When Should You Get a Vacation Rental Instead of a Hotel?
Vacation rentals — that is, rooms, apartments, and houses that can be rented in lieu of hotels — started out as a little secret that only hardcore travelers shared. But since Airbnb's inception in 2007, the use of vacation rentals has grown a lot and become quite mainstream. In 2013 alone, travelers booked 6 million stays on Airbnb. Other vacation rental companies have appeared in the past few years, although they're not nearly as popular as Airbnb. (See also: Marketing Your Extra Space as a Vacation Rental)
No doubt some of Airbnb's success is due to its clever marketing campaigns. During the 2014 Winter Olympics, Airbnb used Twitter to reach out to high-profile journalists who complained about their hotels. During the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, Airbnb again used Twitter to reward festival-goers with gifts like Whole Foods gift cards and Airbnb credit.
For me, the notion of sharing a space with a local individual is appealing. It's definitely a different experience compared to the usual dealings with nameless, faceless hotel chains.
But even I will admit that vacation rentals are not for everyone. While staying at a vacation rental has its advantages, it also involves a lot more work than a hotel stay.
Vacation Rental Pros
Before we look at the cons, however, let's look at several reasons why vacation rentals are so popular.
AirBnB has everything from spare rooms in downtown Montreal to sprawling villas with private swimming pools in Bali. There are even castles, boathouses, and treehouses. No matter what your budget is, there is a vacation rental for you.
Speaking of budget, the rates of vacation rentals are often dramatically lower than hotel rates. These rates vary depending on the location and the type of accommodation you rent, though, so do check hotel rates as well before you book.
If your stay will be longer than just a couple of nights, you could enjoy even cheaper accommodation. Some hosts have competitive weekly and monthly rates that could help lower the cost of your long trip. (See also: How to Land the Perfect House-Sitting Gig)
Use of a Kitchen
Unlike hotels, many vacation rentals have kitchens, which should save you some money if you don't mind cooking during your trip. I once rented a spare room in a house where the kitchen even had a free-for-all shelf full of unopened cans of tomato sauce, pancake mix, bananas, and other random foodstuff left behind by previous guests.
When you stay at a vacation rental, you live in a local home and have local neighbors. It's a different experience from staying at a hotel, where you're always aware that you're just a visitor. (See also: How to Live Like a Local While Traveling)
The best vacation rental hosts are friendly, generous, and knowledgeable. They give you valuable local advice that often enriches the itinerary, ask you to come along on their weekend outings, and even offer to cook you dinner. When you're alone in a strange city, great hosts can make you feel like you belong there.
Vacation Rental Cons
Before you book a room in someone else's house, consider some of the downsides of the vacation rental experience.
You may not wind up staying with the nice people described above who are happy to cook a meal for you. You could end up with a grumpy host who just wants to make an easy buck. This would be quite annoying if you were to rent a bedroom and share the house with him, but shouldn't be a big problem if you rent a standalone property like an entire apartment unit or house.
In theory, it's easy to make a vacation rental booking. You're supposed to check for the property's availability on the website, contact the host, and book once you get a positive reply.
In practice, it's not always that simple. Maybe the host doesn't update the online availability and his family happens to be visiting on the same weekend as your trip? Or maybe the host is not active enough on the website to reply promptly to your message, leaving you hanging for two whole weeks?
To improve your chances, you can start looking well in advance, choose experienced hosts with lots of good reviews, and contact multiple hosts at once. But even if you do everything right, this whole process might take more time than you like.
Some things are always available even at the humblest motel. A coffee maker, for example, or a hair dryer.
With a vacation rental, you can't assume that such amenities will be available. You're renting someone else's home, after all, and that person may not be a coffee person.
Before you book, read the online listing carefully to check if the host mentions the amenities you need. If not, ask the host through the website's messaging system, being as specific as possible with your question.
Staying at a vacation rental means that you'll be sharing the space with a stranger or at least living in a space to which a stranger has easy access. Vacation rental websites try to verify identities and make it as safe as possible for everyone involved, but there could be one bad host who slips through the cracks.
Always check the host's reviews before you book. It won't guarantee a good stay, but a host with 10 positive reviews is a safer bet than a new host with no review. (See also: 11 Tips for Hotel Safety)
Rent a vacation rental instead of a room in a hotel if the following apply to you and your vacation plans:
- You don't mind spending more time on the booking process.
- You like the idea of living like a local.
- You want to spend less on accommodations — compare the vacation rental prices with hotel prices before you book.
- You need a bigger, private space — book an entire apartment or house.
- You like to meet locals and get their insight into ways to explore their city.
Have you stayed at a vacation rental? What was your experience like?