Paris. Just about everyone has a figment of what the capital of France is about, even if they’ve never set foot into the city. Naturally, the most probable image would be the well-known splendour of the Eiffel Tower, the enigmatic Mona Lisa or cobbled streets of Montmartre.
I’ve always been the kind of traveller that enjoys soaking in the city like a local, as opposed to hopping on a guided open-top tour bus where commentaries come in 12 languages. I’d rather prance about lost amidst a sea of people who might as well be speaking gibberish, chance upon that quaint corner café and be forced to order a pain au chocolat because that’s the only French I speak and suddenly discover that the flagship Chanel store on Rue Cambon is on the parallel street.
Which then brings me to a bugbear when I travel – accommodation. Half the fun of travelling around like a local is returning to a house which feels like a home, and not sticking myself in a cramped hotel room. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against hotels. In fact, sometimes it’s nice to have your bed made, complimentary toiletries and towels and a buffet breakfast once you walk out your door. But other times (especially in most European cities), I’d rather have the option of lounging around a fully-furnished apartment with kitchen facilities and a well-stocked bookshelf. What’s more, these apartments are usually heaps more affordable than a hotel.
I’m talking about short-term home rentals. If booking a service apartment or hotel room through a third-party website such as Hotels.com or Asiarooms.com is your idea of an adventure, it’s time you move on to 21st Century living, because you aren’t your grandmother’s legacy (not in this case, anyway). Short-term home rentals, already popular in North America and Europe, is now emerging as a viable accommodation choice in Asia with the introduction of Roomorama.
Roomorama is the brainchild of Jia En Teo and Fedrico Folcia, who discovered as young executives working in New York City that they could subsidise their travels by renting out their apartment to like-minded travellers who wanted to experience a destination like a local. Moving from North America and Europe to Asia was the obvious next step for them, seeing that Asia is currently the fastest growing region in the world.
“We chose to open our Asian headquarters in Singapore as the region is only just beginning to catch onto short-term rentals as a travel concept and we knew Roomorama would emerge as the leader in a relatively untapped market,” says Singaporean-born Jia.
If you’re the type who prefers globe-trotting with a specific purpose, Roomorama has also introduced a new navigation feature to search travel destinations by themes. There are currently 10 different categories – Spiritual, Mountain Climbers, Adventure, Countryside, Lakes & Rivers, History Buff, Wine Country, Romantic, Urbanite, Sea Lovers and Events. This function takes you out of the typical mindset that only Paris and Venice are cities of love, and also brings you closer to particular events that you might want to attend. If you’re looking for a balcony view or a certain strip of skyline, the theme function has that all sorted as well.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the Roomorama concept. Head onto the roomorama.com, select your city of choice, key in your dates and the number of people and choose from the available listings as to what fits you best. After confirming your booking, you’ll be sent an email with your payment code which you’ll have to take down and give to the owner of the apartment you’ll be renting from upon arrival. It’s best to get in touch with the owner (an email address will be given) before you arrive to figure how to get the keys from them and how best to pass them the cash security deposit which will be returned to you when you leave – given that nothing from the house is stolen or left in shards.
I booked a lovely duplex apartment in between Bastille and Marais, home to rows of great cafes, arty shops and a small Jewish district where snaking queues form for streetside falafels and kebabs. It’s also a 20-minute walk to the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and Rue de Rivoli, where all the main Paris attractions are. My host, Florence, gave excellent instructions on how to get from the airport to her place, and she was waiting for me in the apartment upon arrival.
Imagine French windows in a duplex with streams of sunlight flooding in and bathing the entire place in a warm glow, bookshelves overstuffed with travel guides, maps of Paris and material to keep anyone occupied for months, a fridge filled with basics such as butter, cheeses and orange juice (which Florence included complimentary in the stay), a spacious living room with a flat-screen television and DVD player and a cosy, heated bedroom on the second floor. I almost wanted to ask if she was selling her house.
Of course, it does vary from host to host, but I suggest you search for those that have the “Certified Host” stamp on it if you’re concerned. Your host can also help with any restaurant reservations or insider tips on the city you’re at, and in this case, you’ll know that their recommendations are genuine and not commissioned-based.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. After trawling through the streets in the day, there’s nothing quite like returning to your own home, a space infinitely bigger than a hotel room. Opening up an actual-sized refrigerator (you derive no satisfaction out of mini-bars) for a glass of wine and grapes before sinking into the couch to channel-surf or with a good book in hand is the perfect way to end the day in a foreign country. It brings comforts of home to places you never would have imagined experiencing it.
And without footsteps banging along the corridor at the break of dawn and cleaners knocking on your door at 10am, tomorrow begins whenever you feel like it.