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.
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.
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.
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.
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?