“Living Like a Local” is a popular topic in the travel press. Travelers not only want to visit a city or country, they want to “experience it as the locals do.” As an outsider, this may never be truly possible, but perhaps this is another way of saying that, “as a traveler, I want to go off the beaten path” of other tourists and treat my trip more as a time to get to know a place by finding my own bistro and discovering boutiques and bookshops instead of running through a tourist to-do list.
This October, I’m going to Paris for three weeks as my next big trip. It’s my fourth time in the city, but for much longer duration than the previous visits. Usually my big trips are seeing multiple places on a continent – not necessarily on a quick timeline, but differently exploring a country like Ethiopia and India or a region like Tuscany. It’s always been my dream to living in the great cities of the world: Paris, Rome, Rio, Istanbul, Cairo…my list grows each year.
When I first arrived in San Francisco, I thought that would be leaving San Francisco and going off on another big trip and living in each of these cities for six months at a time. But then something happened. San Francisco became my home and I traded nomadicism for the ability to hang pictures on my walls and meet friends for beers in “my” neighborhood bar.
I thought of this trip a compromise to get the best of both worlds – feeling like I was living in Paris without sacrificing my home in San Francisco. I’d rent an apartment in Paris and work remotely. I talked with my boss and she agreed to it. I booked my ticket for late September to October and set about looking for an apartment to rent.
Deciding What I Needed (and Wanted)
There were two combination of things I wanted in an apartment: Resident in a neighborhood experience – markets, shops, restaurants that Parisians visit and a furnished setup with reliable Wi-Fi to support remote working. Then, another condition arose – visitors. When I was planning my trip and talking to family and friends, my mother and childhood friend decided to come for a week in between. One apartment would not do for the entire time, so I am planning on two separate apartments. One for just me and then a place for the tree of us.
I’m excited at the possibility of doing different neighborhoods – it’s like trying out several different “Paris” lifestyles. I also liked the idea of being near markets and the metro and away from the more touristy areas, if that was possible.
Where to Stay? Deciding the Best Neighborhood
I went to the experts to get my shortlist of neighborhoods. Many AFAR Ambassadors have been to and lived in Paris, so I wanted their trusted recommendations.
Lindsay Tramuta, the AFAR Paris local guide and author of the blog Lost in Cheeseland, shared, ” I would say stay in the 12th near the Marché d’Aligre and you’ll get all of that plus be in proximity to some really great restaurants. The northern part of the Marais is fun as well or stay around the rue des Martyrs in the 9th.”
Sivian Askayo, a photographer, wrote “I loved to stay on the 3rd, north marais, the 18th Montmartre, might feel quite far from the center but its def a Parisian feel. Enjoy!”
Marie-Eve Vallières, author of A Montrealer Abroad, commented, “I stayed in both Montparnasse/Notre-Dame-des-Champs and Faubourg Saint-Antoine frequently and loved both, for different reasons. The former for the surrounding landmarks, and the latter for the restaurants.”
Alison Cornford-Matheson, blogger at CheeseWeb, wrote, “I rented a little place last summer at the back end of the 3rd, which sounds like it would be super touristy but it wasn’t. We were easy walking distance from everything, close to a metro and had great little local restaurants around.”
Kirsten Alana, author of Aviators and a Camera, shared, “I lived in an apartment off Rue Montorgueil near Les Halles and that’s still one of my favorite streets in Paris. Everything you could need there.”
I had also read that the 11th is hot and happening – perhaps the “hipster” Paris. So that was on the list as well. Rounding out the search was Chatelet Les Halle and the 3rd near Pompidou, the 5th in the Latin Quarter, and 17th near Montmartre.
Reviewing the Web Sites for Paris Apartments
I went to a variety of listing sites and looked for availability based on what I needed. Overall, all the sites listed below had excellent inventory, lots of descriptive photos for properties, and easy searches. The important differences, and ultimately my choice, were based on the details and the trust factor.
