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10 tips for booking a VRBO or Airbnb summer vacation
The sun is shining, the kids are out of school, and you’re ready for some long-awaited rest and relaxation. Yup, it’s time for summer vacation.
Wherever you go, renting a hotel room is the most convenient option. You can check in any time you want, order room service 24 hours a day, and someone makes your bed each morning.
That may be your happy place, but if you’re looking for a more authentic experience, whether that’s at the beach or overseas, booking your accommodations through a third-party booking site, like VRBO or Airbnb, is the way to go.
These services allow you to rent a shared space or an entire apartment, condo, extra freedom they give you, these rentals are more relaxed–and they can translate to lower costs. They often come with fully-stocked kitchens, washers and dryers, and all the other conveniences of home. You will, however, have to turn down your own sheets before bed and supply the chocolate truffle for your pillow.
Airbnbs and VRBOs are generally operated by the property owner, although some use a management company to take care of the reservations, cleaning, and maintenance services. While a hotel generally comes with some standard expectations, the requirements, services, and rules of a VRBO or Airbnb vary from property to property. No need to worry, though. Here are some tips that will help ensure a comfortable and enjoyable stay:
1. Know what you want
VRBO and Airbnb both have thousands and thousands of listings, and it can be a little overwhelming. You’ll find a property that meets your needs and requirements much more easily and quickly when you use the filters on each of the sites. Decide whether you want an entire home, a private room, or a shared space. Do you want three or four bedrooms, an ocean view, or a pool? Do you need a washer and dryer on site? The more detail you provide, the more you’ll be able to narrow down the field and find a property that’s a great match.
2. Read all the reviews
A lot of the detail can be skirted in the property description. “It’s a fabulous four bedroom, three bath townhome with an amazing view of the ocean.” Generally, reviews from past renters will give you the honest truth, and whether it was good or bad, they’re happy to share their experience. “The dishwasher didn’t drain properly; the air conditioning didn’t work; the bathroom could have been cleaner.”
While you may run into issues that need to be addressed while you’re there, learning that it took two days for the management company to fix the clogged garbage disposal, or the host never returned the renters’ calls is not what you want to hear. Take note of common issues that have been mentioned multiple times.
Keep in mind, though, that there are grumpy, picky-un renters and things do happen. But, overall, the vast majority of the reviews should be highly complementary.
3. Check out the pics
Photos of the rental property should be current, clear, of every room, and from multiple angles. If not, that’s a red flag. If there are five bedrooms, you should see all five. Does the listing indicate that the kitchen appliances have been recently upgraded? Make sure you can reasonably assume that’s true from the photos.
Check out the picture of your host, too. Is it a silhouette or an actual person? A silhouette may lower your comfort level. After all, everyone wants to be able to put a face with a name, or in this case, a property.
4. Scope out the neighborhood
If this is your first trip to a particular destination, you don’t want to take a chance on having to spend a week in a less than desirable location. It can, after all, make or break your entire vacation.
How close are you to your next-door neighbor? Is the property located next to a late-night karaoke bar or a makeshift petting zoo? “Centrally located” can mean different things to different people, as can words like amazing, great, wonderful, and awesome.
An easy way to evaluate the surrounding area and estimate travel time to some of the attractions you plan to visit is to use Google Maps. Enter the address or the vicinity and you’ll get a 360 degree, street level view of the property and everything around it.
5. Communicate with the host
With many third party sites like VRBO and Airbnb, conversations typically begin through email or text message. This is your chance to learn a little about the host. It’s also a way for them to learn about you, their potential renter. You can initially check availability for the property, but also use this time to tell them a little about yourself and ask questions. Offer information like whether you’re planning a business trip, a girls’ weekend, or a family vacation. Ask questions like, How far is the beach? Do we need to bring boogie boards or beach chairs? Do you supply sheets and towels? Can I bring my pet iguana?
Take into account how quickly your questions are answered and how courteous the reply. Some owners or hosts can be exceptionally accommodating, while others may stick to the standard. This is the point at which you can catch a glimpse of their commitment to customer service and their attention to detail.
