Start searching online well in advance. There are hundreds of listing sites, many of them focusing on specific cities or countries. So hunt around for options specific to your destination. We used the Amsterdam-only listing service http://www.apartments-unlimited.com/ for our houseboat, and also looked at http://amsterdam.citymundo.com/. But for Paris we used VRBO or http://www.vrbo.com, which stands for Vacation Rental By Owner and has rentals in dozens of countries. The site is owned by vacation rental giant HomeAway, which has many other listing sites on its main page at http://www.homeaway.com/. We decided to go with vetted websites, where listings put up by people who own these properties as second homes or investments are approved and maintained, rather than a site like Craigslist.org, where anyone can put up anything. But vetted sites often entail an additional booking fee or extra cost added in to your initial payment (sometimes half or more of the total cost). Book fast if you're traveling during peak seasons, such as the spring and early summer. I wanted to recommend our Amsterdam houseboat to friends traveling there later this summer, but it's already booked for most of the season. And rightly so.
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