How to Find the Right Vacation Rental

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Now is the time to plan your summer vacation if you haven’t already done so. With websites like Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, and TripAdvisor, travelers can feel right at home in a new city because of vacation rental properties. 

Vacation rentals are a great way to get to know an area like the locals do. They’re often more spacious than hotel rooms, and unless you’re booking a hotel suite, you’ll also typically have access to amenities like a full kitchen.

How do you make sure that you’re choosing the right spot for your vacation experience? Here are some tips for finding the right vacation rental once you’ve decided where you’re going. 


Decide what you want in a rental.

Sometimes you can find a great deal on a vacation rental that will save you hundreds of dollars on your vacation, but that rental might be located miles and miles from any major attractions. That means you’ll either have to drive a car, take public transportation (if available), or take on another expense to get where you want to go. By contrast, a place right on the shore might be more expensive than the other options, but you’re paying in part for convenience. Is that something you’re willing to do?

Make another list of the features you must have in your vacation rental, from location to number of beds to amenities like a pool. Think about how much cooking (or not) you’ll want to do and whether you want to be close to restaurants. In other words, make a list of your ideal vacation rental for this trip.

One nice thing about platforms like Airbnb or VRBO is the filter application. You can narrow your search by date availability and then include your must-haves so your results will only generate vacation rentals that meet your exact criteria. 

Plan ahead.

If you haven’t already selected dates for your trip, start checking to see what the busy and slow times of year (or season) are for the area where you want to vacation.

Maybe you want to hit a big event that’s going to be insanely popular. In that case, start planning as early as possible, and book your rental as early as you can, too — the rates will only get higher if you wait.

If it doesn’t really matter when you go, try to plan around any big events that could boost prices while you’re in town to find the best deal possible.

Google Map it.

Once you start looking at actual homes, do yourself a favor and check out the neighborhoods and streets where those homes are located. 

You might find something that’s lovely and impeccable on the inside, but if the general feel of the area doesn’t seem safe or polished to you, then maybe you should pass. Pay attention to major thoroughfares and attractions, too, so that you know if there’s a highway behind the home that might keep you up at night, or a concert hall that might be a little loud down the street. The maps can also show you which retail stores and restaurants are nearby and where the vacation rental is in regard to public transportation.

Read the reviews.

Reputable vacation rental sites will have a review section. Don’t ignore it.

Those reviews are written by other vacationers who stayed in the home. They often report on things like cleanliness, noise levels, whether the photos were representative of the home — all things you’ll absolutely want to know before you fork over money for a week in the place.

You can also see (to an extent) who left the reviews, how often they travel, how highly their own hosts rate them (a bad review from a poorly rated guest can probably be safely ignored), and then decide from there how valid you think their opinion is (or is not).

Ask about amenities.

Most rental sites will list the amenities for the property but be sure you contact the owner prior to booking if the list isn’t comprehensive. For example, confirm if towels and dishes are provided at the property, if there’s a coffee maker in the kitchen, a hair dryer in the bathroom, or if there is parking on site.

Ask about fees.

Will your host charge for additional guests, and what’s the standard cleaning fee? Can you access the vacation rental’s pool, or does that cost extra? When you’re close to deciding on a property, contact the host (if you haven’t already) and ask about any additional fees or costs associated with staying there. Not only will this help you budget, but getting an answer in writing can also protect you from any unknown charges if the host is an unscrupulous sort. Better safe than sorry.

Solicit suggestions for things to do.

Most good hosts will do this without asking, but it’s always nice to ask the people who own the home (and have presumably lived in it) for tips on things to do and how to make the most of your time in the area.

When you take the time to plan ahead, finding (and renting) a vacation home, even if for the first time, is both easy and rewarding.