TIPS: Before Booking Family Vacation Rentals – Is your idea of a perfect Parisian morning flinging open your iron balcony doors to peer over at the neighborhood rooftops, to the smell of coffee brewing in your small but efficient kitchen? Maybe you’ll let the children sleep in (in their own room!) and enjoy that cup of coffee before you head to the boulangerie to pick up your morning croissants. If this is your vision, you will probably appreciate an apartment over a hotel room on your next visit to Paris, or any other destination.
If you don’t have experience with vacation rentals, it can be a bit daunting. Knowing where to look, what look for, and what to ask will help ensure your rental experience goes smoothly so you can get the most out of your trip.
1. Read the reviews carefully
If you have ever used TripAdvisor.com before making a hotel reservation, you’ll know how helpful a review can be. This is even more important with vacation rentals, since individual properties are really only reviewed on the website itself. If you notice a property that looks wonderful but isn’t reviewed, contact the owner and ask them why. I recently had that experience and the owner replied that the property had a number of reviews on another website, where they tend to get most of their business.
Likewise, if you see a negative review, make sure you read it thoroughly. Some of the complaints may not be relevant to you at all (e.g., they didn’t like the color scheme, the neighborhood was too quiet, etc.) If you’re renting from a local rental company, you will also see reviews related to the management and service, which can be useful as well.
2. Check the location, location, location
Our family has had several incidents where the vacation rental was absolutely not in the swanky neighborhood mentioned in the listing but in much less desirable area barely adjacent to the one advertised. We all know what a difference a few blocks can make, especially in a big city.
In most cases, unless you’re in a “doorman building,” you will be letting yourself in and out of your rental, possibly at all hours. Always ask for the exact address before you book, then look it up on Google Maps—including the street view. And if you can, ask a local friend to check it out for you.
3. Be friendly
If you’re renting directly from an owner, you are entering a relationship that needs to be based on trust. Just as you want to trust the description and reviews of the property, a conscientious owner needs to know that they can trust you to be respectful of their property. So be friendly!
When inquiring about the rental, introduce yourself and note what you like about the property and why you’re visiting. This will open the door to a better stay for both parties. And once the owner finds out your interests, he or she may offer bonus tips and recommendations to help you make the most of your stay.
4. Check your check-in and check-out
Coordinating your arrival time is critical with a rental, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar location and lugging suitcases. You’re not going to be able to wing it. We’ve met owners in coffee shops, at train stations, and in the home itself.
On the plus side, we’ve found owners were a little more lenient on check-in and check-out times than hotels, as long as you discuss it with them ahead of time. In some cases, you may be able to drop of your luggage ahead of the check-in time even if the property is still getting cleaned.
Tip: If you’ll be arriving jetlagged early in the morning–with nowhere to stash your bags, check with the owner if you can start your booking the day before your actual arrival. It could well be worth the extra night’s fee if you can go straight from airport to your vacation rental to freshen up and get your vacation started. And in some cases, the owner may even wave the extra night’s fee and grant you the early check in time.
5. Make sure the kitchen works for you
Meals are a big reason family travelers choose a rental over a hotel. It’s nice to eat on your own schedule, cater to your picky eater, and have a real table to eat on if you just want to get take out. If you’re planning on cooking in your rental, make sure it’s properly equipped, according to your–not the owner’s–liking. Will there be appropriate pans and utensils for the kind of cooking you are planning to do? Likewise, you’ll want to know how far you are from the closest market or grocery store, especially if you’ll be without a car.
6. Shop local (for your rental)
While we’ve done well renting from the usual suspects (Airbnb, Homeaway, etc.), for longer stays in holiday areas, we prefer local agencies. Not only will you see properties not listed on the global sites, but you’ll also have a team of people with local knowledge at your fingertips. On the Water in Maine, for instance, has great listings in mid-coast Maine and excellent customer service. At Home in France is a Franco-American company that just focuses on rentals in France.
7. Check the cancellation policy
Unlike hotels, vacation rentals don’t seem to follow an industry standard when it comes to cancellations. Some require a fifty percent deposit, some require full payment up front, and others ask for payment a month prior to your stay. As another example, Airbnb has different types of cancellation policies, ranging from flexible, which gives you a full refund up to twenty-four hours before your stay (minus the service fee), to super strict, which only allows a fifty percent refund thirty days prior to your stay. If you’re at risk of losing much of a deposit, make sure to get a travel insurance plan that would cover this loss just in case (remember Allianz covers kids under 17 years free).
8. Consider a family-focused vacation rental company
When you’re traveling with babies and toddlers, the accompanying paraphernalia can be a bear to lug around. Between the pack and play, the stroller, the high chair, and the must-have toys, it feels like you might as well bring a moving van and settle in forever. Enter Kid and Coe, a vacation rental company that caters specifically to families. They not only make sure that the vacation rentals are safe and in family-friendly neighborhoods, but they can also provide all the baby equipment your little one might need.
9. Don’t rule out luxury
Don’t assume rental properties cater only to those willing to forego luxury to save a little money over hotels. Dig into the luxury rental market and you’ll find spectacular properties with high-end finishes, fine linens, and outstanding service.
One Fine Stay has vetted properties in over one hundred and eighty destinations worldwide. The Virgin Limited Edition collection includes three exquisite villas in Mallorca. For swoon-worthy Italian properties, including fabulous apartments in Venice and villas on the Amalfi Coast and Tuscany, you can do no better than Excellence Villas.
For more inspiration, see the feature at our sister site, Castles Fit for a Kid: Three unforgettable family-friendly villas in Europe.
10. Know what to do in case of emergency
Even in the best of properties, things can and do go wrong. Toilets get backed up. Heaters/air conditioners suddenly stop working. Before you rent, make sure you know who to contact if you have any trouble in your rental.
If you’re renting from a professional management firm, find out if they’re local and if you have twenty-four hour access. If you’re renting directly from the owner, find out from them what the procedure is in case of emergencies, big or small.
A friend of mine who runs an Airbnb recently got a call that there had been a water main break at her (local) property. She quickly arranged for her tenants to use showers at the local gym for the day until the situation was fixed, which thankfully happened quickly.
Find yours! Browse family vacation rentals around the world with VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) and HomeAway.com.
You might also like:
Six Great Maui Vacation Rentals for a Multi-Gen Family Vacations
How to Build a Budget-Friendly Maui Family Vacation
Ten Ways to Live Like a Local During Family Travel
Five Travel Laundry Hacks for Families
California with Kids: Ten Unforgettable Family Vacation Ideas
Six Amazing Ireland Family Vacation Destinations
At TravelswithBaby.com: Castles Fit for a Kid: Three unforgettable family-friendly villas in Europe