Guide to Choosing the Right Vacation Rental

This informative guide will explain the who, what, where, when and why of vacation rentals and offer advice for making the wisest choice on your next booking.


Guide to Choosing the Perfect Vacation Rental


When it comes to travel (okay, who are we kidding, when it comes to pretty much everything), access to the Internet has opened up a brand-new world of possibility. With the ability to essentially act as your own travel agent, planning and booking trips has become more accessible than ever before. But with so many websites to sift through, all claiming to have the best discounted airfare, cheap hotel rates and vacation rental deals, finding reliable, comfortable, and affordable accommodation can feel a little daunting.


There’s a reason – actually, a lot of reasons – that so many travelers are turning to vacation rentals instead of standard hotels. Vacation rentals are great for group trips (thanks to multiple bedrooms), budget travelers (skip the dinner bill with at-home kitchens), and unique experiences (each rental is one-of-a-kind).



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If you’re interested in booking a vacation rental using a service such as AirBnBVRBO, or HomeAway, but feel as though you’re wading through unfamiliar territory, here are some tips that can help you find the perfect place to stay.


First, begin by breaking down the details of your trip and asking yourself the following questions:


Who is going on this trip with you? Determine the group’s needs, both as a whole and individually, when browsing through homes to rent. If you’re traveling solo, maybe you just need a private room or studio. If you’re bringing the entire family (kids, grandparents, pets, etc.), you’ll find that suitability features, such as a pack ‘n play, ADA accessibility, and a pet-friendly policy are your top priority.


Family on the beach


What is the purpose of your trip? Narrowing down the reason for your vacation is an essential step in deciding which amenities are most important for you. Are you looking to get away from it all and relax? If so, a secluded vacation rental off the beaten path might suit you. Or, do you have big plans for sightseeing and exploring, and would prefer a no-frills space in a convenient location?


Where do you want to stay? Visiting a big city doesn’t mean you have to stay in the middle of it all; in fact, if you don’t mind a bit of commute time, you’ll often find cheaper, cozier, and homier vacation rentals on city outskirts. If you’d rather not worry about transportation, your perfect vacation rental will be within walking distance to beaches, dining, shopping, and other appealing attractions.


NYC and lake house


When are you traveling? A lot of rentals utilize dynamic pricing, meaning it fluctuates depending on dates, and certain amenities can be offered seasonally, as well. Are your dates flexible, or is there a certain holiday/event you’re planning for? If you have a little more leeway in your trip dates, traveling during the destination’s off-season is always helpful for saving a bit of cash.


Why have you chosen a vacation rental? Consider why you’ve chosen a rental over a hotel, and make your decision based off those needs and wants. If you’re most excited for spending quality time with family, a game room, large living room, or outdoor entertainment space (patio with a pool, grill, etc.) will be most appealing to you. If you’re drawn to the idea of cooking homemade meals, you’ll want to ensure the rental has a full kitchen with all the appliances you need.


Boy in pool


So now that you have a better understanding of what kind of vacation rental you’re looking for, it’s time to start the search. 


The vacation rental market is booming, and certainly not without reason. A comfortable, homey type of accommodation is quickly becoming a favorite for travelers.


Choosing Wisely


Whether you’re booking an 8-bedroom beachfront home for your next family reunion or reserving a romantic getaway to a quiet cabin in the woods, it’s important to know how to read rental listings and ensure you’re booking the perfect place for your trip.


Here are a handful of tips on what to look for, what not to miss, and how to squeeze out every last drop of information when browsing listings on websites such as AirBnBVRBO, or HomeAway.


Read the description. Although pictures can be very telling, they can also be a little misleading. Homes can look bigger, brighter, smaller, or darker, all depending on angles, lighting, camera quality, etc. Be sure to browse through all the pictures to get a good idea of the home, but then also be sure to read the description provided. That’s where you can find specific details, such as square footage, bed size, and location details that you may have missed otherwise.


