How Do I Find a Great Vacation Rental?

By Staff WriterLast Updated Aug 25, 2020 6:41:24 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: Flashpop/DigitalVision/Getty Images

There’s nothing quite like heading out on vacation. Casting work to the side, putting “real life” on pause and making your way to an exciting destination is a guaranteed way to help you relax and see new sights (or the old favorites you love). Booking a hotel is all well and good, but what if you want more privacy or you’re planning to travel with a bigger group? A vacation rental may be the answer. You’ll have more space, more amenities (Full kitchens! Washing machines!) and more opportunities to settle in and live like a local. New to the vacation-rental game? Here’s how to find a property that meets your needs and sets you up for a comfortable stay.

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Choose a Reputable Rental Company

Making sure from the outset that you’re dealing with a trustworthy rental service can spare you plenty of headaches later on. You don’t want to get stuck paying tons of non-refundable fees should you have to cancel the reservations unexpectedly. Likewise, you want to be sure the property is managed well, meaning its clean and all its amenities are kept in good shape. This can require a bit of research, but it’ll be worth it in the end.

You have two main choices when selecting a company to book through. Peer-to-peer rental services like Airbnb are popular because it’s easy to browse their sites and apps to find unique properties that fit a wide range of criteria. You can choose everything from a room in a house to the house itself to something more novel, like a castle or a yacht parked in a boat slip. Renting properties with this type of service is often cheaper than booking a hotel room. However, there’s a chance the owner will misrepresent the property — just about anyone can list their place on Airbnb and similar sites without being vetted — and you’ll arrive to find a dilapidated home that looked gorgeous and well-maintained in its listing. That’s why it’s always essential to check reviews from past guests before making a decision.

Another option is to go with a smaller, local rental company that personally manages vacation homes. These businesses often have long-standing relationships in the community. They may have partnerships with local businesses to offer you discounts on museum tickets or meals, and they’re also better equipped to advise you on fun (and maybe lesser-known) things to do in the area because they’re personally familiar with them. Local vacation rental management companies also have obligations to ensure properties are kept in safe, clean conditions. You may end up paying a little more renting through a local company because of the added benefits.

What you choose depends on your preferences and the level of involvement you want the company to have. Either way, it pays off to read unbiased, third-party reviews online about various companies and services in order to make an educated decision about which company you want to go with.

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Set a Budget

Aside from narrowing down your rental options based on the location you’ll be visiting, another important element of guiding your decision is to set a budget. Start with an overall budget: How much (or little) do you want to spend on this vacation overall for everything — travel costs, lodging, souvenirs, tickets and passes to activities? This can also help you decide where you want to go if you’re not sure already; some places are simply more expensive to visit than others, and your budget can guide you to a location that’s more affordable.

First, set a maximum number that you won’t go above. Think about how much of your monthly budget you can put towards savings for this vacation or what amount you’re willing to take out of your existing savings to cover a trip. With that upper limit in mind — and if you’re not sure where you want to head — start researching ideas. Googling “best vacations under [your budget limit]” to get some ideas.

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Once you’ve chosen a destination, it’s time to think about the big-ticket items. Your transportation costs to and from the location come first. Then, it’s time to plan the amount you’ll allocate to renting your vacation property. One way to get a general idea of the amount it could run you is to do a quick search on a rental site and see what the per-night costs are for an average property. Barring any special circumstances — say you’re hosting a family reunion and need a home for 20 people — this amount will be a helpful guideline when you make your choice later. Remember that you can deviate from this average, but you may need to make some concessions in other areas, like your food and entertainment budgets.

Consider Your Must-Haves and Any Appealing Extras

Vacation is all about enjoying yourself, and the rental you choose can greatly enhance your enjoyment during your time away. If you’re looking to save as much money as possible then you might appreciate bare-bones accommodations. But, on the other hand, if you want to live it up a little, choosing a rental that meets your basic needs and provides a few exciting extras is the way to go.

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First, think of your must-haves. These include things like the number of beds you need, whether the house is child-friendly (does it have stairs you’ll need to worry about?), whether pets are allowed, the number of parking spaces and whether there are laundry facilities. Make a list of what’s important to you and things you might like to have but which aren’t deal-breakers.

A tip to keep in mind: One of the biggest appeals of vacation rentals is that they typically have their own kitchens, which means you can save some money on food costs by cooking at your home away from home for many of your meals. But if you’re planning on taking a break from cooking during your trip, factor breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks into your budget — and feel free to forego the properties with state-of-the-art kitchens that might cost more.

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Next, it’s time to start browsing rental options on your site of choice. Plug in your main details, like the number of guests, the number of bedrooms you want and any location parameters you want to stick to. You can also put in an upper limit for pricing and check out your results. If you’re using a peer-to-peer rental site, check the reviews for each owner and property you’re considering. See what other renters have noted and the ways the owners respond to feedback on the site. Carefully examine the photos of the home. Message the owner (or call the rental office) with any questions you have, and assess whether you’re satisfied with the interaction. Ask about any extra fees or deposits you’ll need to pay.

Finally, once you’ve settled on a property, try to book your rental as early as possible. This ensures you get the dates you want, especially if you’re traveling during a holiday or other high-demand time, but it can also be cheaper than booking last-minute. Now, get ready to plan all the other fun details that’ll make your vacation one to remember.

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