Updated on 07.13.11

Renting a House as a Vacation Option

Trent Hamm

Last week, my wife and family and I departed for the Seattle/Tacoma area in order to be present for the wedding of my wife’s younger sister. While we were in the area, we did some wedding setup, but we also visited a lot of sights in the area, including Mount Rainier, Olympia National Forest, and a day trip out to the coast to the ocean.

Naturally, such a trip is an expensive proposition. We have two adults and three young children, which not only means that we’re paying for five, but it also means that some techniques that adults or older children might use to save a bit of money on travel didn’t really apply.

One big area of our travel cost was housing. Our family would need lodging for several days while out there – seven days, to be exact. The least expensive hotel within any reasonable range of the places we were visiting that didn’t have frightening online reviews and pictures was well north of $70 per night for a room that would have been cozy with five people in it.

Another big area of our travel cost is food. Travel typically means that you’re going to be eating out quite a lot. The options for food preparation in a hotel environment are pretty slim, usually resulting in continental breakfasts and sandwiches… or just convincing yourself to eat out somewhere.

Our solution? We talked to other people who were also traveling out for the wedding and rented a house for a week with them.

This simple solution handled all of our problems well. It gave us a location that was reasonably close to the places we wanted to be at, minimizing our gas expenses while out there. It gave us plenty of room, particularly for the dollar. It also gave us a fully-functional kitchen, which enabled us to prepare many of our own meals instead of going out.

Our nightly rate ended up being a bit less than the tiny hotel room, but we significantly cut our fuel costs, significantly cut our food costs, and significantly increased the amount of space we had. We also had the convenience and joy of being able to sit out on the porch every evening with family and friends instead of hanging out in hotel rooms.

Most days, we woke up, ate breakfast together with everyone staying in the house, packed a picnic lunch for the family, and then went out to wherever our destination for the day was – the coast, the mountain, the forest, the sights of Seattle.

In the evenings, we would return home and, many nights, prepare a simple supper at home. We did eat out a few nights at places highly recommended by the locals we knew in the area, but for the most part, we prepped our own food.

The contract was mostly managed by another member of our party who was retired and was willing to set up the contract and everything for the rental. It was quite easy from our end – we simply arrived, entered a code into the keybox that was waiting, pulled out a few keys and distributed them around the party, walked into the house, and unpacked.

Leaving was similarly easy – we just put the keys back into the keybox after locking the house, then called the property manager. From our end, once the contract was set up in advance, the actual checking in and checking out of the house was extremely convenient.

In short, if I ever travel again with a large group of people, I will absolutely suggest this as an option. It reduced all of our costs, gave us plenty of space to spread out, and provided a great environment for hanging out and socializing.

If you’re interested in this type of solution for your vacation, just use Google. Type in “vacation rental” and the location to which you’re traveling and look through the offers you find. I checked several potential vacation destinations that we’re considering over the next few years and found solutions in each of them.

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  1. valleycat1 says:

    Our family has rented houses for vacations for years. We have a couple of houses we always return to when we’re going back to a specific area.

    No matter how many people we’ve got in the group, we’ve found places that are more economical for longer stays, since as Trent mentioned you have a kitchen & usually an outdoor grill. For families or larger groups, it’s definitely more economical than a whole bunch of hotel rooms & meals out. Of course, it could also be much more expensive if you get carried away or just want to splurge.

    We either use the website vacation rentals by owner or the website for rent by owner, or contact a local property management group. If you’re going to a tourist destination, you’ll have lots of options. The contract and paperwork isn’t that big a deal; when we’ve used the websites, it’s basically a matter of picking your dates and authorizing the deposit. The harder issue is selecting from among the possibilities, and for larger groups deciding what configuration of bedrooms, baths, and living areas and what combination of amenities/location will work best at the best price.

  2. RobinH says:

    Another useful possibility is a residence hotel. I’ve stayed in these several times- they often offer a weekly rate comparable or less than a regular hotel, and have a small kitchenette with some basic dishes, fridge, stove and microwave. And they can be reserved online and checked in and out of like a hotel. It’s especially useful if you have someone in the party with dietary restrictions that make it harder to eat out.