VRBO.Com: VRBO stands for Vacation Rental By Owner. I’ve heard it mentioned for many years in relationship to vacation rentals. However, when using it for my own search, I found that VRBO.com was more expensive and the hosts didn’t get back to me right away. I searched on their site by bedrooms and neighborhood. Overall, the site had extensive filters by amenity, but not by price. The prices were a bit higher than my budget, but the selection was excellent for the larger properties. I found more inventory for two and three bedroom apartments in Paris than any other site. The pictures were complete and the reviews very helpful. Initially, I was excited to see the calendar feature where dates were “x”ed out if the place was not available, but the two I liked showed availability, but were not. The more I kept searching, I could not find any with availability.
Housetrip.com: I used the site to find the apartment for three people and could search on bedrooms, but not neighborhood, which was unfortunate. I used the map feature to find a place, but for my list of 13 properties that I had narrowed it down to, the map showed hundreds! I started to click one by one . I found a spectacular 3 bedroom place, but there were no reviews and when I clicked “Send inquiry”, there was no place to introduce myself. This meant that I wasn’t confident after I sent the inquiry that this person would like to rent to me because they would not know me.
Perfectly Paris: This site had a lot of selection and variety, but it was very time consuming to go through all the properties without a filtered search. Plus, I did not feel confident that using PayPal to send cash would protect my deposit or rental fee.
Go with Oh: This site was easy to navigate, but the filters were not exact enough for me to find the places I was looking for. For example, the price filter was by total period booked. This was fine for on my own, but I needed to know a per night cost with two additional people to consider. Plus, I could check “internet” but I really needed Wi-Fi. Finally, the filters did have “number of bedrooms.”
I may use Go with Oh for my final week in Europe, which I am not booking until I get there. The floor plan feature was very helpful to visualize the space – I wish all sites would have it. I found an apartment that looked perfect, but then checked out the reviews and read that the apartment was more run down that what was reflected in the photos. Also, at that listing, there was no picture of the owner, so I didn’t know whom I was booking with.
Airbnb.com: Airbnb.com, which I have used before, allowed me to look for exactly what I wanted around neighborhood, Wi-Fi, and price, but they did not have “number of bedrooms” and that was frustrating. In the end, I went with Airbnb.com because I felt more confident with the search results and the transaction. I loved the reviews of the places and seeing the owner’s response rate. I passed potentials to my friend and mom and they gave informative feedback like, “the 5th floor may be a challenge” and “Near a church, what about the noise?” This told me how likely I was to hear back from an owner and how experienced they were in renting out the apartment. Plus, I had used them before so I had a profile and felt confident that the renter would know me through my reviews.
Booking the Apartment on AirBnB
Once I felt confident that I could find what I needed on Airbnb.com, I started to narrow down a list of places using the Wishlist feature. My experience with Airbnb in the past told me that I needed to have several choices because when you click “book it” – you’re not really booking it, one is merely requesting the time and place from the owner and if they accept, then one is officially booked.
Overall, there were a lot of studios available in Paris for my criteria. I clicked place to place, checking pictures, reading reviews, and finally contacting the host with a message about my trip details. The first place sent back a message in 24 hours saying it was not available, despite showing up as available. I found a second one, clicked book it and got approved within 2 hours after inquiry.
Tip on Booking: If you’re not ready to book, but want to confirm availability, then contact the owner with the questions. Plus, I discovered that although the availability calendar appeared up to date, several owners wrote back to my request that they were not available at times that appeared available. In the end, I found a wonderful studio in the 17th for myself and then a fantastic two-bedroom flat in the Marais for my mom, friend, and myself.
Payment on Airbnb
On Airbnb, the charge for the entire week went on my credit card. Airbnb has very clear and transparent booking policies. Some apartments I looked at had strict cancellation policies, meaning that 50% of the fee would be charged in canceling. This mean that I asked my travel mates to read every bit of fine print and feel comfortable with the place before finalizing the booking.
I am so excited! I get to go Paris and live in these apartments. In the next few weeks, I will be looking at co-working spaces and talking with my boss on how to arrange work hours and “must-attend” Pacific Standard Time meetings. I’m also putting together a list of people to contact, restaurants to try, and things to do. Stay Tuned!
Have you ever used one of these services? What was your experience?