How to Book a Vacation Rental Like a Pro

I’ve personally rented vacation homes around the world and know it can be intimidating to branch out from the reliable and safe hotel scene. Vacation rental homes can be a fantastic alternative to hotels. Here are some tips to help you book the best vacation rental.

Advantages to Booking a Vacation Rental Home

Additional Space
Sometimes it is nice to have more space than what a hotel can offer without having to pay the hefty rates that come with booking a suite. This is also great if you are traveling with a larger group because you can all be closer together. With a hotel you have to worry about if they are able to accommodate rooms next to one another or even on the same floor. And you have additional living space to hang out!

Feel Like a Local
One of my favorite things about a vacation rental home is feeling like I’m actually living where I am visiting. You are able to immerse yourself better in a place and stay in some pretty unique areas that probably wouldn’t be able to accommodate a hotel.

Don’t like the idea of people being able to access your room on a daily basis? Then a vacation rental is perfect. Yes, you don’t get turn down service or fresh towels every day but you also feel like a space is yours. Also, many listings have contact-free check in making everything easier and less time consuming.

Vacation Rental Websites

While once there was pretty much just Airbnb, there are now multiple websites that you can book vacation rental homes on. Here is a list of some of the top ones:

The OG of vacation rentals. The website is easy to use and has properties worldwide. Use the link above to get $65 off your first booking.

Stands for Vacation Rentals By Owner. Vrbo was acquired by another vacation rental site, HomeAway, and then was acquired again by Expedia. So now, Vrbo is an Expedia company and homes can be found on both and Expedia.

It’s like a hotel and a vacation rental had a baby. Unlike Airbnb, which is mainly made up of individuals renting out their homes, Sonder is a property management company and is licensed as a hotel. It also has impressive discounts for extended stays.
This site is actually the parent company of Kayak, Priceline, and Agoda – and other travel sites. It has probably the largest inventory of rental properties out of all the sites listed here.

This is a property management company rather than a listing service for owners. It is a limited inventory and only covers U.S., Europe, Central and South America, and South Africa.

This is a search engine that pulls vacation rental listings from multiple sites. Makes it a bit easier than going to each site individually.

Branching out from just being a site for travel reviews, you can also search listings from FlipKey, Holiday Lettings and Niumba which are all owned by TripAdvisor.

Google Hotels
Similar to Hometogo, the Google Hotel site now pulls vacation rentals from multiple sites. I really love Google Hotels because you can look at both hotels and vacation rentals giving you an idea of price comparison between both options.

Love Home Swap
This is a worldwide home exchange site allowing people to “swap” homes for a vacation. And, no, you do not need to be swapping homes at the same time.

Things to Keep in Mind

As always, I’m going to encourage you to do your research when selecting a vacation rental. Here are some things to be sure you are checking when you are getting ready to book:

Compare prices
Are you getting the best deal when booking a vacation rental over a hotel? Check those prices. There is also a lot of cross posting on some of these sites so don’t be afraid to see if the same property is listed someplace else for a lower price. Don’t forget to include any fees when doing this!

Read the reviews…
…And believe them! I like to say that there are only two times that people are compelled to leave reviews and that is either when they have had a fantastic experience or a terrible one. Also, if an owner has multiple properties, read the reviews for their other properties because that will give you some insight into how they may handle any issues with their vacation rentals. Another tip that goes along with this is that many rental sites have special badges that they award particularly excellent hosts and properties. For example, Airbnb has “Superhosts,” designating an outstanding and reputable account. Probably the most important tip is to trust your gut, if something seems off – it probably is!

Pay attention to the fine print
There are extensive lists of amenities on each of these sites. Make sure everything you need is included. This means, wifi, air conditioning, heck even towels! If you get to a place and assume they have something that wasn’t listed you are going to be out of luck.

Have a back-up
While annoying and disappointing, there is always a chance that your rental could be cancelled or even worse, be terrible when you arrive. Because this isn’t a hotel, it’s not like they can just put you up in another room. Have a few other options in your back pocket and also look up the site’s cancellation rules to find out what your rights are in case this does happen to you.

Keep communication on the site
Make sure you are always communicating with the owner/property manager over the site you are booking from. This gives you protection in case anything goes wrong. There is a record of your chat and money that exchanges hands. Do not pay outside the app, you won’t be able to get any help if it is a scam.

A few more notes about communication…
If you have a question about something on the rental, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. Bonus tip: Don’t be afraid to negotiate on price, especially if you are planning on staying someplace for an extended time. The worst they can say is no, but you won’t know until you ask.

When you arrive

Take photos
When you arrive take photos of the condition the rental is in and then again when you leave to show how you left the place. This gives you backup in case anything was missing from the listing and protects you from any fraudulent damage claims. You gotta have those receipts in case anything happens!

Do a walkthrough
Make sure that everything that was promised in the listing is there and if it is not message your host as soon as possible. The longer you wait the less likely you are to get the missing item or get a refund if something is really off. If your host is unresponsive, reach out to the site’s customer service directly.

Be courteous
You are on someone else’s house, whether that’s their home or investment property so make sure you are acting like a good guest. Don’t forget that on a lot of these sites you are being reviewed as well!

Write an honest review
After you leave, make sure you write an honest review. Just like how you relied on reviews to make your choice, pay it forward to the next guest who is looking at that booking.

Follow these tips and soon you will be a vacation rental pro!