Travel

Booking Your First Family Vacation Rental? What to Ask Your Airbnb/VRBO Host

written by KATIE CLINE

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Source: Katie Marker and Margaret Rajic
Source: Katie Marker and Margaret Rajic

It’s easy to gravitate to hotel reservations when you’ve got a family vacation on the horizon. There are often great deals calling for your attention, and tey are usually from recognizable brands whose accommodations will keep you satisfied enough. It’s kind of like counting on a Starbucks for your next solid latte or macchiato. That being said, there are many reasons to choose a vacation rental over a hotel room for your next family trip.

For one, there’s more space, with the average vacation rental clocking in at 1,300 square feet versus the typical hotel room’s 300. More space can mean many things, but for me, it means having room to host my multigenerational family all under one roof. (It also means not having to share a bedtime with my toddler.)

Then, there’s the fact that vacation rentals typically come with their own kitchen, which is helpful for managing picky eaters, reducing stress at mealtimes, or even keeping a big family on a budget. Other perks include more privacy, increased affordability, and, often, a pet-friendly atmosphere. 

Still, for all of their positives, it’s important to recognize that not all vacation rentals are created equal. As an avid traveler who is both a mom and a vacation rental host, I’ve stayed in the good, the bad, and the (extremely) ugly. Here’s what I do to vet a property before booking a trip, including all the questions to ask your Airbnb or VRBO host.

Source: @alainakaz

Scrutinize the photos and read the full description

These two steps will tell you a lot. Are they using professional imagery or pictures taken with an iPhone? Is their description clear and well-written, or do you finish reading with more questions and concerns? A host who portrays a professional first impression often applies that same level of attention to detail to all aspects of the experience.

Check the reviews and the host’s response

You can’t please everyone. A vacation rental I loved might be something my mother-in-law would hate. But reviews can tell you a lot. If people are continually complaining about cleanliness or safety concerns, book someplace else. For other gripes, how did the host respond? If they were calm and respectful, one bad review might be the case of an impossible-to-please guest.

Review the amenity list

Online sites like Airbnb do a fantastic job of clearly outlining which amenities are available, so you know what extras you might need to pack for your vacation rental. Here are the top amenities I look for to make traveling with family easier and more enjoyable:

  • Bathtub (essential for little ones)
  • Cleaning products
  • Shampoo, conditioner, body wash
  • Hair dryer (I hate bringing my own, as it takes up too much space)
  • Washer / Dryer (make sure this says it’s “in unit” and “free”)
  • Essentials (Airbnb considers this towels, bed sheets, soap, and toilet paper)
  • Room darkening shades
  • Crib or Pack ‘n Play
  • High chair
  • Baby safety gate
  • Kitchen (I always look for a microwave and a dishwasher for convenience) 
  • Cooking basics (Airbnb considers this pots and pans, oil, salt and pepper)
  • Dishes and silverware
  • Key safety features include a smoke alarm, carbon monoxide alarm, fire extinguisher, first aid kit
  • Air conditioning and/or heat
  • Private backyard
  • Pets allowed (important for families who hope to bring their pet or families with pet allergies)

Additionally, some rentals may have some recreational amenities like bikes, beach chairs, stand-up paddle boards, waterfront dock access, a hot tub, or a pool, so it’ll be important to know whether to pack bike helmets, life jackets, beach towels, or other items to (safely) enjoy the amenities.

Check out your host

You can learn a lot about your host just from reviewing their listing, which shows how long they’ve been hosting and if they’re a “Superhost”—something Airbnb defines as “a host who goes above and beyond to provide excellent hospitality.” (On VRBO, it’s called Premier Host.) You can also see their response rate and time—mine is 100 percent and within an hour. You want to stay with a host who will answer you quickly.

Message your host

Say hi and explain a bit about your trip. I love hearing from my guests, and I always try to go above and beyond for each of them. If any of the listed amenities are vital to your stay, it’s always good to reconfirm they’ll be available. For example, we had placed our BBQ grill in storage for the winter but took it back out when a group in December wanted to use it. 

For local tips and questions, ask your Airbnb or VRBO host. They are a fantastic resource—from recommending the nearest grocery stores (and whether they deliver!) to family-friendly restaurants and attractions and more. You can even ask your host if you can have Amazon deliveries to the property ahead of time with approximate shipping timelines.

Review check-in and check-out expectations

Finally, when it comes to questions to ask your Airbnb or VRBO host, I think it’s important to think about check-in and check-out times. When we were flying to London with my 18-month-old, we knew we’d arrive early in the morning due to our redeye flight. Before selecting my Airbnb, I reached out to approximately 10 hosts to see if early check-in was possible. I received a variety of answers from “yes, for a fee” to “check back nearer the time”.

The host who won my business confirmed my early check-in on the spot, stating that he knew what it was like to travel with young children and had blocked the night prior to ensure we could check in as soon as we landed. That small act of kindness and empathy confirmed I was choosing the right place for my family.

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