With vacation rentals online Price matters but off-season can bring some great rates in expensive cities.

15 Tips for Booking Online Vacation Rentals

With vacation rentals online Price matters but off-season can bring some great rates in expensive cities.
Price matters but off-season can bring some great rates in expensive cities. This is in Rome.

Not all vacation rentals online are equal…so bring soap!

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Vacations rentals are convenient, practical and put you in touch with the local area. Whether for two days or two weeks, there are vacation rentals online to rent in just about any place in the world. Sounds great, right?

When I needed a place to stay for two nights in Miami Beach to attend an annual conference, I decided to try my first condo rental. With hotel rooms on South Beach at over $300/night, a condo rental that advertised for $150/night was very enticing.

And so it was that I rented my first Air BnB apartment; a cute, one bedroom condo unit for my two-days in Miami Beach. It wasn’t what I expected. Not to say good, bad or ugly, just different and disappointing. Since then, I’ve come up with some what I hope is helpful advice on renting a condo.

Tips for a stress-free vacation rental experience.

If a condo rental for your next vacation or business conference is your first choice, consider your budget, plan ahead to avoid disappointment and remember these 14 tips.

1. Soap, shampoo, bath stuff.
Most likely you won’t find a nice array of designer bath products on the sink. In my case in Miami Beach, there were none. Bring your own shampoo, conditioner and bath soap. Note to self: this is not a hotel.

2. Bring garbage bags.
Of course you will have to take out the garbage. But if the owner doesn’t furnish them, you’ll have to find bags somewhere to tote it outside.

3. Location. Is the neighborhood residential, party-hearty or on a main thoroughfare?
Friends who were also attending the conference reserved a place in a different location, next door to a rowdy club with a late-night license. Needless to say, my friends didn’t get much sleep.

4. Ease of parking.
If you’re driving to or renting a car, is there parking in the building? Outside lot? Will you need a street parking permit or have to feed meters 24/7? When calculating the savings and conveniences between a hotel and a condo, remember to add parking and/or taxis into the equation. 

5. Taxi stands.
If you plan to get around by taxi, find out where the nearest taxi stand is or be prepared to wave and shout if one should happen to drive by your building.

6. Do you want your own towels, linens and pillows.
When I arrived at the condo, there were damp, shredded towels in the dryer. Sheets were folded on a top shelf in a closet. I couldn’t find a blanket and if I did, would I use it? Thankfully, I brought my own sheets, blanket and pillow.

7. Basic staples: coffee, bread, peanut butter.
Want coffee or tea in the morning? Toast? Pack instant coffee or tea bags and if possible, bring a small insulated tote with an ice pack inside to bring along whatever you might need for breakfast. There’s no room service in a condo!

8. Utensils and coffee mug.  My unit only supplied plastic forks. And one huge carving knife. Yes, there was a pot to boil water, and plastic mugs for hot beverages. Two plates and wine glasses were neatly set on the countertop. There were mixing bowls and measuring cups. No oven…only a microwave.

9. Security.
Is there a common entrance with a lock? What about the front door to the condo? Much to my displeasure, the door to my condo opened outward. That meant I couldn’t use my wedge-shaped supersonic blaster door alarm. Worse, it seemed that on my first night, there were only two or three units occupied.

10. Wifi.
Make sure that there is wifi and that you have access to the codes.

11. Washer/dryer/microwave.
Find out what appliances are there. If you want to cook a cozy dinner, make sure that the place has what you need.

12. Cleaning fee.
Many condo owners charge a sizable cleaning fee. My condo owner offered to waive the cleaning fee if I would clean up after myself. It’s pretty easy to do, especially if you aren’t in the unit very much or tracking sand into it. Just ask the owner.

13. Construction or remodeling on the property.
Granted, it only happens during the day. I was in the condo in the afternoon to catch up on writing with the constant whirl of construction noise from two of the condos being remodeled.

