Vacation Rentals Guide

How would you go about booking a great vacation rental during that well-earned break? You are traveling with your family and cannot afford to take chances. You have children with you and you want to ensure that they have fun and enjoy their stay while keeping safe.

Of course, hotels are not on your shopping list as they tend to cost more and provide less space for those traveling as a group. What about the freedom that comes with vacation rentals?

You have adequate breathing space and you do not have to bump into your host. These days, hosts are particularly helpful in this due to the pandemic and offer services such as self-check-in, online payment, and practically leave the entire home – apartment or villa, at your discretion. All to yourself and your group within your allotted time frame, whether it is a couple of days or weeks.

You are raring to go, but unsure how to go about it. Here are a couple of tips to help you along the way. This vacation rentals guide outlines some steps you can take to do it properly.

Table of Contents | Vacation Rentals Guide
1. Check the services offered
2. Review the price, of course
3. Check the amenities
4. Host review
5. Location
6. Safety
7. Beds
8. Book early
9. Compare
10. Cleaning protocol

1. Check the services offered

Each host is unique and offers different services. Some allow pets, while others do not. If you wish to bring your pet along, you may want to inquire whether pets are allowed.

Do you need concierge services? Do you wish to be met at the airport or maybe get booked at the nearest spa? This can all be arranged for you if you communicate directly with your host. We highly recommend that you should book through sites that allow direct communication with your host so that you can fine-tune your needs and preferences. Many hosts are willing to bend over backward to accommodate your needs.

2. Review the price, of course

First, you need to decide if you will be staying in a log cabin, a condo, or a villa. Prices vary, but, generally, the more accommodation space and services you get, the more you should expect to pay.

You will have a wide variety of vacation rentals to choose from starting at around $20 per night to more than $2000 depending on your destination and accommodation.

Rates depend on the size of the facility, the number of bedrooms it has, how many guests you are traveling with, and the number of nights you plan to stay. Prices vary by season, and so if you want to save some money, you may want to plan your trip during the low tourist season.

In general, those rentals closer to the tourist spots will cost more than those further away. Most vacation rentals will provide discounts if you stay for a week or more. If you plan to stay for a month, you may get a huge discount off the daily rate.

Payment is mostly through Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal and is done upon booking, but there are hosts that do not require any payment in advance.

Before booking, review the refund policy in case you need to cancel. Cases abound where people have made bookings only to cancel due to one or more unforeseen circumstances. A point in case is the current Covid-19 pandemic, where thousands of vacationers could not travel due to travel restrictions. Many had quite a challenge getting refunds from hosts.

Some hosts have picked up on this and are offering free cancellation within a given time frame, which goes a long way towards giving you peace of mind.

3. Check the amenities

Amenities are an important part of any enjoyable vacation. How would we survive without WiFi? How about parking for your vehicle? Other popular amenities include non-smoking, kitchen, TV, Microwave, Pool, Washer, Fireplace, Heating, and Jacuzzi.

The ability to cook for yourself is what makes vacation rentals special. A well-equipped kitchen helps.

4. Host review

Check to see what previous guests are saying about your host. Hosts with good reviews are more likely to want to keep their reputation and would go out of their way to give you an excellent experience.

Most booking sites only list properties offered by hosts for rentals and do not have any more knowledge of the actual condition of the property. There is no way of knowing whether those sleek photos you see posted online are real or edited, and that is why you need to take your time reading the reviews.

Most reviewers tend to share positive feedback freely and negative feedback sparingly, and instead of using words like “old and dilapidated”, they say “rustic”. Instead of saying “isolated and out of the way”, they say “secluded and peaceful”. Look out for the choice of words and try to read between the lines to get more insights.

You can access this information from the booking platform itself or on their “about us” page.

5. Location

The location of your vacation rental will determine how much you can do within a day.

If you are looking to do some outdoor sports, for instance, you would want to book vacation rentals that are close to the action. If you wish to have a romantic getaway with your partner, on the other hand, you may find a gem a little further away.

Searching on Google maps will show you the location’s terrain and transport network as well as the availability of hospitals and ATMs.

Google maps satellite view of a suburb in Colorado, USA

If you will be using public transport or walking, this is even more important. What is the point of spending hours driving or walking from your vacation rental to get to your place of interest? You would be too tired by the time you reach, to say the least.

6. Safety

Safety should be an important consideration at all times. If you are traveling with children, for instance, you should check to see if the home would be convenient.

Always insist that your accommodation has smoke and carbon monoxide detectors as well as a fire extinguisher to help control fires and similar hazards. Confirm all things with your host through the official communication channel on the booking platform you will use.

Check for choking hazards, power outlets, and cables and keep them out of reach or secure them if you are traveling with any under-fives.

A roll of painter’s tape would be helpful to seal off places you do not want the kids to have free access to including drawers, fridge, and minibar.

If there is access to a pool, you need to check if it is safe for children or at least if it has controlled access.

In case you require a crib or other special need, inquire with the host in advance. Vacation rentals often do not have the same level of service that you may be accustomed to with hotels, so you need to make advance arrangements with the host for any special needs.

Whenever you travel with kids, it is a good practice to carry a first aid kit as you never know when it might come in useful.

Vacation rentals often have similar safety levels as you would enjoy at home, but you should never take anything for granted. Use a deadbolt to secure your room whenever you are indoors to keep your little ones inside and also ward off unwanted guests.

A good flashlight might come in handy particularly at night, or when you wish to explore the outdoors for whatever reason.

