Renting a Vacation Home
How would you like to stay in a castle? What about in a nice neighbourhood in Paris lined with shops and cafes. Vacation home rentals in Europe are very popular. They will change the way you travel. There are expensive vacation homes, there are cheap ones. You can even just rent a room off someone if you like. Staying at a vacation home, you live like a local and it's fantastic. Learn all about renting a vacation home in Europe.
Pros and Cons of Vacation Home Rentals in Europe
Pros of Vacation Home Rentals in Europe
Cons of Vacation Home Rentals in Europe
"You don't want to be surprised, assuming the place has something."
Vacations Home Websites
Today there are many options when it comes to finding a vacation home rental. Some hotel aggregate booking sites will have vacation homes as part of their search too. I prefer going direct to the sites that specialize in vacation home rentals. These are some of my favourites:
Renting a Vacation Home - How to Do It
Here are the steps to booking a vacation home rental in Europe. I will talk about each in detail providing valuable tips to help you find the best place for you.
Regardless of which site you use, you will have to create a profile. This is how guests get to know who you are, and it can play a big factor in getting a place. Hosts want more than a name. Put your picture up, and smile! There will be a section to talk about yourself. This is really important to fill out. Sell yourself. Tell them what you love about travelling. What are your favourite destinations? Do you like to read? Do you love music, food, shows? Help the host get to know you.
I have in my profile that live music is something I enjoy. So when I was in Hamburg, one of my hosts gave me a list of live venues to check out, and where they were. I never would have found those on my own.
When You Are a Vacation Home Rookie
If this is your first time. Some sites allow you to have references. You may get turned down at first without a history on the site, and without any reviews behind you. Hosts review you as a guest after you stay. So my recommendation is communicate really well about arrival times.
Treat the place as if it were your own. Even though they have a cleaning fee, I still clean the place better than it was left for me. I vacuum and/or sweep, make sure the kitchen is spotless, take out the garbage, recycling and compost, and make the beds. I ask where they would like the linens and towels, and neatly fold them.
Bring a Thank You
I always bring a little thank you gift from Canada that I leave behind with a thank you note. This helps me get great reviews on my profile. When I want to rent the next place, the hosts can see that I will be respectful of their place and they are quicker to accept my booking.
Using the Search Filters
Filters are your friends. They let you see what you want to see, and not see what you don't. Keep in mind filtering down too much will limit options. I recommend start off with your ideal place, with the filters and then expand it slowly to see more if you aren't finding anything. I will be using AirBnB as an example. I've used it the most, and I've had great success. I also had one fail that I learned from, so I can help you avoid the same.
The first thing you will see is the search bar. If you click on it will give you some options. AirBnB has now other options, like Experiences and Restaurants. We are looking for a home, so select HOMES.
In the search bar pick the area you are going to. For this example I will say I am going to Paris. You can now see that it has some listings on the left side and a map with prices on the right. If you hover on the property on the left you will see the price on the right highlight. If you click on the price on the right, it will pop up a quick snapshot of the place. Below the search bar you will find the some filters. That will be our first focus.
Setting the Filters
Before you start searching for vacation home rentals in Europe at least specify the Date, Number of Guests, Home Type and Price. This is most important thing to do. This way it shows you the price based on those, options. You might find the best place for the best price, but the price is based on one person, or a private room. If you specify these options, it will only show those what you need.
Use the More Filters, once you have a few choice places. You don't want to limit yourself. Keep in mind you are travelling. So ask yourself, "What do I really need?" I always want a kitchen, because it saves me a ton of money in food. I would rather have Wifi than a TV, but I would take a good location over Wifi. If you are renting a car, Free Parking might be important as it could be expensive.
"This feature is something most people don't know about."
Searching For a Location
Think about what you plan on doing. Are you going to visit all the touristy spots? Do you want to be in a unique neighbourhood? Do you want to be in a small town outside the city? A vacation home rental sites are all pretty similar. They won't give you the exact location of the place, but they may give you a street name or area. Use this to look up the area online. Every city has it's "good" parts of town, and "bad" parts of town. Use this also to see if it is near they things you want to explore. You are only on vacation for so long, so you don't want your vacation home rental being 45 minutes from everything you want to do. If it saves you money being further away, maybe it's worth it to you.
If you plan on exploring the small towns and villages in a country, you might need to rent a car or be close to a train station. So look for places just outside the city. Many major cities have a Park and Ride station. So if you are close to one of those, you can quickly get to the city by public transport to explore the city. This helps you avoid the parking and driving nightmare of big European cities. Then on the days you want to explore the countryside, you don't have to deal with traffic in the city, you are out quick and on the road.
If you plan on exploring a city, using public transport will be your best option. So look for a location that is close to public transport. The easiest to use is the subway, and tram systems. These are also the quickest to get around. Being near a subway or tram station will make it easy to get to and from your place, but also save you dragging your luggage around on cobblestone (I wrecked the wheels on my luggage doing this..opps!).
Using Google Maps and Street View - Top Tip!
