Break free from hotels this spring with vacation rentals — and caution

Sophia Pendergast, Staff Reporter

Airbnbs have been my family’s choice for vacations for a few years now. With six people, it is incredibly rare that we are able to stay in a hotel large enough to fit all of us without having to pay hundreds of dollars every night. After we got a dog, vacation homes became a necessity. After staying with him once in a hotel, we realized six people and a dog in a cramped hotel room was simply too much.

Ultimately, we turned to vacation home rentals, where we could get an entire house for a cheaper price than two hotel rooms, and we could have a fenced-in yard for our dog to burn energy in.

While we have had many great experiences staying in vacation homes, we have also had some not-so-pleasant ones.

One of the biggest issues that we have found with Airbnbs is the amount of chores that often come with staying on a property. Many of the places that we stay require renters to strip the beds, wash and put away any dishes, completely wipe down countertops, and take out the trash (sometimes to dumpsters located down the road) — even when we are paying a $400 cleaning fee.

Many homeowners do not specify that visitors will have to complete these tasks beforehand, so upon arrival, we are greeted with a hefty list of chores. It’s especially disappointing when you spend time and money on chores and cleaning fees, only to arrive and find that the house isn’t completely clean.

Another issue we have found is that of privacy and safety. On a trip to New Zealand, my  family stayed on a property where we were separated into two separate tiny homes. The owner also lived on the premises. On the evening of our arrival, we all gathered into one of the tiny homes to get our clothes and toiletries sorted for the following morning before separating for the evening. While this was happening, we saw the property owner walk out of the house with a few dinner guests and proceed to enter the other tiny home that my family was staying in. She unlocked the door and showed her guests around.

In the part of the property that the owner entered, we were keeping valuables, such as phones, wallets, and passports. We thought that they would be safe since they were locked in the house, but they could have easily been taken when the owner showed the guests around. Additionally, we were jetlagged from the trip. Had she brought her guests over just 30 minutes later, we would have been in for an incredibly scary awakening.

On another trip, we stayed with extended family in a townhouse in downtown Columbus, OH. The house got great reviews overall, and no complaints. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a strange woman claiming to be looking for her friend. After informing her that we had not seen her friend, the woman proceeded to wander into the shared fenced-in backyards behind the townhouses. Because they were chain link fences, the woman simply had to lift the latch and walk in.

My family had done extensive research into the areas where the houses were located when these events occurred, often checking safety scores on websites like Niche. My parents read through countless reviews and moved onto the next option if they showed the slightest hint of being unsafe; so, we went into these trips feeling confident and comfortable.

These events just go to show that you never quite know what a location is going to be like until you arrive. Though the same can be said about hotels, you at least get the peace of mind knowing that most hotels have 24-hour front desk staff and security monitoring. In a vacation rental, you don’t have that advantage.

Now, I am not fully against vacation rentals. Ultimately, vacation rentals have provided us with a world of freedoms that hotels do not. For one, we have much more space. It saves us from the crabbiness that can sometimes happen when you are crammed in a hotel room. We are able to cook, which is great when we are staying in isolated areas. Additionally, we are able to leave our dog in his kennel at the house, allowing us to hike in dog-unfriendly areas, and leave him unattended for longer periods.

The convenience of a vacation home is one of the biggest reasons why we keep booking them. When it comes to deciding between a week in a cramped hotel room vs. a week in a large home, the answer is clear.

However, before your trip, reach out to the owner to get information on the expectations of staying in the house. If you check early enough and realize that the tasks may be too much, you may be able to cancel and find another accommodation. If you are worried that the location you are staying in won’t live up to what you read on the internet, reach out to a friend or family member living in the area where you are visiting. Someone who knows the area well will likely give you better insight than an article can. If you are greeted with unexpected circumstances, such as nosy neighbors or chores, you can always leave a review on the house and save another potential guest from the same struggles that you had.

As long as you are safe and have a positive attitude, your vacation rental can be a blast!