Last but not least…

14. Bottled water and toilet paper.
Don’t forget to bring a couple bottles of water with you, to start. Not every city has great drinking water. Once you know the area, it will be a cinch to go to a market for water and necessities. Toilet paper? Yes, I spoke with someone whose condo unit did not furnish toilet paper. Better to pack a roll, just in case.

My Experiences

The Miami Beach condo building was almost vacant which made me feel isolated. The condo itself looked very contemporary, sleek and clean in the online photos. In reality, the floor needed mopping, the bathroom sink was so small it was unusable and there was only one thumb-turn lock on the glass front door. Other units had alarm company stickers on their doors. The complex must have been a converted 1960’s motel.

On the plus side, I saved about $150/night over staying in a hotel on Collins Avenue. I forgot to add in $20 for a 2-day parking sticker and $20/day for taxi rides. Luckily, I could boil water in the morning for my Starbucks Via coffee, and the toaster toasted my bread from home, to perfection.

Would I rent a short-term condo again? Probably not, especially as a solo, female traveler. I might rent again with two or three friends, as long as we all had our own bedroom and bathroom.

Bottom line: Do some due diligence. Learn about the condo building. Check the location on Google Earth. Ask questions of the owner (probably through email) and even do a Google search for the owner/renter once you receive the name. A good condo owner or realtor should tell the renter what to bring and what to expect. This didn’t happen for me.

One more try…

Not one to give in easily to defeat, I have since rented two condos through Air BnB, both in Europe.

After the Miami Beach experience, I was leery about trying Air BnB again. My second apartment rental was in Amsterdam, in the trendy canal area. It was a fantastic five days that I spent wandering the city, using the excellent apartment wifi and enjoying cooking in my little Amsterdam apartment. You can READ MORE about it.

With a 50/50 average, I decided to give Air BnB yet a third try. And it was a success again! This time I rented a 5th floor, one bedroom cozy condo in Southampton. I needed a place to stay for the week before my Queen Mary 2 transatlantic departure from Southampton. This condo was within walking distance of everything, including the port. READ MORE about my Southampton rental experience.

One last bit of advice.

While price plays major a factor in the quality of the rental and it is possible to negotiate the rate with the owner, especially if it’s an off-season vacation. Of course, a luxury $5,000/week vacation rental is not the same as a $150/night short-term rental. A villa that sleeps eight people in Tuscany isn’t the same as a refurbished art deco studio apartment in Miami Beach. As opposed to online discount bidding sites for four-star hotels., with vacation rentals, it seems you get what you pay for.

Thus said, here are three of the most popular online vacation rental companies: AirBnB.com, VRBO.com and HomeAway.com. Good luck and happy condo hunting! With the right rental, you can have a fabulous vacation anywhere in the world.

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  1. Hi Ron,
    Thanks for taking the time to send a comment and I’m glad you found my vacation rental suggestions helpful.

  2. I thank you for sharing your experience and how you managed to take some of your own things, like pillow and blankets because sometimes the ones they offer you could be in bad shape. My brother wants to take his kids on a trip this Fall and spend the weekend in the woods camping, but his wife decided a cabin log instead. If they do ent the cabin, I will pass them this info so they can take some fo their own assets and find a nice cabin to camp in.

  3. Hi Shaylee,
    If not your own bottled water, at least your own filtered water pitcher. Thanks for your comment.

  4. I never thought about bringing your own bottled water, and even supplying toilet paper. I guess that it would be better to be safe then sorry. My mom loves the water from home, so she always has a big jug of it. I guess it would be a good idea for me to start implementing that as well.

  5. Hi Dylan,
    Thank you for taking the time to write. I’m glad that you found something helpful in the vacation rental article. Parking can be a real hassle with some urban rentals. Have a nice weekend getaway!

  6. I like what you said about making sure that your vacation rental has parking if you’re using a car on your trip. My wife and I would like to get away for the weekend, and we want to make sure that we pick the right rental property. We’ll be sure to keep this information in mind as we continue our search.

