Finding the Best Family-Friendly Vacation Rental

Costa Brava villa rental

Villa, home, cabin, apartment and/or condo — where you go may change what it’s called and what it looks like — however, the process to find and rent independent accommodations for family vacations is the same.

There are two main sources on the Web for rental inventory:1) direct-from-owner-sites like VRBO/HomeAway/Airbnb.com (the list of options is exploding) and 2) rental agencies who facilitate rentals and services on behalf of the owner.

I’ve personally used both channels over the past few years to rent homes in Europe, the United States, and Mexico. I’ve had good luck with direct-from-owner rentals (see my review of our VRBO rental), however, all things being equal, finding a rental through a trusted and reliable rental agency is the safer choice.

You simply don’t know what you are getting with owner-authored listings and for every happy ending, there seems to be a negative tale. After scouring the Web for rental options in preparation for her trip to London with kids last summer, Nancy ended up in something that was inconvenient and … dirty (never pleasant).

Good rental agencies — note, there are plenty of lousy rental agencies too, I’d rather rent through a solid owner on VRBO than a shoddy rental agency any day — thoroughly vet every single property they feature so you know that any rental through them will meet a minimum quality standard.

In addition, many rental agencies offer concierge-like services before and during travel. They can do everything from buy groceries to organize babysitting to hiring private cooks to setting up family activities. The bottom line is that using a qualified rental agency may be the difference between a vacation (Mom and Dad have downtime) and the dreaded re-location (more work in a new place).

It’s true, these additional services are not free. Rental agencies typically mark up their listings to cover their expenses for offering these perks. Depending on the experience you want to have and the value of the services offered, paying a premium may be worthwhile.

The other benefit is that rental agencies have fixed processes in place to handle issues that come up during your stay. Say, for example, the Internet is not working in a VRBO rental and the owner is your only contact and he or she is unavailable — you are out of luck versus good rental agencies has an office staffed for coverage. (Clearly, there’s a long list of worse issues that can happen, but the Internet situation has occurred frequently in our rentals. If you need to be connected and have nobody to call, there are few things that are less frustrating.)

We list a handful of independent rentals on Ciao Bambino (some will connect you to an agency we like and trust and those that don’t have been vetted). We also started a family-friendly villa rentals list with a growing list of agencies offering family-focused services. Suzanne B Cohen was a fun find — she covers Italy and England. We don’t have much coverage in the English countryside on Ciao Bambino and I’m happy to refer readers to a great resource for wonderful rentals too.

I’m also thrilled about the addition of Views of Venice covering apartment rentals in the center of the city. Hotels in Venice are a fortune and it’s nice to have an option for families to find value and space. Meanwhile, Windows on Italy has a phenomenal list of apartments in Florence owned and decorated by the Ferragamo family. Stay tuned as we add more great options to the directory.

If you do opt for a direct-from-owner option, be sure and check references! This is the single most important thing you can do to ensure you end up in a quality rental that meets your needs.See my vacation rental by owner tips and advice article for a list of suggested questions.

Relevant Links:

Ciao Bambino’s family-friendly villa agency list

VRBO Rentals – experience notes

SlowEurope.com guide to vacation rentals in Europe

Top family-friendly hotel chains (US edition)

Value remains king in 2010

Tips for finding toddler-friendly accommodations

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