A rental has the potential to be a perfect home base for exploring a new part of the world, so when it comes to deciding where to stay, I'm an obsessive researcher.
We've rented from owners – if you haven't been referred by someone reliable, ask to speak to others who have rented the property.
We've rented from agents – we booked Il Gabbiano, a home in Cefalu, through a London-based agency called "Think Sicily" ( thinksicily.com), which has good support staff on the island. (For Italy in general, I like Tuscany-based agent Merrion Charles ( merrioncharles.com), who has well-selected properties and is terrific to deal with.
Also, there are scores of holiday rental agency websites – if you go this route, make sure that whoever you deal with has actually visited the property., Before committing to a rental, I always ask the following:
- Ask details about the property and location.
- How well maintained is it? Is it full of the owner's belongings? (Owners are less likely than agents to be open about the drawbacks.) I like to imagine that the house is mine for a week or two – a closet full of the owner's shoes will not encourage this fantasy.
- What is and isn't included in the rate? Is there a charge for house cleaning? What about extra gas or electricity charges?
- Understand the location. How far is it to towns that interest you? Will you have access to good food shopping? If it's rural, exactly how remote is it? If there are neighbours, how close are they? We once rented a country property with a distant view of a major freeway – it's now on the list of things to ask. If you are renting a city property, find out about the neighbourhood and distance from public transport and major sites.
- How big are the beds? How many are twins? Are the doubles merely doubles, or a king or queen?
- How many ensuite baths are in the home? If you are fussy, ask about bathtubs versus showers., If the house has a pool, find out if it is open and if the water is warm (Canadians are ready to swim outdoors far earlier than people living in sunnier climes), if you can heat it (this can be costly), and how big it is., Is there comfortable seating outside for both eating and relaxing?
- Is there a barbecue? Implements?
- If you are going in the summer, ask about fans or air conditioners. If you are sensitive to mosquitoes, find out if there are screens on windows (screens aren't that common).
- Is there a housekeeper who will cook meals for an added fee? If you are travelling with a family or large group, this is a plus. Also, if there is a housekeeper, ask for guidelines on tipping.
- The list could go on and on, depending on your individual priorities: What do you require in a kitchen? Can you live without a dishwasher? A food processor? Does it have laundry facilities? Hair dryers? Think carefully about what you need, write out your questions and don't be afraid to ask.
- Don't do everything by e-mail. Have at least one phone conversation.
As with all travel, understand the cancellation policy and purchase trip-cancellation insurance. And, finally, if you rent a country property, you will need a car. For trips longer than 21 days, look into Peugeot long-term rentals ("Open Europe Buy Back" arrangement). We used kemwell.com, but also check autoeurope.ca. Another recommended agency for European car rentals is gamut.com.
In Italy, an International Driving Permit is now required by law for holders of non-EU driver's licences, available at CAA. It is simply a translation of your driver's licence and not a substitute. You will probably never be asked for it, but you should know the law, and have the permit handy.
Special to The Globe and Mail