  7. Hi Skylar,
    Thank you for reading the article and taking the time to write. I’ve found that some vacation rentals do supply toiletries, especially high-end rentals. But even then, the products may not be what I prefer to use. Have a wonderful vacation in St. John! It’s a beautiful island.

  8. Thank you for your tip to bring your own soap, shampoo, and bath stuff when you rent a vacation villa. My wife and I want to go to St. John for a vacation. I’ll be sure to tell my wife that we need to bring our own bathroom stuff with us once we find a place to stay.

  9. My husband and I are needing to find a vacation rental for our upcoming summer vacation. Thank you for pointing out that I should make sure and consider the location of the vacation home. I’ll have to do some research and find the best house possible.

  10. Hi Elsa,
    Thanks for your email. I’m glad you found my vacation rental suggestions helpful. I really like the option of a rental, especially when the stay is longer than 2 nights. It’s so much more convenient. Have a great time!

  11. I like your tips to bring along some bathroom necessities since it’s not a hotel and you would most likely have none of those there and to bring along some garbage bags to have somewhere you can place your trash. That’s perfect since my fiance and I are going to try out these vacation rentals to see whether they can be a good alternative to hotel lodging since they are cheaper. We are to have our trip next year, so it’s quite timely to have known of these tips early on. Thanks!

  12. HI Lillian, Good idea. I agree..bring any special toiletries that you prefer. Some condo rental owners furnish little hotel-size products and quality. It’s great to have all the facilities of home, including your favorite products.

  13. I like how you suggested bringing bath stuff when staying at a vacation rental. My husband and I are going to be taking a trip with his siblings in a couple of months, and we’ve decided to rent a condo. We’re not sure what to expect when it comes to provided toiletries, so maybe it would be a good idea to bring everything we need so we’re prepared.

  14. Hi Olivia,
    It’s always a good idea to check with the hotel, inn or B&B to make sure that there’s 24-hour front desk coverage. Have a wonderful trip!

  15. I agree that when you are going abroad security in accommodations is really important. i would imagine that it would be helpful to check with them about their security measures before you actually book a reservation. I’m looking for somewhere for my family and I to stay when we go on vacation next month so I’ll take security into consideration.

  16. Hi Maggie,
    Thanks for your comment. I totally agree with you…I’d rather bring my own sheets/linens/towels etc if possible. If I can’t then I’ll wash the rental unit’s towels etc. upon arrival. I stayed at an Air BnB in Southampton and the owner had kindly washed the sheets and towels but dried them with heavily perfumed dryer cloths. When I went to re-wash them, the washer was SO moldy that I had to hand-wash everything in the sink. Took an hour but well worth it. I think you’re at the mercy of the vacation rental owner’s whim.

  17. You make a great point about knowing whether or not the vacation rental offers towels, linens, and pillows. My husband and I are very clean people, so I think that we’d also prefer to bring our own sheets and stuff. Plus, I think it helps when you bring a little bit of home on vacation. It makes the rental accommodation feel more comfortable and relaxing, in my opinion.

  18. Thanks for your comment, Allen. Many years ago, I too sold vacation rentals in Florida, mainly on the west coast. Matching the right person to the property was always fun.

  19. First you pick a vacation destination, and then you find a place to stay. When searching for a vacation rental home – comparison shop! Be sure to keep your options open – considering many different rental properties gives you a variety of places to choose from, as well as a variety of prices and available amenities. Looking at comparable properties will give you a good idea of what you can expect from a particular area.

  20. I think the basis of this article, was knowing what you want. There are some things people may be fine with, and others that may be not. I think doing the research on finding places that meet all your requirements is the best way to go. Plus, it’s always nice to know what to expect!

  21. Hi Timothy,
    Thanks for reading the article. I’m glad that you’ve always had a good experience with your vacation rentals. And I totally agree, location is important…not just the price. Happy travels!

  22. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Happy to help others avoid any pitfalls of renting.


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