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Vacation Rentals: Right for You?

colorful house porchVacation rental homes are gaining popularity, not just for family vacations at the beach but among independent travelers as well. For families, a vacation rental is an easy way to get more bang for your buck -- a rental home will almost always yield more space at a lower price than a hotel room. If you're a tourist who wants to feel like a local on your next trip abroad, a rental can help you do just that. And if you're looking to make fantasy into reality, renting could be your chance to discover what it really feels like to live in an oceanfront villa in Maui.

There's no better time than the present to try a vacation rental property. With many properties to choose from, baby boomers looking for extended stays, honeymooners longing for exotic luxury and weekend travelers needing a getaway house are catching on to the trend.

Is a vacation rental right for your next trip? Read on!

What's Available?

Most people imagine beach houses when they think of vacation rentals, but these are just one segment of an ever-growing industry. You can rent an apartment in Paris, a villa in Tuscany, a brownstone in Brooklyn, a villa in Bali, a penthouse in Sydney or a treehouse in Puerto Rico. Whatever kind of lodging you're interested in, no matter how exotic, chances are you can rent it.

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What You'll Gain

In most cases you'll have more space, more privacy and more money in your pocket when you choose a vacation rental rather than a hotel. You'll also most likely have access to a kitchen and washer/dryer. If your property is part of a larger resort or condo complex, you might also enjoy privileges like golf, tennis and concierge service.

What You'll Give Up

Not all rentals are created equal. Private single-family homes may not have the same amenities that condos or villas within a resort community will. When renting the single-family home variety you may forfeit maid service, concierge service, room service and in-house restaurants -- and you might even have to bring your own linens. Beach homes usually have more rigid check-in dates than hotels (many rentals are on a set schedule, typically Saturday to Saturday) and may not offer any special perks. Beach chairs, bikes and baby equipment will probably have to be rented on your own.

Resort homes, condos and villas located within a resort community or condo complex generally offer a more complete amenities package. Depending on the destination, linens, beach towels and bath towels may be provided. The property may also offer daily or weekly maid service, often at extra cost. You'll find more flexible check-in dates in this type of accommodation than you would at a single-family beach house.

Finding a Vacation Rental

What's the Deal?

In many cases, you can get more space for less money when you choose a vacation rental over comparable hotels in the area. For example, on a recent search we found off-season rates of $174 a night for a room at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on Hawaii's Big Island (including a $25 resort fee, but not including tax). However, for $185 - $195 a night (not including taxes) you could get a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo at nearby Vista Waikoloa with a full kitchen and access to pools, hot tubs and concierge service.

In Rome, we found very few centrally located hotels offering rooms under $100 a night, but we did find numerous lofts and apartments under that price on rental site Airbnb.com -- most with kitchens, TV's and washing machines.

These are just a few examples of how much you could save by renting rather than paying for a hotel room on your next trip. Does that mean you can't beat the rental cost by finding a great deal on a hotel? Of course not -- but if price is important to you, it's well worth looking into vacation rentals, especially if you're traveling with your family or another couple, or staying for an extended period of time.

How Long Do You Have to Stay?

bedroom viewWhile some seasonal beach destinations have fairly strict rental schedules (usually Saturday to Saturday) and other properties have seven-night minimum stays, more and more vacation rentals are becoming available for as few as one or two nights -- making them a viable option for weekend getaways or short city breaks. This varies widely from destination to destination, so be sure to do your homework.

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Families and Groups

Vacation rentals are an economical, practical option for families and large groups who would otherwise have to pay for more than one hotel room. Sharing a house lets you strike a compromise between togetherness and privacy; you can enjoy family meals together in the communal kitchen, but you'll also have enough space for everyone to come and go as they please. Parents will appreciate not having to get the kids dressed to go down to breakfast in a hotel restaurant -- in your own kitchen, PJ's are perfectly acceptable!

Destination Weddings

Getting married far from home? You can often keep costs down by having guests share a vacation home (or several) rather than paying for a large block of hotel rooms. And a rental villa of your own makes a secluded, romantic spot for your honeymoon after all the guests have gone home.

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Living Like a Local

Many travelers seeking to blend into the local culture of a new destination choose to rent an apartment or house because these are often located in residential neighborhoods. Being based there, instead of a hotel in a more touristy area of town, allows you to shop in the neighborhood stores, hang out in the local cafes and get to know your neighbors.

If you really want to feel like a local, this is the way to go. Be sure to speak with the owner before you arrive to get insider tips on where to eat and what to do in the neighborhood.

Living Like a Millionaire

At the opposite end of the spectrum, maybe you'd rather live large than live like a local -- and there are vacation rentals for that too. This is your chance to try out a type of lifestyle you've never experienced before -- to live like a rock star in a secluded villa on the Caribbean island of Mustique, or play lady of the manor in a French chateau. Maybe you can't afford to buy that $12 million oceanfront property, but at least you can live there for a week.

Got Questions About Vacation Rentals? Post Them Here

When NOT to Rent

Though the number of properties available for short-term rental is on the rise, you'll have much more choice if you're staying for at least three nights; a hotel may be a better option if you're only going to be in town for a day or two. Also, if your plans may change at the last minute, keep in mind that a hotel reservation is much easier to cancel than a rental agreement, which is a binding contract between you and the homeowner.

A vacation rental may not be right for you if you prefer to have room service, daily housekeeping, and on-site restaurants and bars (although the number of serviced rentals is growing). Also, some travelers prefer the more structured environment of a hotel rather than the greater self-sufficiency of a vacation rental when they're in a foreign country.

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--written by Sarah Schlichter, Vicki Flores and Genevieve S. Brown

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