Planning a spring break or summer trip? Here’s some solid advice on vacation rentals.


By MARILYN ROBITAILLE


Depending on your reason for travel, destination, length of stay and number in your party, it’s always good to weigh your lodging options. Although the safest bet might be that four or five-star resort or hotel, prices can often leave you breathless, especially when you add travel and food expenses.


You might do well to consider what can be a far less expensive option: a vacation home rented by an individual through an agency account.

The option for a vacation home rental can have its problems, so if you pack your bags and plan to sleep at a place you find on Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO) or Airbnb, exercise some caution before you head out the door.


Although you might encounter a vacation home rental on a more generic website than VRBO or Airbnb, be careful. Both of these major players come with good insurance to cover your expenses if something goes terribly wrong.


I once had an owner cancel my reservation one day before departure. I notified the agency, and within a couple of hours, they sent me alternative options and paid the bill from the funds I had already committed.

Of course, part of what you’ll pay includes a fee to the agency, but the accounting has transparency, and you can rest assured that the million-dollar liability policy might be one you’re glad the owner has in case you fall down those front steps.


Know your geography. Several places across the country have decided that short-term renters mar the ambiance of the neighborhood. New York City has passed strict regulations, and most stays under a month fall under the guidelines.

Hosts can rent their homes for two guests, but owners must reside and be present on the premises. The NYC regulations can easily be Googled, so know the guidelines before you take someone’s word that they’re following the rules.


My only short-term rental horror story occurred in New York City. I rented what looked like the perfect apartment in pictures. They turned out to be a creative fiction. Management stopped answering my phone calls, and I never did receive any compensation. We had no option other than to tough it out. We were in the apartment as little as possible, but we did have to sleep with resident bugs and a city mouse or two.


By the time I was back in Texas, the rental website had disappeared.


Mechanisms on VRBO and Airbnb show you reviews from other renters and various kinds of rating systems. Pay attention to those. Even with screening done by the agencies, occasionally a scam occurs. I never use the instant book option without emailing the owner. You can tell quite a lot about a person by the way they communicate.

Beware of any offers by an owner to bypass the agency and deal directly with them. You’ll have no recourse and no liability policy. Doing your own background check can be tedious. The owners pay a healthy annual fee for their property to be on the agency’s website; I don’t trust someone trying to cheat the system for the few bucks the agency makes.


Brave soul that I am, I’ve actually traveled alone to a foreign country and booked a vacation rental through Airbnb and VRBO on multiple occasions. For peace of mind, I always have about $100 in foreign currency (in addition to a credit or debit card, of course), a cell phone with internet that works the second I disembark, and an arrival time well before dark.


I’ve arrived in places where I had to search for a key in a green cabinet on a back porch with multiple green cabinets, a place with a locked gate where I had to wait on a Russian woman who spoke no English to let me in, and a place where the owner left copious notes on how to turn on the water, air conditioner, and WiFi.

I managed all of it without an engineering degree.


Consider the joy of having that first cup of coffee in your PJs; the comfort of relaxing in a big space with multiple rooms, maybe even multiple bathrooms; and the feeling of living like a native.


Do your homework, and you’ll find that it’s worth your time and effort.


Safe travels. Let’s go places. (Soon, I hope.)