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After adopting our two girls, we soon realized that our future travel plans would need to change. That’s because we no longer fit into a standard hotel room. There are some hotel chains that offer suites that fit up to six people. We still book these types of places when we’re on the road for a night or a weekend sports tournament. However, spending a week or longer cramped into a hotel room isn’t very fun. That’s why we love to book most of our travel through vacation rental sites.
Vacation rental websites help us expand our accommodation search beyond just hotels. Also, there’s something more personal about staying in a home or condo than a hotel chain.
Why we love vacation rentals
Several of our family vacations over the past ten years have involved staying in a condo, house, or other property booked on a vacation rental site. I still love hotels like IHG and Hilton, especially when I travel solo or with Barb. Holiday Inn Club Vacation Resorts are also one of our go-to travel stops in cities where it’s an option.
Vacation rentals offer some specific features that we love, including:
- More room: As trips stretch on, we love having enough space for everyone to spread out and have some “alone time” for sanity reasons.
- More amenities: We’ve stayed at rental homes with private pools, hot tubs, a private walkway to the beach, and free-to-use beach toys. Also, having access to a kitchen helps bring down the food costs for a family of six.
- More options: Using a vacation rental site allows you to search for homes, condos, villas, yurts, campers, cabins, and just about any other type of lodging you can think of.
Most of our travel plans over the past couple of years have been ruined or severely altered because of the pandemic. Although things seem to be trending in the right direction, many families are still uncomfortable flying or staying in hotels. The cruise industry is slowly starting back up but there’s also a stigma surrounding them now (or more than before).
The pandemic doesn’t have to be the end of travel for your family. Vacation rentals are a way to still experience a family vacation, but with socially distanced fun. Maybe the sight of packed beaches doesn’t sound appealing, but there are still plenty of lesser-known destinations where you can rent a house or a condo and still avoid crowds. Or perhaps avoid the beach altogether and travel to other locales across the country.
So, why not pack up the car and head to a vacation rental for a week or two? Travel has a way of soothing the soul and provides endless family adventures. Plus, vacation rentals usually come with access to conveniences like your own kitchen, washer and dryer, and other amenities that are perfect for getting away while keeping your family safe.
We’ve researched the best vacation rental sites to find the best ones for efficiently searching and booking vacation homes and other accommodations. Keep in mind that not everyone will have the same experience, so pay attention to the fine print whenever booking a home rental.
Here are the best vacation rental sites for booking your next family adventure.
Airbnb is one of the largest vacation rental sites on the planet. The company started in 2007 with three guests in a San Francisco home and has grown to more than four million hosts worldwide. The vacation rental website has apartments, homes, rooms for rent, condos, and so much more.
You are even able to book a range of experiences and activities through Airbnb.
You can search by location, dates, and by the number of travelers. It will narrow down the available properties quickly for you. You can even narrow it down by specific amenities like a pool or free Wi-Fi. I love the map feature which shows you available rentals as you move around on the on-screen map. Airbnb also offers flexibility with its cancelation policies, chosen by its hosts.
We’ve stayed at Airbnbs on our adventures to San Diego, Washington D.C., and Orlando. I’ve even booked a local Airbnb for a writing retreat.
VRBO is another great vacation rental site we’ve used to book travel. It is part of the Expedia group and hooks up vacation homeowners with travelers. You and your family are able to find all variations of vacation rentals (two million+ whole-home rentals) in 190 countries.
You can search by top destinations, trending, or specific places that you want to visit. It is super simple to search by your preferred property style, dates, and desired amenities.
VRBO has a book with a confidence guarantee, which offers protection and assistance throughout your rental process.
Most people won’t think of booking.com when they are considering a vacation rental. While best known for hotels, flights, and car rentals, you can also use the site to search for other types of accommodations. Think bed and breakfasts, condos, cabins, apartments, and more.
Booking.com actually now features over five million apartments and homes for vacation rentals.
Search by location, date, and number of guests. You’ll see hotels pop up first probably, but you can use the site’s filters to narrow the search down to vacation rentals and desired amenities.
Expedia is one of the largest travel sites in the world. They are also the parent company for several other vacation rental sites including vacationrentals.com, VRBO, Homelidays. In total, the Expedia portfolio actually has 1.8 million vacation rentals across 190 countries along with its other services like flights and car rentals.
A quick search led me to several affordable apartment rentals near Times Square in New York City for a weekend getaway.
Home To Go
Home To Go claims to have the largest selection of vacation rentals worldwide. You’ll find almost anything you’re looking for on this site. Options include vacation homes, beach houses, condos, apartments, cabins, farmhouses, and more. There are even ways to rent a castle or a houseboat.
Home To Go is an online marketplace featuring the very best vacation homes available. In some cases, you can book directly on the site. Because it pulls from its partner sites too, you may get sent directly to the site where they are listed. Home To Go is a great spot to start no matter where you end up booking a rental because of its clean, easy-to-read interface.
Hotels.com is similar to Booking.com. It has a massive range of accommodations. It is best to use an accommodation types filter to help weed out hotels and other accommodation types.
They are open about the fact that some hotels pay them all to push the hotel to the top of their search results. This means you have the option to look below the first few results for something organic. The list view for your results is typically better, and it will show you both the total prices for your stay and the nightly rate.
