As someone who has rented many a vacation villa, cottage, and apartment—from Italy to Spain to Paris to the Caribbean to Hawaii—I am here to tell you that it’s a great way for a family or group to stretch their vacation dollar. You get more space and privacy than at a hotel, you get a living room to stretch out in and a kitchen so you can save on meals and snacks, and you get to live like a local. There are differences that you might consider a downside, depending on what you want from the experience: Some hotel-style creature comforts are usually missing, and you might do more cooking and cleaning than you bargained for. Then again, you might get cool extras such as a fireplace, bikes, a billiard table, or even toys for your kids to play with. In my experience, here’s when a vacation rental makes the most sense:
You’re a family with children.
Families bound for big cities in particular should consider renting an apartment. City hotel rooms, especially in Europe, tend to be tiny—there’s barely any floor space for kids to kick around in—and tend not to provide a refrigerator, a microwave, a washer/dryer, or other amenities that families need. Rental apartments offer these, of course, as well as a door between the living area and the bedrooms—so kids can nap or hit the sack early without parents having to sit around in the dark for hours. As for escapes from the city, vacation rental can also be a key way to reduce the cost of a family beach vacation.
You’ve got a group.
A rental can lower your costs drastically, versus staying in a hotel. Typically, the bigger the house, the lower the price per person, and the more you’ll save—as long as you can fill the house. Therefore, when your destination is a pricey one—say, a popular beach town in peak season, or your dream villa in Tuscany—two or three families might rent together and split the cost. If your group is comprised of couples, consider whether you need a private bathroom for each bedroom.
Your stay is a week or longer.
Most rentals have a one-week minimum, especially during peak vacation periods such as school breaks or holidays. Sometimes, especially in Europe, the rental is specifically from Saturday to Saturday. In low season there’s room for negotiation, so if you need more schedule flexibility, ask whether such restrictions can be waived.
You don’t mind a few household chores on vacation.
When my family rents a house, our first activity after arrival is not plopping down by the pool with margaritas. It’s driving to the nearest Costco to buy groceries as well as whatever kitchen, bathroom, or cleaning supplies are missing from the house. When there’s no hotel infrastructure—no housekeeper, no room service, no front desk, no maintenance crew—it means you’re the one taking out the garbage, wrestling with unfamiliar appliances, trying to get them fixed if they break, etc. That said, some rental properties offer a housekeeper, cook, or other staff at extra cost. Another option to consider: Some large resorts include a smattering of private villas, so you have the hotel’s staff and infrastructure at your disposal but also the space and privacy you crave.
Have you ever opted for a vacation rental? What were the pros and cons—and did you save money?