Vacation rentals are popular with all kinds of travelers, offering a skip-the-front-desk experience for a stay that often feels more authentic, comfy and down-to-earth than what you’d find at a chain hotel. Just like people’s actual homes, vacation rentals can be spacious or tiny, lavishly decorated or bare-bones, in the heart of the city or nestled in the countryside. Our team of travel experts has spent hundreds of hours comparing vacation rentals, browsing booking sites and evaluating rental properties around the world to help you book a place you’ll love at a price that’s right.
To get started, figure out what your your nightly budget is and make a list of the amenities you want. Then choose a vacation rental booking site, use the filters to target your search and get ready to meet your match.
Our favorite vacation rental sites
Booking a stay online can be nerve-wracking, especially if you’ve never done it before. Our team of travel junkies trusts these vacation rental sites, which all include reviews from past travelers and rentals at a wide array of price points. Vrbo and OneFineStay both have on-call customer service in case you need assistance at any point during your stay.
I’ve stayed in dozens of Airbnbs over the past few years and can’t wait to check out some of its more unique stays, from tiny houses to treehouses, houseboats and even yurts. It has over 7 million properties available in over 100,000 cities, which means no matter your destination, it’s very likely you can book an Airbnb.
Discounts for longer stays
Plenty of rentals for less than $100 nightly
Great range of filters to find exactly what you need
Booking.com is an amazing resource because it doesn’t only search homes up for rent by the owner — you can also see cabins, resorts, motels, apartments, lodges, campgrounds and even specialty hotels. Set your maximum budget to see exactly what’s available at your price point.
No booking fees
Reserve immediately — you don’t need to register or wait for the owner to approve your request
If you find a cheaper price for the same vacation rental elsewhere around the web, Booking.com will refund you the difference.
Vrbo only has entire properties for rent, and they tend to be a bit more upscale than Airbnbs. Go with Vrbo if you’re booking a vacation home for a group of people and don’t want to worry about sharing a bathroom with strangers. My mom always uses Vrbo for booking family vacations.
HomeToGo searches Vrbo, Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Booking.com and hundreds of other vacation rental sites all at once. While it might be overwhelming for travelers who prefer a more curated browsing experience, those that like seeing all their options in one place should check it out.
When you find a property you want to book, it’ll send you directly to the provider site to seal the deal.
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Search castles, farmhouses, hostels and more
Especially great for international vacation rentals, since it shows results from booking sites that are less common in the US
If you have a taste for luxury — shall we say, the finer things in life — you’ll vibe with OneFineStay. Every property has been handpicked by its in-house team, and your stay will be coordinated by its team of professionals. Relax in total style, with decor that’s good enough for the lens of Architectural Digest.
Over 10,000 rentals in big ticket cities like LA, NYC, Paris, Tokyo and more
Only one in 10 homes that applies is accepted
Rent villas, townhouses, homes and entire estates
Search over 800,000 vacation rentals in 200 countries around the world with TripAdvisor. We like this vacation rental site because you get to see honest, straightforward reviews from the passionate, seasoned community of TripAdvisor travelers. It also brings in options from Vrbo.
Its Payment Protection promise means you’ll get a 100% refund if the property you book is misrepresented or you can’t access the rental upon arrival.
Use TripAdvisor to book flights, tours and things to do, too.
Best for young people and adventurous travelers looking for a cheap spare room in someone else’s homes, we like Homestay as an alternative to hostels or your friend’s couch. Hosts that sign up for homestay are up for making real, meaningful connections with their guests and may even offer to show you around the new-to-you city.
Lots of options for less than $100 per night, even in major cities like LA and NYC
See a personal bio from each host, with info about their lives, hobbies and interests
Thanks to the Internet, it’s possible to book an overnight stay in virtually any place with a roof to cover your head, from glamorous villas in the Caribbean to cozy apartments in Paris. But whether you stay in a beach bungalow or a boxy tiny home on the open range, it’s important to know the type of space you’re booking. You can usually filter your search to tailor the results to your preferences.
Entire home. An entire property to yourself — whether it’s a cabin, condo, house or villa.
Private room. Sleep in a private room, but share common spaces, like the kitchen and living room, with your host or other guests.
Guest suite. A private flat, floor or guest house on your host’s property, often with a private entrance.
Shared room. The entire accommodation space is shared with others, including sleeping quarters.
Couchsurfing. For those that don’t mind shared accommodations and crashing on a couch, air mattress or futon, couchsurfing is an inexpensive rental option.
Camping space. If traditional campgrounds aren’t your thing, consider a tent, RV, yurt or camping space on a host’s private property.
Eager to ditch the hotel card key and book a one-of-a-kind rental home for your next trip? Here’s how to get started as a traveler:
Select a provider. While big players like Airbnb and Vrbo dominate the vacation rental market, you can also explore niche providers like Homestay, Couchsurfing, 2nd Address and InvitedHome.
Create a profile. Most providers won’t let you request a booking until you’ve completed your profile. Expect to provide your full name, email address, phone number and payment information.
Enter your destination. After selecting your provider and creating a profile, enter your travel dates and destination to browse available listings during your stay.
Find a home. Compare travel lodgings by price, property type, location and amenities. Some apps even let you bookmark your favorite homes so you can compare the top contenders.
Book. Found the perfect spot? Contact the host and request to book. You’re typically not charged until the booking is confirmed.
Vacation rental websites to avoid
Any booking site that doesn’t facilitate secure payment, vet listed properties, or confirm the host’s identities and gather up reviews from past travelers are ones to stay away from. It’s best to trust your gut instinct when it comes to booking with a lesser-known website.
Here are the vacation rental websites we avoid:
Craigslist. The vacation rentals on Craigslist are not vetted by a third party, and you have to pay the host directly, which could be troublesome if you need a refund or end up cancelling. There also aren’t any reviews available, so there’s no way to know whether the property is as described.
Any website that requires money transfers. You should be able to pay the host through a secure transaction on the vacation rental site. If a host asks for payment in the form of a money transfer, that’s a big red flag.
HomeExchange. While HomeExchange is a legit platform, it’s actually for home swapping, not for booking vacation rentals. You have to pay a yearly membership fee of $150 to join, and you also need to open your own home for guests. If you don’t want other people coming to stay in your home, don’t use HomeExchange.
Vacation rentals vs. hotels
While vacation rentals and hotels both offer accommodations while you’re on the road, there are several key differences to keep in mind.
Booking a hotel offers the stability and consistency of a well-established institution. You’ll have access to hotel services and amenities, including 24-hour front-desk reception, room service, housekeeping and hotel concierge.
The drawbacks? Hotels are typically smaller, noisy and lack the touch of home.
Vacation rentals, on the other hand, offer a unique travel experience with more space and freedom than a hotel. Renting an entire home could provide you access to a full kitchen, laundry facilities and amenities to help make your stay comfortable and convenient. But you’ll be expected to clean up after yourself and some rentals may not be what you bargained for.
And the cost? Vacation rentals can be cheaper than hotels depending on their location, but service fees can quickly stack to double your nightly rate. Make a habit of checking the bottom line before you request to book a vacation property.
Choose a hotel if … you want reliable lodgings with access to round-the-clock hotel amenities.
Choose a vacation rental if … you seek unique accommodations that offer more space, privacy and independence. Compare rental sites.
Consider the following before you book your next vacation home:
Check the reviews. Once you’ve found a property you like, vet your potential host by scrutinizing reviews from past travelers.
Pay through the platform. Keep sensitive banking information safe by making all rental payments through the provider’s app or website.
Share your travel plans. Share your travel plans with someone you trust. Some providers even allow you to email your travel itinerary to family and friends.
Research your destination. Find out if there are any travel advisories for your travel destination. Check the forecast for potential inclement weather and scan news headlines for anything noteworthy.
Locate emergency equipment. Once you arrive, familiarize yourself with the layout of the home and locate any emergency equipment, such as fire extinguishers and first aid kits.
Are vacation rentals safe during COVID-19?
Vacation rentals are generally safe to stay in during the coronavirus pandemic, as long as you’re following CDC guidelines. For extra precaution, look for rentals that offer self check-in, to avoid physical interaction with the host.
Many sites, including Airbnb and Vrbo, have issued a set of enhanced cleaning protocols with step-by-step instructions for sanitizing between guests. Airbnb goes a step further, inviting hosts to take a quiz confirming their understanding of this protocol and awarding an Enhanced Clean indicator to hosts that pass.
If you’re worried about the safety of a vacation rental during COVID-19, check the policies posted online to understand exactly how each provider is responding to the pandemic.
Frequently asked questions
Where can I get vacation rental insurance? Allstate and Progressive both offer specialized insurance policy add-ons for short-term vacation rental properties. These policy add-ons offer coverage for theft, excessive utility usage, pest infestation and more.
How can you negotiate vacation rental prices? Many vacation rental platforms allow hosts to offer custom rates, like Airbnb’s Special Offer discount. As long as negotiating a lower price doesn’t violate your provider’s terms and conditions, you can ask potential hosts if they’re willing to cut you a deal.
How necessary is it to have travel insurance? Travel insurance isn’t a strict necessity as a traveler, but it can provide protection and peace of mind while you’re on the road. Travel insurance typically covers travel delays, lost baggage, medical expenses and can even reimburse nonrefundable expenses if you must cancel your trip.
Shannon Terrell is a senior writer for Finder who has written over 400 personal finance guides. With a focus on investments and personal finance, she breaks down jargon-laden topics to help others make informed financial decisions. She studied communications and English literature at the University of Toronto.
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