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Why You Should Book a Vacation Rental This Summer

Peer-to-peer rental sites are on the rise, but you have to decide if they're right for you.

U.S. News & World Report

Why You Should Book a Vacation Rental This Summer

Happy couple talking on balcony.

A hotel is no longer the only lodging option for travelers.(Getty Images)

So you want to stay at a vacation rental without second-guessing if you've made the right choice? With an increasing number of peer-to-peer rental options to pick from and millions of listings across the Web, vetting seemingly perfect residences versus a luxury hotel can be a challenging task. But with some careful planning and practical pointers from industry experts, there are tactful ways to maximize your odds of picking the best option for you. Here are top factors to take into account before deciding between a hotel and vacation rental for your next getaway.

Consider Your Travel Companions and Costs

If you're traveling with a large group or family, picking a home, rather than a hotel, is a no-brainer, says HomeAway spokesperson Melanie Fish. "You can get twice the space for about half the cost per person," she adds, pointing out that every guest can enjoy the comfort of having their own bedroom. And while vacation rental booking companies feature their own inventory, the majority of HomeAway's listings are second homes available for guests, meaning you don't have to worry about contending with a cluttered residence with a jam-packed fridge, she says.

Jen O'Neal, founder and CEO of vacation rental startup, echoes similar sentiments, noting that families gravitate toward trusted vacation rentals for a variety of reasons. First, unlike in a hotel room, in a spacious vacation home or villa parents can keep the TV on and talk to one another while the kids fall asleep in a separate room.

Another top selling point of a vacation rental: privacy. "People want to have their own space," O'Neal says, pointing out that rentals are much bigger than hotels, allowing guests to maximize comfort and value. Plus, many rentals come appointed with their own whirlpool, swimming pool or back yard, enabling guests to enjoy utter seclusion, O'Neal adds.

"As kids get older, a lot of times parents want to have a separate room," but they don't want to be floors apart, she adds. Even if you request side-by-side rooms at hotels, kids and parents are often split on different floors, contributing to extra hassle and a costly additional room. And for new parents traveling with a baby, a rental offers a stress-free environment where they don't have to worry about waking up other guests due to a crying baby in the middle of the night, O'Neal says.

Ask Yourself Which Amenities and Experiences You Prioritize Most

If you're willing to forgo the standard amenities and gracious hospitality you would expect to find in a four- or five-star hotel, staying in a rental can afford the creature comforts of home, without an expensive price tag. For this reason, many travelers opt for rentals over hotels consistently, Fish says, noting that 84 percent of travelers who booked their stay on HomeAway say they’ll use a vacation rental the next time they travel. "Every home is different," she adds, emphasizing that while it may seem overwhelming for first-time renters since they don't know what to expect, vacation rentals branch away from conventional experiences you might expect at luxury hotels.

Personalized (and affordable) touches are another major bonus of vacation rentals, O'Neal says. For example, guests can enjoy Wi-Fi access without worrying about paying an exorbitant fee. Plus, if you stay at a hotel with kids, you're practically eating out every day, she adds. "If you have a bunch of kids to feed, that can get very expensive, very fast," she cautions. In vacation rentals, on the other hand, you can pick up groceries and prepare your meals to slash costs.

Factor in the Purpose and Length of Your Trip

"There are times hotels make perfect sense," Fish says, recalling a great hotel she stayed in on a recent business trip. After all, for a quick trip, it's reassuring to count on a reputable hospitality brand with amenities you're comfortable with. But if you're traveling with a larger group or for a longer period, vacation rentals offer a more practical choice, she adds. While staying in a cookie-cutter hotel is a smart idea if you expect a certain standard of service, you can't count on the same degree of connectivity and cultural immersion as staying in someone else's home, says Andy Peck, founder and CEO of TrustedHousesitters, a site that matches pet and house sitters with pet owners to care for their animals in return for a free place to stay.

People want authentic experiences, Peck says. By choosing a vacation rental or house sitting, you can feel like you're a part of the local community, he adds, pointing out that "by going through that process of making the arrangements, a relationship forms." During your interaction, you can meet people in the neighborhood, plus you can discover places spontaneously that are off the beaten track, rather than touristy spots recommended at popular hotels, he says.

Conduct Diligent Research

Combing through vacation rental listings and reviews is critical for dodging scams and optimizing your chances of being satisfied with your choice. O'Neal points out that working with a reputable site, such as vetted companies on like VRBO, and HomeAway, is more important than seeking positive reviews from previous guests. She suggests acquiring personal details from your host to get a feel for the neighborhood and tap into local haunts. Fish echoes similar sentiments. Before you commit to a villa, get in touch with the homeowner for additional details about the home and the area, she says.

Review the Terms

After finding a residence and host that meet your needs, do your homework to ensure there are no red flags with the rental terms, O'Neal says. "We never recommend wiring money," O'Neal adds, noting that while many partner sites have their own rental terms, it's important to read the fine print to ensure you get the lodging that fits your particular needs.

And to maximize safety in the booking process, use a trustworthy reservation system, Fish says. For example, HomeAway's Book with Confidence Guarantee offers benefits, such as emergency relocation if something goes awry with the residence, security deposit protection and around-the-clock customer service. Fish also recommends connecting with the owner and ensuring the calendar is up to date. Also, if your point of contact suggests another property that isn't listed on a reputable site, that's another cause for concern, she says.

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