Jonathan, 67, and Sandy Bensky, 62, retirees, Seattle
Weeks traveling per year: 8
Typical annual travel spending: 15,000
The Bensky's caught the travel bug early: Sandy back-packed across Europe and Southeast Asia in her youth, while Jonathan went to Nepal with the Peace Corps.
Turns out it was good training for Jonathan's diplomatic career, which took them abroad for 25 years. Their experience living overseas has steered them away from big, expensive hotels.
Instead, whether planning a beach getaway on the Florida panhandle or a European city escape, they gravitate toward apartment rentals and intimate B&Bs, where they can meet locals and get a sense of what it really feels like to live in a place.
While some travelers focus on ticking off all the big sights, the Benskys' vacations have a decidedly mellow flavor.
One favorite: a recent trip to France, including two weeks in a rented Parisian apartment. (Near a bakery, bien sûr: "In Paris, you start every day with fresh baked goods," says Sandy.)
Then the couple spent two weeks touring the country's rural Dordogne region by car. Between the gardens, countryside, and historic buildings, they were charmed. "It was just a lovely place to wander around," says Jonathan.
Pick the right site. While most hotels tend to show up on every major booking website, rental inventory varies from site to site. Surf around to sort out which sites are the best for which region, say the Benskys. In Paris, for one, they like Airbnb.com, but for Florida, they found the best options on VRBO.com.
Vet your owner. Even if you don't have any questions, the Benskys suggest contacting the homeowner with queries; his response will hint at how he'll react if problems arise later. Travel writer Tim Leffel notes that owners should also provide a phone number. Call it before you commit.
Skip the center. As with hotels, you'll pay to stay in a prime location. In September, a studio apartment in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood is $114 a night on Airbnb.com, while a similar place in central Manhattan is $233. The Benskys typically recommend staying farther out -- provided the rental is located very close to public transportation. They also look for laundry facilities, restaurants, and grocery stores in walking distance.
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