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May 06

London, Last Stop on our Grand Tour of the Globe

It was fitting that our final ‘home away from home’ of our twelve month grand tour was exactly the kind of place we love to settle into. The delightful flat in London’s West End was much more of a home than a rental.

A couple of the apartments we stayed at during the year felt exactly the opposite, more like a holiday apartment rather than a home away, such as the flat we stayed at in Kotor, which, while nice enough, was decorated like a hotel, without any of the personal touches that can make holiday rentals special. While we did our best to make it feel homey, it always felt a little cold and felt more like an investment property.

Houses like the ones we stayed at in Cape Town and Ceret were real homes, where the owners lived or went for holidays when there weren’t guests renting them. As a result, they felt ‘lived-in’ in the nicest possible way. Similarly, apartments like the one we had in Krakow were comfortable and inviting, helped along by hospitable gestures, such as the Christmas tree and presents the owners left us.

As we’ve written about before (here), it’s amazing how small gifts and thoughtful extras, such as a bottle of wine or beer, a vase of flowers, or a rustic loaf of bread and local jam, can go a long way to making guests feel welcome. The owners of this London apartment demonstrated the same generosity of spirit we’d experienced so many times before on our round-the-world trip, going as far as to provide a bottle of bubbly – greatly appreciated after all that port in Portugal!

After hauling all of our gear into the third floor flat (thankfully via an elevator), we immediately began to wish we were staying longer, and not just because we didn’t want to drag our bags back downstairs again.

For central London, the flat is a terrific size, with three spacious bedrooms, a comfortable living area, a lovely bathroom, and a brilliant kitchen that boasted the best stove we’d had all year. (Sorry, Rusty.) It was just a shame we didn’t have time to use it. Plenty of books, DVDs and mementoes of the owners’ travels, as well as loads of goodies in the kitchen, completed the picture.

While the London neighbourhood we stayed at a year ago, when we kicked off our project with a launch party at a swish penthouse, was residential, our final digs were located in the commercial heart of the city, with Oxford Street just a short stroll away. Still, with people coming and going to and from work and moseying by on their way out to eateries and bars in the evening, the area was more lively with locals, especially students, than tourists.

There were a handful of supermarkets close by and dozens of restaurants and pubs in the surrounding streets. There was a post office shop a few doors down where Lara spent a long time sending winter clothes back to Australia to store with family, while quickly becoming friendly with the Indian owners. Delays at the Apple store kept us from a scheduled meeting with an editor, who subsequently left some books for us to collect from the friendly staff in a neighbouring café. It was astonishing how quickly both the flat and the neighbourhood made us feel so at home that it felt like we were living in London, despite it only being for a few days.

I had a strong urge to shop, cook, work, watch movies, and stroll the ’hood with my dog. (Really, will somebody please start a holiday rental ‘rent-a-pet’ service!) And it’s that feeling that you get when you’re staying in a good holiday rental that makes all the difference to your experience of a place and sets a holiday rental apart from a hotel – that sense that you’re a part of the neighbourhood for a while, not just someone passing through.

Regardless of how fantastic a hotel can be, you never really mentally unpack those suitcases, even when you hang some shirts or a suit in the cupboard. I can’t ever remember saying to myself “you know what, I’d love to live here” while staying in any hotel or a resort – even when the concierge has memorised my name.

And that’s what we’ve most loved about our year of holiday rentals – that they’ve made us feel at home in their destinations, and at home in the world.

16 comments

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  1. Leslie (Downtown Tar

    Looks like a nice place to end your journey!

    1. laradunston

      It *was*. It was really lovely, though as Terence says above – that made us want to stay even longer!

  2. Maxine Sheppard

    A holiday rental rent-a-pet service. That is a brilliant idea.

    1. Lara Dunston

      We had a few pets come with properties we stayed at over the last year – our favourite was Dina the dog in Bali. The staff were prepared to take her to their quarters out the back for the duration of our stay if we didn’t want her, but it was so lovely to have her around. A few years ago we rented a house in Antalya in Turkey for a month and were asked to look after a pregnant cat who subsequently had kittens until the owner could find a home for them. It was a real delight!

      If you’re a pet lover, having animals around when you’re on holidays is such a joy – we don’t know why someone hasn’t thought of having a ‘rent-a-pet’ service before. Hopefully, someone will see this! :)

  3. Sarah Wu

    Cute place to end your stay there : )

    1. Lara Dunston

      It was very charming. I’d love to stay there longer in the future.

  4. Daniel

    Hi Lara,
    Great blog!
    Would you be interested in working with us (pro bono unfortunately)? We are always looking for good travel writers.
    Check us out:
    http://www.thisboundlessworld.com

    Thanks!

    1. Lara Dunston

      Hi Daniel – thanks for the kind words about the blog, however, we’re professional travel writers, which means we make a living from selling our words and images, so we don’t work for free, I’m afraid.

  5. Jen Laceda

    What’s next for you guys?? Congratulations on your one-year journey with Home Away. I enjoyed every bit of your reporting! Because of you guys, home rentals became an option for us!

    1. Lara Dunston

      Hi Jen – so nice to see you here! We’ll be posting over the next couple of days on ‘what’s next’ so I’ll save the explanation, but thank you so much for your lovely words. I’m so glad we played a part in that. We loved rentals before but now we’re well and truly addicted.

  6. Keith

    You know, the ‘Rent a Pet’ observation reminded me of when we were at at a well-known beauty spot in Scotland, and a car with Norwegian plates arrived, and a family got out with a lovely golden Labrador.

    About 20 minutes later, two policemen and an RSPCA inspector arrived, and spoke to the Norwegians … apparently, someone had guffed them for a suspected breach of our strict quarantine regulations.

    It turned out that the owner of the place where they were staying had lent them his dog, because he away for a couple of days, and they readily accepted, because he was so similar to their own dog back in Norway!

    1. Terence Carter

      Love it! We did kinda have a dog in Bali called Dinah who was like a watchdog. I did become very fond of her.
      We once looked after a mother cat and her litter of new-born kittens in a rental in Turkey a couple of years ago.
      Lara thought it would be ‘fun’ during a break from writing to play with them. The mother ran away and I had to
      get the kittens to start eating solids and then, ahem, go to the toilet properly…

      Cheers,
      T

  7. Marcy Gordon

    I agree it’s the little touches in “rentals” that make a big difference in how it feels. This London apartment looks like the perfect retreat.

    BTW– For years a friend of mine I often travel with has been me urging me to start a “rent-a-pet” business. I don’t know why she thinks I am the person for the job. But it is an appealing concept.

    1. Terence Carter

      It was a great apartment, Marcy. Good location for restaurants and grabbing some ingredients for dinner on a cold night in.
      BTW, I thought it was just us that longed for a nice animal-type companion because we’ve been on the road so long and are missing Auntie’s dog/cat breeding country homestead…
      Maybe there is a business idea there? LOL

    2. Lara Dunston

      Marcy – what if the pets were pets that had been abandoned and were in animals shelters, animals that are crying out for love? Maybe that’s an idea? Maybe we should investigate it ourselves! We could start a global network. What do you reckon?

  8. Antonio

    Beautiful place! I once rented a fabulous small apartment in Paris, belonging to a Peter Bracke you guys know as well! Now I know where to go in London the next time I want to take my wife Cristina on a surprise trip (like I did that time)…sort of “sorry Cristina, we are not going to Florence (while we are at the airport ready to fly)…I reserved a table for two in Saint-Germain…” and she goes:”Where is it?”
    “In Paris”, I reply. ;-)

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