First, let’s define vacation rentals. Rooms, cabins, cottages, houses, condos, villas, apartments, RVs, houseboats, guesthouses, and even tents that are rented by the night are collectively called “vacation rentals.” Renting these private accommodations may be the best vacation decision you’ll ever make. They are affordable, unusual, and often way more comfortable than a hotel stay. Mega websites like Airbnb, VRBO, and Flipkey make it easier than ever to find and rent your dream spot. Once you commit to going with a rental, be careful not to follow up that good decision with bad ones. From the booking process to the return home, here are 30 things not to do when you vacation in a rental.
1. Don’t bother to read the entire listing before you book
Every word of the listing is important when you are renting a vacation rental. There simply is no other way to determine if it is what and where you need it to be. Check and double-check the details.
2. Expect something that is not mentioned
So you wanted hot water? Did the listing say hot water? And don’t think that rentals without hot water are only an issue in foreign countries. There are plenty of backyard rentals across the U.S. without any running water, much less heated water. Don’t expect towels, sheets, Wi-Fi, dishes, air conditioning, heating, or even an oven, unless it is listed.
3. Skip the reviews
Other people’s thoughts about a rental can provide vital clues to things you might have skimmed over in the listing. And venture beyond the booking site. Popular rentals have reviews on third-party sites like Trip Advisor, as well.
4. Forget to factor in taxes and cleaning fees
Staying in a private rental is not a way to get around paying hotel taxes. It may be in the fine print, but in most cases, the daily rate does not cover the tax. Cleaning fees and damage deposits are common in the rental business. Some of these are refundable, but not all. Read the listing carefully for the details.
5. Book through an unknown rental site
It’s safest using the big three mentioned above, but don’t shy away from area real estate offices. They are easy to find and offer reputable services, including local assistance in the event that something goes wrong.
6. Assume that you will be dealing directly with the owner
Thousands of rental listings come through agents, even on the major rental websites. VRBO stands for Vacation Rentals by Owner, but it also accepts listings from agents. Renting an agent-listed property is no big deal; just know that you may be paying a higher price than similar owner-listed properties because the agent charges the owner a commission for the booking. And if you were expecting that warm fuzzy connection with your host, you won’t likely get that dealing with an agent.
7. Expect the owner to be in the same city as your rental
Often vacation rental owners are renting out their second homes. They may not even be in the same country as the rental.
8. Expect parking
There is nothing worse than renting a car to get around your destination, only to realize that that adorable downtown cottage you rented faces an alley with no parking. Refer back to the top of this list. Read. Every. Word. Twice.
9. Arrive early
It does not matter if your rental is self-managed and cleaned by the owners or by an agent that hires a cleaning crew. Arriving early does two things: upsets someone’s routine and ensures that you will get a rush job on the cleaning of your unit.
10. Think it will be spotless
It most likely will not be spotless. Rentals usually fall far short of even hotel standards. If germs are an issue for you, bring or buy sanitizing wipes.
11. Expect love at first sight
There will most likely be things you were not expecting. If you are only staying a night or two, get over it. Did you really come for the accommodations? If your stay is lengthy, give it a day to grow on you before you contemplate making a change. I once stayed in a gorgeous four-bedroom hilltop villa. The drive up and down the winding hillside road was a huge time-suck that I wasn’t happy about at first, but three days of returning home at night to that villa and its gardens made up for the road.
12. Think it’s a hotel
There may or may not be shampoo, soap, or matching towels. The décor may be funky. The building may be old, the bathroom tiny, the curtains not black-out. Get those things out of your head and you will be fine.
13. Expect complete privacy
Even when you have read every word of a listing (twice), there may be tiny details that are undisclosed. These often relate to your privacy on the grounds of your rental. The photos may show your rental from every angle except the angle that shows where it attaches to another dwelling. Or there is someone else’s window two feet from your kitchen window. If privacy is what you seek, then ask the host before you commit.
