If you are looking for an alternative to a hotel, an option to consider is a vacation rental. These are furnished apartments, condos, cabins, or houses and can be found in many locations throughout the U.S. and abroad. They are usually privately owned and offer more space than a hotel room.
Vacation rentals typically include a kitchen (which oftentimes is fully stocked with pans, dishes, etc.), living room, and one to several bedrooms, bathrooms and more. They range from economical to luxurious and may be comparable in price to a hotel room in the area. You can find waterfront properties with private beaches, pools, golf courses, and many other amenities.
A vacation rental can be a good option when traveling as a family. The kids can have their own bedroom and bathroom, and you can save money on food expenses (and eat healthier) by not having to eat out every meal. Family-friendly properties may have games, water toys, beach towels and chairs, and many more added options available for your use.
Traveling with a Larger Group
If traveling as a group, there are larger homes available that offer several bedrooms and bathrooms. You can find homes with six-plus bedrooms with close to the same number of bathrooms. By sharing the costs, these homes can be an affordable option and many can be quite extravagant.
Finding a Suitable Vacation Rental
Vacation rentals usually offer nightly, weekly, or monthly rates. You can search for properties by the location and the number of guests (or bedrooms) that you desire.
Most properties list the amenities, the nightly/weekly rates, the per night minimum, the number of people it sleeps, and a yearly calendar showing dates of availability. The “suitability” section lists whether pets or smoking are allowed, if there is wheelchair access, or if it is suitable for children.
There are photographs of the property and the contact information of the owner.
Before booking a rental, do some research to make sure it is in a suitable location and in good shape. Check the reviews from people who have stayed at the property. These can provide insight into the condition/location of the property, what it has to offer, and how easy the owner is to work with. You may also find there are some added perks such as beach chairs, towels, snorkel equipment, grills, and more for you to use.
Vacation Rental Payments and Fees
Vacation rentals oftentimes require a deposit and a final payment just before your departure date. Many of the nicer properties get booked up several months in advance, so it is best to start planning early.
Before booking a property, be aware of any added fees (such as cleaning fees) and what the owner’s cancellation policy is.
Travel during the off-peak season will usually result in a lower rate, which may be substantial. For example, you may find a beautiful ski lodge that rents out for less than half the cost during the summer months.
Vacation rentals come in many shapes and sizes. They may be waterfront beach houses, mountain cottages or ski lodges, yurts, rentals in resort areas, apartments, condos, and more. You can also find rentals that are geared toward families with children, and some offer rooms that are decorated just for the kids.
Risks to be Aware Of:
Since most vacation rentals are privately owned, you are trusting a stranger to give an accurate representation of the property. To avoid paying for a fraudulent reservation, take these precautions.
- Never send a wire transfer or a check directly to the owner. Always pay through the vacation rental site such as Airbnb, Vrbo, etc. If a problem occurs, these sites offer a rental guarantee. If any taxes or additional fees are due later, again, pay these through the rental site.
- Never give your email address to the property owner and check emails from the vacation rental site for authenticity. Some scammers will send you an email requesting payment and make it appear as though it is from the vacation rental site.
- Know what your accommodations look like on the inside and out. Request additional pictures if need be.
- Find out what is included in the cost. Some owners may charge a hefty fee for cleaning services.
- Check on the map to see if the location is close to the sights you plan to visit.
- Ask the owner for the exact address so you can check it out on Google maps. Enter the address and click on “street view”. This will allow you to see the property and what the area looks like around it. This is helpful in knowing how close the property is to a beach, town, restaurants, etc.
- Be aware that since you are staying at an individual’s property, you also run the risk of getting charged for items that end up missing or broken, even if you were not responsible.
- There is also a risk that you may be unable to access the property for one reason or another once you arrive. It may have been double booked, the property may be in foreclosure or bankruptcy, the owner did not leave the key, etc.
- The property could end up being in a bad area or look outdated and worn on the inside. It may not have the view you planned on or is not anywhere near what was advertised on the vacation rental site.
- If the property is listed as waterfront, check on the size of the body of water. Some owners may list it as waterfront if there is a pond out front. If it is on a lake and you want to go boating, check if motorboats are allowed (and the size of the motor). Some lakes may allow only non-motorized boats or none at all. If the property is on the ocean, find out if the beach is conducive to swimming.
- Ask what the view will be from the property you plan to stay at. For example, if it is a condo, the entire group of condos may be called waterfront property, but the one you plan to rent may not have a view of the water at all. It may have a view of the garden, street, golf course, etc.
- Check to see if the property has air conditioning. Many may not, and in the summer months, it could get pretty warm.
- Ask what floor it is on and if there is an elevator. Some condo units may be four or five stories high, but there may not be an elevator.
- Find out if you can park close to the entrance and if there is a fee for parking.
- Ask if the property is in a gated community, and if so, make sure you will be able to have access.
Vacation Rental Insurance Protection:
To reduce your financial risk, you may want to look into purchasing vacation rental insurance.
If you are concerned about ending up with accommodations you may not like, many of the vacation rental sites listed below offer travel insurance that will cover you for losses with your vacation rental. For example, if the accommodations are not according to the description, if you have to cancel your stay, or if you damage the property, you can get reimbursed for those expenses. The cost of the insurance is based on the total amount you will be paying for the vacation rental. It typically ends up being around 10% or so of the total cost of the rental.
Vacation Rentals in the U.S. and Abroad:
Here are some vacation rental sites to check out.
- Vacation Home Rentals
- Mountain Lodging – Most rentals are in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean
- Home Away
- Trip Advisor
For more travel insight, check out my book:
Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad