Tips for Renting a Family Vacation House

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For our recent trip to the mountains, we wanted a comfortable, kid-friendly house that was big enough for the four of us as well as friends and family who came to visit for a few days. We were a little late to the game, and so much of Asheville was booked by the time we got around to finding a place (summer is a peak time for the area). If you are considering a vacation rental and new to the experience, here are some things we have learned along the way.

Check multiple sites. We have used airbnb many times in the past with great success, and this time we found the house on homeaway. Another option is vrbo. Kid & Coe is a newer site geared specifically toward families, but it is only in select cities. There is some overlap among the sites, but sometimes not, so be sure to check a few before deciding. It also helps you figure out the going rates—some houses are way overpriced, and some houses are a bargain (but possibly for good reason), which brings me to …

Read reviews meticulously. It is a lot easier to make do when it is adults only. We wanted to be sure the house had what we needed, was extremely clean and as advertised. We have always found reviews on these sites to be really helpful and spot on, so do take them seriously.

Make space and set up a top priority. With young children, having ample kid-friendly space to play indoors (for rainy days) was so important—and it did rain the first few days we were there. Also, we didn’t want to be on top of each other, so we had enough bedrooms for all of the guests (most of the time). A washer and dryer were non-negotiable (we did a lot of laundry!), and because we were there to experience the cool outdoors, we also made sure the house had an outdoor living area (total bonus: it is much easier clean up when you can sweep the crumbs off of a deck!).

Child-specific considerations. If bringing children with you, be sure to consider beds/cribs, high chairs, stairs (do you need a baby gate?), a bathtub, outdoor play area, and other necessities. Also, the general safety of the house will be important to consider. This definitely limited our options, but it was worth it for everyone’s comfort and enjoyment.

Location, location, location. Children can only be so patient in the car. Almost everywhere we went was a car ride 15 minutes or less. There were a few places we would have liked to visit, but an hour drive there and back just wasn’t realistic with two young ones. We were so thankful we mapped out the attractions before we made our final selection. We chose a house that was close to most everything, which did add to the cost, but it was worth it because we got to do so much more.

Know your deal breakers. I really regretted choosing a place with carpeting. Carpets are huge source of toxins (most padding contains flame retardants among other chemicals), pesticides (for when people wear shoes inside—not that we did) and general dust and allergens. I was on edge quite a bit watching our children roll around on the carpeting in the living room (which they happened to love ha!). I know that makes me sound crazy, but I should have just known my limit and found a place with hardwood or tile everywhere (part of the problem was lack of selection, so next year we will start planning earlier). Another deal breaker for us was wifi—my husband knew he would need to do a bit of work while we were away, so the house had to have this.

Ask questions! Avoiding pesticides is really important to our family. We called the homeowner about six weeks out and asked if he could avoid spraying any pesticides before we came. He was very kind and accommodating and did exactly that. Also, we found out the pots and pans contained non-stick coating, so we brought our own so we could cook with peace of mind. We also brought a few other non-toxic cooking and cleaning necessities—and we wound up needing all of it. It all fit in a single tote bag, so it wasn’t a big deal.

Major oversight on my part: walkability. I did not think to ask if it was possible to go on walks directly from the house. At home, we walk at least a few times a day. While this house was on a beautiful winding road in the mountains, there was no safe space for runners or strollers. That meant any time we wanted to go on a walk, we had to load everyone into the car and drive to a nearby park. If your children dislike car seats as much as mine, you know this was a major bummer. I won’t make this mistake again!

It usually feels a bit risky renting an unknown place, but it has always worked out for us. Also, when traveling with children, to us a rental house is so much more relaxing than a hotel … not to mention affordable. What is your experience with renting vacation houses? Any tips for us?

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