I have long been a fan of vacation rentals. I do stay in hotels sometimes, but I find that staying in vacation rentals helps me better achieve that experiential vibe I want when I travel. When staying in a rental, I’m often in a neighborhood setting rather than a commercial district. This helps me better experience the soul of each place. Staying in vacation rentals generally makes it easier to explore neighborhood eateries and shop at local grocery stores. Here are some of the other reasons I prefer staying in vacation rentals rather than hotels.
Advantages of Vacation Rentals
A Local Experience
As I already outlined above…
You can find vacation rentals of basically any size. I’ve rented houses, condos, and apartments all over the world. Why stay in a cramped hotel room when you can rent a house with a living room, kitchen, several bathrooms, and several bedrooms instead? This is especially ideal if you are traveling with family and friends.
Better Price per Square Foot
You typically can rent a house or apartment for less than the cost of a single hotel room. I have rented whole houses for less than $200/night in many parts of the world. There are more expensive properties too, but it is easy to stay in a nice place for less money than a hotel.
You can find vacation rentals with your own pool or hot tub, rather than having to share with everyone at the hotel. I love to find rentals with nice outdoor decks as well.
Hosts with Local Knowledge
Often the owner/host will offer a local’s knowledge about things to do in the area, either in person, by email, or with a guest book.
Disadvantages of Vacation Rentals
It’s generally up to you to clean up after yourselves every day.
No Resort Amenities
But that’s not why I travel 🙂
I’ve slept on some firm vacation rental beds. I’ve slept in difficult hotel beds too, but I have found a higher percentage in rentals.
Minimum Stay Limitations
Many properties have a minimum stay of anywhere from 3-7 days.
You Need to Book Well in Advance for the Best
While you can always find something last minute on AirBNB, you usually have to plan many months in advance to reserve the best vacation rentals.
Nonrefundable and Early Payment Required
You also have to pay well in advance, too. Different vacation rentals have different payment policies, but most require progressive payment, with full payment completed anywhere from a month to several months prior to your arrival. Most are nonrefundable, so you need to be sure your plans are firm.
My Favorite Rental Companies
Because I’m The Thorough Tripper, I can’t be satisfied with searching one company’s listings. I have to check out everything that is available to me at each destination. I generally check the inventory on all three sites listed below. There is often overlap between these – one property may be listed on two or even all three. But many properties will be listed on only one site.
I’ve rented from VRBO more than any other over the years. I find it has the best selection of larger properties.
I’ve used AirBNB a few times. It seems to now have the largest worldwide reach. I’ve booked the entirety of my upcoming (but Corona-delayed) Portugal trip in great AirBNB rental apartments. AirBNB also has a large selection of inexpensive individual rooms for the single or budget traveler – rather than the full apartment or house, you rent a room and share the space.
Vacasa doesn’t have a huge selection like the other two, and their locations are limited, but I always check Vacasa because their properties are typically quite nice, and they have the most lenient cancellation policy (30 days for a full refund minus booking fees).
Tips For Booking the Ideal Vacation Rental
Read the Reviews
There is always an inherent risk that your rental won’t be what you expected. Fortunately, all three of these sites encourage property reviews from past renters, and I read them religiously. I will only rent properties with multiple good reviews. AirBNB also designates Superhosts and VRBO designates Premier Partners. These are always good bet.
The best rentals are usually booked well in advance. 6-8 months is not too soon if your trip planning starts early like mine often does.
Consider Travel Insurance
If you do end up paying for a non-refundable rental well in advance, you may want to consider travel insurance.
Communicate with The Owner
Both AirBNB and VRBO allow you to communicate with the owner by email prior to booking. I will often have questions about details not found in the listing, and have emailed owners many times while deciding whether or not to book a rental. I get my questions answered, plus responsive helpful owners predict a surprise-free stay.
Booking.com – My Favorite Alternative
I don’t always rent vacation properties when I travel. In some parts of the world, small hotels and apartment-hotels are better options, and can still offer an authentic local feel. So I also check Booking.com when planning a trip. I have found this to be the most comprehensive source for small hotels, large hotels, B&Bs, and apartment-hotels. I have noticed that some smaller properties are listed exclusively on Booking.com
Much of our lodging for my Lake Bled wedding trip in Europe was booked through Booking.com. For many of the areas we stayed in, I couldn’t find rentals that I liked as well as the selection on Booking.com.
Because of my thorough tripping, it’s not unusual for me to book different properties through multiple sites for a single trip. On a road trip that we took to the Southern Oregon Coast and Northern California, we stayed at places booked through VRBO, AirBNB, and Booking.com.
Things I really like about Booking.com
Wide selection of all types of lodging
As I already explained above… Plus the list of available properties worldwide is very comprehensive.
Thorough Property Descriptions and Reviews
The reviews are especially helpful and generally more thorough than the reviews on the property’s own website.
Some properties on Booking.com require prepayment with strict cancellation policies, but many allow 24 hour cancellation. Having that sort of flexibility is nice sometimes depending on the nature of your trip.
After you’ve booked a few times on Booking.com, you are awarded a Genius level – Genius Level 1 for 2 stays, and Genius Level 2 for 5 stays. These Genius levels get you progressively steeper discounts on future bookings at a wide selection of various properties.
Because I am a Thorough Tripper, I have checked a hotel’s website price against the Booking.com prices many times. I seldom find a better price on the hotel’s website. They are usually exactly the same and sometimes even better on Booking.com (with Genius discounts).