6. Read the fine print
No one wants or even expects to have to cancel their vacation plans, but it happens. Make sure you’re clear about the cancellation policy because no one wants to give up their vacation and forfeit the cost of it, too.
Read the house rules, take note of the included amenities, the check-in and check-out times, if there are any noise restrictions, and any other particulars. Many times the less favorable details are buried in the fine print.
7. Beware of extra fees
Most people budget for their vacations and have a specific amount of money earmarked for the trip. That’s an ideal plan, but when your bill includes some unexpected fees, you’re caught in a pinch.
Some online rentals come with additional service fees, so make sure you know exactly how much your lodging will cost in advance. While they’re not always charged with every reservation, the most common surprise fees are for cleaning, extra guests, booking services, and taxes. You should be able to see the total cost of your stay including a breakdown of all fees before you book.
8. Ask your host for around-town tips
Vacations are the perfect time to try the local cuisine, visit the most interesting attractions, shop at the best boutiques, lounge at the least crowded beaches, hike the most challenging trails, or find the best fishing spot.
Hosts are typically residents of the community and have the inside scoop on what to do and when to do it. So, don’t be shy, just ask! They’ll be more than happy to share their best advice and recommendations.
9. Be an ideal guest
Remember that, with an Airbnb or a VRBO, you’re responsible for your own housekeeping. That’s cooking, cleaning, laundry, and dishes, among other things. If you’re staying for more than just a few days, it’s helpful to have a washer and dryer on site.
House rules vary from host to host, so make sure you read them as soon as you arrive. You’ll find a list that will include things like, be considerate of neighbors when it comes to noise, run the dishwasher before you leave, refrain from smoking inside the house, and report any accidental damage. Most hosts are reasonable with their rules. Simply treat the property like it was your own and all will be well.
On the flip side, if things are not what you expected or something is not working, let your host know as soon as possible. They’ll want the opportunity to make it right. After all, they want you to enjoy your time there and leave as a satisfied guest.
10. Write a review
Within 14 days of your departure, take a few minutes to write a review of your stay. Remember that this feedback, whether positive or negative, helps both the host and a prospective renter. Be polite, but also honest.
Was the property as described? Was it clean? Was the host friendly, responsive, or exceptionally accommodating? These are details that only a previous renter would know, so be sure to share it with the rest of the community.
Feedback goes both ways so you’ll also receive comments from your host about your stay. Were you easy to work with? Did you adhere to the house rules? Did you leave the property in order?
Other hosts are able to view these comments and use them to decide whether or not to rent to you in the future. So, be polite and courteous, skip the wild pool party, and take the trash with you on your way out. But, most importantly, take time to relax and enjoy your stay!
Disney on a dime: an insider’s perspective on how to stretch your Disney vacation dollars
Disney World–it’s the most magical place on earth. With it’s flying elephants, princess palaces, and dancing cast of characters, it’s a child’s paradise and a dream vacation. Who wouldn’t want to visit Cinderella’s castle, bump into Buzz Lightyear in the park, or have dinner with Mickey and Minnie?
Disney World is almost a right of passage for kids these days, and many young-at-heart adults eagerly head back every year. So how do you swing a sweet vacation without breaking the bank? We’re not gonna lie—it’ll cost you a pretty penny, but there are ways to save money without sacrificing fun. We spoke with Erin Sistar of The Vacation Wizards travel agency to find out just how you can experience the magic of Disney without blowing your budget. Check out these money-saving tips:
The majority of vacationers are diehard believers that booking a hotel close to, but not inside the park, will help save big bucks. Surely any accommodations on Disney property would be more expensive, right? Often times, that’s not true.
While Disney does have several premium hotels located on property, they also have four more reasonably priced value resorts: Pop Century, All-Star Sport, All-Star Movies, and All-Star Music. With a reservation at any of these hotels, you’ll enjoy the on-property conveniences, but avoid the $20+ daily parking fee at the park. It will also include Magic Bands for the entire family, a $20 per person value.
