One easy way to save dollars while adding stamps to your passport: vacation rentals. Whether you want to rent an entire home or simply shack up in a private room in someone else’s apartment, popular rental services like AirBnb and HomeAway offer places to stay in a variety of price ranges—perfect for the adventure-seeker on a budget (or anyone looking for a more authentic getaway experience at any cost).
Just make sure you don’t get more than you bargained for by learning the fine art of booking travel shares.
Use these tips below to home in on your ideal vacation rental.
1. Find a property with reviews (yes, plural)
Fact: photos may not always be all-telling. (Natural light! Pretty furniture! A stainless steel stove!) The absolute best insight into what it’s like to actually stay at the vacation home comes from reading reviews of previous renters. Look for a property that has plenty of recent feedback that details the things that you may feel are most important, such as Wi-Fi, close proximity to major sights, a dreamy clawfoot bathtub…(just me?)
2. Suss out self-check in options
For Sean Rosas, an AirBnb operator in San Francisco, self check-in is a must. “Having a clear check-in policy for guests with concise and simple instructions makes everyone’s lives easier,” he says. This way, guests won’t get caught up waiting for a host to meet them once they arrive at their destination (airport delays can be such a drag). Plus, the last thing you want is for an unnecessary key hand-off to make you miss your departure flight.
3. Ask you host for a more exact location
“Based on the map feature or description [of your booking platform], it might be difficult to determine how close the property is to the beach or popular attractions,” says Maddi Bourgerie, a travel specialist at HomeAway. This is something that can be a tad on the unnerving side, especially if you’re spankin’ new to an area. Her pro tip: “You can definitely ask the owner before booking.”
4. Always read the cancellation policy and house rules
Private property owners are able to implement do’s and don’ts at their own discretion. And it’s your responsibility to know the rules of the place you’re looking to stay at—because breaking them can cost you in the form of a lost security deposit. An important note: these policies may not be something you can take a look at until you click the “book” button but before you submit your payment information.
5. Think about the noise situation
“It’s probably one of the most easily overlooked concerns, the noise level for the unit during the day and night,” says Rosas. Granted, just like actual apartment hunting, there are some factors which could make high-traffic areas low-noise opps (think rear- or courtyard-facing units). Decide how much stress you want to put on this, if being in a bustling neighborhood is worth the sacrifice, and when in doubt—message the owner to inquire about the sound levels.
6. Be wary of anyone asking for cash upon arrival
Make sure that you’re doing all transactions via the actual online platform for the rental site. If you send money to a host using a service like PayPal, your investment isn’t covered by its protection plans and insurance policies. “Think of Amazon, you wouldn’t send a check for an item you purchased on the site,” says Bourgerie. When in doubt: You can always reach out to the company’s help team to get feedback on the safety of any host request—or alert them to any host asking for upfront cash for a booking.
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