How to decide which vacation rental site to use

vacation house Vacation homes can offer a more private experience. Flickr/Boracay Beach Houses

Whether you're looking for a small apartment or an entire island, vacation rentals are a great alternative to staying in hotels when traveling.

But with so many places to book a rental, it can be tough knowing where to look.

To make things easier, we've put together a list of some of the top vacation rental websites and broken down what you'll find in each one.

Airbnb

With over a million properties around the world, Airbnb.com is probably the largest rental site out there.  It offers everything from a couch in someone's apartment to an entire castle or yacht.

While some properties are exclusively vacation rentals, the majority of listings are actually people's homes, which they rent out. Travelers can select whether they want to rent an entire place, a private room, or a shared room. There are tons of options for shared rooms, which makes it great for travelers who are on a budget and don't mind roommates.

Airbnb also has a social component, where guests can review hosts and vice-versa, which makes it easier to feel comfortable with the exchange. You can also link your account to Facebook to see if anyone you know has stayed in a particular listing.

Airbnb doesn't pay the host until 24 hours after guests have checked in to ensure that everything runs smoothly, and there's also a  24-hour emergency line in case of trouble.   

AlltheRooms.com

all the rooms AlltheRooms aggregates listings from several vacation rental sites. AllTheRooms.com

Short on time? Search Airbnb, FlipKey, HomeAway, and VRBO simultaneously on this aggregated meta search engine.

The website offers 695,000 hotels, 2,400,000 houses or apartments, 51,000 rooms or hostels, 42,000 bed and breakfasts, and 12,000 cabins or boats for rent across the globe. 

Campinmygarden.com

This website is for the outdoor enthusiast, offering private backyards mostly in the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Belgium, where you can pitch a tent.

Considering the low maintenance of the accommodations, stays are extremely cheap and start as low as 2 euros a night. The site also lists any events taking place closeby.

Some listings will provide tents with beds at a charge, typically anywhere from 10 to 15 euros. Each listing will specify whether it includes showers, bathrooms, BBQs, and space for caravans. Listers will also include when facilities have cafe, pubs, restaurants, and supermarkets nearby, as well as whether there is access to internet either outdoors or in the house. 

There is a chat service on the website if you'd like to ask posters any questions, and once you choose a listing you apply with your arrival and departure dates, group size, gender, age, and any information you'd like to provide so that the poster can make a decision on whether or not it works to allow you to rent the campsite. 

Couchsurfing.com

Are you looking to meet locals who can show you their favorite places in town? Then couchsurfing is the right website for you. 

The online community offers host accommodations where guests can stay for free —  but of course they'll likely be staying on someone's couch or spare air mattress. The idea is that you get to meet and explore new cities with your hosts, making it a good option for backpackers. 

Plus, many people who use the website end up hosting properties down the line, allowing you to build friendships with people from all over the world. 

FlipKey.com

Each property on this TripAdvisor-owned site is ranked with TripAdvisor's five-star review system by real travelers who have stayed there. Travelers list the pros and cons of each property, and write about their experiences with each property.

The site features over  300,000 vacation homes located in over 11,000 cities throughout the world. Because each property has such detailed reviews, travelers can feel at ease since they'll know exactly what to expect from their accommodations.

HomeAway.com

private home HomeAway has over a million listings internationally. HomeAway.com

For a traditional private vacation home, head to HomeAway.com, where you’ll find close to a million listings internationally. A large majority of the listings are in the United States and in Europe, particularly in France and Spain.

Listings include everything from top tourist spots like Paris to more secluded destinations like Vicenza, Italy.

You can filter your search results by price range, date, or any amenities you’d like such as a pool or pet-friendly choices.

You can also save properties you like and post reviews to rate the accuracy of listings on a five-star scale. 

KidandCoe.com

This website caters to travelers with children, offering around 500 global listings that describe how many rooms there are that are suited for kids and whether the accommodation has items like toys, cribs, or strollers.

