirely sure why; I think perhaps because it’s so much money committed, and perhaps also because what kind of room you get can greatly affect your trip experience. As I booked our six different rooms, I did follow my general outline of how I usually book rooms, but below is even more detail and explanation, given that I just spent a couple of weeks walking through the process afresh. I did follow my own advice of not sacrificing location for price, thanks to Michelle’s urging when I was wavering from that stance. She reminded me how painful it is to commute a long way with small children. But I’m jumping ahead– we’ll get to that point! On to the “how to” of booking rooms in France!
Why Not a Hotel?
Why don’t I just stay in a hotel with my family? Hotels don’t seem to be set up for large families and they rarely have kitchens, so I just don’t think hotels work well for families on an extended trip. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve second-guessed this method and checked out hotels, but I’ve never seen one that can beat the price of renting an apartment/house! Plus a house is so much more comfortable for a family, and you can save money on food with a kitchen.
What Sites I Use for Booking Rooms in Europe
My go-to rentals sites are VRBO, AirBnb, and Booking.com. (Disclosure: I’ve linked my AirBnb referral link, so if you use it I do get a credit.) We’ve had success on all three sites, but it seems that more people know about AirBnb and it tends to have the largest selection. Be sure you look at the total price for a room, not just the nightly price; different people charge different cleaning fees, and that can actually make a surprising difference in the nightly average. The search algorithm on AirBnb is somewhat finicky, in my opinion; you will see more rooms in your price range if you filter out all of the $400-500/night rooms! (What, you thought we did luxury travel? Sorry my friend, wrong blog. 😉 ) Be sure you’ve set your travel dates and number of people traveling before you search.
Note: if you use the same websites I do, it is worth mentioning that you won’t be renting from businesses. So what? This means that people’s plans may change, or someone may beat you to the draw on that one room, or the hosts may extend the minimum number of nights they’ll rent. All three of those things happened to me while I was booking this trip — don’t let it discourage you! Have your parameters, accept that there’s no *one perfect* room, don’t get emotionally attached to any particular one, and keep hunting! It’s worth the effort.
What Amenities I Look for When Booking Rooms in Europe
As you’re searching for rooms/houses, there are a multitude of amenities/perks you can filter — almost anything, even what language the host can speak! (If you’re really not up for risking not being able to communicate in English. Though I’ve found that most people hosting travelers speak English.) However, I try to apply as few filters as possible, to give myself maximum options, and only filter by my absolute necessities. My necessities? A washer at longer stays and wifi. Don’t filter for a dryer, because that’s not typical in Europe and will greatly limit what you’ll find. I don’t filter for elevator (in case it’s not applicable to a good room), but I definitely make sure that there’s an elevator if the apartment is on an upper story. Why? Well, elevators aren’t necessarily standard even in apartment buildings, and Europeans don’t count floors like we do. What we Americans call the first floor, they call the ground floor (in France it’s the rez-de-chaussée), and what we call the second floor they call the first. So if the listing says the apartment is on the fourth floor with no elevator. . . you’ll be climbing 5 sets of stairs! We have done it, but know what you’re getting yourself into!
How I Decide What Rooms to Rent
Reviews and location are hands-down the biggest factors! I read through reviews extensively to check for any possible issues/surprises, and what they say about location. Things that catch my eye (in a good way) are:
- Proximity to public transport
- Good location/proximity to sights
- Comfortable beds
- Nearby bakeries/grocery stores
- Good wifi
If someone says the métro/tram is super close, and there’s a great bakery next door, and the beds are comfy, plus the host is nice — well, sign me up! As I mentioned in the previous point about watching for elevators/stairs, reviewers will usually mention if they had to climb a lot of stairs. Not necessarily complaints, but as a reviewer that is something I try to help other people be cognizant of also. Google maps is my friend — you can map how long it will take to get to sights you’re planning to see from the room you’re considering, and also can virtually walk around with the street view. It’s great fun to get a vibe for the neighborhood you might stay in!
How Much to Spend When Booking Rooms in Europe
How much you’ll spend on rooms depends mostly on what city you’re in, how big it is, and how close to the city center/attraction you want to be. What time of year it is is also a factor (yet another reason to travel off-season). Big cities cost us about 40% more (looking at you, Paris). So if you’re staying exclusively in a big city, increase your budget accordingly. Obviously how many people you’re traveling with also affects cost. I think I started booking my rooms with an unrealistic idea of how much I would have to spend for 6 or 7 people. HA. (I told you this would be a learning trip!) Christie is paying a share of the room cost, which obviously helps my budget out quite a bit; traveling with someone else and splitting a room (even part of the cost) is hands-down the best room budget tip I’ve got! We all get nicer accommodations and pay less than we would on our own. Everyone wins! On our last trip, we had a car, so that changed things, plus there were fewer of us. We didn’t pay more than an average of $130 a night for the 4-5 of us.
As I said, we prioritized spending on rooms this trip for several reasons.
- We’re traveling with 4 small children, and felt that a long commute to our sights every day would would add a lot of stress. So we booked rooms close in.
- Christie needs to be able to work from our room, so there always needed to be a space for her where she could shut out the, um, exuberant busyness of little kids!
- Since we’ll be traveling for so many days, we wanted space to spread out and rest. The kids will need to play, toddlers will need to nap. I’ll do laundry, and maybe even blog!
- We also hope/plan to be eating in most evenings, and wanted sufficient kitchen space to make that work.
So you want the scoop, right?? We’ve spent an average of $208.67 per night on lodging for 6/7 people, for a total of $5634.01 for 27 nights in France. My family’s share of that was $3756, for an average of $139.11 a night, and Christie’s was $1878, for an average of $69.56 a night. Like I said, I hoped that we’d spend less, but that’s still way cheaper than any hotel we could have found, and I’m happy with where we’ll be staying. Those are the averages, but I was unable to find rooms in Paris (relatively close in) for less than $250-300 a night. Paris was my biggest sticker shock! We’ve always been able to stay in smaller rooms in Paris. Your money definitely goes farther somewhere that’s not Paris. (Our spacious house in Carcassonne was $125 night!!) I’ll link to our exact rooms after we visit and I can tell you what I think about them.
Could you spend less than we did? YES. But expect to have smaller spaces and be further away from the action. In my opinion, if you have small children that’s rarely worth it.
Between our tickets and lodging, we’ve currently spent a total of $5638.32, which if I’m sticking to my hoped-for $7000 total leaves us just under $1400 for food and activities (and train tickets). Doable? Probably not quite. But it could be close; we won’t know until all is said and done!
Tickets and rooms are the most time-sensitive parts of travel planning — most everything else will be much easier and the more fun part of planning. I’ve read quite a bit about where we’ll be going; I’ll read more, and make tentative lists of what we’d like to see and do and eat! The main next step will be booking our TGV tickets to get between the big cities. TGV stands for Train à Grande Vitesse —France’s high speed trains. The farther out we can book them, the less we’ll pay.
Are you planning a family trip soon? Or would you like to? Where do you want to go??