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 accommodations for less than $400/night due to a major local event that coincided 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. You're also welcome to use my Airbnb referral code to receive $40 your first rental with them.
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Home Rental Companies
There are many resources available when renting a vacation home. A few of the more popular options are:
I’ve tried all 3! I've never had a bad experience with any of them. I really love Airbnb. My current personal favorite is probably HomeAway, because I’ve had so many fantastic recent rental experiences with them. Here’s one of my favorite HomeAway rentals in 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 to numerous attractions. Click on any photo to view it larger.
Save money on travel during peak travel times by renting someone’s home while they’re away. #traveltips Click To Tweet
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:
1. 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.
2. 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: A strong Wi-Fi connection (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.
TIP: A couple of the most important factors to consider when renting a vacation home are whether or not you need a pet and/or kid-friendly location, and if you prefer a non-smoking or smoke-friendly option.
3. 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 college tuition. Whenever I visit her, I set a budget of $75 – $125 per night and refuse to look outside that range to avoid temptation.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
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.
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.
7. 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.
Google's streetview feature is also a great way to determine if there are coffee shops, cafe's, or interesting shops within walking distance of your rental property.
8. 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, know that many property managers 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 come equipped with a reasonable number of towels, a hairdryer, bath tissue, and enough shampoo/conditioner/soap to accommodate the length of your stay and number of visitors you say you're bringing.
9. 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.
10. Document your arrival.
Take photos or 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.
11. 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 safety 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.
12. 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 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 with Airbnb
As previously mentioned, I've used all of the services listed above and have enjoyed amazing travel experiences with each. Feel free to use my Airbnb referral link to receive $40 off your first vacation rental with them. 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 to help others who may be renting for the first time. Happy Travels!
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Jennifer L says
Wow some amazing tips! I do most of these, but have never thought to check the different hosting sites to compare the different prices for the same airbnb. Genius!
Erin | Sand Sun & Messy Buns says
Yes, that’s a great tip we discovered about a year ago. We didn’t realize the same rental could be priced differently with different companies, but it happens pretty frequently!
Jill Fickling-Conyers says
Great tips Erin. My husband and I are planning a few trips for next year. I’m pinning this to help us plan. Thanks.
Erin | Sand Sun & Messy Buns says
Awesome! Thanks for pinning 🙂 And how exciting that you have multiple trips planned for 2018! If you’re planning to come to Savannah, I post lots of tips about the area (under the “travel” tab). I could talk about the beauty of Savannah all day long. lol
My husband and I travelled a lot this year. Would you believe that we’ve never really tried AirBnB?? I’ve heard a lot of reviews (both good and bad). The idea of having an entire house all to yourself may sound really cool, but my husband has reservations in terms of security. I guess we’ll never know unless we try booking with them, right?!
ERIN CLARKSON says
That’s true! I’m a single female and I travel alone, and I don’t have many reservations about my safety because I’m cautious and do my research. I just make sure to read the reviews and check out the google street view images first so I get a feel for the place well in advance. The amount of money I save by staying in a home rental and the ability to live like a local, get to know the neighbors, and cook my own food all make home rentals well worth it for me. Wishing you safe travels in the upcoming year!
Thank you, Erin! You, too!
Chrissy Z. @ The Brave Wanderer says
We love renting vacation homes so we can take our pup with us. And it’s really important to do your research and to know what you really want. Otherwise you might end up in a home you hate and feel uncomfortable in but have to stay there for your vacation. This is a really great and helpful post!
ERIN CLARKSON says
Thanks so much! I’m glad you found it helpful. Yes, I think it’s awesome that there are home rentals that will allow you to bring pets because it’s definitely hard leaving them at home. We have a chameleon and she can’t go on planes, so I have to get a homesitter for her whenever I leave town (by air).
Elizabeth Edgar says
This is super cool! I didn’t know that renting a home is cheaper than a hotel! I have heard of Airbnb but not the others, so I will be pinning this to use the code.
ERIN CLARKSON says
Awesome! I hope your first home rental experience is a fun one! It’s great if you’re traveling with kids because they get to enjoy all the comforts of having a yard to play in and that type of thing.
We have saved money by renting cabins and guest houses as well. I am vegan and gluten free, so it is really nice to have a kitchen to cook my meals.
ERIN CLARKSON says
I’m getting more into the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle and I completely agree! It’s so nice to be able to head to the closest grocery store and pick up healthy meals to eat when I’m in a new city.
Jessica Sheppard says
Yay! I’ve mainly used airbnb! It’s def the best way to travel. I love delevoping a relationship with the owners and going back again. I only stay with super hosts and always prefer for them to have a bunch of reviews. great tips and so helpful. It’s the only way to go!
ERIN CLARKSON says
I agree! I’ve made friends with the owners and neighbors in a couple of the cities I visit frequently and it’s so nice because they provide insider tips on the best local restaurants and hangouts. Lots of homes include guest books where you can write about your visit and you can read what previous guests have done, too. It’s fun! I get ideas for new places to visit each time I flip through one of the books.