I'm often surprised when friends tell me they think a vacation home costs more than a hotel, because I save money when I rent a home — and often a significant amount! For example, on one recent trip, I had trouble finding hotel accomodations for less than $400/night due to a major local event coinciding with my trip. I hopped onto my home rental apps and within minutes found a fantastic home for less than $150/night! Once there, I was able to grocery shop and then cook many of my meals from the house — which saved additional funds.
Today I'm going to teach you how to rent a vacation home you'll love at a fraction of the cost of a hotel, so you'll have more money to spend on the fun stuff.
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There are many resources available when renting a vacation home. A few of the more popular options are:
I’ve tried all 3! My current personal favorite is HomeAway, because I’ve had so many fantastic recent rental experiences with them. Here’s a HomeAway rental I recently stayed in while visiting Savannah, GA:
This home was exactly what I was looking for: A charming and cozy rental in downtown Savannah's historic district that was within walking distance of numerous attractions. Click on any photo to view it larger.
How to Rent a Vacation Home
Here are a few things to consider when planning your next trip so your rental will feel more like home sweet home:
- Begin your search early! The top vacation homes are often booked months in advance. It’s best to start early, particularly if you’re seeking a rental home during peak travel times such as Christmas or the 4th of July.
- Know your needs. Determine your “must haves” before you begin house hunting to help narrow your focus. For example: A few of the non-negotiable items on my wish list are: good Wi-Fi (I blog often while traveling), a safe location (I typically travel alone), a washer & dryer (I’m a light packer), and a central location (I prefer to walk or Uber everywhere). I seek homes providing those amenities and am flexible regarding other items.
- Decide on a budget. It’s much too easy to go overboard when your search terms include an open-ended price range. For example: I’m a single mom and I’m currently paying for my daughter’s (very expensive) college tuition. When I travel to visit her, I set a budget of $75 – $125 per night and refuse to look outside that range to avoid temptation.
- Be flexible. Once you’ve determined your must-haves, you can then decide where you’re able to make concessions. Is an oceanfront view on your must-have list? If not, you'll often save hundreds on a weekly rental by staying a few blocks from the water.
- Search multiple hosting sites. It's not uncommon for the same rental to be found on multiple listing sites — and not always at the same rate. Do your due diligence and search everywhere to find the best deal.
- Read the reviews!! I cannot begin to stress the importance of reading reviews from previous renters! It’s the one step that can save you a world of stress once you arrive at your destination. I personally tend to book homes that have numerous reviews and will only stay in ones that have 4.5 or more stars. For example: I've discovered beautiful homes in seemingly perfect locations, only to read the reviews and learn the rental was situated next to a popular bar where people were up partying until 3 am or that it was in a sketchy neighborhood where the front entry light was so dark that renters felt uncomfortable approaching the house. Read every single review, then see if the management company has taken the time to comment and address previous issues. If not, find a different rental.
- Google it. Speaking of sketchy locations, that's where Google's streetview feature comes in handy. Utilize it to search the location of the home you plan to rent and scope out the area in advance. Does the neighborhood appear well-maintained? If not, find a different rental. Does that house have steep stairs or potential hazards that were creatively cropped out of the online listing photos? Again, find another rental. Trust your gut and if anything seems out of place or makes you uncomfortable, select an alternative option.
- Know what to pack. One of my favorite things about renting someone's home is that it includes many of the amenities of my own home at a fraction of the cost of a hotel. However, there are a few items you may need to bring or request in advance. Speak with a property manager to learn what's included with your particular rental. For example, if you prefer extra towels or pillows, many companies tack on additional fees for supplementary items. Food isn't included in a home rental, but kitchens are frequently stocked with the basic necessities required for coffee, plus seasonings and spices for cooking. Bathrooms should include a reasonable number of towels, a hairdryer, bath tissue, and enough shampoo/conditioner/soap to accommodate the length of your stay.
- Be courteous. Remember you're a guest in someone's home and act accordingly. Treat it as you would your own home (or better). ‘Nuff said.
- Document your arrival. Take photos or a quick cell phone video of the home as soon as you arrive and again prior to departure. You probably won't need them, but if any questions arise later you'll have evidence of the home's condition.
- Read the fine print. Renting a home is more like renting an apartment than staying in a hotel. Sign a contract that sets clear expectations, then ask the manager for a contact number in case of emergencies. (You'll be happy to have it in the rare case the air conditioning goes out or the dishwasher floods.) It's important to make note of check-in and departure times, housecleaning fees, and parking rules.You may also want to check to see if your safefy deposit is refundable, because some aren't. For example: The contract for the home pictured in the photos above included a note that cars parked on the street in front of the home needed to be moved on one particular day. It's a simple request, made necessary so city street-sweepers could do their job, but a renter who hadn't read the contract might find their car ticketed.
- Become a repeat visitor. Once you've discovered a great home in a city you like, be sure to ‘favorite' it in the rental app of your choice (HomeAway, Airbnb) so you can find it again. You'll usually receive a discount for reserving the same place twice! I always request the “friends and family” discount when I return multiple times to a property I've previously rented. I've even negotiated “non-refundable” deposits and have been given discounts on housekeeping fees, because the homeowners have learned they can trust me to treat their home as I do my own. While I can't promise the same results for you, I can say that my diligence has paid off!
Receive a Discounted Stay
As previously mentioned, I've used all of the services listed above and have enjoyed amazing travel experiences with each. I do have a referral link, which I'm happy to share with you! Use my Airbnb referral link to receive $40 off your first vacation rental with them. As of December 2016, I'm not aware of any current discount code offers with HomeAway or VRBO, but will update if they become available.
I hope these tips help you to find the home of your dreams for your next vacation! If you have additional suggestions, please comment below so you can help others who may be renting for the first time. To stay in touch or receive additional tips, please sign up for our newsletter. Happy Travels!