10 Tips to Find the Best Short-Term Vacation Rentals
By Franki Hanke
Unlike hotels, vacation rental websites offer a wide breadth of amenities, design, and size with more potential privacy. However, with this increased breadth comes the possibility of some memorable vacations. If you’re after a high-quality experience, vet each potential vacation rental property first with these tips.
Understand the Occupancy Situation
With non-traditional vacation homes, there’s a variety of occupancy styles. On Airbnb, you’ll see this terminology:
→ Shared Room
→ Private Room
→ Entire Place
The first two options Shared Room and Private Room offer diminished privacy compared to a typical hotel room. These are often considerably cheaper than vacation home rentals.
Shared Room is similar to a hostel. You’re renting a bed, but not a private room. You’ll share the space with other renters.
Private Room is usually a guest room within the homeowner’s own private residence, though sometimes these can be guest suites with private entry. Other times they require you to travel through the house proper to your room.
Entire Place is a traditional rental property. You’ll have access to the entire house (sometimes excluding a storeroom or garage). VRBO, unlike Airbnb, only offers this type of rental.
Before you book a property on Airbnb, ensure your getaway has the right style for you. Personally, I always filter down to “Entire Place” right away.
However, sometimes, even an Entire Place booking can have more or less privacy than you’d expect. That’s why the next tip is essential.
Read the Entire Property Description
The pictures are fun, right? But the images are a showcase of the property’s best angles. The description, however, will note pertinent details like a caveat on the usage of that dreamy hot tub or how check-in works.
Consider any likely “holes” in your knowledge of the home and look for the answers in the description.
How do you access the home?
Details about the home’s access will likely be in the description from a steep hill on the drive up that needs snow tires or a lot of stairs to an upper-level loft. In one instance, we encountered a Florence rental on the fifth floor with no elevator! If we’d checked more carefully, we’d have opted for a different place but instead, we had to haul our bags all the way up!
Do they have other nearby rentals?
Sometimes, details about the occupancy situation will be hidden in the description. For example, we once rented a home with another guest cottage on-site. We didn’t realize ahead of time, and we’re disappointed by the lack of privacy from other guests so close.
Where are the owners in relation to your rental?
When looking at the description, note anything about where the owners are in relation to the rental property, shared community spaces or pools, or other rental properties on the same land. A private-looking house may have less privacy than expected!
On a girl’s weekend in Cape Cod, a seemingly private rental was surprisingly populated when the owner hosted her own friends in and out of a garage apartment! The property description likely noted she liked on the property if we’d only read carefully.
Are there any stipulations or house rules?
In addition to extra details about the amenities, the description may give context to the neighborhood’s atmosphere or any house rules that may not match your expectations. Many rentals with hot tubs, for example, will drain them for certain months of the year.
Check for Air Conditioning
Especially for warm-weather locales, air conditioning will make or break your guest experience. Once you’ve confirmed that the property has air conditioning, skim through reviews to ensure it’s not underperforming.
Look for Parking
Depending on your vacation destination, not all properties will include a parking place. Check the listing details for parking details including if there are any spots and if they are free or paid.
If there isn’t parking included, consider if that will impact your trip. If you’re landing in New York and using public transit, no parking spot won’t matter, but if you’re staying on the edge of Houston with a rental car, you’ll likely want a spot to park.
Depending on the rental market you’re searching in, parking may be hard to find. When that’s the case, put on a higher priority on location to make alternatives to a rental car easier.
Consider the Kitchen Situation
For long-term stays, one of the major benefits of a vacation rental like Airbnb or VRBO is access to household amenities beyond what a hotel offers. Namely, utilizing a full kitchen can be convenient, fun, and cost-effective.
But, before you start meal planning, consider what’s actually available.
Some listings will include a detailed list of the available items; if they don’t, feel free to message property management inquiring about the kitchen’s included dishware, cookware, and tools.
Find Amenities You Love
The right vacation rental for you will be different for everyone. When searching for available real estate, consider what would make your trip better.
→ Would you sit in a jacuzzi (or bath) after a day of walking?
Search by properties with a jacuzzi or manually find those with extra special tubs. While Airbnb and VRBO don’t allow for filtering by tubs specifically, we’ve done the leg work for Central Texas’s best bathtub rentals.
→ Will you need to do a load of laundry mid-trip?
Opt for properties with a washer and dryer so you can skip on the laundromat.
→ Are you bringing the family pet?
Check for the pet policy and read through the details for any fees or limitations. If you’re unsure, always reach out directly to check before arriving with a pet.
→ Would you use a library of family-friendly games?
Look through pictures and read the property description for any documentation of a game cabinet, billiards, or air hockey.
→ Will you spend the majority of your time out touring or on the property using amenities?
Consider looking for rentals with a private pool, exterior space with furniture, or access to sports or hikes on the property’s land if you want to stay on-site more often.
→ Do you need to charge an electric vehicle?
Some properties equip EV chargers, if not, they may allow you to use an exterior outlet.
→ Do you want to keep up with your workout routine while traveling?
Some rentals have dedicated space or even workout machines on-site. Otherwise, pack your own resistance bands set for a strength training workout without any of the bulky equipment.
Whatever would round out your trip, look for a property that specifically offers that.
Unlike hotel rooms, most Airbnb and VRBO rental services won’t include regular housekeeping or free mini toiletries, but they usually include toilet paper and linens.
If you’re booking for a longer stay, the property may not stock enough toilet paper, paper towels, and other basics for your entire trip. When in doubt, reach out to the property management and ask.
If you’re flying in for a longer stay, don’t pack overpriced mini-sizes of all your products or waste time at the store. Instead, use Amazon Prime Grocery Delivery for rapid delivery right when you arrive for your stay’s groceries and household items.
Opt for Self Check-In
Unless you love the opportunity to meet your hosts, opt for self-check-in which will use an automated option, like a passcode lockbox or smart lock, to give you access to the house any time of day without setting a specific time with the vacation rental owners. This adds flexibility and privacy.
If you’re renting a private room at the vacation rental owner’s primary residence, self-check-in might not be available.
Study the Location
Airbnb and VRBO don’t share the specific location of a property pre-booking for the safety of the owners, but they offer an approximation. Compare that map area with the location of your desired outings and the general layout of the town. Short-term rentals may look like they are in a great spot even if they are way out of the main tourist hub.
Especially if you’re relying on your own two feet or public transit, be sure you’re close enough to your main attractions before booking. If you’re hoping for a specific type of access (like walking to a beach or catching a subway stop quickly), then reach out and ask for that detail.
Don’t rely on the star count of the property alone. Spend a few minutes reading through the actual text of the reviews to compare your expectations with the details of the reviews. Oftentimes, a good review may still mention a helpful detail about amenities quality, actual privacy, and neighborhood atmosphere.
“We always encourage guests to read through the reviews as they’ll bring the most relevant, up-to-date information to ensure their experiences match their expectations,” said Booking.com Senior Vice President Arjan Dijk (as quoted by Travel + Leisure).
Pay Attention to Positive Reviews Too!
Beyond complaints, if the WiFi is underperforming, positive reviews can offer details for expectation-setting.
“We loved the quiet neighborhood!” wouldn’t bode well if you’re hoping to host a potentially rowdy girl’s weekend or an energetic family reunion.
If you’re overwhelmed scoping our properties yourself, opt for Airbnb properties run by Superhosts as properties have an extra stamp of approval from Airbnb. These are often high-end properties, but the higher prices are supported by upgraded aesthetics and amenities.
If you do the research, you’re sure to find the perfect vacation rental home for your trip, but if you’d rather take our word for it, let us know where you need rental recommendations in the comments.
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