Going on a family trip with tweens and teens can be a challenge. One of my favorite and most effective ways of having a fun and successful vacation with kids this age is to get a vacation rental instead of a hotel room. You can rent a house or a cabin, and sometimes townhomes and apartments will work.
Our family has stayed in many different places, and I’d like to share with you what I learned from those experiences! For more of my top tips on how to make traveling with tweens and teens fun, read my article Traveling with Tweens and Teens.
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Why a vacation rental is better than a hotel
- More space – Vacation rentals are much bigger than hotel rooms. Everyone isn’t stuck in one room – you might even be able to get one with a separate bedroom for each kid. Teens and tweens need their own space, physically and mentally. Family peace can be maximized with more space!
- More bathrooms – It’s sooooo much better to have extra bathrooms when traveling with a family! This is especially nice when traveling with teenagers. Teen girls need extra time to do their hair, makeup, whatever…giving them the space to do so will help everyone get along.
- Budget-Friendly Accommodations – The price of booking a vacation rental is often less than the price for a hotel room. They are certainly a lower price-per-square-foot!
- Save money on food – You can spend a lot less on food when you have a kitchen. Bring or buy what you need for breakfast and morning coffee – this reduces your food budget a lot! Plus it also makes mornings less stressful as you don’t need to wait for everyone to be up and dressed before heading out to eat – you won’t end up with one “hangry” person yelling at everyone else. You can make some of your lunches or dinners at “home” too, depending on your schedule. And mom and dad can bring their own beer and wine to enjoy in the evenings – such a money saver!
- Convenience – If you get a rental with a washer and dryer it can help you pack less since you’ll be able to wash and reuse your clothes. This can be especially nice with fashion-conscious tweens and teens.
- Authentic Experiences – You can really settle into a new town or city and feel like you’re a part of life there by staying in a home or apartment instead of a hotel. Our experience staying in a rental in Amsterdam is an example of that if you’d like to learn more.
How to choose the best vacation rental for your family
First, choose your location! There are different things to consider depending on the type of vacation you are planning.
If you are taking a trip to a city, you will need to think about which part of the city you want to stay in. Most cities are very large and the neighborhood you choose can make a big difference. This can be a challenge to figure out if it is a city you haven’t visited before.
To figure out which neighborhood you want to be in, there are several things to consider:
- Destinations – What is your family planning to do once you are in the city? Spend some time thinking about which sight-seeing choices you will want to visit – museums, monuments, palaces, etc. You will want to choose a vacation rental that is central to these choices, or perhaps one that is close to the ones you are most excited about. Maybe there is a neighborhood that is especially nice to stay in such as the Jordaan in Amsterdam or the Marina District in San Francisco.
- Safety – Not every neighborhood in a city is one that you would want to sleep in. And many touristy areas that are interesting to visit are also a bit sketchy and not where you want your family to have a home base. Tourists are known as easy targets for pickpockets and similar crimes, so criminals like to hang out in touristy areas all over the world. That said, you may want to find a quieter and less touristy neighborhood to be your home base.
- Prices – Some of the most interesting places to visit are also the most expensive. You might have to pay a lot more to be right next to the fabulous museum or monument. Head a mile further into the neighborhoods where the locals live and prices will be lower. If you choose to do that though, make sure you have a plan for getting around the city. Spend some time looking into public transportation and the availability of taxis and Uber before you book your vacation rental. You will want to weigh prices versus convenience and choose what’s right for your family.
Then, when you search on VRBO to find a place, you can filter the results by selecting your favorite neighborhoods.
Beaches, Lakes, Mountains
If you’re taking a family vacation to enjoy nature and the great outdoors, you have some different considerations:
- Destinations – If you are traveling to a beach or lake, you want to consider how close your vacation rental is to the beach. Is it walking distance? Or will you need to drive to the beach and if so, what is the parking situation like? If you are going to a national park or something like that, think about where you want to visit and look into what the drive times are. You don’t want to realize too late that you are a three-hour drive from the waterfall you were hoping to see.
- Price – If you are headed to a popular vacation destination such as Yosemite, how close you are to the highlights can really affect the price of your rental. Consider whether minimizing drive times or minimizing the price is more important to you and choose your vacation rental accordingly. You might also want to consider something off the beaten path, as this will lower both the price and the size of the crowds. For example, our family chose to have a vacation at Bass Lake instead of Lake Tahoe for both of those reasons and we ended up loving it!
- Amenities – Vacation homes vary a lot when it comes to amenities. Some lake homes come with their own boat docks, or homes come with surfboards, pool toys, beach chairs, or bicycles. Other homes come with fun things to do indoors such as billiards tables, ping pong, or video game consoles. Read through the details as you are deciding what you want.
Consider how many bedrooms and bathrooms you need
Sleeping arrangements can be configured in different ways. Pay attention to how many beds are in each bedroom, which sizes they are, and how they are laid out. Some rentals will say “sleeps 4,” but then it will turn out that they are including a fold-out couch in the main room and you will realize there is only one bedroom. Other places are huge and have multiple bedrooms so that each kid can have their own room.
