I’m a bona fide hotel junkie. In the past 15 years, I’ve stayed in more than a thousand amazing properties. I anticipate check-in the way a 12-year-old girl obsesses over new Snapchat filters. Hotels simply excite me, from immersing in personalized service to marveling at thoughtful design and amenities. I love sitting in hotel lobbies, watching the flurry of travelers from across the planet enter the microworld in which we temporarily belong. And who doesn’t get a natural high from ordering room service while watching a movie on a comfortable bed more expensive than your own?
With the direction hotels are heading, their star-chef-helmed restaurants get as much attention as tried-and-true institutions, and many hotel bars tout experiences, not just libations. Hotel bars have also birthed classic cocktails like the Singapore sling in Raffles Singapore and bloody mary at St. Regis New York, proving hotel bars and lounges have significance, leaving legacies.
I love an old hotel where history resonates, or a new hotel that sets the standard for progressive design. The perks of hotel amenities, like swim- ming pools, rooftop bars with views, expert concierges, and complimentary bicycles make stays even more irresistible. And don’t get me started on hotel spas, where I can get fully knackered with wonderful amenities like steam, sauna, water journey, hot tubs, and much more. A good hotel or resort is almost why we vacation, as they are as integral to a destination as a tourist attraction.
While my obsession for hotels will always run deep, I’ve recently started a love affair with vacation rentals. Vacation rentals have been around for centuries, possibly since 1624 when royalty and the wealthy would shack up in massive and palatial places (like Palais de Versailles in France) when traveling.
It wasn’t until the 1950s when vacation-rental ads begun appearing in US newspapers, and The Vacation Rental Management Association was officially founded in 1985. Vacation rentals give travelers the option to stay in privately owned vacation homes, properties run by management companies, or actual homes while the owners are away, providing guests full use of their facilities in destinations around the world.
Thanks to vacation-rental platforms like Airbnb, Homeaway, and VRBO, travelers have hundreds of suitable options literally at their fingertips when booking vacations, and millions are taking advantage of what vacation rentals can do for their trips (the vacation rental industry is worth an estimated $85 billion, proving the market is here to stay).
Vacation rentals offer a sense of luxury in their own way, with notable perks hotels can’t always meet. The most obvious is that vacation rentals offer considerably more space and plenty more privacy. The list of benefits is seemingly endless: vacation rentals are equipped with full kitchens, private entrances, and the freedom to never see another face if you don’t want to, but the value of a vacation rental versus a hotel room is otherwise significant. Rather than paying for two hotel rooms at a steep rate, a party of four can stay in a multi-bedroom rental that reduces the cost per guest and gives the party greater control over spending and amenities.
Plain and simple: guests can rent an entire house for the same nightly rate of a standard room in a hotel. They can cook their own breakfast, do their own laundry (for free), and often have their own private backyards, swimming pools, and hot tubs. Best of all? Travelers dodge all the incurring fees a hotel will smack you with (Wi-Fi, pet fee if you’re bringing your pooch, telephone, resort fees, etc.)
For the affluent traveler, vacation rentals are not what they were from decades past. With the popularity and demand for vacation rentals in the upscale market, which are competing with luxury hotels, a solid number of rentals are starting to offer hotel-like services. Many companies tout 24/7 customer service, concierge programs that can set up dinner reservations and tours, airport pick-ups, and housekeeping service. Sure, you may not be able to order breakfast in bed, but vacation rentals can hire local chefs to come to your kitchen and prepare a feast. Want to have a small, intimate gathering? Rather than a confined hotel room, a vacation home will have its own private outdoor space, where the staff can set up a band, catering, and even themed decor.
Just like the hotel landscape, vacation rentals are constantly evolving. Thanks to the privacy factor and discerning owners with good taste, vacation rentals are becoming sexier, more stylish, and more alluring, and celebrity check-ins are a true testament (like Lance Bass at a vacation rental in Punta Mita). Vacation rentals can tout as much soul as a hotel, define a moment in time, and offer interactions in the destination that feel natural.
Speaking of celebrities, they’re also renting out their homes for travelers to be dazzled with star fare. Kevin Jonas rents out his NJ pad, Anne Rice offers her vacation rental in Florida, and actor Willem Dafoe rents out his architectural gem of a house in upstate New York, so you can actually live vicariously through a celebrity in their homes.
Newer vacation rental sites like MisterBnB, a vacation rental community with gay owners, are joining the vacation-rental spectrum, and services like HomeToGo.com (which scours all the vacation rental websites and consolidates your searches in one place) make it easier to rent an unforgettable place.
A true pioneer in the marketplace, Airbnb makes great strides to foster a relationship with the LGBT community. Not only are they a proud member of the Human Rights Campaign’s Global Business Coalition for Equality, they work closely with LGBT organizations, including San Francisco LGBT Center, GLAAD Media Awards, and Portland AIDS Walk. In June, they released a Fingerprints video, which explains their commitment to the LGBT community, and developed Stay With Pride with Sydney Mardi Gras.
Airbnb’s CMO Jonathan Mildenhall says, “Every now and then, we receive amazing stories from our community that truly underscore our mission. This is illustrated in a video we produced last year called ‘Love Is Welcome,’ featuring a number of our LGBT travelers who discuss meaningful moments all travelers can share through Airbnb experiences. As we continue to grow, we will look for more and more ways to support the LGBT community of travelers from all over the world, and, personally, I’m so excited for it!”
From Amsterdam to Puerto Vallarta, I slept my way through some gorgeous, comfortable vacation rentals with top gay-friendly rental platforms. I had the pleasure of living like a local in each of these fantastic homes, and some of my favorite vacation memories could not have been drummed up in a hotel.
AIRBNB, MODERN CANAL HOUSE
A leader in the vacation rental movement, Airbnb has flourished with more than 80 million booked guests in 191 countries since it was founded in 2008. Featuring more than two million listings, Airbnb offers everything from apartment sublets and to beach villas to castles, and it’s now a household name in the travel landscape.
What started off as a marketplace for millennials to book an inexpensive stay when traveling has now become a reality for luxury-seeking travelers who splurge on incredibly sumptuous, unique places that can feature, at the very least, sprawling backyards for pets and private swimming pools at beyond-cool estates with priceless art.
Airbnb is one of the top options when booking a place in Europe, where travelers can stay in popular cities while truly living like a local. There’s no other way to immerse in culture. This was evident when I visited Amsterdam with a friend from NYC and two college friends who now have a five-year-old daughter.
While the priority was to have a reunion, we also wanted to experience Amsterdam as locals do and decided to find a convenient and comfortable place while also minding our budgets. On Airbnb, we discovered a modern canal house just steps from the historic Groenburgwal canal. The spacious, two-level apartment was equipped with three bedrooms on the top floor, including a master with a private terrace, a large living room, fast Wi-Fi, a balcony off the dining room, fully equipped kitchen, and two bathrooms. Like a true, Dutch home, the stairs were narrow, floor-to-ceiling windows bathed the apartment with sunlight, and sitting on the patio watching the boats cruise on the canal was a great way to enjoy morning coffee and evening cocktails. Our home away from home was the perfect sanctuary, within easy walking distance to Dam Square, a ten-minute walk to Central Station, and a block away from the Metro and trams.
Tomas, the host, a young, dapper native of Holland, was eager to greet us upon check-in, and he was quick to respond via emails and texts. The house was above a quiet café that locals visit, and it was far removed from the bustle of Amsterdam’s summer crowds. For $638 a night (split among three people, it came to approximately $220 each), we immersed ourselves in the neighborhood, saved money by cooking food from the local market and, best of all, had the entire house to ourselves. www.airbnb.com