On our recent overseas trip we made extensive use of apartments in Scandinavia and the Baltic countries.
They offered an excellent alternative to the usual hotel stays especially as we were travelling as a foursome with my sister and brother-in-law.
They were usually very substantially cheaper, especially for two couples, as we could stay together in a large two bedroom apartment.
And each was truly a home away from home. There was always a spacious lounge with comfortable chairs, books to read and art works on the walls.
The cooking facilities meant we could cook our own meals which saved us a lot of money, especially in Scandinavia where eating out can be very expensive. And we could do our own laundry in the washing machine provided.
Some hosts left us a file of the best nearby supermarkets and markets, cafes and restaurants. Some popped in to see us which was a great way to have a chat with one of the locals about how life is lived in their home town.
We really enjoyed shopping for our own food and trying some of the local food. The fish markets with their colourful array of many different species of fish were awesome.
One nice little memory I have is standing in a local supermarket perusing the crackers (for pre-dinner nibbles) when someone came up to us, pointed out her favourite ones and suggested we buy those.
Before booking an apartment John was careful to read travellers’ reviews and to choose ones which others had found to be great places to stay in.
With one exception, when we had to make another booking when an AirBnB host cancelled a booking because of a family illness, all the apartments were booked several months ahead to try and ensure they were what we wanted.
We did find that hotels were cheaper for one or two night stays in Helsinki, Stockholm and Oslo, but everywhere else we used apartments. For the first time, we booked two of them on AirBnB.
You can book these apartments yourself over the internet from the Booking.com site: from AirBnB: or from a web search using the location and the word “apartment”.
Here are several useful tips when booking apartments. We found that:
- Booking.com offers many apartments, and often all, or most of, the money doesn’t have to be paid until you actually arrive for your stay. The apartments can also be cancelled at a late stage if plans change.
- AirBnB apartments require the total amount to be paid at the time of booking. However often these apartments can be cheaper than those on sites such as Booking.com. and we did find that there was most interaction with the host or hostess in these apartments.
- Stay close to the city centre where the main attractions are to lower costs in the cities you visit. It’s great to be able to walk out of your apartment and be right in the middle of the old town surrounded by the buildings that you have travelled to see.
- Be aware that many apartments in old cities are up several flights of stairs with no lift. If this could be a problem, ask before booking, or look for apartments in buildings that have lifts. It is also another reason to pack light!
- We did try to book some of the apartments a few months too early on AirBnB when their owners had not decided whether to make them available when we were travelling. We didn’t have that problem on other sites.
- If you are travelling with another couple and if you are seeking two bedrooms make sure that the apartment does have the rooms you require and not a single bedroom with a ubiquitous sofa-bed in the lounge. Most sites will specify whether the beds are full beds or sofa-beds.
- In most cities cheap day passes are available for local transport and they are often further reduced for seniors. We made good use of these for metro, bus and ferry travel in otherwise expensive cities in Scandinavia.
- Over five weeks, we used just two taxis, in both cases to take us to the airport. We booked our apartments either a short walk from rail or bus stations, or close to metro lines from the airport. Again this cut down on costs, as well as offering good access to these places when staying in the various cities.
- We paid varying amounts for our apartments, with some places more expensive than others. Prices varied from $NZ75 per night per couple in Riga, Latvia to about $NZ150 in Copenhagen. And these were quite large luxurious apartments in the best parts of town. By contrast, our two-night stay in a tiny hotel room in Oslo cost each couple $NZ360! We’ve frequently booked smaller apartments overseas when we’ve travelled on our own, and similar savings can be made, as well as offering more room and increased flexibility to our holiday arrangements.
- As well as the apartments, the internet does allow you to seek other great travel bargains. Our Stockholm to Oslo rail journey in first-class cost just $NZ53 each for the 500km journey, about a third of the lowest price offered by a NZ ticket seller. We’ve booked travel tickets over the internet from at least twelve countries rail or bus websites, and have discovered that they are available as an alternative in English, and have bought tickets without any problems.
So the next time you travel, why not give an apartment stay a try?
From John and Lyn Potter.