How to Choose the Perfect Vacation Rental

Hotels can be expensive family vacation options. Often times a vacation house rental can be a more cost-effective way for families to travel.  If you are looking to spend less, have more room and even an oceanfront view, consider a home rental for your next vacation.

I like to thoroughly research vacation houses before I book. Whether it is a condo on the Gulf Shores of Alabama or a villa in Costa Rica I do my due diligence before signing the rental contract. For the last few years, I have found the best vacation homes using these tips on any of the best vacation rental sites like VRBO or Airbnb.


Read the Reviews

The best advice comes from someone who has already stayed at the vacation house rental. Prior renters offer valuable insight about the home that is oftentimes more than you will get from the listing description. This is important because you want to know when you show up at your beach house, that everything is as you expected.

The home we rented in Governor’s Harbor on Eleuthera in the Bahamas was exactly as the pictures depicted. Reading the five-star reviews ahead of time confirmed that we wouldn’t be disappointed with our rental choice.

Tops house Eleuthera

Use Google Maps

The last thing you want to find is construction going on next door while you are trying to relax on summer vacation. You’ll also want to see the true proximity to your neighbors. Listing photos don’t always accurately portray how close they may be.

The first summer we rented a house by the beach in Cape Cod we wanted to know just how far the “easy walk to the Atlantic Ocean” would be. We found by looking at Google satellite maps that while the rental house is close to Nauset Beach, you are still quite a walk to the actual ocean. It required going to the end of the road, cutting through a hedge, and then trudging over a dune to actually get to the beach. With families and a lot of beach gear, this was important to know.

Walk to Nauset BeachCorrespond with Vacation House Rental Owner

Every time we rent a house we contact the owner prior to our arrival. They are always responsive and incredibly helpful. I usually have questions about the kitchen. I like to ask about which items are already in the pantry. Although we usually stop at the grocery store before we arrive at our rental home more often than not, the houses already have items like salt, pepper, spices, cleaning supplies, and coffee filters. One of our favorite vacation rentals in Truro on Cape Cod even came with a stocked wine refrigerator. The owner simply asked that you replace what you drank.

Truro Vacation Rental

Inquire about Wi-Fi

At this point, I’d be surprised to find and vacation home that didn’t have an internet connection. However, the strength of the signal can vary. We once rented a house where the router was located deep in a corner of the basement which resulted in only being able to get wi-fi if you were standing directly in the room above it. This may not be important to everyone, but if you work while you are on vacation, or have teens that need to be connected all the time, you’ll want to check on this.

We had trouble with the wi-fi in the flat we rented one summer in Edinburgh. However, the property manager sent someone within 15 minutes of our phone call to remedy the problem. He was prompt, kind, and courteous.

Edinburgh Vacation Rental

Ireland Vacation Rental

Taking all of my own advice, I found this outstanding property on the Ring of Kerry for a multi-generational trip with my parents. I communicated with the owner of the Caragh Lake House owner for several months to iron out all the details. He has even created his own website to help visitors plan their trips. It has suggestions for day trips, where to go food shopping and places to rent boats and bikes. I wish more vacation home rentals had this type of information available. It certainly makes travel planning easier.

This house made our Best Vacation Rental Homes Around the World list.Caragh Lake Vacation Rental

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by VRBO. However, it reflects the honest opinion of my experience without outside influence.

Photo Credit: South of France and Ireland photos are courtesy of VRBO.

Commenting area

  1. Very cool and helpful travel tips, Dana. So, does the website list the street address for properties? Or do you request it? The giant vacation rental websites do not tell you addresses until you make a booking, although I guess one could request the street address.

    • Dana Freeman May 17, 2017 at 3:33 pm · · Reply

      On Homeaway if you scroll down to the bottom of the listing there is usually a map with a pin dropped where the house is located. I like to zoom in and switch to the satellite view. You can also correspond with the owner/property manager prior to booking if you and request the address.

  2. Great advice! We use vacation rentals a lot and I’ve learned to read everything VERY carefully. I not only map it, I use Google Earth to check out the look of the neighborhood.

    • Dana Freeman May 19, 2017 at 8:30 am · · Reply

      Being thorough usually results in the best experience. And yes to google maps/earth to check out the surroundings.