Review the policies. Vacation rentals are often owned by individuals, who will have their own set of rules. Some owners may be a little more lenient, such as allowing pets, being okay with smoking (although usually only outdoors), and even allowing events such as weddings or reunions. Other times, however, homeowners can have very strict rules or guidelines that may conflict with the plans for your trip. To avoid any trouble on either end, don’t forget to read over their specific house rules before booking.


Double-check the amenities. Although there are standard expectations when staying at a hotel (towels, linens, toiletries, hairdryers, etc.) the essentials for vacation rentals can vary between owners. Sometimes you have to bring your own bed linens and towels, or find street parking if there is no available driveway. Instead of expecting all your basic essentials to be there, be sure to double-check the amenities listed on the page. This can range anywhere from kitchen appliances to laundry facilities – all important details you won’t want to overlook.



green towels


Trust other travelers. Reviews can be one of the most helpful parts of a vacation rental listing! While the homeowner is no doubt trying to upsell their property and make it as appealing as possible, previous renters are much more likely to give an honest summary of their experience. If you see a trend of poor reviews, bad remarks about cleanliness, and unhappy visitors – trust them! And know that it may be wise to look elsewhere. On the flip side, if there is overwhelmingly positive praise for this property, you can book with more confidence that this is an experienced rental owner, and expect that your experience will be pleasant, too.


Ask questions. Have you already combed through all the listing details explained in the steps above, but still have questions? Maybe you’re traveling with your elderly mother, and can’t determine if there are grab-rails in the shower. Perhaps the property says it’s “walking distance” from the beach, but you can’t tell if that’s a 5 or a 30-minute walk – and when you’re traveling with toddlers, that time matters. Most vacation rental websites, including AirBnBVRBO, or HomeAway, allow you to ask questions prior to booking. This is a great feature to utilize so you can clear up this confusion before making your decision.


Woman with cell phone and laptop


With so many options, and such a surplus of information, vacation rental websites can be overwhelming. With these above tips, along with the guidelines to selecting the perfect place for your needs, you now have a better understanding on how to navigate these rental listings and make an informed, conscious decision for your next vacation.


For a free printable bucket list vacation planner, check out our resource library.


12 thoughts on “Guide to Choosing the Perfect Vacation Rental”

  1. Awesome tips! We almost exclusively book our vacations (when not on a cruise ship?) with AirBnB. We haven’t had a negative experience yet!

    1. Thanks Lisa. That’s great to hear! I think AirBnB gets a bad reputation because it’s only the horrible experiences that we hear about. Maybe you can give me some cruise tips – cruise ships scare me! lol

  2. Great information! We love using vacation rentals too! Walkability is always one of my top deciding factors!

    1. Thanks, Sarah! I completely agree on walkability. My favorite places to rent are all steps from a beach!

  3. We have used vacation rentals for nearly every vacation we have taken. We enjoy doing the research to find a place that is going to meet the needs of our family. For anyone new to the idea of renting something other than a hotel, this is an excellent guide to help them brainstorm and get started.

    1. Thank you! Research is so important. Recently we wanted to get away but our dog sitter fell through. We took our 2 dogs with us and had an amazing time.

  4. I have never used one of these services. You’ve given some important points to consider. For example, I wouldn’t have thought I might have to bring my own sheets and towels. I’m still wondering about overall safety. I’d be interested in a comparison of private rentals versus hotels in that respect. Probably a Google search can turn up that information.

    1. Hi Fran, I understand your safety concerns. That’s why reading reviews is important. I wouldn’t stay anywhere without glowing recommendations.

  5. Nine times out of ten I choose to stay in a hotel unless it is a huge group. Your post helped walk me thru (mentally) all the steps needed in order to make a good choice on a rental. I now feel wayyyy more comfortable considering a rental over the standard hotel options.

    1. Thanks Tiffany – there are definitely times when a hotel is just what I’m looking for and other times when it’s not. We visit a particular lake and rent a home there each time. I can’t imagine having as much fun on the lake if we were staying in a nearby hotel…it would be a whole different experience.

  6. Great post! Very informative and really appreciate the attention to detail. You hit on all of the points one needs to consider prior to booking a vacation rental. Looking forward to reading more of your blog!

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