VRBOs – Let’s talk about vacationing in real houses

In CategoryAdventure

As you may know, we sold our house and all our stuff and are traveling the country with our kids.**

We stay in VRBOs, which are Vacations Rental by Owner houses. These are houses that are individually owned. Often, they are vacation homes for the owners, and they rent them out during the rest of the year to help with expenses. We are on our 4th VRBO at this point, with several more scheduled; and I want to talk about how it’s going and give you some tips in case you would like to rent one for your next family trip.

We have not had any problems so far. Everyone we have dealt with has been reasonable and no one has stolen our money and run off to Aruba.

Now, I know you must click on some of the links I’ve given to the places we have actually stayed (here, here, and here) and been all like, “$1500 a week? who can afford that?” Believe me, that’s not our universe either. Instead, I have strategies to get the price down.

Tip #1: Don’t travel during the High Season

Plan your trip during the Off Season or the Shoulder Season. You might need to wear a heavier jacket and certain attractions might not be open, but traveling in the Off Season has distinct advantages. You don’t have to fight annoying crowds. You can pay less for lodging. You get more attention from park rangers and guides. Places that are tourist-y in the summer can be spectacular during the winter, too.

When we were in Oregon during November and December, we had the beach to ourselves. We wore hats and gloves and didn’t get eaten by mosquitos. We were able to visit a terriffic Christmas light display at a beach-side state park. In July, we will be visiting Hell’s Waiting Room Phoenix, and since no sane people want to be there in the summer, we got a decent rate. Here in Yellowstone, we’ve had some snowy days, but we also might get to see some newborn bison.

The High Season is generally any time the public schools aren’t in session. Don’t visit Disney in the summer, go in January when everyone else back in school. Visit the beach at the end of September. The weather is still nice, and homeowners might jump at the chance to earn a little more money before closing up for the winter.

Tip #2: Stay off the beaten path

We couldn’t afford to stay in the more popular area of Cannon Beach when we were in Oregon, so decided to go with smaller, more out-of-the-way Bandon. I loved it. It was great. It’s the same ocean, after all. In Washington, we originally wanted to go to Seattle, but saved money by staying in Shelton instead.

Tip #3: Stay longer than a weekend

If you can stay longer than a weekend or a week, you have leverage to get a better rate. The longer you stay, the less you pay. Maybe you can split a rental with your sister and her family and divide the time at the house. This is why we stay everywhere at least a month. The nightly rental price and the monthly rental price are light years apart. Also, in most states if you stay 30 days, you don’t have to pay lodging tax, which can be an additional 7-10%.

Tip #4: Negotiate

Owners are often open to negotiating. We have not payed anywhere near full price for any place we have stayed (except the first one, before I realized about the haggling thing), and generally pay somewhere between 45% and 60% of the asking price. We’ve also succesfully negotiated a couple of other places down by 50% before deciding to stay in another location.

I know it’s weird and awkward, but what have you got to lose? If they owners say no, then you don’t have to ever talk to them again. They don’t have to know you’re normally a sissy. So get out your Inner Tough Guy and give it a try. You probably aren’t going to talk someone with a $300/night rental down to $55/night, but most people are willing to discuss a reasonable offer.

Tip #5: Plan early

I learned this one the hard way. We had a terrible time finding a place for this summer. It was quite stressful, in fact. If you start planning for this summer now, you will probably have a hard time finding an opening, never mind someone who is willing to negotiate. But if you start researching a place to stay this fall or winter, you have more of a chance to find an opening AND an owner willing to negotiate. A bird in the hand and all that.

So, I hope you found that helpful. If you have any questions about this, or about our travels in general, feel free to ask. I like answering questions. I’m naturally bossy, so it works out great.

** if you’re new here and wondering what the heck I’m talking about, read this, this and this. And maybe this, this, and this if you become enthralled with this CrazyPants Rodeo.