Hotel or Vacation Rental?

This can be a tricky question, but hopefully we can help.

First and foremost, how much space do you need?  This will play into whether a hotel will work or whether a vacation rental would be a better fit.  To be honest, in most cases with kids, we’d probably recommend a rental.

Why go with a vacation rental?

Rentals are great for so many reasons, but here are a few:

Rooms with doors that close–let’s face it, if you’ve got a sleeping baby, or a child going to sleep before the parents, it’s pretty much critical.  It’s not always possible, and I can attest that when it’s not possible, and you end up in a hotel room with a baby crib right at your side, you may come up hours short on your sleep.  But when it is possible, even if it’s two bedrooms with doors that close, it can make a huge difference.

Vacation rentals often involve interaction with the hosts.  Don’t let that scare you away!  In fact, they’re a great resource, because usually they’re the people who live in the place (or they did at one time), so they know the area–the shops, the restaurants, the public transportation, etc.  But they also know the house/apartment.  And if you’re lacking something (like a crib), you can always ask–in many cases if they don’t have one, they’ll arrange it for you.

Another huge reason to go with a vacation rental is the price.  Whereas a single hotel room might be $200-300/night, in many cases you can get a vacation rental for about the same price or less with more than twice the space.  Add to that the savings you reap by having a meal or two (or maybe all your breakfasts) right at home, and it’s not only convenient, but it’s also a big reduction in the trip budget.




HomeAway and Airbnb are two of the biggest players in the world of vacation rentals, and we’ve had positive experiences with both. 

Lastly, and perhaps one of the best parts of all, is the fact that you’ll have a more real experience–more genuine in the sense that you’re not just another tourist on the streets of Rome (or Paris or wherever)–but you’re much closer to being a local.  You’ll see the real side of the places you visit.  You’ll meet more people going about their everyday lives.  And even if you can’t communicate clearly with them due to language barriers, a smile will go a long way, and your kids will get a taste of life different from their own.

Hold on a sec

A few caveats on vacation rentals–and these would be the main reasons you might shy away from a vacation rental:

If you’re only staying in a city for one or two nights, vacation rentals may be hard to come by (many owners prefer to rent for 3+, 5+, or 7+ nights at a time).  I’m not saying you won’t find something for 1-2 nights–they’re just rarer.

As with hotels, you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck if you’re not right in the heart of the tourist zone.  You might find a vacation rental that is just perfect on price, size, host, and amenities that’s a bus+subway ride away from downtown, potentially putting you 30 minutes away from sightseeing every day–not necessarily a deal-breaker, although if you are trying to squeeze some back-at-the-house time in (for naps, changing clothes, etc.), it can become prohibitive.  So take a close look at location (and public transport options) before locking in to a vacation rental.

There’s always the element of surprise with a vacation rental.  While this exists for hotels, I’d say it’s generally to a lesser degree.  For one thing, with hotels they have star ratings, brand reputation, and TripAdvisor reviews.  On vacation rentals, while guest reviews are sometimes available, they are less frequent.  Add to that the risk of a bathroom remodeling gone wrong or the nearest subway station being closed, and the surprise could be quite the downer.  There are, however, some guarantees that HomeAway and Airbnb make to minimize the pain of such surprises, but even if an issue is addressed quickly and smoothly, it is still likely to be a hassle.

The other thing to read carefully about vacation rentals is the rental agreement.  Specifically, the cancelation terms.  That’s one thing that I’m still amazed about when it comes to hotels–in all but a few “buy-it-now” deals, most hotel reservations can be canceled with little or no penalty.  Vacation rental agreements are generally more strict, with the potential for more of your money being retained if you need to change your plans.

Still worth it

Even with the cautions above, we generally lean towards vacation rentals.  Especially if you can get some good dialog going with your host/owner before making the reservation.  I always feel better if I know there’s a human on the other end of the transaction–and someone who can get to know me enough to care about me and my family’s stay.

Whether you’re headed to Paris, Rome, Prague, or London, take a look at what the big vacation rental sites have to offer.  With some research, you may just find the perfect place for your family at a price that won’t break the bank.

And it may just have ten times the charm of  the hotel you’d been considering!

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  1. […] while back I wrote about the merits of vacation rentals as well as some useful questions to ask when considering a vacation rental.  Spending several […]

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