By Kitty Bean Yancey
I remember the first time I decided to go the vacation rental route.
About 30 years ago, eager to experience the famed South Carolina beaches as close to the ocean as we could, my husband and I took a friend’s advice and booked a well-kept three-bedroom cottage on a long stretch of sand south of Myrtle Beach.
Setting up beach chairs by “our” dunes was just one advantage: The other unanticipated reward turned out to be meeting and mingling with year-round and summer residents on the beach and in the local grocery store.
They alerted us to the best dining and shops and told us where to buy the freshest shrimp. By the end of two weeks, we had been invited to cookouts and cocktail parties and wound up deciding to return the following summer.
Since then, I have rented vacation houses, apartments and condos around the world. During these times, my loved ones and I relish feeling like residents, especially in tourist meccas.
Some tips on how to feel like an insider when you rent:
Get to know your neighbors. Ask them the best places to dine and which under-the-radar shops and attractions are worth a visit. Ask the property management team if they have any local favorites they can recommend.
Hang out at a nearby café or coffee shop to soak up area flavor. If you’re the social type, start a conversation with staffers or regulars. Soon they’ll be greeting you by name. Little things can make a stay memorable: While renting an apartment in Madrid, I was touched when the barista at the coffeehouse down the street started making my usual order of a cheese “tostada” sandwich with tomatoes the moment I walked in.
Take walks in residential areas. Especially if you are traveling with kids or dogs (whom strangers invariably approach), you’ll find yourself greeting and meeting people who may help you more fully experience your destination.
Do as the locals do. Check newspapers or websites for community events, such as flea and farmers markets, parades, community-center lectures, or charity walks. That’s a way to immerse yourself in an unfamiliar area in a non-tourist manner.
Get a guest pass to a local gym or regularly use facilities in a rental community. Not only will you work off those vacation indulgences, it’s an opportunity to mingle.
Don’t just eat local specialties in restaurants. Try heading to the local farmers market then making them yourself in your rental’s kitchen.
Have a barbecue or invite new acquaintances over for a drink. Socializing in your vacation digs is almost guaranteed to make rented quarters truly feel like home.
Kitty Bean Yancey is a Washington, D.C.-based award-winning former USA TODAY travel writer. She freelances for publications including AARP Magazine and AAA publications.