By Pauline Frommer

Rent once and you'll never go back to a hotel vacation again. Why would you? Vacation rentals -- whether condos, homes or apartments -- offer travelers more space and, as importantly, access to a kitchen, for prices that are equivalent to those at local hotels and very often lower. Not to mention that rentals are usually in more interesting areas (unlike hotels which are often confined to commercial zones), and offer much more character in terms of décor.

And a bit of magic happens about halfway through the typical weeklong rental: the counter-people at the local markets start to chat with you, your neighbors stop you to inquire where you're from, and you begin to get attached to the local landmarks you see when you leave your rental. In short, you have the ineffable pleasure of feeling like part of the community, if only for a brief moment.

Granted, rentals are not as dummy-proof as hotels. Finding the right one takes a bit more research. And once at the location, travelers don't have access to paid staff for directions and recommendations.

But is that really so much of a drawback in this internet age? Travel information is usually just a mouse-click away, as are photos and descriptions of available rental properties.