Smarts for vacation rentals for the holidays

The 7-year-old couldn’t contain her excitement as she ran from the kitchen, to the living room (big TV and oh so comfy couch), to the bedroom and to the bathroom (oversized tub). That she could ski to the door and come back at the end of the day was a definite plus.

“It’s living life!” she stated. We had to agree. I wish I could say that all of our vacation rentals over the years – this 7 year old, my eldest daughter, is now in her thirties – have been so wonderful.

There was the time in Australia where we were robbed while my 12 year old son was sleeping upstairs in a duplex; the ski condo where the glass shower door fell off and the stove didn’t work; the condo in Bologna, Italy, which had two bedrooms but no shared living space and was located in a dodgy neighborhood.

Even so, I’ve long been a fan of vacation rentals – the extra space (putting the kids to bed and relaxing), the kitchen (nobody wants to go out for every meal on vacation, especially with the kids), and the option to bring pets. (Increasingly, families don’t want to give up their four-legged members.) It’s also economical, especially when you share the cost with extended family or friends. Rentals can also be a good bet to give everyone a bit of a break from cramming in grandma’s house for the holidays.

This holiday season, according to an Expedia spokesperson, searches on VRBO are up nearly 10% from last year. Plus, according to Expedia flight search data, Americans are looking to faraway destinations this holiday season. Searches for Rome, for example, increased by 410% for Thanksgiving and Paris by 200% for the Christmas holiday.

And while popular destinations like Maui can be booked most of the time, there’s always availability across the country, from the Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania to Big Bear Lake in California. According to the vacation rental platform Vacasa, South Padre Island, Texas; Hilton Head, SC; and Seattle, Washington, offer some of the most budget-friendly accommodations this holiday season.

Is your group willing to compromise to save money? It may not just be a question of budget. We are meeting our three children and their spouses this Thanksgiving to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary and my son and daughter-in-law’s first. Thanks to the pandemic, like other families, it’s been several years since we spent Thanksgiving together. I wanted somewhere tropical; my kids wanted to be able to hike and mountain bike. They wanted to drive so they could bring the dogs, the bikes and, in my husband’s case, his cast iron skillet. We opted for a Sedona, Arizona, VRBO rental, which actually was more expensive than Mexico but satisfied what everyone considered important.

“My top three tips are always location, location, location,” suggested Josh Viner, chief operating officer at Vacasa. “Be sure to check the description of your vacation rental’s location and its proximity to the attractions you want to experience,” he suggested.

For instance, Kissimmee, Florida, is home to over 30,000 vacation homes and is less than half an hour from Orlando International Airport. Families are sacrificing their theme park presence for more space and their own private pools.

Kissimmee, Florida at night. (Courtesy of Dreamstime)

“A good listing description should always include an approximate location and what’s in the area,” Viner added. “In addition, if it is a priority for your rental to be by the sea or to have ski-in ski-out access during the holidays, use the equipment filters on the booking site to effectively refine your search. But many high-end amenities, like mountain access, ocean views, or hot tubs, come with higher nightly rates, so decide what you need and what you want. you can spend to stay within your budget.

We learned the hard way that it’s important to ask a lot of questions about location. We never thought, for example, that the trails to the ski-in ski-out house we had booked in Park City would be too difficult for the younger skiers in the group, requiring a detour to get to the base and back to the house every day.

And if you’re sharing with other family or loved ones, make sure you’re all on the same page. Are you willing to share bathrooms? How important is a gourmet kitchen? Hot tub and pool? Is the place suitable for young children or people with reduced mobility? Can you walk to the slopes or the beach? Is the location a reasonable distance from everyone’s house?

The good news is that there are also more options than ever to book. Airbnb now offers holiday experiences hosted by locals – everything from cooking and biking to birdwatching and private pottery lessons. VacayMyWay, a new vacation rental booking site, eliminates service fees. Embark with a private boat rental with Click&Ship, which connects boat owners with travellers. Guests can also opt for additional amenities, such as an onboard chef, captain, deckhands, and more. offers the same service connecting RV owners to those who want to rent.

But whether you’re considering a rental in Paris or Rome, or near your in-laws’ house, beware of scams by booking from a credible booking site that includes high-quality photographs or even live tours. 3D like Vacasa does. “Find out what your vacation rental includes before you arrive, either through the listing description or by contacting the host and/or manager,” Viner advised. Is there soap and detergent? A rotisserie for your holiday turkey? A griddle for pancakes? Enough plates and silverware? A high chair and a crib, if you need them?

Make a detailed list of what you will need and send it to the host or property manager. Reviews can let you know how the home is stocked and what amenities guests particularly liked, as well as what let them down.

And for last minute bookings: look for recently listed rentals which will likely have better availability and a better price.

Happy vacation trip!

Eileen Ogintz


To learn more about Taking the Kids, visit and also follow TakingTheKids on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. The Kid’s Guide to Philadelphia, the 13th in the children’s guide series, was published in 2020, while The Kid’s Guide to Camping will be released in 2021. (C)2022 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. ©2022 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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