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How To Find The Right Family Vacation Rental

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We’ve pretty much given up on hotels. It began when a second child came along and led us to seriously re-evaluate our family travel style. We realized that having extra space, full kitchen, and laundry facilities made vacation rentals more genuinely relaxing than squeezing into a hotel room. Then this year we began experimenting with long-term travel, where we live in one city for an entire month. Having a local neighborhood and the comforts of an apartment make us feel like we have a home away from home instead like we’re living out of a suitcase.

We’ve done two of these long-term rentals so far, in Montreal and New York, and both have been positive experiences. The only thing we missed from hotels was the cleaning and maid service. We’ve learned a lot about how to research rentals, what to look for and how to interpret the upbeat descriptions to figure about what we’re really likely to wind up with. Here as some of what we learned:

Home Swaps can be tricky

We tried looking for home swaps through, but it didn’t work out either time. Montreal was too close to our home base of Toronto and everyone wanted to do weekend trips. We were visiting New York City in the dead of winter (call us crazy) and who wants to visit Toronto in winter? There has been a trickle of interest in our place for the summer, so we haven’t given up on swapping yet.

raising travelers nycShop diligently

For rentals we always look at look at Homeaway, VRBO and AirBnB, but we’ve found that AirBnB isn’t suited to long-term travel stays because people are often renting their primary residence. We wound up using HomeAway for Montreal and New York. We prefer properties that have multiple reviews and allow guests to pay using the HomeAway system. We also phone the owner to make sure they exist and that the arrangement feels legit.

What we look for

For us, an ideal rental balances size, location, and amenities. How we weight these factors can change from trip to trip.

Our ideal is a two-bedroom unit with a pullout couch, which allows us to invite the grandparents for a short stay, and gives us flexibility in where the kids sleep. The 3.5 year old usually sleeps on her travel bed with us, while the baby moves around depending how long she’s sleeping at night.

raising travelers montrealTake a close look at the photos

Visiting for a month, we aren’t doing touristy stuff every day and are actually at home a lot. So making sure we’ll all have space to sit (like this window in Montreal) and read or work or play (the Montreal living room) without being on top of each other is important.

We look at the apartment photos to make our best guess as to how many people can comfortably hang out in the living room. We check to see whether there is a real dining table to eat at. We’ll even try and figure out if there’s closet space. In cities like New York, where space is at a premium, none of these things are a given.

Google MapConsider the location

If we like an apartment, we take a good look at the neighborhood around it. We love to walk as much as possible, so we make sure there are playgrounds and a grocery store less than ten minutes away. We look next for libraries or YMCAs with drop-in activities, especially in winter. We suss all this out by spending a lot of time on Google Maps. We have gotten good at finding green space and my husband has even learned to spot the shadows swing sets make on satellite view.

Negotiate your Rate

With some research and extra emails we were able to negotiate rates that were better those posted for our month-long stays. Even if you’re staying for two or three weeks, it’s worth asking, especially in the low season when the place might well sit empty otherwise.

Next we’re headed to Boston, so feel free leave any tips in the comments of things we might enjoy exploring there.

We are a family of 4 experimenting with long-term family travel with a baby and a preschooler. We love living like locals and inviting the grandparents along. We think being well traveled is one of the best gifts you can give your kids. When nothing goes quite as planned, you’ll hear me chanting “practice makes better.”  Follow our adventures on Twitter or our new blog, Raising Travelers.

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