As the mother of two very little girls, we prefer to stay in homes when we can so we can bring along extra family and spend time together. And, for us, having a kitchen is a key factor in a more enjoyable vacation (milk and snacks right on hand for the little ones without having to pay exorbitant hotel prices)
Looking back on family trips, you never really remember the fun times you spent in a hotel room, but you do remember the times you spent drinking wine on the patio or cooking breakfast in your pajamas in a vacation rental. We love having the grandparents join us – not only because they are built-in babysitters (an added bonus for tired parents) but because they really get to enjoy the little day-to-day joys of being with their grandkids, like bath time and the simple things they usually miss out on.
It is important to note that the process is a bit more involved than booking a standard hotel room; however, the savings you can achieve- as well as the additional space and privacy you get when you arrive are definitely worth the extra time spent planning. Not to mention, most importantly for us, the added enjoyment, togetherness and memories created!
Here are my tips for finding the perfect summer rental:
- Book with a reputable site with a substantial inventory
Since most vacation rental travelers book their accommodations about 80 days out, you’ll want to start with a site like HomeAway.com or VRBO.com to give yourself plenty of options. HomeAway has more than 315,000 listings and VRBO has about 190,000 listings, so using one of these sites, you’re sure to find something that meets your family’s needs and budget.
- Read reviews
Reviews can be extremely helpful in wading through the property options and also providing yourself with reassurance that the listing is as it seems. I look at reviews immediately after photos and price. It can instantly sell me on a property if others travelers have given the home a glowing review.
- Talk to the homeowner
As a parent, this is one of if not the most important parts of the process for me. I always make sure to get the homeowner on the phone and have a lengthy conversation about the property and the area to make sure it’s safe and appropriate for my family, since I have two girls under 3. At this stage, I can ask questions about how kid-friendly the property is, what all comes with the rental (unlike a hotel that always has shampoo, hair dryer, etc. the amenities vary from home to home), and how close the property is to the attractions in town. Also, I’ve found that the homeowners can be like your personal destination guide, giving you recommendations on restaurants and attractions and helping you navigate a new city. I always say, act like a nosey neighbor and get all your questions answered ahead of time!
- Get all rentals rules and local contact information in writing
In case of any issues and so you’re clear on exactly what to expect with your rental, make sure to sign a rental agreement that clearly outlines things like the check-in/out times, cancellation policies and clean up expectations. To have it all in one contract also helps to keep you organized and prepared for your stay.
- If possible, pay by credit card
Paying by credit card or another online payment method like eCheck or PayPal is the best way to securely book a vacation rental. More and more vacation rental owners are offering this as an option, especially when you use sites like HomeAway which has a free tool called ReservationManager, so it shouldn’t be difficult finding a property that accepts online payments. If they require you to pay in cash, consider that a big red flag and move on to your next choice!
As another point of interest, HomeAway recently partnered with Priceline and so now travelers who book through Reservation Manager on HomeAway can also book a rental car and airfare through the same interface – very helpful for busy moms like me who don’t want to search a bunch of different sites!