Beginner’s Guide to Vacation Rentals

If you’re a frequent traveler, you probably have realized how many options are out there for accommodations these days. There have never been more hotels, and even smaller properties like motels and B&Bs have legions of loyal customers who come back again and again. Then, there are more personalized options like couch surfing, or vacation rentals, which offer you the personalized comforts of home at a modest price point.

If you’ve never booked a vacation rental before, the process may seem a bit intimidating. Staying in the home of someone that you’ve never met can initially be a bit nerve-wracking. You probably have a lot of questions about the property, your stay there, and the amenities that come with it.

Fortunately, booking a vacation rental property has never been easier, and there are so many websites out there to help guide your search. Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO all get millions of inquiries every month, and have hundreds of thousands of properties to choose from. You don’t need to be shy about asking your host for help since they’re there to assist you. Plus, the messaging features on these websites make inquiries simple and easy. In fact, many websites even use in-app translation to make sure that both parties, regardless of their language, can understand each other.

Here are some tips to help you book the perfect vacation home for your next holiday.

Find the right site for you

There are so many different options for vacation rental sites, and it may seem like all of them list similar properties. However, if you’re really looking for a good bargain or are on the hunt for a perfect place, you should definitely do your research, and search through a few different websites first. Input your dates and do a search to see how many properties they have available in your chosen location. Then, compare the prices on each website as some sites charge customers higher fees, which you should factor into your decision.

Read reviews

Once you’ve found a property listing on a site that works for you, the first thing you should do is read the reviews. The price may be right, and the location might be fabulous, but if you’re going to spend the entire time fighting for hot water or battling bugs and vermin, it’s going to put a real damper on your holiday.

Reviews on sites like Airbnb and VRBO are generally accurate. Hosts also write reviews on their guests, and this policy does a pretty good job of preventing extortionist or overdramatic reviews. If a property has stellar review after stellar review, it’s probably a safe bet.

Talk to a travel agent

If you’re intimidated by the sheer breadth of options for your next vacation rental or just don’t have the time to choose one yourself, there are many travel agents who specialize in vacation rentals that can help you out. Many listings are exclusively available to travel agents and come with added levels of protection like in-person inspections.

For a small commission, a travel agent will be able to help you choose, then deal with the minutiae of booking the property for you. Travel agents may also be able to snag deals for you based on their relationships with rental owners and property managers that you could have never gotten otherwise.

Book in advance

If you know the dates of your holiday well in advance, the best thing you can do to ensure the optimal vacation rental is to book well in advance. Many popular vacation destinations book up early, which generally leaves only the priciest listings available.

Recent data that was made available from the vacation rental giant HomeAway suggested that all the most popular listings for the summer travel season would be booked up as early as April 1. For Christmas holiday listings, you’ll want to have your rental locked down before the end of October.

Ask about the amenities

Before you start your search for the perfect vacation rental, it’s a good idea to make a list of all the amenities you can’t live without.

Unlike a hotel, there are all sorts of accommodations available in the vacation rental market, ranging from shared rooms to large and luxurious private homes. Unlike hotels, there are no standard set of amenities available in the vacation rental market, meaning you have to confirm with each listing individually.

Depending on the vacation you’re booking, different amenities, like a full kitchen and laundry, are integral. Check with each listing to see whether they have what you need, and if you aren’t sure, you can always ask the host!

Protect your funds

No host on any vacation rental website should ever ask you to pay them separately. All of your payments should go through the site, which ensures that you’re protected by their insurance and terms of service, as well as cancellation and refund policies. If any host asks you to pay them through a different method like PayPal or bank transfer, there is a real possibility you’re walking directly into a scam. If someone asks for payment outside of the site, you should report them to the site moderators immediately.

Ask to see photos

Most rental listings nowadays come with tons of professional photos. After all, it’s the best way to ensure that your listing stands out from the crowd.

If you find a listing that you like that doesn’t have any photos, reach out to the host and ask for some. If they’re unable to supply you with any photos, the place is either a dump or a scam, and you should definitely avoid booking that rental.

Make sure to read your contract

One of the great things about renting a vacation home through a booking site is that you’re protected by their terms of service and cancellation policy if anything goes wrong. The only down side of this is that if you agree to a contract with your host without reading the fine print, you are still liable for payment. Make sure to read everything that you’re agreeing to before you put any money down.

Ask about their cancellation policy

Another important policy to read in detail is your listing’s cancellation policy. Cancellation policies range from flexible to long-term and specify exactly when you would have to cancel in order to get a full or partial refund.

If your holiday is in flux, you may want to book a rental with a flexible cancellation policy, in case you’re forced to modify your schedule. Most sites make it easy to cancel or modify your reservation with just a few clicks.

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