Over the years, renting a house or apartment has become my favorite way to lodge when I’m on vacation. I’ve found that it’s a lot more likely I’ll get the amenities (and space!) I want, as well as the added benefits of privacy and the ability to make my own food if I wish. To be sure, renting a vacation house doesn’t work for every trip I take, but for the ones when I’ll either be with a bunch of friends or vacationing in one place for more than about 5 days, it’s an ideal solution.
I first tried a home rental a few years ago, when Joe and I were traveling through the south of France and we rented an apartment in Aix en Provence. Since then, both family, friends, and readers have often asked me how I find the places we stay in, so I thought I’d share a few tips on how to rent a vacation home in case anyone else is thinking about trying a rental and/or is planning any big trips for 2015!
1. KNOW ALL YOUR OPTIONS
It’s really incredible how many reputable vacation rental sites are available today. I always start with Airbnb, Home Away and VRBO. VRBO is technically owned by Home Away, so a lot of the listings will have crossover, but every once in a while, you find one that’s not listed on the other. If I’m considering a stay in Paris (or in the future, London, LA, New York City, or upstate New York), I always check out One Fine Stay. I got introduced to this company several years ago, and have not yet stayed in one of their apartments, but they’re gorgeous, and the amenities are awesome! Another great European rental option is Haven In Paris, which actually has properties in Paris, London, Tuscany, and southern France. I’ve also checked out listings on Trip Advisor before, though that can be trickier, because some people are really good about keeping their listings up to date, others not so much, so it can be a little more frustrating from a search perspective, when you’re already overwhelmed with information and options. If all else fails, I will just Google “vacation rentals city name” or “luxury vacation rentals city name” or some variation of that. I add in the “luxury” search term because it will sometimes return listings that have a little bit better design to them, and are better cared for. I actually found our apartment in Aix just through a Google search!
2. USE FILTERS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
Trust me, the search filters on all of these vacation rental sites are your friend. If you don’t use them and just casually browse, you will soon be overwhelmed with a huge number of apartment listings, and many that are
kind of really ugly and definitely do NOT put you in the mood for a vacay. Know your exact vacation dates? Input them into the filters. Know what neighborhood you want to be in? Add it. It seems like an obvious thing, but trust me when I say the more info you have about your trip and what you are looking for, the easier the search experience will be. I also like to use filters to add specific features I’d like in a rental. For example, on our most recent trip to Paris, I would add the search filter of “terrace” or “balcony” or “outdoor space” to my searches. Since we were going in the summer, I knew we’d enjoy evenings in an outdoor space, sipping on a glass of wine before heading out for the night. And boy, did we ever! Similarly, when we’ve planned girls weekends in Palm Springs, searching for homes that had pools was essential. Filters. They’re your friends here!
3. IF IT’S AVAILABLE, GOOGLE THE HOME ADDRESS
This can be especially reassuring if you’re renting a home in a foreign country. If the listing has an available address, or even a street name and a neighborhood, search for it on Google maps (or through a regular Google search). By doing this, I’ve discovered places that were supposed to be in the “heart of Paris” were actually 25 minutes outside the city center. Just like when someone is selling a home, property managers want to make their rentals sound super appealing, which can sometimes mean stretching the truth ever so slightly. Doing a little Googling will not only give you reassurance about where the property actually is, it can also bring up any associated reviews with the property you’re considering (because it’s entirely possible the property has been listed on a site separate from the one you’re viewing it through, which can mean customer reviews you didn’t know about).
4. CHECK FOR DISCOUNTS
Yes, it’s always worth asking! If I’m staying at a home rental for more than a week, I will always ask if a discount is available. For stays less than 7 days, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll get a “yes,” but it’s always worth a shot. For example, if you’re renting a vacation home last minute for one weekend, the person is a lot more likely to give you a discount, so they can have the property filled. They might say no, but on the off chance they say yes, it’s great for you! For what it’s worth, I have NEVER had a property manager not rent an apartment to me because I asked if any discounts were available because of a last minute rental or extended stay. If they don’t want to give it, they write back and say “sorry” with some reason as to why they can’t offer it, and I say okay and put down my deposit! No harm, no foul. In two cases though, we have gotten a discount on our extended stays!
5. READ THE FINE PRINT CAREFULLY!
Since every property has its own rental terms, it’s actually really important that you read the rental terms carefully and understand what’s expected of you, as well as any cancellation policies and fees that might be levied if you have to bail on your trip. I stayed in a house in Palm Springs with my girlfriends that required a whole litany of chores upon check out (taking trash out to the curb, stacking patio furniture just so, the works). If you didn’t complete said chores, you were slapped with a fine (note: we’re not staying there again!). Some rentals will require you to do things like gather up linens; others won’t. And of course, you definitely want to know when check out is, because if you’re still lounging around in bed and a cleaning crew busts in, it can be a little awkward. A similar situation happened on another girl’s weekend rental, when the cleaning crew arrived early and we were all still in pajamas, drinking coffee. Since we knew the fine print, we knew we had another hour or so to get packed up and get out of there, so the crew had to wait a bit. Read the fine print so you know your responsibilities, and your rights!
I hope those tips help get on your way to renting a vacation home! Right now, I’m working on planning a trip to Scotland next year, and I fully intend to check out home rentals while we are there. Joe and I have also long dreamed about renting a home in Provence or in the Rhone or Burgundy wine regions in France, and taking a vacation with a bunch of friends. I promise, once you start traveling this way, your vacation horizons broaden! Have you ever rented a vacation home before? How was your experience?
PS – all the images in this post are from listings on One Fine Stay. Aren’t they gorgeous?