10 Road-Tested Tips For Vacation Rentals This Year
Private home rentals are more in-demand than ever, here’s your guide to safety and fun
As states reopen after the coronavirus shutdown, some travelers are beginning to reclaim their holiday plans. Renting a vacation home can be an excellent option for those who are ready to travel again this year. Many properties are located in secluded destinations around the United States and can provide sought-after amenities such as full kitchens, private pools and plenty of room to relax.
Home rental companies and online sites like Airbnb and Vrbo are starting to see strong demand for rentals in traditional vacation spots across the country. Searches for domestic vacation rentals on Vrbo are greater than they were at this time last year, and Airbnb has seen a similar surge in bookings as well. If you’re considering renting a vacation property and are concerned about safety, it’s important to carefully research your options and ask questions in advance. Policies vary widely between hosts and can be confusing.
We rented a vacation home recently, and arranging this trip was a far different experience than the dozens of family holidays and reunions I’ve organized in the past. Given the realities of 2020, here are 10 key tips to help you choose a great vacation rental and plan a relaxing getaway this year:
- Choose your destination wisely. Many states, national parks and localities are re-opening gradually after the COVID-19 pandemic closings earlier this year. Do your research in advance to learn if there are any self-quarantine requirements and plan accordingly. In addition, consider how long of a road trip makes sense for your family if you wish to avoid bathroom breaks. While destinations may offer a wide variety of attractions, it’s important to check to see which ones will be open during your travel dates and what restrictions will be in place. If your vacation rental is located in a resort area, find out whether amenities and activities such as pools, restaurants, golf courses and water sports will be available while you’re there, and ask if reservations are required due to capacity restrictions. It’s wise to ask about mask usage and social distancing requirements as well.
- Book early for the best selection. 2020 has been dubbed the year of the domestic road trip, resulting in a surge in vacation home rentals in popular spots. Beach locations such as North Carolina’s Outer Banks are seeing an unprecedented demand for vacation home bookings, with some rental agencies reporting nearly sold-out conditions for summer months. Secluded mountain and lakeside locales are sought after as well, so it’s wise to book early. Make a list of the features you want in your vacation home, including location and number of bedrooms. Seek out rentals with excellent kitchen facilities so you can cook your own meals and perhaps opt for homes with plenty of outdoor decks, high-speed Internet and a private pool if available. Map each home’s location via Google Maps and be sure to read the reviews for each property for hints on cleanliness and other concerns.
- Double-check cancellation and deposit policies. Contact potential hosts or vacation rental agencies and make sure you understand the cancellation policies for any property you’re considering. Cancellation policies are often more liberal this year, and Airbnb offers a cancellation flexibility search feature to help identify these options. Find out whether you will be receiving a cash refund or a credit for future use if cancellation is necessary and if so, learn if there are black-out dates for rescheduling your trip. In addition, ask about damage and security deposits and determine when any deposits will be returned. For your protection, it’s important to receive clear answers to these questions in writing.
- Understand what is included with your rental. Read each property description carefully and ask the agency or host about any exclusions and extra fees. While it’s always been important to check on what’s included with your vacation rental, it’s even more so now. Some rental agencies and hosts are no longer providing linens, towels and pillows due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while others are going out of their way to comply with guidelines and offer more. Determine whether linens, disinfecting soap and other items are provided at your rental property. Plan to pack a cooler filled with groceries and bring your own paper towels, wipes and cleaning supplied to sanitize high-use surfaces when you arrive.
- Ask questions about cleaning protocols. Cleaning and sanitation are top of mind for today’s vacationers. Reach out to each host or rental agency and ask specific questions about the cleaners that are being used, cleaning standards, disinfecting products and any other safety and sanitizing topics. These are reasonable questions to ask, and hosts, owners and agencies should be happy to provide details. Vacation rental cleaning fees are trending higher due to additional COVID-19 requirements, so be prepared to pay more this year. Safety and sanitation are important on the road as well, so bring gloves, masks and hand sanitizer for stops at service stations.
- Learn how long rentals will be vacant before your arrival. Experts have suggested that time can be one of the most important protections against viruses such as COVID-19. As a result, some hosts and rental agencies are leaving 24-72 hours between guest rentals to provide added protection. Select Airbnb and Vrbo hosts are offering these types of options, as are select hotels and resorts. In addition to checking on time between reservations, ask when cleaners will be at the property before your stay to find out how long the vacation rental will be empty before your arrival.
- Opt for no-contact check-in and keyless entry. Touchless travel is preferred on road trips this year, so eliminate as much outside human interaction as possible. Look for vacation rentals that offer online or no-contact check-in procedures and convenient keyless entry. If these details aren’t provided in the property description, ask the host or rental agency for this information before booking. If you’re planning on renting a condominium, check to see if you must register at a front desk or go through a shared atrium in order to reach your unit. While it’s helpful to avoid in-person interactions, make sure there’s an emergency number or person to contact in case something goes wrong at your rental property.
- Query about flexible arrival and departure times. While some rental agencies and hosts hold firm on arrival and departure times, others are more flexible during shoulder seasons and other times when properties are not heavily rented. Arriving a few hours early or leaving later can be an attractive amenity, so you might contact your host or rental agency prior to booking to determine their flexibility. Some rental agencies and hosts charge an additional fee for early arrivals or late departures, while others offer this on a complimentary basis. During slower periods, additional free nights or last-minute discounts may also be possible.
- Find out about nearby construction and other issues. Many vacationers are looking forward to the peaceful enjoyment of their rental property, but that can be hampered if there is construction nearby. Ask your host or rental agency if nearby homes are under construction or being repaired, since work may have been delayed due to the COVID-19 crisis. It’s also wise to find out if any of the vacation rentals that you are considering are currently being offered for sale, as they could be available for multiple in-person showings at any time prior to your arrival. If you’re planning to travel with furry family members, make sure the options you’re considering are pet-friendly and ask about associated fees.
- Consider purchasing travel insurance. Travel insurance can help alleviate some of the financial risks of travel. Purchasing travel insurance within 15 days of your first vacation payment can provide additional coverage for pre-existing conditions, so timing can be important. The most complete trip insurance coverage is available under “Cancel for Any Reason” policies, which are significantly more expensive but can provide coverage if vacationers decide not to travel due to virus fears or other reasons typically not covered by other plans. If you decide to buy travel insurance, check with trip insurance companies carefully to understand what’s covered and make sure all vacation costs are included. You may wish to purchase vacation home rental coverage to protect against damages as well.
Nancy Schretter has been a leader in family and multigenerational travel for more than 20 years, covering these topics for her own publications as well as for leading magazines, newspapers, television and radio programs, and online travel sites. She is also a consultant and frequent speaker at travel industry conferences and events.