How to Choose a Vacation Rental
You can choose from an amazing selection of excellent vacation rentals in Europe. Choosing one depends on your travel style and experience, preferred location and needs. Comparison shop, read travelers' reviews, ask a lot of questions and carefully read the property descriptions to see what is (and what isn't!) said about the property.
Things to Think About When Choosing a Vacation Rental
This list will help you determine your priorities so you can narrow your focus when searching for rental properties.
- Do you speak the local language? Do you prefer to stay in a location where you'll find English speakers? If so you'll want to focus your search in well-known locales rather than off-the-beaten path.
- What kind of atmosphere do you want? Do you prefer an independent house or an apartment? Do you want to be in an idyllic country setting, a city center or a cute village?
- Do you want to walk to cafes, shops and restaurants? If you prefer to pop out the door for a quick coffee or want to avoid driving to restaurants at night consider a place in town or on the edge of a village.
- Do you want to be around other travelers? If you want interaction with other guests and lots of amenities look for large farms with many apartments or cottages.
- How much noise can you tolerate? If a property is located in town you may have traffic noise or music from the bars disturbing your sleep. Ask if the rental is located on a principle street, opens onto a courtyard or is located in a pedestrian zone. Even country houses may be set along a busy road or may have early morning farming noises.
- Will you be renting a car or do you need to find a home that is accessible by public transit? Most countryside locations require a car. If you want to avoid a car rental make sure there is good local public transportation (sometimes those local buses only run a few times a day).
- Do you want privacy? Check to see if the house is isolated or set apart or if it's part of a hamlet where several houses are jumbled together. Do you have to share garden or patio areas with other guests?
- How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need? The weekly cost of a vacation rental directly relates to the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Most vacation rentals sleep two on a foldout couch in the living room. If someone in your group does not mind the loss of privacy this can save money on the weekly rental.
- Do you enjoy shopping at the local markets then going home and preparing meals? If you will be doing a lot of cooking pay careful attention to the kitchen and how well it is equipped. Some vacation rentals don't have an oven or have a mini-kitchen.
- Do you need outdoor space? If so check to be sure the property has a private garden or terrace.
- Does someone in your party have mobility issues or will you be traveling with small children? Avoid properties with lots of steps or located on a steep street.
- Do you need a pool? Pools are readily available in southern Europe on farms with several apartments and increasingly popular at private country houses too. There is a trade-off - a pool makes a vacation rental more expensive and your privacy may be broken by the pool service man or other farm guests.
Deciphering the Vacation Rental Websites
If the agency or owner has a good website or web page the answers to all your questions are right there. Read the description carefully, look at the photos and try to locate the property on a Google Map so you can see what is nearby.
- The description tells it all. Read the descriptions carefully, don't skim the text. They tell you about the property, amenities offered and the location.
- The photos show it all. Examine those photos carefully. Are they using a wide angle lens to make the room look large (do the walls appear curved)? Look at the ceiling height - some historic properties have low ceilings. Count the number of windows - some historic properties have few windows and may be dark.
- Google Maps can give you a street level view (or at least bird's eye). If the website gives the location of the property find it on a Google Map, zoom in and switch to satellite view to see what is nearby. Is it on a busy road? Is that a chemical factory next door? For some countries you can even switch to "street view" where you can walk the streets and see what is nearby.
Recently we were looking at vacation rentals in Nice, France. The agency had a scan of a local map with an arrow showing the location. I opened up a Google Map of the area, found the intersection, switched to street view and could "walk" along the street and find the building (I compared the buildings to the photos on the website). I rejected one place that had a beauty parlor below it because I did not want to deal with the chemical fumes that would come up to the apartment. I picked a place that was on a quiet looking street and had a cafe down the block.
Looking for Other Sources of Advice
You are not on your own. Talk to other travelers, read reviews and talk to the agency or owner.
- Vacation rental reviews give great advice. Check vacation rental review websites for reviews of the agency or property. We have reviews on this website and we link to some of the other vacation rental review websites (www.slowtrav.com and www.tripadvisor.com). If you do not find any reviews ask the agency or owner to put you in touch with recent renters.
- Other travelers are great resources. Join some online travel communities or forums. I have my favorites listed in the Resources. Ask them for advice. Some of them may have even stayed in some of the vacation rentals you are looking at.
- The agencies or owners will be happy to talk to you. If the website does not tell you everything you want to know email or phone with your specific questions. If it is an agency tell them your requirements and ask them to help you make a shortlist.
"You are renting the place for a week, not purchasing it." I heard of an agency who said this to someone asking questions about a vacation rental. While I would not rent from an agency or owner who said this they do have a point. You do not have to know every little thing about a place and location before booking. But I do like to see a very detailed property description with a list of appliances, communications options and amenities, plus details on the location, so that I do not have to ask endless questions.
Extra Tips to Help You Decide
These are Pauline's tips for working your way through the deciding process.
As I search for vacation rentals I keep track of my shortlist in Word. I paste in the link to the property page and write my summary, with prices and availability. I keep all my thoughts in this document and reorder properties to make my short list. It helps to have all your information in one place, so you do not overlook something you found earlier when making your decision.
I also use Google Bookmarks to keep track of my finds. I create a folder for a trip and label each site with country and agency name (or "owner"). This way I can quickly get back to a property (or you can link from your Word doc).
When I find a place that I like I search online for the same property listed through another agency or rent-by-owner to find the best price. Some agencies rename their properties to stop us from doing this so if I do not find the property on another site I Google the town name and something from the property description. Not all properties are represented by more than one agency so you may not find any information.
Recently I was trying to see how large a cottage was because it looked small in the photos. With Google I found some old planning documents from when the owner was trying to add a porch. They gave the house size - 400 square feet. I still had to ask the owner if this was including both levels or was the size of the main floor (it was the size of one level).
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