The Five’s Tips for Stress-Free Rentals

This past week we made it safely to Cozumel and we are loving our new house rental and what we have seen of the island so far. However, we are still dealing with getting a refund from the landlords of our last rental in Mérida, Mexico. Renting a house or apartment when you are on vacation or traveling is often a great choice. Short-term rentals usually offer more space, access to a kitchen, and they are often much cheaper than hotels. However, the actual process of finding and securing a rental can be much more time consuming and stressful than simply booking a hotel room. So, while it is on our mind, we thought that we would share some tips that we have picked up after going through the short-term rental process several times.

ForRent

Our favorite rental sites – To begin with we usually turn to Airbnb or to FlipKey when looking for a short-term rental. Both of these sites are easy to navigate and they usually have a decent number of rentals to choose from in our price range. In the past we have also used to use HomeAway, but the prices of the rentals listed on this site are usually much higher than those listed on other sites. If the time of year is right (i.e. it is the low or off season) you can also contact cabin or condo-style accommodations directly. We were able to get an inexpensive monthly rate on a cabin outside of Glacier National Park because it was the off season.

Airbnb

Reviews, reviews, reviews – One of the biggest lessons that we have learned when selecting a rental is to make sure that it has been reviewed by previous renters and to thoroughly read through those reviews (those stars really do matter!). These reviews include a lot of really great information that you won’t get from the rental description itself. For example, is the Internet speed fast, does the neighborhood feel safe, does the landlord or property manager respond quickly to problems? A rental property that has been reviewed (especially multiple times) lets you know that the landlord has been through the short-term rental process before and will be familiar with any issues that many come up. In the past we have tried out rentals that have no reviews and in each case we have been burned. One was lacking in basic kitchen equipment, another was in an unsafe location, and the third had a very unresponsive property manager. Even though these problems could occur with any rental, it is a safe bet that previous renters (especially recent) would have addressed these issues in the review that they leave of the property.

Stars

Be careful how you pay – We often find great rentals on the sites mentioned above. However, when we go to book them the landlord or property manager informs us that the payment needs to be made directly to them. This is because they want to avoid the fees associated with the rental-listing sites. When you really like the rental it may be tempting to go ahead and directly send them the money via PayPal or a bank transfer. However, in our experience this is a big mistake. When you pay through a rental site like Airbnb or FlipKey you are guaranteed their help and coverage if the rental isn’t in the condition it was described or the landlord doesn’t provide the services that they promised. However, when you go outside the system you are on your own trying to recoup money if, for instance, you show up and find that the rental is already inhabited with other people or doesn’t exist at all (unfortunately there are a lot of scam artists out there). So, the safest bet is to insist that all financial transactions take place through a rental site. That way there is a very clear record of payment and you have a customer service department to turn to if things go wrong.

Calendar

Don’t book too early or for too long – There is a fine line between securing that perfect rental before someone else snags it and making sure that you don’t book too far in advance. When we first started traveling we really felt like we need to book at least 6 months worth of rentals in advance. Coming off of having our own house it felt weird to think that we could be homeless if we didn’t plan and schedule our rentals far into the future. However, we soon discovered that booking rentals in advance can be a huge hassle. If your plans change because of illness, or other unforeseen circumstances, you end up having to go through the hoops of canceling all of your pre-booked rentals.

We found that booking a rental for too long had the same complications. If we got to an area and found out that we didn’t really like it or the neighborhood was unsafe, then we were stuck trying to get out of our rental contract. Now that we have been on the road for a while we actually find more security in knowing that we can change our plans at any moment. It gives us the freedom to get to a destination, check it out, and then decide for how long we want to stay. Our magic number seems to be two months at any one rental before we are ready to go. However, that being said we have found the need to pre-book rentals during busy times like holidays and summer vacation months. These times tend to fill up really fast and if you are looking for a monthly rental for December you will find many properties unavailable because they have already been booked for the Christmas week.

Hopefully these tips will come in handy when you are looking for a short-term or vacation rental. Do you have any tips to add from your rental experiences?

 

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Kitchen with a View

It took us just under a week to get to our first destination in Newfoundland. The town of St. Anthony is famous for moose, whales, and icebergs and we were eager to see all three for ourselves. On our way up the Western Coast of Newfoundland we started to make arrangements for short-term housing in the area. It turns out that most of the “tourist housing” is booked solid but we were lucky enough to find a landlord that needed his house filled before he left town the next day. When we took a tour of the house and found that the window from the kitchen had a spectacular view of the icebergs in St. Anthony Bight, we were sold on a 30 day rental.

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This is our first short term rental in Canada and we are excited to devote more quality time to exploring the northern tip of Newfoundland. After getting settled into our new accomadations, it is amazing how much faster unpacking is when you only have a few suitcases, we decided to explore the town. St. Anthony is considerably larger than many of the towns that we have driven through so far with two grocery stores, several playgrounds and a large hospital. However, we were immediately drawn to the amazing vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and the icebergs that are floating just off shore.

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Fishing Point Park is one of these incredible scenic overlooks where we spent most of the day scrambling along the cliffs, exploring the tide pools, and of course gazing at the massive pieces of floating ice carved from glaciers thousands of years old. As the day wore on and it was time to get everyone back into the car it was nice to know that this is a spot that we can return to in the coming days.

