So you've been fantasizing about renting a villa in Italy … or Greece … or Spain … But how do you turn that dream into a reality? It's easier than you think. Here's my step-by-step guide to making sure that ultimate dream vacation does not disappear in a puff of smoke!
1. Plan Ahead. Way Ahead. The first thing to understand is that renting a villa is not a spur of the moment decision. Most European villas are now booking up nine months or a year in advance, which means that if you call in a month before your departure date, you'll be stuck with whatever you can get– if anything. So get out your calendar ASAP and mark off the month when you think you'd like to travel (your trip does not have to be this long, but starting with flexible dates is the best). The good news about booking this far in advance is that you have a lot of time to plan– so you can arrange all of those special little details in advance. You'll also have plenty of opportunity to dream about the adventures ahead!
2. The More the Merrier – And Cheaper! Having more people in your party will enable you to rent a larger, more private estate, and will also reduce individual costs. A good, convenient group size would be anywhere from six to twelve people. This step is often the most difficult, as you struggle with deciding who to ask … and then try to get them to "commit!" My recommendation: Make a list of friends and family and order them according to shared interests such as outdoor activities, architecture and museums, cooking, etc. Ask the first six or eight people on your list if they would like to join you for a "two-week Italian vacation in June of 2007." Make it clear that each person has only so much time to decide– for sure. If, at the end of that time period, they are still wavering, thank them politely and move on down your list.
3. Plan Your Budget. Once you have your travel companions together, you'll need to find out about how much each person expects to spend. Most of your companions probably will not know how much to expect to pay, you may want to research some basic costs like airfare to Europe (book your flights after booking a villa), the exchange rate from dollars to Euros, and the cost of renting a mid-range villa. Try to get an idea about how many people are willing to pay for their accommodations. If anyone's budget is far below (or above) the group average, you may want to talk to them about either changing their expectations or opting out. It is also a good idea to collect some sort of "deposit" at this point to ensure that there are no last-minute dropouts after you've booked!
4. Let Your Interests Determine the Location– not the other way around. Trust me, you'll have more fun. Before you pick your destination, come up with a list of possible activities and ask your companions to pick their three favorites. Here is a short sample list:
– Visit museums
– Shop at outdoor markets
– Explore medieval towns
– Go swimming
– See famous sights
– Have a cooking lesson
– Hike in the countryside
When all the votes are in, come up with a "top five" list.
5. Call Your Travel Advisor! At this point, you're going to want to start consulting with someone who has experience. Get together your time frame, head count, budget, and activity preferences, and then contact a reputable villa rental agency or a travel advisor. Based on your information, your advisor should give you some good ideas about where you should go and the places that will best accommodate the size and needs of your group. Working together, you should be able to pick out a location and a villa to suite your group … and fulfill your own personal fantasies! After all, as your group's organizer, you'll have the last say in where you stay. So enjoy the rewards!