Not only that, but it will show you the guest ratings and some local information. One issue we’ve found is that sometimes fully booked spots remain on the listings. You might find the perfect place, only to find it is booked on your dates.
TripAdvisor used to be the place where you would go for hotel reviews. However, TripAdvisor now has a range of vacation rentals thanks to its purchase of Holiday Lettings and FlipKey.
TripAdvisor now has a mix of properties, some you can pay for online and others that require contacting the property owner directly to book.
Not all of TripAdvisor’s cancelation policies are as clearly stated as they could be, so make sure you read them carefully. The prices and the fees are clearly stated, though, which is great.
The prices all include
If you like to have all of your options laid out before you, like comparison shopping for car insurance, Tripping.com makes that very easy.
When searching for a vacation rental, you simply put in your search term and the site will search through more than 12 million available properties ranging from condos and beach houses to castles.
Not only that, but Tripping.com features rentals from 190 countries, from rental sites like Homeaway, Booking.com, Airbnb, TripAdvisor Rentals, and many more vacation rental sites.
If you’re looking for a tool that shows you accommodations available almost everywhere, Tripping.com is a great site to check out.
Sonder is a bit different from other vacation rental sites on this list. The site considers its rentals and services the future of hospitality. The company is mobile-forward and renters can receive customized on-demand service through their mobile devices throughout their stay. The app features 24/7 customer service, neighborhood guides, and more.
What Sonder offers is the very best of hotel amenities, like mobile self check-in, boutique bathroom amenities, and fresh towel service, combined with the freedom of a vacation rental.
Google is where you go to search for anything. That includes vacation rentals, too. Google Hotels delivers a wealth of rental information quickly. Google Hotels even analyzes the historical rate data to let you know if you’re getting the best deal possible.
Customers can filter by amenities, deals, property type, and rating, so you get the best vacation rental for your family’s needs.
Vacasa offers a very quick vacation rental service and has over 30,000 homes on its books. On the website, they tell you that your vacation is their full-time job. I love that. , anything to the fact that they will take care of everything for you, it’s ideal for your family’s comfort.
They have a list of top vacation rentals like cabins, monthly vacation rentals, oceanfront or oceanview vacation rentals, and lake houses. They have a wide range of property types to choose from. Most of the rentals on Vacasa are based in the U.S. Vacasa also operates as a vacation home management company for renters.
FlipKey is a TripAdvisor company and lists more than 300,000 properties from around the world. Searchability on FlipKey is similar to many other sites on this list. Search by destination and dates and narrow down your search using filters like rental type, bedrooms, price, and more.
One catch is that some are only bookable directly with the owner via phone call or email.
Other rental sites to consider
A quick online search reveals there are plenty more vacation rental home sites on the interweb than we listed above. Here are three more sites to consider if you’re planning a trip soon.
Tips for Finding the Best Vacation Rental Sites
Here are a few things to consider when booking your next vacation rental.
Read the fine print
Not all vacation rental sites are the same and neither are all vacation rentals. While most hotels offer 100% refunds for cancellations, vacation rentals tend to be stricter. Look over all of the guidelines of both the rental site and the rental home property listing itself to ensure you know what you’re getting before you commit any money.
Look at multiple sites
Take time to research vacation rentals on several websites before choosing the one for your next trip. It’s possible you find the same property on multiple sites but at different price points.
Negotiate your price
Some rental sites allow you to contact the property owner before booking. Reach out and ask for a deal. The worst thing that could happen is they say no. We tried this with a recent vacation rental in Cocoa Beach, Florida. The owner didn’t budge on the price but would drop the hefty $250 cleaning fee (a requirement of the website) if we booked through his rental company instead of the vacation rental site.
Get your questions answered before booking
If you have specific questions not answers on the vacation rental site, contact them before making reservations. Whether it’s related to the rental itself or company policies, find out before putting any money down.
Book travel during the offseason
The best deals always occur before or after peak season. There are not as many visitors then, but rental sites still want to make money. I have four teens in public schools and a wife who is a teacher so we’re limited to traveling during busy seasons like holidays, spring break, and the summer. If your schedule is flexible, offseason travel is a way to potentially save thousands in travel costs for your family.
Read the reviews
Take time to read through the reviews before booking a vacation rental. Now, deciphering customer reviews is an art. Some reviews offer an honest look at both the good and bad of a property. That’s great. But have you ever noticed that some reviews seem to be written by people just looking for something to complain about? Like they planned to make some noise before they packed their bags. Learn to find the info you need from reviews and move on. No rental will have all positive reviews.
I love when rental sites have a search function to narrow down reviews to the info you want. Is it kid-friendly? Do they allow pets? How far is the walk to the beach? I wish all sites had this feature.
Renting a vacation home might be just what your family needs on its next trip. Use the vacation rental sites above to find the perfect accommodations for your next travel getaway.
What’s your favorite vacation rental site? Let us know in the comments below.
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Kevin Payne is the co-founder and budgeting and family travel enthusiast behind FamilyMoneyAdventure.com.
Kevin is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance and travel. He is a regular contributor to Forbes Advisor, Bankrate, Fox Business, Credible, CreditCards.com, and Student Loan Planner.