Vacation rentals are a great way for a traveling family to spend a vacation. They’re spacious. They’ve got full kicthens. They afford moms and dads some much-needed privacy. Naturally, then, I had to learn more. Which brought me to Diana Heather, and HomeAway.com.
Friends and readers ask me all the time whether vacation rentals or hotels offer better accommodations for traveling families. My answer: vacation rentals, hands down. With this in mind, I recently exchanged emails with Diana Heather, a spokesperson and family travel expert for HomeAway.com, one of the top vacation rental sites today (the company acquired VRBO.com, another biggie, in 2006) . Here’s an edited transcript of what Diana and I discussed.
Q.What percentage of bookings would you say represents family travelers?
A. According to HomeAway research, more than 75 percent of their customers are people traveling with their families or friends and family.
Q. In your experiences, what sorts of amenities are family travelers looking for?
A. In a word: Value! Families want to be comfortable when traveling, which means space, privacy, extra room for extended family and caregivers, a kitchen and great value for their money! In this economy, affordability trumps space, amenities and location. In our latest Vacation Rental Marketplace Report, our owners reported an average weekly rental rate of $1,493 or $213.29 per night.
Q. Generally speaking, what about vacation rentals makes them a good fit (or better fit than hotels) for family travelers?
A. I love that question. Vacation rentals give families more options and flexibility; that is key when traveling with kids. We choose them over hotels when possible because we have more space and more amenities for less money. Not to mention the memories we create spending real quality time together. To me, it’s all about getting more for less. I’m not a math person, but even I get that equation. My husband and I took our two girls (both under the age of three) to Montauk, N.Y., this summer for our family vacation and because we stayed in a vacation rental we were able to bring along both my mother and our full-time babysitter. We enjoyed tons of activities like swimming in the ocean, mini-golf, pony rides, live music and nice dinners out on the town. Plus, we had three bedrooms, two baths, a huge living area for the kids, our own kitchen AND an adorable jungle gym/swing set in the backyard. A hotel just doesn’t offer that kind of space or flexibility for families. We felt lucky to be in a home that actually became part of our vacation rather than just a place to stay.
Q. To what extent does HomeAway.com arrange for baby-oriented items such as cribs and/or high chairs?
A. HomeAway.com doesn’t specifically arrange for baby items to be made available in properties, as our role is to facilitate the ‘introduction’ between the renter and the property owner or manager through the site. However, I’ve found that many rentals are equipped with basic baby gear such as high chairs and Pack ‘N Plays, as well as toys and books. Usually any additional kid-friendly items will be listed on the HomeAway property listing. You can also talk to the homeowner ahead of time see if certain items can be rented during your stay. Again, it’s all about the personal conversations with the owner/manager before renting to determine if a property is right for you. (As an aside, I wrote a blog post about what families should bring when they visit a vacation rental. Please read it.)
Q. What advice can you offer family travelers who are interested in booking a vacation rental but have never done so before?
A. A few things. First, ask questions and have every detail nailed down in your rental agreement ahead of time including what items will be available at the rental (linens, kitchen necessities, etc.) Also, never pay with cash or money order; always use a traceable means of payment such as PayPal or credit card. Next, make sure you have a contact (if not the owner or manager) locally at your destination in case something comes up. It’s also a good idea to read the reviews on HomeAway.com as a guide to learn what others’ experience at that property has been, and to look for rental listings that list ‘family-friendly’ or ‘kid-friendly’ as part of their description. Finally, if possible, have the owner or manager meet you on-site at your arrival to give you a tour and point out important details; this also gives you a chance to make note of anything that may need to be re-arranged for child safety reasons before your kids pile inside. It also just gives you peace of mind.