“Darned tourists,” we sigh, walking up the busy, cobblestoned rue Mouffetard to our quaint 17th century studio apartment in Paris’ Latin quarter. We may have settled in a mere couple of days ago, but my husband and I already feel like locals.

It wasn’t originally our intention to stay in an apartment. However we do occasionally leave things to the last minute, and the hotel rooms available a couple of weeks before our trip were not matching our budget. After asking around for hotel recommendations, a friend suggested researching short-term apartments. It never occurred to us that you could book something for less than a week.

Our cosy Paris digs resulted from a simple Google search of “Paris apartments.” That’s how we discovered Ah Paris, a super-efficient, apartment rental site launched by John Fay in 2003. It just so happened that our sunny little studio was available for the exact block of time we needed. And it met my personal criteria: I really wanted to stay in the fifth arrondissement. I felt an affinity to the Latin Quarter, home of the Sorbonne and the Pantheon, where the literary giants I studied during my French university years were interred.

Here are a few tips and benefits to renting an apartment during your vacation.

Finding your home away from home
We got lucky and discovered Ah Paris with an Internet search. A friend found her month-long apartment rental on Craigslist under sublets/temporary. On that same trip we also booked a three-night stay in London through a hotel.

If sight unseen makes you nervous, request photos if they’re not provided with a listing. As far as your criteria, make a list and work from there. We knew we were in for a tiny space, but we didn’t mind compromising because of the location. The apartment was also close to a subway stop and local attractions accessible by foot. If you have a rental car, make sure there is parking available. And for a longer stay, look into other essentials like laundry.

Live like a local

In Paris you don’t grocery shop for the week, you grab fresh ingredients each day on the way home. The entryway to the courtyard of our apartment complex was framed by a fish market and a cheese shop. A bakery with the most amazing pastries and baguettes was a short stroll down the street. We really felt like we were a part of a neighborhood. And our wee accommodations had a kitchen where we could reheat leftovers or relax with our morning tea.

To book or not to book…
Ultimately, you’re always taking a bit of a risk when you book, but that’s part of the adventure. Do a quick search to see if you can find reviews about your chosen lodging. Ah Paris includes a page for each rental where former renters can comment on their stay.

Price check!

We compared the rental amount of our Latin Quarter dream home—er bachelor apartment—to what we would have paid for a two- to three-star hotel in the same neighborhood. It was far more economical to go the rental route. Our posh London apartment also happened to be less than all the hotels that had been recommended to us by friends. If you’re planning to stay a little longer than normal, check to see if the landlord offers any discounts.

Paying for your digs

When you’re ready to make a deposit or payment, it’s always a good idea to book with a credit card. Make sure you’re on a secure site and look for reputable payment methods, like PayPal or VeriSign. Some apartments may also require you to pay a security deposit, which will be refunded if the apartment is in the same condition in which you found it.

For both of our rentals we paid a deposit via our credit card online and then paid the balance in cash and traveller’s checks upon arrival. Always be sure to ask for a receipt.

Last-minute details

Remember you’re not in a hotel, so you might not have the usual luxuries, like free soap and shampoo or fluffy robes. You may even need to pack sheets and towels. Check with the rental agency or landlord before you leave so you can pack accordingly.

Also print directions from the airport or train station so you know how to get right to your destination upon arrival. Upon booking, Ah Paris provides a link with detailed airline/train arrival and departure information that calculates the amount of time it will take to reach your apartment to meet the owner with the keys.