Pros and cons of vacation rental homes

Staying in motels is something unpleasant that you have to do in order to be someplace that isn’t home.  Rooms that parse your group into couples, regardless of your relationships.  Beds so hard that you sleep on them, not in them.  And little room to do anything other than sleep or watch TV.

But wait–there is another choice.  Try renting a cottage, cabin, condo or private home instead.

A vacation rental condominium on Payette Lake, McCall, Idaho.

A vacation rental condominium on Payette Lake, McCall, Idaho.

Now you can adjust the size of dwelling to suit your group.  Beds are usually softer, because the owner probably bought them for his family to use, not for their industrial strength.  And you can expect a real kitchen, a living room, and more isolation from neighbors.

Here’s my rundown of the pros and cons of vacation rentals, based on several trips:


  1. For three or more people, the cost is less than staying in a motel.  Most motels put two people in a room.
  2. Vacation rentals are available in places that don’t have motels.  They’re anywhere that people live.
  3. You’ll get more space and amenities than a motel offers.  You can count on a full kitchen, and you’ll usually get a living room and access to a yard or other outdoor space.
  4. Many vacation rentals are stand-alone structures.  They’re more quiet and isolated than a motel.
  5. You’ll save money on meals you prepare yourself.  This makes following dietary restrictions easier, too.
  6. Many homes have a washer and dryer.  So, on a long trip, you needn’t spend hours stranded in a laundromat.


  1. For only one or two people, staying in a vacation rental often costs a bit more than staying in a motel.
  2. Owners often charge a one-time cleaning fee.  I’ve seen it vary from $25 to $125; the higher fees look like rental fee top-offs to me.  They often don’t mention it on their web sites.
  3. It’s harder to find and book a vacation rental online than a motel.  There are no equivalents to Best Western, with a sophisticated web site and branches that can take bookings for each other.  Often I can’t tell online whether the home is available on the dates I want.  I have to e-mail or call the owner to check availability and book it.
  4. Unlike American Automobile Association-rated motels, vacation rentals can vary in quality.  Online reviews help make up for the lack of AAA support.
  5. A vacation rental may be off the beaten path.  It’s helpful to have a GPS or mobile computer that can navigate to an address.  You may have to drive someplace else to pick up the key before you drive to the home.
  6. Most vacation rentals have no onsite staff.  The owner is often in another town or even another state.  When necessary, I’ve been able to reach owners by telephone.
  7. Many vacation rentals only provide you with starter consumables such as toilet paper, etc.; when they run out, you need to buy your own.  Also, don’t count on kitchen spices beyond salt and pepper.

Suggestions if you decide to try vacation rentals

A waterfront cabin in Gualala, California.

A waterfront cabin in Gualala, California.

  • Find them online.  Search for “vacation rental” and the location you want.  I’ve found searching for “cabin”, etc. to be less productive.
  • Ask the owner or property manager if there are cleaning fees and any other fees not shown on the web site.
  • Try to pay by credit card, so you have a record of the payment and you can get it reversed if the deal doesn’t work out.
  • Travel with a mobile device that can navigate to an address.  Also bring a mobile phone.
  • The longer you stay in one place, the fewer cleaning fees you have to pay.

I think that, if you’re a large group, or you want to cook your own meals, or you want to relax in the place you’re staying and not just sleep there, a vacation rental is the way to go!


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