As a mid-30’s traveler, I’ve come to love vacation rentals. I’ve done enough traveling to know what I want out of my accommodations, and in my experience, vacation rentals offer the best bang for your buck. For example, I like having my own space that is quiet and clean. I prefer to spend my money on experiences and not amenities (because I probably won’t use them anyway). I want to eat at home at least once per day so that I can save cash for an amazing brunch or highly-rated dinner. This is why I love vacation rentals, because they offer all of these experiences at a price that is comparable, or often better, than staying at a hotel.
In choosing a place to stay, I like to use a little checklist to make sure I’m making the right choice. Here’s my checklist and the things I like to consider:
Step 1: Is a vacation rental right for this trip?
While I’m a big fan of vacation rentals, they’re not always the most appropriate choice. I like to consider rentals, hotels, and hostels; there is definitely a right time and place for each. When planning my accommodations, I first take a moment to consider my priorities:
- Duration – less than five days
- Occupancy – four people or less
- Location – pretty important
- Price – highest price
- Duration – less than three days
- Occupancy – less than two or more than two non-couples
- Location – very important
- Price – cheapest price
- Duration – five days or more
- Occupancy – two or more
- Location – less important
- Price – mid range price
Step 2: Where should I start my search?
There are many ways to find vacation rentals online. My favorite is Airbnb. HomeAway/VRBO are similar and just as good (we used HomeAway for our Rome trip), but Airbnb is usually my go-to simply because it is the one I am most familiar with.
Step 3: What should I search for?
Josh is particularly picky about where he likes to stay, so I take great care in picking out the perfect vacation rental. There are several search options available on Airbnb. Here are the ones I use every time:
- Location – I narrow the map radius so that I am within ten minutes (walk or transit) of the major sights, but not actually in the thick of things where I am going to get charged extra for being in the “prime location.”
- Room Type – I have gotten better, but I do have a bit of a distrust for germs. I need my own space that I can clean to my liking, and that no one is going to touch except for me until I leave. This is why I select my Room Type as Entire Home. Don’t get spooked! Entire Home also includes studio and basement apartments. Mostly this is just my way to make sure that I have a private bathroom.
- Amenities – This piece can really limit my options, so I try to only select amenities I can’t live without (first world style) like high-speed WiFi, washing machine, dish washer, and a television with HD input.
- Price – Hotels are convenient and reliable, so if I can stay in a nice hotel for the same price, I may chose to do that over staying in a rental. The price is the make-or-break and must be at least the same price as my desired hotel or less (I rarely stay in rentals for more than $120 per night including cleaning).
Step 4: How should I request a booking?
People of the internet, please correct me if I am wrong, but from what I can tell, the hosts don’t seem to care what I write in my request letter. I started by writing beautiful, heartfelt requests, but quickly realized (based on the questions my hosts asked me later) that they never even read my request. Now I either use the Book Instantly option or I write a generic request email:
My husband, Josh, and I are visiting location on holiday. We are clean and respectful renters who enjoy experiencing local neighborhoods. We would love to stay in your beautiful apartment if it is available for the selected dates.
I suggest booking as soon as possible and sending requests to your top two choices. Keep an eye out for hosts that are quick to respond with a friendly note. If the host takes more than two days, they may be considered unreliable (imagine if it took them two days to respond to my “I lost my key and am now locked out” email).
Step 5: How do I make the most of my rental?
I’ve landed and it’s time to head to my vacation rental! Woot! Now what?
By now, the host and I have emailed back and forth and made arrangements for meeting up at the apartment. Some rentals have options to pick up the keys without ever having to see anyone, but I like to take the time to meet with the host and ask them questions.
- “What should I do if I lose my key or I have issues with the apartment?”
- The host usually gives me their local phone number, or even better, they introduce me to the complex’s super.
- How do I use the appliances?
- This may sound silly, but foreign machines can be a little different.
- Don’t forget to ask about the shower. We once had a rental with five knobs. It was a chilling experience trying to figure them all out… haha. See what I did there… chilling…
- Where is the nearest grocery store frequented by the neighbors?
- I don’t want to shop at the over-priced petrol station across the street. I want to shop at the everyday grocery store where I will find everything I need at normal prices.
- This question often inspires my host to tell me about some of the other fun neighborhood quirks.
- What is your favorite place for a cheap lunch?
- This was our million dollar question in Barcelona. The host sent us to a restaurant that was off-the-beaten path, was filled with locals, no one spoke English, the food was 100% authentic, and the prices were set for the working class.
- What is your favorite special occasion restaurant?
- I can read reviews online all day about the hottest restaurant in town. I’ll usually pick my top five restaurants for my one fancy dinner before I leave home. If my host answers with one of the five on my list, that one turns into THE one.
Once we’ve said good-bye to our host, the place is ours and I like to try and think of it as our home. Our first stop is the grocery store to pick up cereal and milk for breakfast along with some fresh-baked bread and sliced meat for a cheap snack, and a bottle of wine… because we are on vacation and we deserve it. This $20 trip to the store usually saves us a ton of money throughout the week by allowing us to skip unnecessary restaurant stops.
Last, but not least, I like to do my laundry on the last full day. I start it when I wake up, hang it after breakfast, then fold and pack it before going to bed. Now I’m packed AND I have one less thing to do when I get home. That’s a nice feeling.
Step 6: When do I get to go again?!
When I have a home away from home, my vacation gains a new layer of relaxation. The places travelers call home during their travels are so underrated. There are so many stories to be told and experiences to be had right in the hotel, vacation rental, hostel, or host family’s home. I can not wait to share the places we live with you!