How to Find the Perfect Vacation Rental
But there is another option: renting a private home. While it sounds like a lot more work -- the options, after all, are even more varied than hotels -- the benefits often outweigh the effort you put in to find the perfect vacation rental.
"The great thing about renting a home, as opposed to a hotel, is the in-between time on vacation that you get to spend relaxing," said Hank Hudepohl, director of Vacation Rentals for TripAdvisor.com, an online site that collects reviews on vacation destinations. "In a hotel, you might be sitting in a room planning your next outing, in a rental, that after-breakfast time or the late-evening time that you can spend just lounging, and spread out, makes it so much more comfortable."
Finding that perfect place to spread out and feel at home requires a little luck and a lot of due diligence, say travel experts, because you must evaluate each property on its own merits. Comparing properties and rates can be more time-consuming, as each property is unique, as opposed to renting from a chain hotel, where choices are fairly standard. Contacting rental agents, scrolling through listings online, and speaking to homeowners takes time. But the advantages, say those who prefer rentals over hotels, are worth it.
"Vacation rentals are a good choice for families, and they work very well for those who want to bring pets along on their vacations, says Nancy Schretter, managing editor of the website Family Travel Network.
Whether it is a family who wants to spread out, a honeymooning couple that wants privacy, or anyone who wants to feel a little more at home, renting a private home can make a strange place feel a little more like home. Those who routinely rent offer RentedSpaces readers the benefit of their collective wisdom.
Find out what amenities are available in the house
"Don't assume anything," said Schretter. "Make sure to clearly understand what's included in your rental. If there is a pool at the house, ask about access. If there's a beach nearby, ask about rules. Ask about telephone usage, linens. Make sure to clearly understand what is available to you as a renter."
Make use of MapQuest
"While the location might be Popular Destination, USA, you don't want the vacation house to be located right next to a busy highway," said Nikolett Bacso, co-founder of VacationHouse Destinations. Using MapQuest can give you an overhead view of the neighborhood, and see where the home is situated in regards to town, beach, attractions, and the dreaded highway.
Make use of online reviews
Reviews by those who have come before can give you valuable information about the home. "It's the wisdom of the crowd," said Hudepohl, who recently rented a home on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. "My mother-in-law has a bad knee, and can't do stairs," he said. "If someone wrote, 'I didn't expect to have 20 steps to the entry,' it's a great help."
And don't be afraid to speak to the owners.
"If you find an area you like, but want to know more about the area, you should call the owner," said Jon Gray, general manager for HomeAway.com, which has 185,000 properties in 120 counties. "Most of our owners stay in their homes part of the time, and they know the area. They can tell you what's nearby and what there is to do. And if it happens that their home is booked for the dates you want, they might be able to tell you about other homes for rent in the area."
Everything is negotiable
Homeowners would rather have someone renting their place at a discount than not renting it at all, said Gray. "You can ask for a discount, or ask if you can stay an additional night. There is no harm in asking. If a rental is still open two or three weeks out, the owner might be more amenable to negotiation."
Pay by credit card or PayPal if possible
"Pay by credit card. Never pay by a wire transfer," said Hudepohl. And many experts agree. With a credit card, you can be protected from fraud. With a wire transfer, it's nearly impossible to trace the funds.
When booking a rental abroad, keep in mind that the comforts of home are different in Europe
"Even the American Embassy in France doesn't have the comforts of the French Embassy in the U.S.," said Drew Graham, founder and CEO of CobbleStay.com, which lists apartments for rent in Paris. "In Europe, where buildings are generally older than in the U.S., they might not be equipped with air conditioning or screens on the windows," he said. "Sometimes there is an elevator, sometimes there isn't. Generally they will have washing machines, but very few have dryers."
Pauline Kenny, who edits SlowEurope.com, a resource for travelers looking for vacation rentals in Europe, said bed sizes are very different in Europe. "Be aware that many European homes have double size beds," she said. "What they call a 'king' we call a 'queen.' Sometimes they will put two twin beds together, and call it a super-king."
Whether you are traveling in the U.S. or Europe, Hudepohl pointed out that, especially for families, renting a vacation home can be less expensive than a hotel. "Especially if you cook your own meals, you can keep your costs low," he said. TripAdvisor has a calculator that will allow you to compare costs.
That extra effort could pay off in a more relaxing, less-expensive vacation.