Friday 5: Tips for Choosing a Vacation Rental

Choosing a vacation rental is a lot of fun, but it can often be time-consuming and a little nerve-wracking. I tend to be pretty picky about rentals. Frankly, if I’m choosing a rental over a hotel, I want to be sure it’s somewhere I'm excited to come home to every night. That means it needs to be welcoming and well cared for. I have to trust that my money will be handled safely and that the owner or manager is responsive and professional.

Todays Friday 5 shows you my process for narrowing down rentals.  

  La Maisonette  in Baynac-et-Cazenac, France. One of my favorite rentals. (Summer 2010) 

La Maisonette in Baynac-et-Cazenac, France. One of my favorite rentals. (Summer 2010) 

1.  Scrutinize the pictures

The more photos a rental has, the better! If you find a place you like that doesn’t have a ton of photos, don’t be afraid to ask the owner or manager if they have a few more, especially if you want to see something specific.

While the overall aesthetic of a place is nice to look at, be sure to check the details. For example: 

  • What about the bedding? Does it look old or does it look clean and cozy?
  • How neat and tidy does the space seem-- especially the kitchen and bathroom?
  • Are all of the amenities you need there? Air conditioning? Washer/dryer? Coffee maker?
  • Are there enough places to sit?
  • What's the view like? 
 Sunset from  La Maisonette . Staying here was like living in a fairytale for awhile.

Sunset from La Maisonette. Staying here was like living in a fairytale for awhile.

2.  Read reviews 

If you're not going with a tried and true agency, reviews are a great chance for you to get a better sense of what your stay might be like. The more reviews you can read the better. Look for clues about what it’s like to stay there. Is it quiet or noisy?  Is it near shops, sites, restaurants, etc? Is there an elevator? 

Be wary of places that don’t have any reviews. I skip them. Yes, someone has to be the first guest to stay at a rental, but I’m not that person. 

Be wary of places that only have reviews entered by the owner. It’s not that I don’t trust them, but reviews entered by owners may be cherry-picked. I always wonder if only the best of the best end up online? 

Remember to leave reviews after your trips, too!  

 Another favourite rental in Lourmarin, France (2009). It was so lovingly decorated and had incredible linen sheets. Unfortunately, it's not longer available to rent. 

Another favourite rental in Lourmarin, France (2009). It was so lovingly decorated and had incredible linen sheets. Unfortunately, it's not longer available to rent. 

3.  Read the fine print

Take a look at the rental contract and house rules. Make sure you understand everything and are comfortable with the agreement. Some of the questions I often ask when reading through the rental agreement and rules include: 

  • How do you pay for the apartment? How much are you paying up front? Are comfortable with that form of payment? I won’t do wire transfers, for example. Once the money from a wire transfer is out of your account, there’s no way to get it back if something goes wrong. A credit card, on the other hand may offer better buyer protection. 
  • Do you have any protection as the renter? AirBnB, for example, doesn’t release the balance of funds to the manager/owner until 24 hours after your arrival. This gives you a chance to make sure everything is as you expected it to be.
  • What is the cancellation policy? Would you lose your deposit?
  • Are there any hidden or extra costs like cleaning or parking? 
  • Do you need to have a damage deposit when you arrive? Again, are you comfortable with the form of payment?  
  • When do you need to check in and out? How do you get access to the rental?
 A bright, clean, and perfectly appointed  Parisian kitchen  (2013)

A bright, clean, and perfectly appointed Parisian kitchen (2013)

4.  Talk to the owners/manager

It’s always a good idea to have a conversation with the owner or manager before you book the property. Ask questions about the rental and the area. Do they seem knowledgeable and passionate about their area? Will they be there when you arrive? Or will someone else give you the keys? What happens if something goes wrong or you need some help with something It will give you a good idea of their responsiveness and professionalism. 

 A quiet sunny morning and the town pup from the balcony of  our rental  in Villefranche-sur-Mer, France (2012)

A quiet sunny morning and the town pup from the balcony of our rental in Villefranche-sur-Mer, France (2012)

5.  Trust your gut

When it comes down to it, the most important part is to trust your gut. If you feel like something is off or seems strange, then move on. There are thousands of rentals out there, and there’s no reason to settle for something you're not comfortable with. 


Everyone’s standards will be different. I’ll admit that I’m probably more fussy than most people. The point is that it has to look nice and be functional based on your preferences. By all means, be flexible, but prioritize what is most important for you and don’t bend too much on those things.

That's all for this week! Happy weekend!