Note: This article was first published May 15, 2017. Please click here to see my more recent posts.
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The summer of 2017 is upon us, and with it comes vacation season. Maybe you’re planning a beach trip with your friends from college or a family vacation after years of staying at home. Whatever the case, the question remains:
Where do you start?
Before you can even begin looking for a place to stay on your vacation, you need to decide when—and where—you want to take your trip. Maybe you have to work around an important week at work, or maybe you’re taking summer classes that you’ll have to schedule around. Whatever the dilemma, get everybody together and figure out what dates work best for everyone. Then, it’s time to nail down a destination.
The price of a vacation varies widely based on where you go. In the mid-Atlantic, cheaper beaches include Ocean City and Virginia Beach, which makes them prime party sites for Senior Week and college students. On the other hand, you can expect to pay more for places like Miami and the Outer Banks, or for the more family-friendly Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.
Still not sure? You might try checking out the activities available at different beaches—parasailing, wake boarding, kayaking, etc.—and then searching for a spot that offers the ones you’d like to try. Even if you aren’t looking to go to the beach, you should have an idea of what you’ll want to do on vacation before you pick a spot.
So you know where and when. Now it’s time to find the rental.
First things first, be sure that you really want to rent a beach house instead of a hotel.
Hotels are good for smaller groups of people, and they can be cheaper and easier to handle, since you just have to show up and the hotel will do everything for you. Your room gets cleaned and your bed made by someone else every day, and you have the luxury of someone else making breakfast and vending machines for late-night cravings.
That said, hotels aren’t the best match for everyone. Firstly, if you’re still in school, it can be hard to find a hotel that will book you a room; a lot require someone over 21 or over 25 to be present at check-in. (I’ve found these are generally corporate policies that have little-to-no wiggle room, but YMMV.) Additionally, you may not have a kitchen in a hotel room, so you’ll have to pay to eat out a lot, and there’s a lot less privacy when you have a maid coming in every day.
If you have a large group, want more privacy, or are just looking for a different vacation experience, then a beach house is definitely the way to go. Here are 6 steps to help you find the perfect one for you and your family or friends:
1. Decide on a budget.
When searching for a vacation rental, you’ll have a lot of options. Often, there are large mansions right next to tiny homes, all in the same beachfront neighborhood, so you really have to decide what you’re looking for before you can do anything else.
On VRBO, a super easy-to-use vacation rental search engine (that is not sponsoring this post—I’m just a fan!), you can filter your results among a bunch of different options. I like to start with a price point that I feel most comfortable with and see where that gets me, but don’t forget to touch base with others in your group to see how much they can spend. On VRBO, you can choose to see only rentals available under a certain pricepoint, so you aren’t tempted by anything out of your budget.
2. Choose what kind of rental will work best for you.
Once you know your budget, you can narrow down what kind of rental will work best for you and your group. Depending on where in the world you’re going, your options will vary. At the beach, you can choose from full beach houses, townhomes, condos, and more. If you’re searching on VRBO, you can also choose to filter your results based on relative location: the rental could be oceanfront, lakefront, on a golf course, in the city, or anywhere else that the location you’re going to offers.
3. Pick your options.
There are a lot of other options that you’ll want to talk with your group about before deciding on a rental. First, consider the sleeping arrangements. If you’re going with a group of single friends, everyone might want their own bed. If you’re going as couples, you’ll want to find rentals that have enough full, queen, or king-size beds so that no one has to be split up. A lot of rentals also have sofa beds that are available if someone doesn’t mind, and you even can bring an air mattress (if the owner allows it) to add some more sleeping space.
When scrolling through the pages of available rentals, keep in mind that many of these places are designed for families. A lot of houses will have a master bedroom with a king or queen-size bed, and a “kids’ bedroom,” with two twin-size beds. If this doesn’t fit what you’re looking for, it may take some extra digging to find the right house for you!
Finally, there may be other specific options that are must-haves for you and your group. Maybe you want a full kitchen, or in-rental laundry. Maybe free wifi is a necessity, or you want a place that allows pets. All of this can be filtered on VRBO, so take advantage of their search tool so you don’t have to go digging through each and every rental property to make sure it has what you’re looking for.
So you finally found a rental (or several) that meet(s) your needs. Now what?
1. Contact the owner or property manager
I’ve found there isn’t really a huge difference between choosing a rental that is managed by a private owner or one that is handled by a property manager. There are times when the former can be cheaper, or when the latter can be more organized, but in my experience, both will have pretty similar policies and expectations of renters.
Whoever it is that owns the property you want, the next step is to talk to them. On VRBO, you can send a message to the owner or property manager directly on the site. I recommend first introducing yourself and your group: share who you are, where you’re coming from, and why you like their property. Then, let them know that you’re interested, and ask if there is anything you need to know about the property before booking. If there is something pressing that you need to know from the start, now’s the time to ask.
2. Do your homework
Once you know if the owner will let you rent their property, and you’ve spoken with them to make sure they sound reputable, it’s time to do a little research of your own. On VRBO, you can see reviews of each property you look at. If the house or owner you’re interested in doesn’t have any reviews, don’t be afraid to ask for references. Although VRBO says it provides a secure booking experience and will do their best to keep you protected from scammers, it doesn’t hurt to do some checking yourself.
Another thing that you absolutely cannot forget to go over is the rental contract. Make sure that it includes everything that you feel is necessary, and that it points out what you are and aren’t responsible for. You may also want to consider insurance, and the contract may be able to provide some insight into this.
Finally, get any outstanding questions or concerns you have addressed by the owner. Don’t leave anything out: you don’t want to be left in the dark about anything important!
3. Book the property
You did it! You found the perfect vacation rental, and you spoke with the owner, and you’re ready for your vacation. Now it’s time to actually book the house! In doing this, make sure you understand when payments are due and any other expectations that the owner may have of you. Additionally, going forward, don’t be afraid to call out the owner if they don’t uphold their end of the contract.
All that’s left to do now is set your countdown: vacation is coming!
Do you have more tips for fellow vacation-goers? Share below in the comments!
This article was last updated Sep. 13, 2020.