This is an amazing tool that is always improving. This will help you pick a place by learning about the area. What it can do is allow you to:
So let's look at a listing as an example. So I found a place in Paris. It gives me the area as 18th Arrondissement. So copy paste that into Google. The first thing that comes up is the Wikipedia of this area.
"Edgy Landmark district attracts hipsters with retro-cool bars and eateries."
Just read the description and you get a good idea what this area is about. Click on the map and take a look where it's located.
Here we can see the area is highlighted. With the area we can see a few popular sites. The Moulin Rouge theatre, Sacré Cœur Church, The Wall of I Love You. You can see that the world famous Louvre Museum is just south of this area.
If you zoom in, you can see all the public transportation stops in the area. On the vacation home rental page, it will have a circle showing the approximate location of the apartment. So you can go around that area seeing what's around.
In the reviews people all mention that it is steps away from the metro. So if you pick a metro stop in that area, you can get an idea of travel times to and from the area.
Getting to Your Vacation Home Rental
Go to the directions side of Google Maps. Plug in the Metro station nearby, in this case we'll pick Marx Dormoy and pick the Louvre, Eiffel Tower and the Charles de Gaulle Airport (individually) as destinations. Check off the public transit button.
Voila! Now you can see what you can expect for travel times from that apartment. This can help you decide if this is something you want to do everyday.
Now if you zoom into a map you get more information about that area. Below you can see the area around that Metro stop. You can see pins for tons of restaurants, banks, a supermarket, bars and more. Do you see that light orange area? This feature is something most people don't know about. This indicates an "area of interest", so shops, restaurants, and such. How cool is that? Try it in your own area at home, and you'll see. But what does this area really look like.
Take a Virtural Tour
Well let's take a virtual walk! So to do this, in the bottom right of the map, you'll see a little orange guy. Click on him and you'll see some blue lines show up on the map. Those are the Google Street View areas.
Now click on one of the blue lines and you are now in Google Street View. You can now walk the streets and see the neighbourhood. Once you have the address you can even see the route you have to walk to get to the subway or bus.
The video below is a quick example.
Using Google Maps and Street View can really give you a good idea of the neighbourhood you may stay in. After you book it can help you figure out how to get you your place.
"Here are three items I highly recommend that will add security and comfort to your stay."
Things to Watch For
When you look at a profile of vacation home rentals in Europe, you'll see the listed price. Make sure your number of guest is correct.
Amenities that you may want will be different from my choices. All vacation home rentals in Europe will have different things available. Read the list thoroughly. You don't want to be surprised, assuming the place has something. Some places have internet, some don't. Some have towels, some don't. If you aren't sure, or the listing is unclear, they always have a way to communicate with the host. Sometimes you just have to ask. Just don't assume, learn from my mistake.
Learn from my mistake!
I had been on a tour bus for 10 days, playing hockey around Europe. Once the tour was over, I was staying for three more weeks. I had rented a place in Graz, Austria, and thought it had a washer (Side note: Just because a place has a washer, doesn't mean it has a dryer. A lot of people, especially in apartments, hang dry their laundry due to limited space). When I got there, I noticed there wasn't a washer like I had thought. I asked the host, but I didn't read the amenities page properly. Luckily I had an awesome host.
He offered to wash my laundry, I just had to hang it outside to dry. Hosts like this make vacation home renting such a positive thing. He didn't need to do it. I could have gone to a laundromat, but that would have been a half day of doing laundry and not exploring Graz.
Vacation home rentals in Europe will have a the list of amenities, like you can see above. If you know what you are getting you can adapt your travel plan and even what you bring. We always tend to bring too much. With the cost of checked baggage these days, reducing what you bring can save money. Travelling by yourself, maybe you can pack in a carry on. If you are travelling with your family and children, maybe you can take one less bag. Decide what's important to you. Some amenities that I look for:
Having essentials like towels is nice but not a must. Knowing that a place has it or doesn't have it, can help you plan. I often don't need an iron, but I have brought a "nicer" shirt in case I go out with friends, somewhere where a t-shirt is not appropriate. A lot of places don't have irons, so that can be a nice luxury if a place has one. Personally, I wouldn't bring an iron. I have had to get creative. Like hanging my shirt over a boiling pot of water.
If you need an iron, it's not a bad idea to invest in a little travel iron. I have one and it's great. Doesn't take up much room in your suitcase, and will serve you well for all your trips. Here's a great little one if you want to buy one that has dual voltage, which is perfect for travelling. Steamfast SF-717 Mini Travel Steam Iron with Dual Voltage
I'm sure you have seen pictures of Europe and the quaint apartment blocks in major cities. These buildings can be four to six floors, and often without an elevator. So that is something to keep in mind, especially if you are unable to climb stairs, or have to haul up 4 suitcases for your family.
If you do rent a car and are staying in the city, be aware that parking can be a pain. It often lists if it has "free parking", but does it even have parking available is the bigger question sometimes. Sometimes parking can be only for so many hours. So when you are considering renting a place, keep that in mind and make sure by asking the host. Personally if I was staying in a major city and planned on exploring that city, I would use public transit. A car isn't necessary.
