Vacation Rentals: Lessons learned the hard way

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If you’re considering a vacation rental in lieu of a hotel or other lodging option for an upcoming trip, you should definitely check out our new “Vacation Rental Handbook.”

I recently took a family trip to Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. There are a few things that happened that made me wish we’d asked a few more questions before the trip. BT's rental guide would've spared us some heartache!

Let's start at the beginning. There were six members of my family heading to the resort area for a relative’s wedding, so our choice of accommodations was easily narrowed down by the list offered by the bride and groom with discounted rates. The condo we got gave us exactly what the website said it would and exactly what the pictures showed: two bedrooms, one with a king bed and one with a queen bed, and a pullout couch in the living room. The rooms were spacious and ideal for fitting the six of us—and the rate broke down to $60 per person total for a three-night stay. I’ll take a beautiful condo with a screened in porch by the lake for $20 a night any day.

1. We had to turn on the water. Luckily, my uncle and cousin arrived before the rest of us did, and they figured out that the water wasn’t working and figured out how to turn it on. However, they didn’t figure out that it involved a two-step process, namely that...

2. We had to turn on the hot water. Unfortunately, no one discovered this until after I’d submitted myself to an excruciatingly cold shower.

3. We couldn’t take advantage of the recreational opportunities the condo complex offered. There was a pool, tennis courts, and a basketball court, but our calls to the management company found out that no, they didn’t have any tennis rackets or balls or basketballs for guests to borrow or even rent—not even at the on-site “clubhouse.” And although it was still 80-plus degrees out, the pool was filled with about a foot of water and assorted leaves. We managed to get some physical activity in because my brother thought ahead to bring a football with him.

To its credit, the management company did emphasize in the guest manual that it reserved the right to close the pool for maintenance at any time. And it was technically the start of the off-season. But it was still a shame, especially considering that all the pools at the upscale lodge where the wedding was held were open. But I guess if we had wanted hotel amenities we should’ve stayed in in a hotel, right? (Tell that to my uncle, who didn’t bring any shampoo. I have a feeling the nearby Wal-Mart gets a lot of business from uninformed guests.)

One other plus was that our check-out “chores” only consisted of taking out the trash and washing any dishes that we’d used. I thought that was pretty nice, considering that my previous vacation rental experience consisted mostly of staying in a condo my aunt and uncle owned—we usually vacationed there with them and other family members, so we felt right at home—unfortunately, that also meant making sure the place was completely spick-and-span before we left so they wouldn’t have to hire a maid service.

Now, I wouldn’t call this a “bad” experience by any means. I had a great time and actually wish we’d stayed longer. This experience just made it clear to me how important it is to ask specific questions about the property you’re going to stay in and to have realistic expectations going in.

Budget Travel's new “Vacation Rental Handbook"

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