With a few bigger trips over the years and many, many shorter weekend trips, we’ve had our share of vacation rental ups and downs. We’ve realized over the years that our wish list generally includes some of the following when choosing a location:
- No big cities – we like the old small town charm: cute downtown area with shops and at least a few dining options
- Water activities – pool, lakes, or rivers
- Beautiful landscape, preferably something different than home
- Somewhere new! Exploring new towns is always more fun.
- Ease of transportation – preferably dining that is walk-able, or has alternative transportation like shuttles, buses, or Uber
How did you choose your vacation rental?
Choosing lodging is always quite an ordeal – mostly because we put the challenge upon ourselves to find the best possible options that meet most of the criteria above, plus:
- Affordable – we usually set a price range and stick to it, while trying to get the most bang for our buck. Make sure to look at the total cost – some rentals have a refundable damage deposit, cleaning fees, and other service fees.
- Good reviews – always important to see what other people have said. Plus, you can gain good tips about the rental (ex, “comes with a Pack & Play” or “many beach towels are included”). We heavily rely on the reviews – even more so than the description from the owner.
- Sleeping/bedroom arrangements – the three big kids are good about sharing a room and making do with cots or sleeping bags so we have some flexibility here. It’s always nice to have enough bedrooms and bathrooms and we try to get the best deal here
- Home vibe – trying to match the rental with the vacation vibe, like beachy when in Florida, rustic cabin when in northern Wisconsin, western when in Steamboat, etc.
- Any extra amenities that will make our week easier – grill, washer/dryer, parking available, nearby parks or areas for kids to play, Pack & Play, coolers, beach towels & toys, etc
- Cancellation policy – always important to read this through. We’ve intentionally not booked a rental due to a poor cancellation policy, especially when we’re looking for something months in advance.
Typically, we will rent through VRBO or HomeAway. They have user-friendly apps that allow you to “favorite” potential homes and create trip boards, plus plenty of search options and filters, and the ability to share homes easily with others traveling in the group. The calendar availability function, messaging, and payment has always been easy to use (and *knock on wood*, we’ve never had any bad experiences with a booking). It also saves all previous trips, which is helpful when needing to look back or recommend to a friend.
There have been times we’ve found a rental on VRBO but chose to go directly through a rental agency as well. Many rental agencies list their properties on a variety of websites like VRBO, HomeAway, AirBnB, and other sites – so shop around and find the best option.
there are too many options – how do I narrow it down?
Because it can be overwhelming, we often utilize a Google document that can be shared with the group, listing out each rental with a photo, price, bedroom layout, and list important amenities. It can be helpful to have all the potential rentals in a list to compare and prioritize, then narrow down as we go. Often, by seeing them all laid out next to each other it becomes easier to eliminate rentals or prioritize what is important to us for a specific trip.
Any other tips for choosing a vacation rental? Share the good and the bad stories you’ve experienced with vacation home rentals below!