  3. @Charles McCool as you suggested the “giant vacation rental websites” do not list direct contact information of the owner, nor addresses of the location until you make the inquiry directly with the owner. All contact is then kept within and controlled by the web-platform of the large listing sites, whether, HomeAway, AirBnB, VRBO and many others.

    HOWEVER–Some owners and property managers who are listing site independent also have their own websites that provide lots more information about their homes, including their address and direct contact information. Further, by seeking out the owners and booking directly with them you can save a BOATLOAD of money by skipping the listing sites’ added fees- as much as $499! The listing sites will insist that it is safer to use their platforms- but that’s primarily a marketing thing.

    @Tamara- Brilliant suggestion to use google to check and double check the home and owner/operator with whom you plan to book. It also helps prevent being scammed. Another suggestion is to do a google search of the image or even the text of the home’s description home in the listing site (for photos use google images). The more you can double check a home’s online presence the more assured you can be of its legitimacy and put money back in your pocket by booking directly. You can book safely off listing sites, save money and establish an excellent rapport with the owner when you book directly.

  4. Your photos are beautiful, and I would be content to follow your travels and try everything you did! Thank you for these wonderful tips!

    • Dana Freeman May 22, 2017 at 9:31 am · · Reply

      Thank you Robin! You are more than welcome to tag along. I spend a lot of time researching the houses we rent. It is important to me that they are nicer than my own so it feels like I am on vacation.

  5. Love all these tips! We are renting a HomeAway property in Prince Edward Island this summer and are looking forward to the experience. We’re also headed to Ireland in the fall, so looking forward to following your trip! Enjoy!

  6. We LOVE Vacation Rentals. As we have grown to a family with 5 kiddos it has been one of the easier ways for us to travel. We used vacation rentals all across Europe, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Palm Springs and Colorado so far and have had amazing experiences. I would say that reviews and corresponding with the owner are super important. Great Tips!! Happy Travels!!

  7. I think you made a great point how speaking with the owner is a good idea. I especially liked how you ask what items are in the pantry and kitchen prior to your vacation. I’ve been looking at renting a vacation home for my family this summer, so these tips are all really helpful!

    • Dana Freeman May 26, 2017 at 3:21 pm · · Reply

      I am so glad you found it helpful. With the pantry items, my experience has been that there is always stuff there already, especially if you rent later in the summer season. You can save a lot of money if the house has garbage bags, paper towels, laundry detergent, coffee filters, oil, vinegar, spices, etc.

  8. Over the last year or two I’ve seen and heard a lot more about vacation rental homes and people using their homes as one as well as people using them for their advantage. I like the tips you gave on finding a rental home to use. I’m weary to take advantage of these kinds of services but by taking your suggestions to hand, I could benefit! Reading reviews is super important. You have see from others firsthand their experience and if it’s somewhere they would return to. If I’m ever looking for a vacation and not wanting to stay in a hotel, I’d definitely benefit from a vacation condo or home rental.

    • Dana Freeman June 1, 2017 at 10:41 am · · Reply

      Kourtney it is great that you found these suggestions helpful. We really enjoy renting houses/apartments when we travel with our kids, friends and extended family. I’d love to hear back from you about your first experience should you decide to vacation this way. Best of luck!

  9. My husband and I are wanting to find a vacation rental for our summer trip but since we haven’t done this before we need some advice. It’s good to know that one way we can find the right one is do some research on the different areas we would like to go. That way we can determine if there is a home in the place we would like to go, and be able to choose the right one for us.

  10. I loved when you talked about how reading the reviews from someone that has been to the vacation rental you are considering can help you make sure you choose the best one. It makes sense that taking the time to do a proper research can help you reduce the stress of this situation and rest assured you have chosen the best rental house for your family to have fun. As I see it, understanding what you need and coming up with an appropriate plan can help you know what you need to look for in order to stay safe and comfortable while you enjoy your vacation and the place where you will be staying.

    • Dana Freeman July 10, 2017 at 5:08 pm · · Reply

      We always check the reviews before we rent. We love hearing about how others have enjoyed the property and what insider tips they might have about the area.

  11. My wife and I have been shopping around for beach houses we could take our family to this summer, and something I wouldn’t have thought about was wi-fi. I’m going to want to have access to the internet when we’re at the beach houses, so being able to make sure that we get a good connection in the rental would be nice. I’ll have to be sure that we ask about wi-fi in the beach houses, and see if that helps us make a good decision!

