With so many vacation rental websites out there, it's easier than ever to feel at home while you're traveling. (In case you missed it, here's a list of my go-to sites.)
To help you get the most bang for your buck, I've compiled a list of questions I consider when choosing a vacation rental home:
1) Are my travel dates flexible? Good luck finding a deal on a holiday weekend. But the days before and after can be money in the bank.
2) Is my location flexible? So you want a beachfront property. Who doesn't? But maybe you can find a less expensive rental 15 minutes from the beach with such an awesome pool that you won't feel compelled to drive to the ocean every day.
3) Can I get a last-minute deal? Subscribe to e-alerts on sites like VacationRentals.com/Deals.
4) What discounts do the surrounding hotels offer? Hotels routinely offer bargains for AAA members, military personnel and seniors – not to mention packages like "stay three nights and get the fourth night free." See if the owner of the vacation rental will match the hotels' offers. It never hurts to ask.
5) Can the owner act as concierge? For my friend Autumn's 30th birthday back in October, we used airbnb.com to rent an apartment for a ridiculously low price. The owner, Cory, happily provided us with restaurant recommendations within walking distance of his apartment, info on the nearest subway lines and even his Wi-Fi password. All it took was a quick email exchange.
6) Am I comparing apples to apples? Don't be seduced by the magazine-worthy photos you see on rental websites. Dig deeper. If info is lacking about square footage, the number of full versus half bathrooms, the availability of linens, pet-friendliness or other important details, ask the owner. That way, when you're choosing between rentals, you can make a fair comparison.
7) Does the owner have references? Request contact info for previous guests. They'll give you the real lowdown.
What questions did I leave off this list? Let's swap tips on my Facebook page!