I’m not a huge traveler, but when I do I don’t like staying in Hotels. Between the noise of other people and the confined space, I never feel comfortable. Granted, if I’m only going somewhere for a night or a couple of days, then a hotel is best. But, if I’m going somewhere for more than two days, I’m all for finding a vacation rental.
The benefits of a vacation rental are huge. Most of the time you are renting a house, condo, or even a room, from a real person. As a result, you can make special arrangements if needed. So, for example, I don’t like to be booted out at 10 or 11 am the way a hotel does. With a vacation rental, you can “ask” the owner if you can stay a little later so you can either sleep in or enjoy that part of the day on your trip. This is just one of the benefits I have found.
Another big benefit is your meals. When you rent a hotel, you are lucky if you get a tiny refrigerator or a microwave. In a vacation rental, you typically have a full kitchen and everything that comes with that. So, even if the vacation rental ends up being a bit more expensive per night, not having to eat out for every meal far outweighs the cost. If you even eat a couple of meals in your rental, then it’s likely that it would be cheaper.
How do I do This?
Now, you ask, how do I find a vacation rental? Well, that’s easy. There are a number of websites that offer tons of options including: VRBO.com, Homeaway.com, and AirBNB.com. Each one has their focus and specialties. If you are just looking for a “room” somewhere, then use AirBNB. But, if you are looking for a house or condo, then I recommend using Homeaway. The general policies for a room can be a single night, where most houses want a minimum stay of three nights. A lot depends on where you are going and how long, but it never hurts to look too.
I find Homeaway to be extremely user-friendly. You simply start by putting in the location you want to go to, the dates, and how many people you will be traveling with. It then brings you to a page full of results. You can choose to “filter” it down even further thereafter. The reason I like Homeaway the best is because they have a Map feature that makes it really easy to nail down.
After you do your initial search, you will see a small map on the right side of the page. If you click on the arrow symbols in the top right hand corner, then it will blow up the map to a larger size. It then puts blue flags on every property that is available in the general area. You can pan in and out using the +/- symbols in the bottom right corner. You should pan in and look for a tighter location. More blue flags show up the more you pan in because they can’t get them all on the map at once. So, pan in to the area of that town/city you prefer to be in.
You can then click on each of the blue flags and it will give you a pop-up showing some overview statistics of that house. It usually shows you a picture, the basic cost, how many bedrooms it has, and the title/description the owner wrote for it. If that location interests you, then I suggest you RIGHT-CLICK on the title and choose “Open Link in a new Tab”. This will open up full information about that location in a new window. I find it easier to look at it this way, and then when you close that window you are back on the map where you started. Otherwise, the map keeps trying to reload if you keep hitting “back” to return to the original map page.
Booking the Place
When you find a house you like, you can typically either rent it right then and there on the website itself OR you can fill out the contact owner form. I prefer to contact the owners. Ask them details about the house that it doesn’t say on the description. Things like “Can I stay late on the last day or do I have to checkout at 10 am…?” are the type of things I ask.
Also realize, these houses are in competition with each other. You should feel free to ask if they can reduce their price if you are having difficulty choosing between two properties. The owner can choose to do this if they really want to rent their place, so you might be able to save a few hundred dollars simply by asking and saying “I’m trying to decide between your place and another. They are $100 cheaper. Will you match or beat that price…?” It can’t hurt to ask.
After you fill out the forms, most owners try to get back to you within a day or two. So, if you have a few days to decide, you can fill out a lot of forms and see what type of response you get. It will help you get the right place, the best deal, and the amenities you want! I typically give myself a week to decide and see what owners respond and what they say. You can get a good feel about the place simply by the tone of the email from the owner. If it’s a rental company running the place, you know things will be more rigid. If it’s someone who says it’s their own vacation home and they are just trying to make money while it’s empty, then you know it’ll be full of really cool things because they like to go there too.
Amenities and Reviews
I’ve seen places that have all sorts of neat amenities. Some have hot tubs, pool tables, foosball tables, big flatscreen TV’s, gourmet kitchens, etc… Some places are in amazing locations so even if they aren’t fancy, you are getting an awesome deal to be right on the river, near the National Park, or in the middle of a city. I once rented a flat in Gastown in the middle of Vancouver that wasn’t fancy – it was only a studio – but it had access to everything in the city. I also rented a house that was literally a castle sitting on the side of a mountain in Tucson that was gorgeous, but all the little things like paper goods, towels, … were shorted so they could save a bit of cash. There really are an amazing amount of options and amenities to choose from.
A red flag I’d like to mention is country clubs… If a place says they have a community pool, swing sets, fitness centers, … they typically are part of a HOA or country club. The rules of these places say that only the owner can use those amenities. They may give you the key, but legally they cannot. So, if you rent the place, realize that you could run into trouble if someone stops you because you are breaking the rules. If you don’t mind breaking the rules, then go for it. But, I rented a place once that had all of this as part of the condo in Phoenix, and then we couldn’t use it all because someone in the neighborhood complained.
Just make sure to read through all of the amenities and hold the owner to them. Some places try to short things by not having towels, while others are smart and give you everything you could want to make you comfortable. If you read the reviews, other people will give you hints about a place that could be important. Read them as you would read any review. Sometimes a person simply didn’t have a good trip and they take it out on the rental owner. So, take that into account. But, also make sure that everything you personally think you will need to be comfortable is available. Don’t hesitate to ask the owner if you are unsure before you rent the place too. That’s why I talked about filling out the online form above! Ask questions…
Payment and Contracts
Make sure that when you pay, the terms are all spelled out clearly. Some rental houses have huge contracts, and that should make you consider going with another place. A page or two contract laying out their policies is fine. But, don’t rent one that goes nuts with it, and especially if they have legalize saying you can’t review their property afterwards. I rented a place once that had this in their contract and I made one minor “suggestion” in the review I made, and the owner threatened me with legal recourse. It’s just not worth it.
As to the payment itself, I recommend either using the Homeaway shopping cart or use PayPal. I would not send a check to someone unless you are really comfortable with the scenario – or have rented the place before. When you use a credit card, you have options if something goes wrong to get your money back. Remember that you are renting from an individual and there are unfortunately some scams out there. So, if you give someone money, you want to make sure it is secure. Homeaway does offer some travel insurance options as well – that’s a good choice.
Vacation Rentals are Great
I highly recommend trying the vacation rental process. It’s a great way to get a feel for a city or town. Hotels are so impersonal, where homes really get you in touch with a community. Typically the cost is slightly higher, but in the long run is actually cheaper because of eating “at home”. Renting a place on one of these sites can also be as easy as renting a hotel, but you get so much more in amenities. Try it out…! And, enjoy your vacation!