Think about the needs of your family. For many families, it can work to put all of the kids in one bedroom together. But do you need separate beds for each kid? If so, double-check the bed configurations. Vacation rental websites like VRBO usually lay things out clearly. If not, you can message the owners to ask questions. Some vacation homes have rooms that work great for multiple kids with bunk beds or several single/twin beds in one room. You don’t want to be surprised by planning to have two kids in a room together and you arrive and realize too late that they have to share a bed.
If you have teenagers, you might also consider whether it would make more sense to have a boys room and a girls room – maybe mom and daughter would make better roommates than sister and brother. Think about it beforehand and be flexible.
The best way to book a vacation rental
Okay, once you have put thought into all of these options, you are ready to choose the right rental for your family. Here are some tips:
- Start early – Many of the best places fill up months early. Lots of people start planning for summer vacation in February, so if you want the best selection you need to get on it! But if you are doing it last minute, don’t fret too much. Sometimes there are last-minute deals.
- Flexible dates – If you can be flexible on the exact dates that you’ll travel you might be able to choose from more places or get a better deal. Many vacation rentals have higher prices on weekends, holidays, and the high season. If you can be flexible, it might benefit you.
- Book through a reputable site – I highly recommend both VRBO and HomeAway. We have used both of them many times. Both of them offer purchase protection for their customers which gives you peace of mind. Airbnb is also a good choice but has more smaller units than they do larger family units, and some feel it can get too expensive. Another nice thing about these sites is you can use filters to choose your price, dates of travel, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, neighborhood, and more, so you can really narrow it down to what you are looking for and save time. You also can create a favorites list so that you can easily compare the properties you like the best.
- Read the reviews – It’s definitely worthwhile to read the reviews for a vacation home before you book it. Like always, you need to take other people’s opinions with a grain of salt, since some people are just complainers. But if you read several reviews that say things like, “it was really dirty” or “the landlord never answered our calls” then beware.
- Check the details – Most property listings have tons of information. You should be able to see if there is a smart TV, a DVD player, towels provided, a BBQ grill, air conditioning, a washer and dryer, a fireplace, wifi, etc. Definitely pay attention to the cancellation policies. And don’t forget to check what the extra fees are. Most places have a cleaning fee, some have a refundable deposit, and many have some sort of occupancy tax. Sometimes properties are rented out by a management or realty company and have additional fees, some of which are exorbitant. Pay attention.
- Ask questions – You can message the owners of a property before you book. Use that to your advantage and ask questions such as “is the BBQ gas or charcoal?” “Do you supply beach towels?” “Is there a cafe within walking distance?” or whatever else you’d like to know.
Decide which amenities are most important to you
Which features are most important for your family depends on what type of vacation you are planning to have as well as the weather and your family. Here are some of the things you might want to check:
- Air conditioning and heating – depending on the weather, these can make a huge difference! If you are going somewhere hot and it says there is AC, double-check what they mean by that. One place we went said it had AC on the listing, but when we got there we found out it was a “swamp cooler” that didn’t work well. Other places only have AC units in certain rooms. AC is a lot less common outside the United States.
- Washer and dryer – These can make such a difference for the ease of your vacation! Plus they can help you make packing choices.
- Linens – Most places supply all the towels and sheets that you need, but some don’t. We only have stayed in one place that didn’t supply them. Luckily we were driving there (not flying) so it was doable, but we found it annoying. And if we hadn’t realized it ahead of time, it would have been a big problem. Some owners provide bath towels but not beach towels, so double-check.
- BBQ Grill – Whenever we travel within California, we always plan to BBQ. To us, it’s a necessary part of a warm-weather vacation, and sometimes our winter vacations, too! It’s a good idea to make sure it works well and find out if it’s a gas or charcoal grill.
- Coffee Maker – I can’t have a happy morning without a coffee maker, and most places have one. Years ago we didn’t worry about it and always brought along some ground coffee and filters. However, nowadays things have changed. You need to know whether the coffee maker is drip, Keurig, Nespresso…and whether the host has provided the coffee filters or pods needed. Many hosts plan ahead and leave what you need for a few days, but not all! One place we stayed had a Keurig with no pods and it was in a rural location – I was pretty annoyed to have to spend part of my vacation searching for the right coffee.
- Entertainment – Does the vacation rental have a smart TV? DVD player, and if so, DVDs? Wifi? Board games? Video game console? Find out ahead so you can bring what you need.
- Dining table – Notice how many people can be seated together at the dining table (and outdoor table, if there is one). Is it enough for the whole family? I have seen several places that sleep 10 but seat 6. Kind of strange.
- Accessibility – If you are just traveling with your family with teens, this probably isn’t a concern. But if you are bringing along the grandparents, it could be. Pay attention to whether there are stairs. If you are traveling in Europe and need to carry your suitcases into the place, make sure you aren’t booking an apartment on the 4th floor with a steep staircase. If you are traveling to The Netherlands, beware of the stairs inside the unit – they can be steeper than any you’ve seen before. Make sure you’ll be able to get all your stuff where it needs to be.
Good luck! Have a wonderful trip with your tweens and teens!