While I always enjoy staying in a great hotel, my family also likes to mix things up and stay in vacation rentals, as well.

We frequently use Vrbo (and their predecessor, HomeAway) to book stays in incredible vacation homes and apartments, which really help you feel like a local, spread out and enjoy making meals in your accommodation.

Some of my favorite accommodations we have booked with HomeAway (now Vrbo) have been in Europe, like these AMAZING apartments where we stayed in Paris, Bologna and San Gimignano, Italy.

Keep reading for some of the helpful inside tips I’ve learned after booking with them many times…


San Gimignano Vacation Rental Dining


My Tips for Booking on Vrbo

Bologna apartment HomeAway

You’ll find vacation rentals all over the world today. Regardless of your next destination or budget, you can likely easily find a vacation rental that fits the bill.

If this is your first time booking a vacation rental, websites like Koala’s travel blog can help you narrow down your options.

In addition, I’ve compiled several tips to help you book the best vacation rental and make the most out of your selection.

We spent hours finding the perfect rentals for a summer trip to Europe one year (which we flew entirely on miles; here’s how), and I learned a few tips along the way!

Here is what we would recommend for a smooth experience booking on Vrbo

HomeAway San Gimignano Vacation Rental


1. Only Book With Owners Who Use Instant Confirmation

vrbo vacation rental instant confirmation


When searching, click the box that says Instant Confirmation at the top of the Results page.

By choosing these properties, you will be paying through Vrbo, which protects your credit card information and makes you eligible for the Book with Confidence Guarantee from Vrbo.

This guarantee provides you with payment protection, re-booking assistance if the owner cancels your booking at the last minute and 24-hour customer service if you have any questions or problems.


2. Read All the Reviews

HomeAway apartment bathroom


Past visitors can alert you to potential problems or items you may not have thought of.

For example, one issue we ran into in Paris was that we had limited hot water for showers.

Had we realized that earlier, the first one of us to shower would not have stayed in there so long, using up all the hot water 😉!

Also, reviews will tell you about any problems with payment or the owner, bringing to your attention any red flags.


3. Message the Owner With Any Questions Before You Book

vrbo vacation rental message owner


If owners want to book their property, they will respond promptly to any questions you have.

If they don’t, consider that a red flag that they may not be a good potential rental.


4. Filter, Filter and Filter Some More

vrbo vacation rental filters


I think I have adult ADHD 😊 and so a large list of things to look through completely overwhelms me and stresses me out.

Thank goodness, my husband largely handled this task, but to help us trim the number of properties to consider, we used the filters to reduce the list by bedrooms, cost and location.

They also have a feature that allows you to filter by “Recommended for Families” to help if you’re looking for a family-friendly property.

You can also filter by castle, boat or even farmhouse, as well as see if it’s near the ocean or perhaps good for skiing.


5.  Beware Damage Deposits

vrbo vacation rental

In Europe at least, all owners requested damage deposits.

I was fine with this when paying with a credit card and using the Vrbo system (to protect us against fraud), but we had at least one owner propose that we pay them with cash on arrival for the damage deposit.

I was not OK with that, though apparently this is common practice in Europe, so we bypassed that rental for another.

All of our damage deposits were returned, no problem.


6.  In Italy, They’ll Ask for Your Passports

travel credit cards passport map


When we arrived at our rental in Bologna, Italy, our host asked to photocopy our passports.

That immediately put me on alert. Couldn’t they take these and steal our identities?

I checked with Vrbo promptly, and they informed me that is the law in Italy as part of an anti-terrorism procedure, so you’re stuck with it, unfortunately.

And we have experienced that since in Italy, even at hotels. It’s just the law…


Why Book a Vacation Rental?

Saint Germain des Pres vacation rental
Our apartment vacation rental on the Left Bank in Paris


While I certainly love to stay in hotels, especially boutique properties with unique design and amenities, I enjoy equally staying in unique vacation rentals.

Here are my top reasons to choose a vacation rental instead of a hotel…


1.  Experience a Destination Like a Local

Saint Germain des Pres neighborhood
Saint Germain des Pres Arrondisement in Paris


In Europe, we felt less like a tourist and more like we were just part of the neighborhood, especially in Paris, where we could walk right downstairs to the local market or cafe.

It gives you the feel of what it would be like to live there complete with the amenities of home.


2.  More Room to Spread Out

San Gimignano Vacation Rental Loft
Our boys loved sleeping in this amazing loft area of our historic 12th century Tuscany vacation rental


When traveling with a family, more room is always helpful!

With a vacation rental, you can often get bedrooms separate from the living space, which means Mom and Dad can stay up a bit later while the kids can go to sleep. A big perk for parents!

Everyone falling asleep while the TV is on in one hotel room is not ideal 😉.


3.  Save on Food

Paris vacation rental


Food while traveling can be super expensive, especially if you eat out for every meal.

When traveling in the U.S. on Southwest, which lets us check two free bags per person, we often bring a suitcase filled will breakfast items and snacks to save on the cost of eating out.

Most vacation rentals come with kitchens, allowing you to prepare full meals, which can save a ton of money.

Plus, you can, again, feel like a local by shopping at the local market or grocery to get items to prepare your meals.


4.  Do Laundry!

washing machine


I probably should have made this No. 1, because boy is the ability to do laundry helpful, especially with kids.

In Europe, finding vacation rentals with washer/dryers is challenging, but we managed to for two of the three and that helped reduce the amount of clothes we needed to pack.

Plus, my youngest always instantly be covered in food and dirt 😉. There’s no re-wearing any of his clothes, ever!


5.  Save Money

Piggy bank save money fast


We find that vacation rentals often cost the same as or less than staying in a hotel room and offer you so much more space.

For example, the Paris apartment where we stayed was just $185 per night!

You do lose the benefit of amenities like pools, on-site restaurants and the front desk for asking questions, but you gain a kitchen, washer/dryer and room to breathe! Yes, please!


Do you like to book vacation rentals? Have you used Vrbo? What are your top tips?


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  • Lyn Mettler

    Lyn Mettler is a longtime travel writer for US News & World Report, USA Today 10Best and The TODAY Show who created Families Fly Free, a program which teaches families her simple system to use travel rewards to fly for free.

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