14. Ignore host advice
Hosts (even the absentee kind) are a wealth of information. They can tell you where to eat, where to shop, and whether or not you should feed the cat begging at your back door. Read every written word they provide and ask plenty of questions before you go.
15. Eat things left in the fridge
People tend to leave things behind in rental fridges. Some hosts leave it all in there as community property. Just how desperate do you have to be to use someone else’s three-year-old strawberry jam? The exceptions are host-provided treats left just for you and kitchens that are come fully stocked with fresh food.
16. Leave things in the fridge
There is no sense in perpetuating a problem if other people have left opened stuff behind. And if it was empty when you arrived, then leaving your half-eaten food is extra work for the cleaning crew. Leave behind only things that are in date and unopened.
17. Take your pet without asking
Never assume that your pet is welcome. The hosts may be animal lovers, but simply hate the extra work involved in cleaning up after other people’s animals. They may also have pets of their own who live on the grounds that deserve not to have their territory constantly invaded by guest pets. Always ask.
18. Exceed capacity
If the listing says the rental sleeps two, that does not mean two plus your brother-in-law, or even your 2-year-old, unless you cleared it with the hosts first. It does not matter that your brother-in-law doesn’t mind sleeping on the floor. Your hosts have their reasons for setting capacity, some of which may involve local ordinances or things like their ability to handle extra trash.
19. Throw a party
There are cities across the country looking into strengthening ordinances that cover vacation rentals. One of the primary concerns is disruption in neighborhoods caused by parties. You are renting an accommodation for a predetermined number of people, not a frat house.
20. Forget to forward the details, especially the rules and policies, to your travel companions
Everyone joining you on your trip needs full disclosure. Really. You want to lose your cleaning deposit because Aunt Jane brought along her Yorkie?
21. Be rude to the neighbors
You are there by the grace of the neighbors. In some cities, all it takes is one phone call to local law enforcement about your attitude, loud music, or your three extra vehicles and you are out. Remember that deposit you put up? Say “bye bye” to that if the neighbors complain.
22. Expect hosts to cater to you
There are some rentals where the hosts behave like your newfound family. They may pick you up from the airport, fix your breakfast, or let you use their bicycles. Those are the exceptions. Most rentals are simply business transactions. They have a place for you to sleep; you pay them for it.
23. Hog the utilities
No matter what outrageous success stories you have read online, renting space to strangers is not the way to get rich. It helps hosts pay the bills, but only when the bills are reasonable. Go easy on the electricity and be mindful of water usage. I once stayed in a rental that had wired the bedroom air conditioner to shut off if the bedroom door was left open. Rental owners take utility bills seriously.
24. Lock yourself out without any clue how to contact the host
Remember when we told you that the owner might not be in the same city, or even the same country? This is when it matters. Absentee owners usually have a contingency plan for these things, but first you must be able to call them.
25. Let your children behave the way they do at home
Enforce travel behavior that includes noise levels suitable for the surroundings, being respectful of other people’s space and property, and staying within your eyesight.
26. Get too comfortable
It is so easy to settle into a rental as if it is your second home. That’s the whole idea. Just don’t forget travel security. When you get too comfortable it becomes easy to forget about locking doors when you go for your stroll on the beach. That could cost you your laptop, your cell phones, or your credit cards.
27. Don’t patronize neighborhood businesses
Grocers, cafes, and whatnot shops near your rental are what keep the neighborhood alive and growing. Half the beauty of staying in a rental is living like a local. Help your temporary neighborhood thrive by exploring and enjoying the businesses close by.
28. Overstay your welcome
Late check out means a disruption in the cleaning schedule at best and at worst a lost night of revenue. Don’t expect it unless you made arrangements well in advance.
29. Leave it worse than you found it
Don’t forget that you are visiting someone’s home. Even if you never laid eyes on the owners, everything in the rental has meaning for them. Protect their things from harm, clean up after yourself, and consider thanking them in writing for sharing their piece of paradise with you.
30. Forget to leave a review
Good, bad, or somewhere in between, your experience may help someone making the decision to cross over to the vacation rental way of traveling.