If you want to immerse yourself in the local landscape and like to feel as much at home while traveling as possible, vacation rentals offer a formidable alternative to the standard hotel stay. But whether you choose a single bedroom in a bigger home or the whole house itself, a vacation rental is quite different than a hotel—so you need to employ slightly different tactics to get the most from your stay. Here are 10 vacation rental hacks to help you tap into this growing market.
Scrutinize the Listing
Few vacation rental property owners manage their properties full time, and the info you find in a listing is not always accurate, up to date, or true to life.
You’ll also want to keep an eye out for “sleeps X people” numbers that don’t line up well with the number of bedrooms. If you’re not looking to pack a couple of people onto a sleep sofa in the living room, view these numbers with caution.
Reach Out Before Booking
Due to the issues noted above, reaching out to your host directly before booking may be one of the most important vacation rental hacks there is. Beyond any questions you have, ask whether there’s anything in particular you should know before your stay; beds may have been removed, the pool might be empty, air conditioning might be limited, parking may be non-existent, or there might be other renters in the same building that might not be a good match.
It’s worth asking if the owner or others will be at the property. I once rented an upstairs floor in a beach house where just after arriving we were told that the owner’s elderly relative was staying downstairs, so could we please refrain from walking around after 8 p.m. so she could sleep? This was obviously not in the listing.
Check a Map App or Real Estate Site
While you’re at it, pull up the street view to get a realistic look at the area. Another of my favorite vacation rental hacks is to look up the area on Realtor.com, zoom in on the property, then switch to satellite view; in many places,uses actual aerial photos along the lines of those that used to make Bing Maps so useful.
and Zillow can also offer information on official square footage as well as bedroom and bathroom count as reported to local authorities, offering another way to get around fudged or optimistic property descriptions.
Older homes or apartment buildings may have limited places to plug stuff in, so packing an extension cord or power strip (or both) will help keep your stuff charged.
You might also want to bring your own coffee if it’s not mentioned as an inclusion in the listing. Sure, you could go to a local cafe, but as a friend of mine who regularly stays at vacation rentals says, “It is the first morning that you have to worry about. You are on vacation staying in a nice house, and you don’t want to have to drive around looking for your first cup of vacation coffee.” Enough said.
Review the Property as Soon as You Arrive
Much as you would do when renting a car, do a walk-through of the property upon arrival to check for damage, missing amenities, non-functioning appliances, and other issues. If the owner is not present when you arrive, register all concerns immediately by phone, text, or email. Do not leave pre-existing problems for which you could be blamed upon departure.
Get a Cell Phone Number
Make sure to ask for your host’s cell phone number, ideally before you arrive. Not only does this help ensure a smooth check-in and key exchange, but it could also be useful during your stay in case of plumbing problems, access code errors, setting off alarms accidentally, or other unexpected issues.
Use a Grocery Delivery Service
Most such services (Instacart, Peapod, Amazon Fresh, etc.) allow you to have more than one delivery address on file.
Despite my experience noted above, it might be best to wait until after arrival before placing an order to see if you will need paper towels, toilet paper, coffee filters, sugar, salt and pepper, and other items that might not already be on the premises. You can also use your Amazon Prime account to get this sort of product delivered quickly.
Look for Fun Stuff
Vacation rentals can offer all kinds of benefits that you can’t get at a hotel without paying extra—think bicycles, a private pool, dock access, kayaks, surfboards, a trampoline, playsets, strollers, even ski passes.
If you see such amenities in the listing, ask your host how to get them. There may be pool access codes, shed or garage lock combinations, and other impediments to keep the general public from plundering the resources of a given rental property. If the rental is in a condo complex or gated community, you are often eligible to use all facilities available to owners, so you’ll want to ask where they are and how to use them.
Ask About Flexible Checkout Times
There may not be another renter coming in right after you, and property owners or caretakers don’t always arrive to clean the property immediately as would occur at a hotel, so checkout times may be flexible. If the owner gives the OK, arrive early and stay late to extract the maximum enjoyment from your vacation.