When I started writing this, I thought, people don’t need a guide on how to find and choose a vacation rental. But then I thought, well sometimes we need to be reminded of what to look for and what’s important to us.
Part of the reason Zac and I use vacation rentals instead of hotels is the ability to cook our own food and have a work area that’s not the bed. We learned that from too many times being cramped in a room with nowhere to go away from each other and nowhere to perform our work. Sometimes this is ok, like when we have a café around the corner, but sometimes we just need space.
Listed below (not in any order) are some points to consider when looking for and selecting a vacation rental; this list could probably be used for finding hotels as well as determining if a vacation rental is the best option. I am the planner/researcher in our duo and as such have somewhat of a checklist of what a place needs to have going for it before I show Zac to help make the final determination. Here’s what I (try) to keep in mind when finding a place to stay:
1. Location. Yes the old adage for real estate is be true for vacation rentals. Location, location, location. Do some research on what is around the vacation rental you are looking for. Do you care how far the closest restaurant is (walking/driving)? I have been really lax on this one sometimes and just let the description of location be the deciding factor. This has not always worked out. For us, we like to be in the heart of things in a city – close to a lot of things we are interested in doing and definitely a variety of restaurants. We have a limit on how far we are willing to walk for food – 30 minutes. I always ask myself, if we aren’t going to make breakfast in the apartment how long do we want to walk to get some food and coffee in the morning? This tends to be the best test for us. The answer is usually not far.
2. Safety. This can be a big one for me. The only thing I do is read the reviews of a place and go with my gut. I do a little research on the overall safety of a city or place, but don’t check the neighborhood. I should because I am totally worried about safety, but I go with my gut a lot on this one.
3. Neighborhood. Look at Google street view to get an idea of what the area looks like. I know you can’t judge a book by its cover, but this will give you an idea of the density of the area, trees, shops, images of the buildings. This can help a lot when figuring out the type of area you are going to be staying in. (This will also help you when you finally navigate to the apartment from your previous destination. Be warned here in some regions of the world, Google street view can be several years outdated.) Are there markets close by where you can get some groceries? Yelp and Google have a “search nearby” feature, but you need the address first. Often the apartment rental will describe a nearby restaurant and you can go from there.
4. Photos. There’s something that bothers me about listings that have too few photos. I generally discount those because I think photos are the easiest marketing available to the apartment owner and if they aren’t confident enough to post, then I’m not confident enough to try. Maybe this is shortsighted of me, but I quickly turn away from those without many images. Also, images of the bathroom and kitchen are a must for me. These two rooms are important functional areas of the house, and I want to have a fair idea of how usable they are. If they don’t seem workable, then the listing is out. Bedroom and sitting area are also key. In the bedroom, images of the type of duvet or bedspread is super important to me. I judge these things really harshly. I don’t want to feel skeeved by a place and this is one area in which I start to remember the number of people that have probably used this bed. If the duvet or comforter is not shiny, overly textured or generally acrylic in nature, I can convince myself the place is clean. I know it’s not but this helps me. Same with sofas and chairs – fabrics and colors go a long way to helping me feel more at home and less like I am sharing with countless others.
5. Amenities. We don’t need much but the following are important amenities for us: no carpeting (allergies and I just don’t like how it feels under my feet, again the skeeve factor), wi-fi throughout the property, kitchen, washer/dryer (this is negotiable depending on the amount of time we are away from home), a workable space for yoga, a table to use for working on laptops, proper bed (I don’t want to have to use a sofa bed each night). Depending on the city or town we are looking at staying in, a patio and/or view might be nice. If you’re staying near the beach consider how close to the beach do you want to be. I have a thing with sand getting all over so I tend to be a bit further away.
6. Reviews. I have a love/hate relationship with reviews. I definitely appreciate their existence, but I try not to solely rely on what others have said. We each have our own bugaboos and agendas when writing reviews and this can create biases. I try to look at what the worst reviews are. If any of these pick on things that are really important to me, I walk away. If they’re things that I don’t care about, then I will continue to consider the listing. Also, look for the date of the review. Sometimes, the reviews aren’t organized with the newest showing first in the list (they’re often organized by highest rating). I like to know if people have had good experiences now, not 2 years ago. It is also nice to see if the reviews are consistently good. If a place seems to ebb and flow in positive/negative reviews, you may want to consider another option. (In some instances you can see the response of the apartment owner – what is their tone like? If it’s too harsh, you may be getting yourself into a pickle.)
7. Gut. Trust it. Too many times I have ignored what my first instincts are telling me because I want to be less judgmental or quick to assess. Your gut reaction exists for a reason. Don’t try to reason yourself into something.
8. Price. This is self-explanatory but if the price of the apartment seems too good to be true, it probably is. But there are some good deals out there so weigh all the other features with the price and see what makes sense. We’ve too often given up some important features to save money and it hasn’t worked out so great.
9. Host Communication. Once you have your options picked out, make a decision and let the interactions with the host be the next stage gate in moving forward. If the communication is not good or is forced, consider it a warning sign. You may need to move on to another option. As stated above, read the hosts responses to criticism – this might be very telling for how they would deal with you if an issue arises.
There’s a ton more that I am probably leaving out, but this is a good place to start. Think about the points that are most important for you and don’t compromise on those. If you must have an electric kettle for your tea, so be it.
It’ll change each time you travel as well. Learn what works and put it into action the next time. Most of all have fun. I find it super interesting to see how people live and what apartments look like all over the globe. Zac and I often joke that we feel like we are on the vacation rentals version of House Hunters. Bring on the cameras!