The website was created by mothers and fathers who have gone through the difficulty of traveling with children. So, every listing is hand-picked and reviewed by the staff to ensure it's a great choice for children. 

Amenities also typically include highchairs, nurseries, and even babysitter recommendations in the area. 

The one drawback is that their listings are quite limited, so you won’t always find a wide selection to choose from. 

OneFineStay

This website provides upscale home rentals across Paris, London, New York, and Los Angeles. Each home includes complimentary Wi-Fi, an iPhone for data and local calls, a welcome by a staff member to the home when you arrive, toiletries, towels, linens, cleaning service, and a 24/7 phone support in case of any emergencies. A staff member will also provide recommendations on local activities.

Each home is hand-selected and reviewed by members of the staff, and listings state what amenities you'll find in the property, whether children and pets are allowed, what you'll find in the local neighborhood, and homes that are similar to your current listing. 

The website also includes helpful tabs like its "Last Minute London" section where you can find homes that are available for short-notice, or their weekly picks for New York properties. 

PreferredResidences.com

private villa PreferredResidences focuses on upscale villa rentals. Preferredresidences.com

PreferredResidences.com is for those who’d like to stay in upscale bungalows, villas, and condominium rentals. The website works with a select number of partner hotels and condominium owners who offer listings. 

Since the listings are connected to the company, cleaning services are typically complimentary with your stay. Transportation can be complimentary, but varies based on each location. 

You can search for properties based on the setting ("beach" or "mountain," for example), the style (“romantic” or “eco-friendly”), and the amenities and activities you're looking for. Services you can select for listings include baby-sitting, cooking lessons, and playgrounds. You can also search by activities of interest like biking, fishing, golfing, hiking, or water sports. 

T he company also allows you to book last-minute spa reservations or airport transfers as well. 

Roomorama.com

Roomorama Roomarama offers guest rooms in different cities. Roomorama.com

Roomarama is a good choice for someone who isn't too picky, as the circumstances of your stay typically depend on the host you get.

That being said, while the website does offer rooms, you can also find entire apartments and houses to rent across the globe.

They offer over 300,000 listings intended for short-term stays, but you can find listings where you can stay for over a month.  

The site allows you to search for a city or a specific property. When you find an option you like, you can submit an inquiry for the specific dates of interest, and once the host confirms it's available, you're set to go. 

They also offer sublet options, making this a good choice if you're looking for options that offer a longer stay.

If you find that your rental is a disappointment, the company is good about handling reimbursements.

Vacationroost.com

Vacationroost.com lists managed rentals in America's prime ski and beach destinations like Aspen, Park City in Utah, and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. 

Listings include rentals in the United States, Canada, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America, but a large majority of properties are focused in the US and Mexico. 

The properties are managed by the company, and you can coordinate rental cars, airfare, and activities in the location directly through the site. 

You can also put in your arrival and departure dates to see which locations have the best deals if you're not set on a specific place. The website also offers experts based in various locations who you can contact with questions. 

Visiwa.com 

island Visiwa allows users to rent private islands. Visiwa.com

This website focuses on island rentals ranging from completely private properties to those that operate like a bed and breakfast.

You can choose from the following themes: adventure, affordable, luxury, and nature.

Some islands can accommodate as many as 80 people.  The number of people allowed and price depends on the island owner. 

You can find luxury islands in Finland, private islands in Key West and Tahiti, and bed and breakfast accommodations in unexpected locations like a lighthouse in Norway. 

Each listing has tips on the best way to get to the island, minimum stay requirements, the number of people accepted for the property, and a list of any included amenities like a butler, breakfast, and transportation. Some listings even include video tours so you can get an up-close look at the facilities. 

VRBO.com

Created by the makers of HomeAway.com, VRBO focuses on United States rental options, making it the best option if you're looking for popular American getaways like Palm Springs or Maui. 

You can search the website's close to 200,000 listings based on the destination, dates, and number of rooms, but not by price. So, it's not the best bet if you're short on time, as you'll also need to scroll through each listing one by one to see specific details. 

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