How to Book a Vacation Rental

by Tracy Teare
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Now that she knows the advantages of renting a private home when she travels, you'd be hard-pressed to convince Meg Carter to put her family of four in a hotel room.

First, there's convenience. Multiple bedrooms plus a family room equals a better night's sleep, and plenty of breathing room. "When the girls were younger, we could put them to bed on time and then have time together," says Carter, a mom from Roanoke, Va. "Now that they're teens, it's reversed," she laughs. In both cases, the days are a lot more fun because everyone is well-rested.

Then there's price. "We've found it's cheaper everywhere to rent a two-bedroom home or flat than it is to pay for two hotel rooms," says Carter, who began taking two family trips a year when her girls were 5 and 7, and has scored homes and flats all over Europe and the U.S. "Even if we only eat breakfast in, we save money by having a kitchen. Plus I love to cook and get a taste of the local ingredients."

Don't overlook the little details that make your stay easier, like having 24 glasses on hand instead of four, the oregano you forgot for your marinara sauce, bath towels bigger than wash cloths, plus puzzles and Parcheesi for rainy days.

To make your vacation smoother still, use this handy checklist, created with help from Christine Karpinski, author of How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner (Kinney Pollack Press, 2007).

Before you book: 

Don't pay a cent until you confirm the following:

  • How to contact the owner
  • How and when payments are due
  • How and when to check in and out
  • How and when your safety deposit will be refunded
  • The cancellation policy
  • Ask if there are additional fees, such as for bringing a pet, using the pool, or cleaning.
  • If you have young children, ask whether the property has physical features that might pose a safety threat, such as a loft with a ladder or a high deck with minimal railings.

When you finally get away, you'll feel freer and less frazzled if you've done your homework and asked the following questions. Your crib sheet:

Arrived unruffled.

  • What time can we arrive?
  • Should we expect traffic on route? Any tips for steering clear of it?

Don't pack what you won't need.

  • Is there a DVD or VHS player? Can we watch the movies that are there? What movies are on hand?
  • Are there other items we might use, and where can we find them (a lobster pot under the kitchen sink, board games and beach towels in the hall closet, a sand bucket and shovel under the kids' beds)?


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