8 Pro Tips for Booking a Vacation Rental

By Amanda Wowk

April 13, 2021

A stay at a vacation rental can take your trip to new heights, allowing you to explore under-the-radar neighborhoods and mix in with the locals—all while having a temporary place to call home. Vacation rentals are often more affordable than other accommodation options—especially when you’re traveling with companions. That said, if you’re not used to searching for and booking a vacation rental, there are nuances that can make or break your stay (ones you probably don’t want to learn the hard way). These eight tips will help make booking (and staying at) a vacation rental a breeze.

1. Know the cancellation policy 

As travel policies and guidelines continue to evolve, reading and understanding the cancellation policies before booking a vacation rental is all the more critical. While some booking platforms enhanced the flexibility of their cancellation policies at the start of the pandemic, others still have stringent policies in place. Knowing the fine print before you book will save you money—and stress—should you need to change your travel plans.

2. Always read the reviews before booking a vacation rental

Before booking a vacation home, be sure to read the reviews prior guests have left. Therein lie clues to your own experience that can help set your expectations for your stay. 

Recent reviews often provide the most relevant and up-to-date information about a vacation rental, as well. As in, yes, the view from the top floor is amazing, but the building’s elevator has been out of service for months. (Hint: Pack light and prepare for stairs—or book somewhere else.)

3. Check in with the host before you book (and definitely before your trip)

Good host-guest communication is key to a seamless vacation rental experience. Even if you don’t meet your host face to face (more on the benefits of contactless entry below), being in contact before and during your trip will not only help with the logistics of check in and check out, your host can also help with tips and recommendations during your stay. 

You can also message the host to inquire about any questions you have that aren’t answered in the listing and/or via reviews. For example, you might want to ask whether the Wi-Fi reaches every room in the house and what bandwidth their service supports. A necessary consideration should you plan to work remotely. Likewise, if you’re traveling with kids, ask if the home has a crib or pack-n-play so you can plan accordingly.

4. Get to know the location ahead of your trip 

You know the saying, don’t judge a book by its cover? Likewise, don’t judge a vacation rental by its online listing. Yes, pictures and reviews give you helpful insight to your upcoming stay, but ahead of your trip, get to know your destination via a variety of sources beyond your host.

For example, leverage TripIt’s Neighborhood Safety Scores to assess the safety of the vacation rental’s neighborhood. With separate safety scores for day and night, you can make an informed decision as to whether the location of your potential accommodations meets your standards for safety. You can also set a personal risk level within the Neighborhood Safety Scores feature to receive a warning if you’re planning on visiting an area—say, a restaurant in the next neighborhood over—that exceeds your threshold. 

Also ahead of your trip, consult TripIt’s COVID-19 Guidance feature to learn about any requirements and restrictions currently in place for your destination(s). TripIt Pro users can research pandemic-related information for destinations ahead of booking a trip, without needing them to be part of a TripIt itinerary. This includes current infection rates, quarantine rules upon arrival, mask requirements, curfew orders, restrictions on dining and shopping, and more, and other information travelers need to know before visiting the area. 

Looking for a place to eat, drink, pick up supplies, or even seek medical care during your stay at a vacation rental? TripIt’s Nearby Places feature makes it easy to find places close to where you’re staying. If you find a place you want to visit ahead of your trip, you can save it in TripIt to visit later. 

Finally, be sure to share your travel plans in TripIt with a friend or family member so they’re aware of your whereabouts (even if you’re traveling with companions). 

5. Plan ahead if you plan to work from (vacation) home

If you’re planning to work from your vacation rental (especially longer term), you’ll want to think through how to make a new space work for you. 

For instance: 

  • Do you need an office with a door, or can you work in an open floor plan with other people around? 
  • Does your work require quiet for writing or presenting (without interruptions) on video calls? If so, does the vacation rental layout lend to that need?
  • If your kids are doing remote schooling, will they have the space they need in a vacation rental to get their work done, too? 

Getting clear on your remote work needs will help you find a vacation home that works for you. 

Supplemental reading: 7 Factors to Consider if You Plan to Work From Vacation Home

6. Review (and follow) the check-in and check-out policies when booking a vacation rental

Unlike a stay at your favorite hotel chain, one vacation rental’s check-in and check-out policies may vary greatly from the next. The good news is those policies should be well-documented on the booking platform—so be sure to read the instructions thoroughly (and, likewise, make sure you agree with them) before you book. 

For maximum flexibility—and to limit your exposure to others while traveling in the era of COVID—book a stay with contactless entry. This will allow you to check in and check out when it’s convenient for you (but still within the rental’s policies). 

If you opt for contactless entry, be sure to store the entry code or directions somewhere besides an app. More remote destinations might not have cell service until you access the rental’s Wi-Fi—and you don’t want to be stuck unable to access the home or waste time backtracking to look for service. 

7. Share the rental’s rules with your group

As the trip planner, you may have read through all the policies and guidelines before booking, but it’s also critical that everyone staying at the vacation rental does so, as well. Make sure that every member of the group knows every rule—like pet policies, party policies, check-out procedures, and so on. 

8. Make eco-friendly choices at your vacation rental 

One of the perks of a vacation rental is that feels-like-home vibe you get when renting out an entire place. You can make your own meals and enjoy them in the peace—and protected bubble—of your vacation home. Since you’ll likely have household items and supplies at your disposal (hint: if you’re unsure about what’s included, ask your host!), be sure to forego single-use plastic utensils, cups, plates, and the like; use (and wash) the reusable ones instead. 

The same goes for personal items you might pack to bring along: shampoo bottles, soaps, and other toiletry items. Instead of buying minis that you’ll toss at the end of your trip, opt for reusable bottles or packaging that you can refill time and time again. 

Read more: 8 Ways to Make Your Next Stay at a Vacation Rental More Eco-Friendly 

Doing so helps ensure that not only the vacation rental stays in tip-top shape for the next guest, but that the surrounding ecosystem will, as well.