Ever find yourself drinking wine and snacking on cheese while holed up with your spouse in the hotel bathroom so as to not disrupt the sleeping baby? If so, you’re in good company! We have stayed at many a hotel with our kids, but shortly after our first hotel stay with a baby, we realized the standard one room hotel was not an ideal set up when traveling with young kids who need to go to bed early or nap. Although we have used points to upgrade to one-bedroom suites, they aren’t always an option in terms of location or price, and even then, space is still limited.
Cue the vacation rental! We have rented many vacation homes from a variety of different sources – HomeAway, VRBO, AirBnB, and small local management companies such as Eastern Shore Vacation Rental and Lydia Mountain Lodge & Lodge Cabins. Having rented and stayed at dozens of vacation rentals over the years, there are a few things that are absolutely critical to ensuring you have an enjoyable vacation in a setting that works for your family.
Read the Reviews!
When I start planning a vacation, I usually flag 3-5 homes that I am interested in and save them as a favorite on whatever app I’m using. Then, when I’m up in the middle of the night and unable to sleep, I scroll through the reviews. Even if there are nothing but five star glowing review, reading the reviews will provide you with tidbits of information that can help inform your stay. For example, a reviewer might mention how the laundry machine broke during their stay and the owner sent out a repair person the next morning. A reviewer might also comment on the lovely Thai restaurant within walking distance that they dined at twice during their stay.
If there are negative reviews, you will want to not only gauge whether the review is relevant but also note whether the owner responded to the negative reviewer. For instance, if a reviewer mentions that their vacation was awful because it rained every day while they were there… you can likely disregard that one star review. If a reviewer comments on the cranky neighbor with the dog that barks all night long, you might want to scratch that home off your list. And finally, if the owner responds to a review complaining about a broken screen or some item that needed repair, you not only learn that the owner is engaged, but that the owner is interested in continuing to provide a quality vacation rental.
Finally, keep an eye out for reviews from families with kids. Even if they don’t mention specifically how the house was well suited for their kids, the fact that a reviewer says “our family of five stayed at the home and had a great time!” is a good sign that the house will work for families with children.
Contact the Owner and Ask Questions!
Although I study all the photos on the individual listings with a careful eye, the photos don’t always explain everything. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact the owner or the management company and ask!
When planning our trip to Monterey, I quickly zoned in on one rental that I was very interested in. I had a difficult time figuring out the layout of the home and the description was not entirely clear either, so I contacted the owner to ask my questions and we ended up having a quick 10 minute phone conversation where he explained the layout to me. Not only did this answer my questions, but speaking with the owner directly on the phone gave me a sense of the owner’s personality and level of engagement with the home, which definitely helped persuade me to confirm the rental.
When asking questions, don’t be shy and limit yourself to property specific questions. If there is anything that is absolutely critical to you, ask away! When renting a vacation home in Hawaii, I asked what the walk to the ocean was like because the listing only said it was “a block away.” It turns out the “block” was actually a small street and an easement through the neighbor’s property. If I had not asked, I would have been disappointed upon arriving at the house because there was no clear pathway from the house to the ocean. Instead, I knew what to expect going into the trip and prior to confirming the rental.
Without exception, every single owner I have contacted with questions has been happy to answer them. It’s their business and they have every incentive to make sure not only that the house is the right fit for you, but also that you enjoy your vacation so you can leave a glowing review.
Know What’s Included
Knowing what your rental includes is important. When looking for homes in Monterey, I quickly noticed that many homes included aquarium passes for use. Thus, the homes that did not include aquarium passes were quickly crossed off my list as the included passes helped save us hundreds of dollars during our stay. In different areas, what is included can vary and typically the policies are the same in a particular area. For instance, I was shocked the first time we rented a house on the Eastern Shore because linens were not included in the base price – there was an additional $125 charge for linens or you could bring your own. When looking around, I found this was common in the area, likely because the homes are managed by a management company instead of a private owner. Long story short, know what’s included so you’re not surprised when you read the fine print later on or… when you show up for your vacation without linens and find bare beds!
Proceed With Caution
Before booking, make sure you know what you’re getting and understand that a vacation rental is not a hotel. Vacation rentals do not include daily housekeeping and turn down service so make sure you understand that. In terms of the individual booking sites, I have heard numerous stories of AirBnb rentals being cancelled at the last minute and my understanding is that AirBnb is more of an apartment sharing concept than a true vacation rental that you are likely to get from HomeAway or VRBO. Long story short, make sure you not only read the information on what’s included in the specific rental, but also read the individual website’s guarantees and policies. If you have any trouble with the individual owner, you may find yourself needing to escalate the issue with the booking site. And finally, if you can, book with a credit card that offers as many protections as you can. I personally prefer to book with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which offers trip protection.
My final tip is to kick back and relax! We have taken many amazing vacations with our kids, but our favorite vacations are the ones in which we rent a small cabin or home just a few hours away. Getting away from home provides us with a chance to take a breath and remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle of real life and juggling work and activities, but having a vacation rental allows us to have our creature comforts. Indeed, we have gotten so comfortable with traveling this way that we have mastered the art of preparing a meal to take and bake with us upon arrival.
And, the best part of these mini getaways is that we get to bring along our four legged family member!