With Holiday Rentals its the Little Things that make a Difference

Terence Carter

by Lara Dunston and Terence Carter

In January 2010 HomeAway.co.uk launched the Grantourismo blogging project. Travel writing couple Lara Dunston and Terrence Carter  are spending 2010 travelling the world in holiday homes, exploring why holiday rentals are a truly unique travel experience. After nearly six months on the road they took time to reflect on the personal touches owners make that create a truly acceptional holiday experience.

When you check into a hotel, you come to expect certain amenities depending on the class of hotel you’ve booked. Hotel ratings exist to give you an idea as to the standard of facilities and what you can expect to find in your room – toiletries, a mini bar, tea and coffee-making facilities, etc – so there are generally no surprises. Instead, you might find yourself getting excited by the little extras, like bath crystals, a fluffy robe, glossy magazines, or a bottle of wine.

With holiday rentals, however, there is no rating system, so everything is a surprise. While it’s nice not to have any expectations and therefore, theoretically, no disappointments, there are some basics that after almost four months staying in holiday rentals we have come to expect and believe every host should provide. And then there are some little things that can really make a difference to a stay.

Our HomeAway.co.uk home in Sardinia is the inspiration for this post, although this is something we’ve been mulling for a while. Casa Teulada is one of those properties crammed with so many treats intended to make your stay as enjoyable and as special as possible that you can’t help but be delighted whenever you open a drawer or cupboard.

The Basics

So what are the basic things that we have come to expect in a holiday rental and why should the owner provide them?

Toilet paper and soap – we're not asking for a six-pack, just one roll, please. After a long flight and a taxi ride, some things simply can’t wait for a trip to the supermarket, and do you really want guests with dirty hands opening the fridge after wards? And, yes, we have stayed in a couple of properties where not even a single roll was provided.

Apartment Basics Breakfast basket – it’s no fun arriving late at night or on a Sunday when shops are closed, only to have to wake in the morning and get organized without a cup of caffeine. Hotels offer breakfast or are at least in the vicinity of a café but some holiday rentals are located in the countryside or suburbs. Coffee, tea, a loaf of bread, butter and jam is all that’s needed. Go with the local customs and local produce – here in Sardinia, Antonio and Christina left us Nutella and Italian biscuits, in London it was delicious free-range eggs.

Sugar, salt and pepper – people staying in holiday rentals often love to shop the local markets and love to cook, or at the very least, they like to buy nice local bread, cheeses and cold cuts. Leave them some salt and pepper for their tomatoes and to season their meals, and sugar so they don’t have to buy some. We find we never use all of what we’ve bought and these things are cheap and can be stored for a long time. Here in Sardinia, our hosts provide both fine and coarse-grained salt! But they’re Italian.

Kitchen equipment – holiday rental owners who love food know how to fit out kitchens. In London, Dubai and Ceret, we had every kind of kitchen utensil conceivable and plenty of plates, glasses, cutlery, pots and pans, while in Sardinia, Antonio and Christina provide the basics and have a secret stock of supplies they make available to foodies. All of these owners enjoy eating and entertaining and it shows. However, we’ve stayed at properties where not even bowls were provided. So what are the basics? If cooking is not your thing, you can’t go wrong with an IKEA starter kit (or two), which includes big white plates, bread plates, bowls, cups, and glasses. We’d also add an Italian espresso-maker and cups to the essentials list. Fit out the kitchen the way you would your own. Think you might have forgotten something? Stay a few days and you’ll soon find out.

The Little Extras

These are things that aren’t essential, but they’re things that make a difference to the guest experience and show them that you care.

Bottle of local wine/champagne/beer – could there be a nicer gesture to welcome people to your home? Your guests have had a long journey, and with everything travelers have to deal with these days from volcanoes to airline strikes, it’s probably been a stressful one. Who doesn’t feel like a drink? See it also as an opportunity to highlight local produce and show off your destination. Here in Sardinia, Antonio and Christina left us a bottle of wine from Santadi winery, a 15-minute drive away, along with local cheese and crostini.

Dinner kit – no matter how many great restaurants there might be in the neighbourhood, if your guests have arrived late or after a long journey they might be tired, jet-lagged or just don’t feel like going out. Leave the basic ingredients so they can whip up a quick meal: pasta and a can of tomatoes or pasta sauce is the best thing. In Sardinia, our hosts also provided olive oil, onions and garlic, a local specialty, bottaga, and even a Sardinian cookbook to give us some ideas.


Toiletries – in the days of 20-kilo luggage allowances, even less for low cost airlines, and restrictions on taking liquids on board planes, some basic hotel-size toiletries will be appreciated the first day, especially by families or people who are settling in for a while who intend to buy large-size products when they get to a supermarket.

Amusements – people need down time, even when they’re staying in some of the world’s most engaging cities, or it may be that the weather is unexpectedly miserable and they’re just not in the mood for battling the same rain they do at home, families might want to bond over board games, or groups of friends are fed up with charades… games, books, magazines, DVDs and CDs will all be appreciated.

Special extras – picnic baskets, cookbooks, hot water bottles and bicycles… some holiday rental owners think of everything. The properties we stayed at in Ceret, London and Dubai were also impressive when it came to attention to detail. Like Casa Teulada, they not only offer the basics above, intended to make their guests’ lives a little easier, but also offer little luxuries that make a stay really special. At the London property, we had an iPod docking station and espresso machine; Dubai had a TV room with entertainment system, video games and DVDs; and in Ceret there were guidebooks, maps, decks of cards, dice and board games. In Paris, the DVDs, CDs and books were Paris-themed.