House Rules and Cancellation Policy
The House Rules generally gives some more information. Most importantly the check-in and check out times. This doesn't necessarily mean show up anytime within those times. Communicate with the host and arrange a time to get the keys. Some places can have lock boxes with keys in them. Knowing that in advance can be really useful in planning your arrival time.
The cancellation policies are set by the host and each place is different. So be aware of what it is, and read up on what it means.
THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO DO!
There is a reason I stress this. I made the mistake of not doing this once. It resulted in the host cancelling 24 hours before my arrival. Had I read all the reviews, I would have seen that this is a common occurrence with this particular host (In Chicago). I only read the good reviews. Scrambling for a place on short notice was a nightmare I never want to go through again.
So read as many reviews (all if you can) as possible. It will give you a good picture of what the host is like and little insights to the place. Maybe it's smaller than the pictures make it look. Often people talk about the communication with the host and the little touches that each host has, to make the stay a good one. I've stayed away from some places because of certain things written in reviews. Reviews are so important. The reviews are written after someone has stayed there. So yes, a host could get his friends to write a review for him/her. If you only look at places with at least 7 or more reviews, the likelihood is that they are genuine reviews.
What You Can Learn From Reviews
So just by these three reviews you would have learned:
These are all valuable insights into the place. When you continue to all the read reviews, you see the same things mentioned over and over. This adds a level of comfort when you fully understand what you are getting.
Vacation Home Rentals work because of the community of people, that being the hosts and the guests. There will always be bad hosts, and bad guests. I've had one bad experience (a serial canceller), but all my other experiences have been better than expected.
I've have been given great local tips, had my laundry done, been loaned a bike for my stay, and most of all felt completely at home. It was nice to come "home" every night and relax. Part of renting a vacation home, is living like a local. Shopping at the local grocery store, exploring the local pubs and restaurants, and seeing a side of a place you may not have seen had you stayed at a hotel.
You've done all your research and decided this is the place for you. Now it's time to book. This is the easy part. Ensure that the credit card attached to the profile is current. Read the cancellation policy, so you understand it.
Click the Request to Book button! The host now has to accept your request within a certain amount of time. This is where your profile and reviews (if you have any) comes into play.
You will get a notification if they accept or reject your request, through the website or app if you have it on your phone (you will also receive an email or text). The host will vet you and make their decision. Don't be discouraged if a host says no.
There are many reasons they may say no. It happens. I've even had a host not have the place I was looking at available, and then offered me another place they had. Ended being much nicer, in an area of the city that I never would have thought to stay. It was amazing.
Once they accept, your card will get charged, but they don't receive the money until you stay there. You now have a place to stay! DO NOT make payments outside of the website, even if they request it. That's a red flag. Do all your booking through the site.
You can communicate with your host through the site. Once they have accepted your request, I recommend you send them a message, thanking them for accepting you and that you will contact them closer to your travel date to arrange your arrival time.
I often have my places booked before my transportation. So I always reach out to them, say I'm looking found to meeting them and telling them for example, that I am arriving by train, if there is a time that works best for them for my arrival and to get the keys. Hosts appreciate this, as normally they have to arrange their day around their guests normally. I've had to meet hosts at their work, on the street, go to their neighbours, wait in cafes, to get the keys. Be accommodating.
Once I'm on my way, I send them a quick message saying I'm on my way, and give them an ETA. If anything changes, I'll let them know. Traffic jams, train and flight delays happen. So I always let them know if I'm delayed on route. Renting a vacation home is all about communication.
Products for Security and Comfort
I always worry (although I've never had an issue) when I rent a place or stay in a hotel, about someone being able to come in and take something. So now whether you take valuables with you, or leave them in the hostel/hotel/vacation home, they can be locked up in your personal safe.
Especially handy when you are at the beach. Lock it to a beach chair, and the would-be thief is going to have to take the whole chair with you on it. It's slash proof thanks to it's 360-degree stainless steel wire mesh embedded in the poly canvas fabric. Comes with a TSA accepted three-dial combination lock too. There are two sizes, a 5L which can house a 10 inch tablet/small laptop, camera, jewelry and other small items. Or the 12L which can house bigger laptops and things.
If you are concerned about someone coming into your vacation home rental while you are in it, here's the solution. The Addalock is a small, lightweight (4oz), and installs into the door latch in seconds without the use of tools. This is also good for hostels, hotels, and even at home. This is a great idea no matter where you travel. It just adds that little piece of mind.
This is a must for anyone that travels. Regardless if you are staying in a vacation home rental, hotel, or hostel. No one wants to bring home bed bugs, or get bit by one. There are certain precautions you can take to prevent them hitchhiking a ride home with you. But they generally come out at night while you sleep.
That is where a sleeping bag liner is the solution. It creates that barrier between you and those nasty things. Also if you happen to stay in a place that the linens are a little sketchy, a sleeping bag liner is worth every dollar.
Vacation Home Renting is amazing, especially in Europe. It really adds to your experience. You get to meet great people, and live like a local. It can save you money, and you can tailor it to how you like to travel. If you haven't tried it, give it a try!