Thursday, April 12, 2012

Vacation Hack: Rent a House

Laura Vanderkam had a good list of money-saving hacks on her blog earlier this week, and asked readers for their suggestions.  Since I'm right smack in the middle of executing one of those hacks right now, I figured it would be a good thing to write about.  Also, I'm still sick (gah!).

We haven't traveled much since we had BabyT because baby+airplane still fills me with fear.  But we have gone on a few trips, and the best advice I can give, is to stay in a place with a kitchen/fridge/microwave.

On the few short US trips we've done, we've stayed in a place similar to the Marriott Residence Inn - something that has a kitchenette where we can store T's soy milk and snacks.  Since she needs to eat more frequently and there are only so many times I can feed her fruit leather or graham crackers on the go, we like to have a spot where we can store fresh fruit, yogurt, lunchmeat, etc. 

If we're going to be staying more than one or two nights, we find a place set up more like a "suite" that has a separate bedroom with a door that can be closed.  This allows us to put her down for naps or bedtime and still have space for the grownups to hang out.  Because we don't really need to go to bed at 7:00pm when we're traveling :)

So it wasn't much different when I was looking for a place to stay in Ireland.   I knew we wanted to stay put in one place for the entire 3 weeks, since we were renting a car to do day trips.  (I underestimated how big Ireland is, and how long it takes to get places on the tiny twisty roads, but that's another post.)

For 3 weeks, I wanted more space for us.  Since T sleeps a lot, I figured we'd be spending a lot of time in the house.  I hadn't even thought about what actually happened with me being REALLY sick.  We've spent the majority of our vacation at home so far and are not ready to poke each other in the eye, which is pretty awesome. 

I poked around on, which is a site where owners of vacation properties list their rentals.  I pretty quickly realized that we didn't want to rent an apartment or condo where we'd have to worry about T being quiet most of the time, so I focused on houses and cottages.

I entered some search criteria to narrow down our list - I wanted Wi-Fi, a washer/dryer in the unit, and kid-friendly (whatever that means, but you can search on it).  The search function's not great, so I had to keep notes offline to track the places I was interested in.

When I narrowed it down to a few, I contacted the owners to find out rates.  Most had posted rates for a few nights or a week, but I figured we might be able to get a better deal for 3 weeks in a row, and we're also traveling before the heavy tourist season starts. 

I was right - most of them offered a pretty significant discount for such a long stay.  Some I eliminated because they were on the high end of what we wanted to pay.  Others I eliminated because they were *too* remote - T's gotta have her soymilk, right?

I was worried about dealing directly with the owner, and having no recourse if we showed up and the place was crappy or non-existent.   VRBO doesn't take any responsibility for this.  So here are the steps I took:

1.  Found a place that was advertised on a few different sites. also has a sister site that does vacation rentals, and I looked at the reviews/description there as well.

2.  Looked at the reviews.  Discarded any options that had no reviews at all.  I know it doesn't mean much, but it gave me a tiny bit of peace of mind.

3.  Did a little creative Googling.  The owner listed his name on the place I was considering, and I found out that he also owns the pub in town (which is excellent by the way!) and several other vacation rentals.  I figured he was less likely to be sketchy than someone who didn't list their name at all, or had only one listing online.  I also found pictures of the property online on several different sites, so it looked like it was real...

4.  Emailed the owner a few times.  I wanted to make sure he'd respond, he'd answer specific questions about the town and property, and that he didn't have a shady vibe.  Again, not fool-proof but made me feel better.

5.  Confirmed payment via credit card. I knew our card would protect us from outright fraud.

I held my breath and booked the place.  I emailed him the week before our trip and was relieved to get a response, and he was ready for us. 

We got here, and it's been FANTASTIC.  The house is 3 bedrooms, with a kitchen larger than our own at home, a great (but tiny) washer/dryer, 2.5 baths, decent Wi-Fi, and cable TV with lots of interesting (European) options. 

Even better, we're paying FAR less per night than we would even for the not-fancy B&Bs in the area, and we're very close to the grocery store, so we stocked up.  We eat most meals at home, which has saved us a ton of cash.  EVERYTHING is expensive here, especially meals out. 

We've done our own laundry (and can leave it in the washer/dryer rather than shlepping to a laundromat) which enabled us to bring less clothing overall.  We've spent a ton of time in the house but don't feel like we're on top of each other, which we would at a B&B or regular hotel room.  T doesn't need to be particularly quiet, which is nice, because it's her vacation too.

We're not *trying* to be super-frugal, but this was one huge area where we could save some money, and it wouldn't cost us in enjoyment of our trip. 

So if you can take the leap of faith to do a vacation rental, it may be worth it.  There are probably agencies you can work with to reduce the risk factor a bit, too.  I've heard there are lots of people selling timeshare weeks at vacation condos online as well, so if you're going to a popular destination, that may be a good way to get a deal.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to make myself a nice cup of tea.  Cheers!


  1. We've had a lot of luck in the last 4 years or so with VRBO. You're spot on about looking only at properties that have ample reviews. In terms of due diligence, we've done only that and have never encountered a problem - and we've rented 7 places so far.

    1. Awesome hush! Have yours all been in the US? I think I'm going to use VRBO more now for future vacations. It just works so much better than hotels for us.


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