For the longest time, the word "vacation" meant everything but to me. If you have a child with severe food allergies, you probably know exactly how I feel - trying to feed my son safely the entire duration of the trip out of a hotel mini-fridge was an all-consuming pain in the butt.
But even when food wasn't a big issue... there were problems. Hotels are bloody expensive and they can be gross - you can't be sure what you're going to get until you stick the key in the lock. Case in point, one trip to L.A. some years back, a hotel tried to shack me up for $350 USD a night in one of their un-refurbed double-bed rooms with a broken oldschool key lock and decor from 1983. I marched right back to the front desk, discovered that they had (surprise) recently furnished rooms at the same price that they didn't offer me first, and that's how that chain lost my business forever. But that's a different story.
Even under ideal conditions, if you're going someplace big, and it's peak season, and you need more than one room? And then you need to go out for every meal, and you have to pack heavy or find a coin-op laundry if you run out of clean clothes...
It starts adding up in a hurry.
As I was griping about how much I hated to travel, one of my travel-blogger friends asked me why didn't I use a vacation rental? This was an excellent question, especially because the answer was: how do I vacation rental? Gillian told me there are several options for vacation rentals, but as a newbie who was leery of giving some random stranger my credit card, she introduced me to Airbnb.
As I have been extremely happy with my experience with Airbnb, I've never bothered looking at other vacation rental sites, so I won't really mention them; you can check around. Airbnb's not the cheapest option, but unlike many other vacation rental sites, Airbnb acts as an intermediary between renters and rentees, which means better protection for you and your card. And they have a really rigorous signup process, which is... while a touch painful, handing over my personal info like my driver's license. But at the same time, I know renters have been at least as strictly vetted as potential rentees.
Airbnb has paid me with nothing for this mention, by the way, except a consistently easy and reliable experience. Minus that signup process. But that's not the point of this post.
Here's why using a vacation rental is a better choice than using a hotel room:
It's surprisingly affordable.
Every year my stateside family makes an effort to get together to visit my grandma in Maine (she's over 90, so we're the ones that travel, not her). Hotels are not plentiful, and summer in Maine is not cheap. Even bunked together, we'd be looking at 4 hotel rooms. At $300 USD. Per night. Per room. So, that's pretty much $1200 a night in hotels, assuming we find the space, and they're just beds in a room.
We've managed to agree to peaceful cohabitation, and we rent a large cottage instead. It's still about $300+ USD a night, and there's cleaning fees and a security deposit. But - that's for the whole freaking house. We can get an entire week for seven people for $3,500 in a luxurious space, as opposed to $8,400 for 4 dingy hotel rooms.
You get more amenities than a bed in a room.
Assuming you don't rent just a room - that's certainly an option, too. Different houses have different features. You can shack up with people who love to play tour guide to people who want an authentic local experience. But if you rent a whole house, anywhere in North America, laundry, kitchen, and WiFi is standard fare and included in rental price. Some places let pets stay free. Some have gyms or access to club houses. Many have BBQs.
And yes, that above is my kitchen at the house we stay in Maine, and it's glorious. It comes fully stocked with stainless steel cookware (though not every place is appointed quite as nicely - be sure to ask if the state of kitchen equipment is important to you), and it's a great place to hang out, in front of the open door out onto the patio.
You save money on more than just the space.
Not only does it cost less than half of what a hotel would, obviously we also have the option of preparing our meals there. Every vacation rental I've had comes complete with information on where to find the nearest grocery store and other useful shops. That's a huge chunk of savings.
But also, many vacation rentals are nice places to be in and of themselves, which hotel rooms aren't - driving you out to find entertainment and places to relax just so you're not cooped up going crazy in 500 square feet. That gets expensive. But included the rental price of a vacation home, you can get backyards and porches and private pools. Most landlords stock the unit with books and board games, cable TV or Netflix and DvDs. Sometimes there's fishing holes and nearby beaches and all sorts of amazing crazy things. The rentals in Florida I've stayed at have had pool tables and air hockey in the garages for rainy days. One of the condos had a clubhouse with a bar and this large public pool and well-kept jacuzzi.
Would you believe me if I told you I spent $100 CAD a night on that Florida condo? And all I paid for in addition to that was the one day we went to Legoland - half the time, the house was entertainment enough for us.
Some vacation rental sites serve the globe.
I don't have to go Googling hotels in the area of wherever I'm going and trying multiple different hotel sites trying to find a good price (and yeah, those discount convenient booking sites for hotels are usually anything but discounted or convenient). With some of the bigger vacation rental sites, I just type in where I'm going, add in a few filters to describe what I'm looking for, and I am looking at what I want immediately, and all fees are listed right there.
What I see is what I get.
As I've mentioned, I've had myriad experiences with hotels over my lifetime. Many were fine, but the state of some were unpleasant surprises - one ended up looking like the Bates Motel when I got there. Unlike Yelp, where people either love everything or hate everything with the firey heat of a thousand suns, I trust Airbnb's rating system implictly. Due to signup vetting, there's no fake reviews. I can't review it unless I've been there. And hosts can review me, too. Therefore people tend to be pretty honest and balanced, even in critical reviews, and I have a pretty good idea what I'm going to be able to expect. Because one of the upsides of paying for Airbnb is access to a refund policy in case of misrepresentation, hosts also have incentive to make sure everyone's happy.
I've never had a full-on bad experience. That's not to say that nothing has ever gone wrong in some of my vacation rentals, but the problems usually look more like "I had to go buy laundry pods for myself."
You can stay somewhere truly unique.
Staying at an open-air all-bamboo house in Bali? Hello, bucket list. Kids want to pretend they're fairies living in a giant seashell house? Can do. Or maybe you'd just like to stay the night in an Airstream perched on a cliff in Malibu.
There's some pretty crazy options out there when it comes to vacation rentals, and that's a whole lot more than most hotels can offer us mere mortals at a price we can afford.
If I'm staying longer than a day? I'll never not use a vacation rental. I've met many great hosts and seen some amazing things that I never would have checked out if I had been stuck in a highrise hotel. It's definitely worth trying out for yourself, and you might find yourself saving a huge chunk of change, too.
IMAGE SOURCES: AIRBNB