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Trying Something New

We were due for a “roof” last night after a few nights of camping in just about freezing conditions. So, we headed north towards the city of Corner Brook, Newfoundland. We had recently seen an online advertisement for summer accommodations at the Grenfell Campus, which is part of the Memorial University of Newfoundland. In the summer the campus offers their student housing to travelers at reasonable rates. We weren’t sure if this would be a good fit for us as a family but we decided to give it a try.

Photos of Grenfell Campus Summer Accommodations, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Corner Brook

We loved that the accommodations included Wi-Fi, free parking, and on site laundry services. Trying to keep to our budget we opted for accommodations in the residence dorm rooms versus the nicer chalet style apartments. Having stayed in our share of dormitories us older Fives were very impressed by our two connected rooms that had their own private bathroom and full size refrigerator. Five of Hearts on the other hand was not a fan of the decor and immediately proclaimed that we should have gotten a hotel room like the one in Saint John. Five Ball scanned the room and looked at us with utter disgust when he realized that the rooms didn’t have television sets (he had planned on watching PBS kids).

Photos of Grenfell Campus Summer Accommodations, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Corner Brook

The twin beds in the rooms were definitely on the small side but we are more comfortable using our own sleeping pads and sleeping bags so it wasn’t a big deal. Plus the large common kitchen just down the hall provided us a great space to prepare our meals. The best part of all was the laundry room which only charged $1 to wash or dry. A real bargain compared to some campground rates. We also loved having two separate rooms so that the kids could go to sleep while we caught up on work. However, one downside was the fact that we had to lug all of our stuff from the not-so-near parking lot up two flights of stairs. You really start to appreciate room-side parking and elevators when you try to maneuver three kids and all your luggage across a road and through the building.

Photos of Grenfell Campus Summer Accommodations, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Corner Brook

Overall it was an interesting experience which saved us around $30 in lodging. The check-in process and the parking were a hassle but the super hot showers and cheap laundry were a plus. In the end the summer accommodations at Grenfell would be great for large families or groups traveling together as you can stay in the chalet style apartments and really save a bundle. We would also recommend the residence dorm rooms for travelers without children. It is like staying in a hostel where you have your own private bedroom and bathroom. However, for families with young kids the drawbacks of staying in the dorms probably aren’t worth the amount that you save over more family friendly accommodations.

Lodging Luck

Coming out of Acadia National Park we really needed a good roof  (what we refer to as any night away from our tent in a hotel, cabin, etc.). So, I was more than a little nervous about the accommodation that I had booked us in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. The Chipman Hill Suites had stood out in a Google search because they offered rooms with kitchens and complementary laundry in the building. However, they were not a chain hotel and I wasn’t really sure what we were going to find when we arrived.

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As luck would have it they ended up being a fabulous place to spend the night and honestly a real treat. The Chipman Hill Suites owns several buildings in downtown Saint John and the building where we were housed ended up being the 1890’s house of a very prominent Saint John doctor and former mayor. The building has been beautifully restored and redesigned into suite accommodations.

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The entire property has a truly elegant feel, complete with a beautiful solarium and sitting rooms on the main floor. Our room was on the top floor, and climbing the two flights up the ornate staircase felt like stepping back in time. The architecture is breathtaking and the quality decorating job really stands out. The room was fully eqipped with a kitchennette, small living room, very large bathroom, and a bedroom with a king bed. The wooden floors, gorgeous furniture, and stained glass windows in our suite made this one “roof” that we will never forget.

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Fruits From Above

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On Thursday we drove through Miami in 95°F heat with no air-conditioning. We had just come off a night’s respite from camping at the Jupiter Waterfront Inn. We needed to do laundry and hammer out some details for our upcoming visit to the Keys. After a very late night of trying without success to make campground reservations we were tired. As we approached the city the sky became hazy and the traffic drastically increased. The kids now dried out from their morning swim began to melt in their carseats and we all wished that Route 1 would just hurry up and spit us out at our next campground. Many stoplights later we pulled up to the county run campground that was recommended by our camping guide only to find out that due to budget cutbacks the pool and lake wouldn’t be open until the weekend. We can take driving without air conditioning but asking us to go without a daily swim is just too much, so much to everyone’s disappointment we piled back in the car to head to our backup campground.

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Well in this case our second choice turned out to be the right choice. Miami Everglades Resort is surrounded by acres of orchards and tree farms. We were dazzled by the quick change in the landscape as we passed orange groves, mango trees and hundreds of palms being grown commercially. When we pulled up to the campground we were greeted by a friendly staff and acquainted with the well manicured grounds. Five String nearly did a backflip when we found ourselves setting up camp directly under an avocado tree, his absolute favorite. We were all blown away by the variety of tropical trees and lizards that called the campground home and even more in awe of the immaculate bath houses.

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This was all before we even checked out the pool which made us all thank our lucky stars for guiding us to this campground. As we swam in the enormous circular pool until late into the evening Five of Hearts reminded us all to think back to how we felt just hours before in the gridlock that was Route 1 Miami. Days like these on the road are like climbing a mountain; the uphills can be really tough but the view from the top makes it all worth while.

The Fives Rating : 5 out of 5