    • Dana Freeman July 13, 2017 at 1:43 pm · · Reply

      I am glad you found that tip useful. Some people go on vacation to disconnect but for others being on-line is important no matter what. Good luck finding the right rental for you and your wife.

  12. This summer, my husband and I are looking for a nice getaway for just the two of us. We are thinking of getting a cottage rental, but want to make sure we choose the right one. Like you suggested, we’ll be sure to read reviews since prior renters offer valuable insight about the home.

  13. These are helpful tips for finding a vacation rental! My family has decided that we want a more luxurious rental space, so we’ll take your advice. Checking Google maps for things like construction is a great idea!

  14. It really is quite important to read over the reviews before choosing a vacation rental. After all, your vacation is meant to be your time to relax and take a load off. Because of that, you want to make sure that the rental you choose is in good shape and well-maintained so that you do not have to worry about it.

  15. It is smart to ask about the Wi-Fi options when looking for a vacation rental. My husband and I want to find a fun place to visit this summer, but it is essential that we have internet access. I will be sure to ask about this when choosing accommodations.

    • Dana Freeman March 28, 2018 at 7:31 pm · · Reply

      Despite trying to unplug as much as possible while on a vacation, I know wifi is important to some families when they travel. The last house I rented in Costa Rica had great wifi if you were standing in the kitchen! If you went up to the second floor you had no connection at all. This didn’t please my teens.

  16. It sure is nice to know that checking the reviews provided by the previous renters of the property offer valuable insight into the home and even give more information than what was provided in the listing description. My family wants to have a short vacation away from hotels and the city, and vacation rentals came to mind. Knowing this, I will be more mindful of the reviews provided by people so that I can choose the best vacation rental for our short getaway.

  17. I agree that it’s a good idea to contact the owner of the vacation home prior to arrival to know if there are things you need to purchase from the grocery store. My wife and I have planning to go on a vacation this summer for our wedding anniversary. We’ve been looking for a good vacation rental, and we once we find one, I’ll be sure to contact the owner like you suggested.

    • Dana Freeman May 21, 2018 at 8:11 pm · · Reply

      I appreciate knowing what is there before I buy duplicate staple items like salt and pepper or cleaning supplies. Happy Anniversary!

  18. Thanks for the tips on finding the perfect summer vacation rental. Reading reviews really is a great way to find out more about the everyday workings of a rental. You can learn a lot about how a rental works and how nice it is from someone who has actually stayed there.

  19. I do like that the article recommends reading up on as many reviews as you can when choosing a vacation rental. After all, you want to make sure you are choosing a good one that caters to all your needs. Since it is not likely that you’ll be able to visit the rental in person you’ll have to rely on reviews to get an idea of what it is like.

  20. Thanks for sharing with us that doing a research and creating a favorite list like that in the HomeAway will serve well in our search for a vacation beach rental. We have a plan to have a holiday on a beach and your idea shared will save time and help us find one quickly. We are already looking for one also that will match with our budget plan.

    • Dana Freeman November 3, 2018 at 12:32 pm · · Reply

      I am glad you found it helpful. There are rentals for everyone’s budget! Hope you find what you are looking for.

  21. You’ve got some helpful tips for choosing a vacation rental. I like how you said that using Google maps is a good way to scope the surrounding area out. We’re hoping to travel more next summer, so I’ll remember that as I start looking at options!

  22. Thank you for pointing out that there is no better advice than from someone that has stayed at the location. I’ll have to keep this in mind as I search for the right house to rent while my family is vacationing next month. Hopefully, I can do some research and find the best house for us.

  23. Thank you for all these great tips. We especially need Wi-Fi when we travel, so we always ask about it but I’m sure many people forget to.

  24. You made a good point that having internet connection is an important thing to look for when finding a vacation condominium rental. Even though I’m planning to have a staycation someday, I still want to make sure that I can reply to emails in case something comes up at work. I would not be able to relax when I don’t have internet access during a vacation because I would just worry too much about work.

    • Dana Freeman November 23, 2020 at 8:20 am · · Reply

      Isn’t it such a catch 22? We are supposed to be on vacation yet the constant nagging feeling of falling behind with our work keeps us from completely unplugging. This is sometimes why I choose a Windjammer vacation 🙂

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