Your magic band is a virtual backpack of conveniences that you wear as a bracelet. It electronically holds your room key, park passes, fast passes, dining reservations, pictures, and more, right there on your wrist! It also syncs with your My Disney Experience account, an app that you’ll use while you’re in the park.
If the value resorts are still too steep for your budget, you might choose one of the many Walt Disney World Good Neighbor Hotels. These hotels are held to the Disney quality and standard of service, have a Guest Services desk that can assist you with your Disney vacation planning, are convenient to the Disney resort and provide transportation to all the parks. Many of the hotels also offer complimentary breakfasts and evening receptions.
Unless you’re a Florida resident or active or retired military, you’ll rarely find a discounted Disney park ticket. So how do you stretch your entertainment dollars? Book your room and your tickets together in a basic package. While you’ll still pay full price for the tickets, a package will include a discount on the price of your room. It will also protect you from falling prey to scammers who sell “discounted” tickets that you’ll eventually find are expired or have been previously redeemed.
One of the simplest ways to get the most bang for your buck is to book your Disney vacation with as much lead time as possible. Did you know that you’re able to book a Disney hotel room 499 days in advance? If you want the most economical price, your reservation should be made no less than seven months ahead of your departure date and ideally closer to one year. It will also afford you the greatest variety and availability for specialty dining, character dinners, and other limited space activities during your stay.
Everyone has to eat, but should you buy a Disney Dining Plan? Food can eat up a lot of your budget, especially when you’re eating on the run. The dining plan is a fabulous option, but it’s not for everyone.
If you’re a family of four and have two tweens or teens that are eating you out of house and home, buying a meal plan is a no-brainer. And, it gives you the added convenience of a now all-inclusive trip. But, if you have two little ones who live on goldfish and eat a few bites from Mom or Dad’s plate, it’s not worth spending a few hundred dollars.
Disney offers three different dining plans so you can choose the option that works best for your family:
This is the least expensive meal plan. For each person and for each day of your visit, it includes:
- Two quick-serve meals where you order at the counter and seat yourself
- Two snack credits that can be used to purchase items like a coke, popcorn, pretzel, or ice cream
- One refillable mug, which may be used at any of the resorts, but not at the park
- One alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink credit to be used at your meal
Disney Meal Plan
This mid-level plan replaces the two quick-serve meals from above with one quick-serve meal and one table service meal, which includes character dining.
Deluxe Disney Meal Plan
This is the most inclusive and most expensive meal plan. It replaces the two meals above with three meals, which can be any combination of quick-serve and/or table service meals.
If the meal plan isn’t for you, there’s no need to worry. Disney will allow you to bring food into the parks, within reason, of course. They’re generally more lenient when you have little ones afoot. Grown teenagers carrying a full-sized cooler, however, probably won’t get by so easily.
Be sure to bring your own water bottles into the park, too. It’s hot, it’s busy, and you’ll undoubtedly get thirsty running from ride to ride. You’ll find water fountains everywhere, so fill up those bottles and go! You can also go to any quick serve, snack counter, or cart and ask for a cup of water. And yes, it’s FREE. Finally, if you’re in the park during your table service meal, you can kindly ask your waiter to refill them with cold, icy water.
Another way to stretch your dining dollars is to bring some of your favorite food from home. Well, sort of. There’s no need to pack those pop-tarts and oatmeal packets in your suitcase when there’s Amazon Pantry. Place your order online and ship it to your hotel so that it arrives on the day you check-in.
Our last no meal plan, money-saving food related trick has to do with those magical character meals. If you’re planning on making a reservation, opt for breakfast or lunch. The dinner option is much more expensive.
Lunch is a great time because you’ve been in the park all morning and you’re likely ready to put your feet up and enjoy some AC. Your little one might even take a quick nap.
Breakfast, on the other hand, lets you enjoy the rest of the day and leave the park when you’re ready. You won’t feel pressure to stick around for later reservations if the fam is ready to go.
A trip to Disney World is one of the most fun and memorable vacations you’ll take, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. Use these tips and your smart spending will help make your Disney vacation even more magical!