It is likely that your host would want to give you some privacy and would not be hanging around at your beck and call. If there is an emergency, you would in all likelihood be on your own. Having the mobile number of your host with you can help.

The overall security of your neighborhood is also key. If you are traveling in the USA, you can check regional safety records through neighborhoodscout.com. For other countries, a quick Google search for safe neighborhoods will unearth a lot of information.

7. Beds

Figure out how many beds and bedrooms you will need before your trip. If you are traveling as a group with two couples and three children, you will need a vacation rental with at least two bedrooms with extra beds for the children.

Many rentals provide extra beds but may also designate couches as beds, and so you need to ensure that you understand what kind of beds are available before booking.

8. Book early

If you can book your vacation rental early, by all means do so. It would help you to locate the best deals as rates tend to be seasonal.

High season rates can be double or triple the regular rates. Some providers offer discounts, and that is why it is good to get in contact with the homeowner early.

When you book early, you escape the stress that comes from trying to do last minute booking. You would have to make a number of decisions- all at the same time and these under pressure. The likelihood of saving some money on your booking is reduced.

9. Compare

Review several vacation rentals for your price range and travel dates and select the one offering the best deal.

As for all online purchases, look out for extra charges and taxes. What you see listed is often not what you pay at the checkout screen as providers have an extra charge and hosts are allowed to add charges as well for various reasons.

Avoid using Craigslist for your vacation rentals as it is a well-known source of scams. Scammers are all over the internet these days and you can not be too careful. There have been reported cases of vacationers arriving at their online-booked home only to be told that the owners do not do vacation rentals.

Try checking providers like Airbnb, VRBO, and Booking.com before settling on your vacation rental. These sites do have their fair share of issues, but they are the most popular sites and often receive positive reviews from satisfied users.

Airbnb

Airbnb is a home rental platform that allows you to book rentals located in many different places in the world. There are more than 4 million listings in over 191 countries for you to choose from.

With Airbnb, you will get to rent different types of homes and rooms depending on your preferences of location, size of the accommodation, cost, and several other filters you may apply. Airbnb lets you book one room or the entire home based on your preferences.

The site has an active review section that lets previous guests leave comments about their stay. They rank homes based on feedback received around cleanliness, timeliness, services, and a plethora of other areas.

Hosts with consistent performance are given a “Super host” badge and are easy to locate. You can use this to filter out hosts who have had negative reviews.

The service provided by Airbnb is not free though as they charge you from five percent to 15 percent of the reservation fees. This fee is charged because they facilitate the reservation process for you and also can provide some help when you run into problems with the booking. Airbnb has a feature that they call “Resolution Center” that you can use in case you have a dispute with your host.

If you do not wish to pay this extra fee and want to settle disputes personally, you may take the details of the property and the host and do a Google search for it on the internet.

Some hosts post their properties in multiple places including Facebook and other social media. If you are in luck, you might find it listed somewhere else with all the contact details of the host.

VRBO

The striking thing about VRBO is that they promote renting of the entire home rather than just a room, although there are hosts that rent single rooms on the platform.

You still have a wide choice of about two million homes to choose from.

They let you rate your stay at a particular home, and so you can use this feature to filter out those hosts with negative reviews. Hosts can also post a response to the reviewer, which means that you will have more information about the host and the property to help you make a decision.

Just like Airbnb, they have various search filters to help you locate your perfect home including rental property types such as condos, cabins, lake rentals, beach houses, and theme-based searches like weekend getaways and traveling with pets. They also permit you to filter your way down to your choice based on the amenities you prefer.

Guests are charged a 6 percent to 12 percent service fee on top of the charges by the host.

Booking.com

Booking.com seem to prefer hotels for the time being, but also feature a substantial selection of vacation rentals numbering about one million. After entering your preferred dates, they offer a list of hotels and vacation rentals.

You can quickly filter for vacation rentals alone by clicking on the “Entire homes and apartments” option.

They have a wide array of filters for all kinds of vacation rentals including by service, amenities, budget, pet friendliness, rating, breakfast and meals, fun things to do, and distance from the city.

Their fee is the lowest of the three providers at only three percent of the rate. As with both Airbnb and VRBO, you can still avoid paying this fee by Googling for the property on other sites, but this is not recommended.

Many vacationers eventually have to cancel their booking for various reasons, and if you book directly with the host, you would be on your own if this happens to you.

10. Cleaning protocol

Airbnb requires a five-step cleaning protocol for its homes. Not to be left behind, VRBO and Booking.com also have detailed cleaning protocols that they have published on their websites.

All our featured booking sites now require homeowners to adhere to minimum cleaning standards in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

Areas to watch out for include doorknobs, TV remotes, and other high-touch surfaces. Request your host to provide cleaning and disinfecting products, hand sanitizers, antibacterial hand washes, and other personal hygiene products for your peace of mind.

Discourage entry of strangers into your premises unless they have come for some emergency and even then, they should don face shields and face masks and wash their hands with sanitizer before entry.

These days, self-check-in is becoming standard. Ask your host for this if it is available. This will let you check-in without interacting with anyone.

Your host may leave extra instructions relating to cleaning and disinfection. Take some time to read- it might have useful information.

Some hosts use licensed property managers to help them manage their homes. Property managers can help ensure that nothing is left to chance and that homes are safe for use.

Bottom line

Finding a great vacation rental is not as easy as it seems, but needs not to be overwhelming. You can get good ones if you plan carefully and do your research.

Would you rather switch places and become a host yourself? Why not? See this page on vacation rental management.

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