Every year we do a trip to the Eastern Shore over summer break. I love everything about it. I love the sleepy little ocean town, long walks on the boardwalk, and mornings spent on the beach watching our kids chase waves, collect shells, and build sand castles. It’s one of the few places we regularly return to year after year. We have a house that we usually rent out, but unfortunately, this year it was booked solid. Grumble grumble. This means we (ok I, because I have issues and love researching these things) had to fly into research mode, to find another rental for our trip. Using a vacation rental comes with it’s own particular set of challenges. With a chain hotel, you usually know exactly what you are getting, but vacation rentals can vary wildly, and can feel a little more risky. Here are a few tips and questions to help guide you through booking your next vacation rental.
Do they include your idea of “standard amenities”?
With a hotel you know exactly what you are getting, things are not always as clear with a rental. You always want to check and make sure your rental includes the basics that you normally would just assume to be included. Don’t assume! Always make sure to double check to make sure that the basics you expect match up to the basics that are included. Does the rental have air-conditioning, a washer/dryer, a parking space for your vehicle, a private bathroom? Don’t laugh, I’ve seen rentals where the toilet was simply in the corner of the main bedroom. Most will include things like wi-fi and air-conditioning, but you don’t want to be surprised. Take the time to double check.
What are you responsible for providing?
Do you need to provide bed sheets, towels, paper towels, toilet paper, garbage bags? Many rentals do not include those things, so it is extremely important to know what you are getting into. Since we usually arrive late at night, my husband and I pack a box with our important items to unpack first, including all the sheets and pillowcases we need for making the beds (if they’re not included), and some provisions to get us through the first morning, things like some dry cereal, an clean sippy cup, and extra toilet paper/paper towel, in case we need them.
Don’t be afraid to ask the owner questions!
A quick email or phone call can help ease nerves of a first time renter. Ask them where the nearest grocery store is, will you need a car to get around, and information on some of the nearby attractions. This is also a great chance to get to know the renter. Are they quick to respond? Are they knowledgable and polite? If they take a week to reply to your email before you’ve even booked, this can be a red flag for you as a potential renter.
Traveling with a baby? Look for baby-friendly rentals!
Some rentals include items like pack ‘n plays, baby-gates, high chairs, and even a few toys. Knowing that you don’t have to pack all these can be a huge relief. Places that include these items always make it to the top of my list. Not having to lug all those things along with us always feels like such a luxury. It also lets me know that the owners have really thought about who their guests are, and how to make them comfortable during their stay. Both pluses in my opinion.
Who is going to do the cooking, the dishes during your stay?
This isn’t a question for the owner, this is a question for you, and it’s an important one, specifically if you are the person who is regularly in charge of these things at home. Make sure you set clear expectations about what you will and won’t do during the vacation. I stay at home, so I’m usually the “default parent”, and the person in charge of making sure breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are all made. But it’s my vacation too. When we stay at a vacation rental where we’ll be doing a majority of the cooking ourselves, my husband and I make sure that the division of labor is equitable for both of us. We certainly don’t keep score, but I’ve made it known that I’m not interested in being the primary cook on vacation.
If you love cooking, this may not be an issue for you, but it’s entirely possible that you and your partner may have different ideas about what a vacation looks like. If a vacation for you means having time off from the things you regularly are responsible for at home, you’ll need to make sure that your family knows this. And here’s a helpful hint, if they look surprised by the conversation, chances are they haven’t thought about it, which means that there’s a good chance they were just expecting food to fall out of thin air. Set your boundaries.
And before you book your next rental, check out my post on the Four Travel Sites You Need to Know About!
What are your top tips for booking a vacation rental? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.