  3. Cheryl says:

    We’re doing as Robin suggested for a week at Christmas. Instead of towing our RV north and then south again, we’re renting a “suite” that has one bedroom and a kitchen. The cost will be about the same as bringing the RV up and back due to the cost of gas and the extra nights on the road. We also will avoid the nail biting over bad weather at that time of the year.

    As far as eating out, lunch is less expensive than dinner. We will eat out at lunch and in the room at “dinner” which is usually a sandwich, veggies and fruit.

  4. Micayla says:

    You just reminded me that ages ago you mentioned wanting to visit Disneyworld. This is an AWESOME money saver for that particular trip. After a day at a theme park it’s so much better to relax in a house with it’s own pool- for cheaper than you could have crammed into an overpriced themed hotel room.

  5. jackie says:

    Olympia National Forest is not a real place.

  6. mes says:

    Funny, I saw a guy that looked like you at Woodland Park Zoo last Friday. Maybe it actually was you?

  7. Amy P says:

    “Olympia National Forest is not a real place.”

    Did Trent mean the Olympic National Forest or the Olympic National Park? I’m most familiar with the Olympic National Park. It’s about a million acres, with beaches, mountains, lakes, rainforests, etc. Sol Duc is very pretty, and the beaches are much photographed. You need probably at least two days to do the Olympic Peninsula with any sort of coverage, to be able to stop and do trails, etc. A really serious hiker/camper/mountaineer would take longer. (Full disclosure: I’m related to a bunch of people who do tourist businesses on the Olympic Peninsula, including some white water guides.)

  8. Srinivas Rao says:


    People often cite cost as a reason for being unable to travel, but what they often fail to realize is that long term travel can actually be more cost effective because of the fact that you can rent a house a opposed to staying in a hotel. With sites like AirBNB and Homeaway you have some amazing options for rentals that are not only reasonable priced, but probably much higher quality than the hotel would get in the same price range. With a large group it’s a no brainer to go this route.

  9. Daria says:

    We have rented apartments when traveling to Europe for our family of 7 adults. When our daughter got married two years ago, we rented the house next door that was between tenants for our guests to stay in. We paid the previous tenants (with the property manager’s permission)for use of the utilities because they were moving out two weeks before their lease was up and had paid to the end of the lease. We had 15 people and it was so convenient to have them next door. The property manager said I left the house in better condition that it was before hand and the previous tenants were happy they got all of their deposit back. Friends let us borrow air mattresses, and we stocked the house with paper products.

  10. MP3 says:

    We have rented apartments when travelling in England, and condos when we go to the Caribbean. More comfortable, easier to putter about when your partner has a different internal clock than you (I am an early riser, he is a much later riser). Having breakfasts and packing picnic lunches saves a ton of money and also reduces the amount of weight gain one usually gets on vacation! We always eat dinner out though. There’s only so much cooking I’ll do on vacation!

  11. Emma says:

    My family also discovered the benefit of vacation rentals. We do it through VRBO (vacation rentals By Owners) site. Living in a large city we are always looking for some affortable freash air. Poconos Mt (PA)are has many gated communities, completed with a large pools, lakes, beaches with guards, kiddie pools, restaurants, club houses for kids bingo, fire camps, daily programs for youth and young kids. We split the $850 per week cost among our two 4 plus 4 families. We cooked all meals at home, what else it there to do ?(O.K. I cooked because I do it fast). Ate out once. The whole week expanses were about $500 per family, plus food from home. The best vacation value ever. One potential “problem”- you have to know people you rent the house with .( more like love them) They have to share your values, something. There is nothing worst than mismatched characters to spoil vacation.

  12. valleycat1 says:

    #3 Cheryl – You’re right. When we travel we often eat the big meal at noon and then snack or have a smaller meal in the evening (often leftovers) – whether we eat out at lunch or eat in (that way we don’t spend the best part of the late afternoon in the kitchen.

    #11 Emma – when we were planning the family reunion, it was very interesting (& surprising) to see who was easy-going about the rooming arrangements & which were very specific about what they would or would not accept. But we all got along just fine once we got there!

