How to Choose the Perfect Summer Vacation Rental

Most families take a vacation at some point during the summer. With school out for a few months, it is an ideal time to take a road trip, go to Europe or head to the beach for a week. Hotels can be expensive family vacation option. Often times a vacation rental can be a more cost-effective way for families to travel.

For the last few years, I have rented from HomeAway. Not only do I trust them because of their Book with Confidence Guarantee, but with over 2 million unique vacation rentals to choose from, HomeAway has the best selection of homes. These are my tried and tested tips for finding the perfect summer vacation rental.

Vacation Rental Search

I’ll admit that I have a bit of a type-A personality. I like to thoroughly research houses before I book. One of the best features on HomeAway is the option to create a favorites list. I currently have a dozen or so lists bookmarked with my ideal vacation rentals. It is easy to just click the red heart icon on listings to add to them to your favorites. By saving places ahead of time, once I know what area we are going to it is very easy to go back and inquire about a booking.  I also keep dream vacation list with homes I hope to rent one day like this estate in the South of France.

Private estate Aix-en-ProvenceRead the Reviews

The best advice comes from someone who has already been there. Prior renters offer valuable insight about the home that is often times more than you will get from the listing description. This is important because you want to know when you show up, that everything is as you expected. When we arrived at our house on Eleuthera it 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 beach house 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 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 the 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. We usually stop at the grocery store before we arrive at our rental and more often than not, the houses already have items like salt, pepper, spices, cleaning supplies and coffee filters. One of the best summer vacation rentals we had 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 rental 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 the 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

Our Next Rental

We are off to Ireland this summer with my extended family. Taking all of my own advice, we found this outstanding property on the Ring of Kerry. We’ve been communicating with the owner of the Caragh Lake House owner for several months. He has even created his own website to help visitors plan their trip. It has suggestions for day trips, where to go food shopping and places to rent boats and bikes. I can’t imagine that when we arrive this house will be anything less than what we have anticipated.Caragh Lake Vacation Rental

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

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

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  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!

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