  13. kristine says:

    My ex was one of 14 siblings. We used to, as a group, rent a house in the Hamptons for the summer. Rarely were more than 3 families there at once, and we could come and go as we pleased for 3 months. With so many to spread it around- it was extremely cheap-we could walk to the beach. Every night we cooked a huge meal- many hands made light work.

  14. moom says:

    I definitely prefer to rent apartments where possible. It’s great to have the option of a kitchen etc. though you can still eat out when you want to.

  15. Kelly says:

    Definitely a great tip. Also, you are see reviews of rental houses on trip advisor under “specialty lodging” which is good for people who may be worried about what they are getting :)

  16. Shannon says:

    Another cost saving tip for traveling: home exchanges. You stay in someone else’s house while they stay in yours. Some people are fine with it, others are not. But if you are fine, it’s even cheaper than a vacation rental as the only cost is the cost to join the site. We swung a whole month in Europe for our family of 4 that way as our lodging for two weeks in Paris and two weeks in London cost us $99 (the cost of membership).

  17. Jennifer says:

    My family always rents homes when going on vacation. There are 2 websites dedicated to matching up travelers with homes for rent, so you don’t have to use Google. One is Vrbo and the other is Airbnb. Type either one in the url bar with dotcom behind and start searching!

  18. Jess says:

    My future in-laws rented a house when we went to Michigan a couple of years ago for a family reunion/wedding. It was a beautiful house with a path down to the beach, game room, gourmet kitchen, and enough sleeping areas (bedrooms and closed-off rooms) to fit at least 15 adults and a 5-year-old.

    What a great way to spend a week! I’d definitely do this again.

  19. socksaver says:

    Couple of years ago my daughter wanted a get away with friends and family. We did a week in the mountains with four couples. Fabulous cabin ( four bedrooms each with it’s own private bathroom) pool table, hot tub, grill, wrap around porch with views to heaven. Best part- each couple cooked and cleaned up one day. Everybody strutted their stuff and nobody was unhappy. We all want to do it again. Just waiting for our schedules to jive.

  20. *sara* says:

    Completely agree! Especially when traveling in Europe, how much more fun to stay in one of the beautiful historic buildings than in a boring, generic hotel.

    It also ends up being really nice if someone gets sick on vacation (which seems to happen to me quite often). So much better to be in a home than in a hotel room.

    (nothing against hotels here, though! If they weren’t so expensive they’d be great!)

  21. AmyG says:

    We own 4 cabins that we rent by owner in the Smoky Mountains so I’m happy to hear that Trent had a great experience. I’ve always believed that renting a home gives you the best value and a great vacation experience. It’s a great way to travel, especially with a family or friends.

  22. Money Beagle says:

    We’re actually doing our ‘one week vacation’ for the summer as a rental. We’re splitting the cost with my in-laws. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out as we’ve made the rental sight-unseen, but I’ve had great interaction with the owners, so I’m confident it will work out OK.

  23. SMS says:

    We used VRBO service for an 8 day stay. I recommend renting a place. Most require 3 day up to a week stay. I cooked all but 2 meals. Kept up on laundry. We all had a place to stretch out. WiFi was available along with satellite TV. Location was good for us. Saved a ton of $ as I was feeding 5-7 people a meal. I would/will definitely do this again.

  24. DrLT says:

    We did this a couple of years ago for a trip to Yellowstone with my extended family–about 20 people. We found a very nice “cabin” online in Island Park, Idaho, and stayed for five nights, with each family group taking turns to do dinner one night. It was a great way to go! Next year we are looking into renting a houseboat and doing a lake vacation, same idea.

  25. the duchess says:

    This was SUCH a timely article – in two months I am going on my long-awaited Dream Trip to Burgundy France for 4 weeks. I took a ‘leap of faith’ a year ago and arranged to rent a tiny cottage in a wine-making village off a website I came across one day. Needless to say, I have had many moments of doubt/panic wondering if this was such a good idea, even though financially I know it was the best option – I am paying about $800 Canadian a week, far less than any French hotel, and I have been told I get a full kitchen, fireplace, washer and dryer, 3 piece bathroom and apparently there is a bakery in the village that has crossants and bread every morning. Still, I had some naysayers telling me I could be walking into a nightmare. These comments are making me feel that I made the perfect choice after all!

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