Sometimes you need a bit than a hotel or hostel can give you – perhaps you’re planning a trip for a group, or need to take the needs of children into consideration.

The joy of renting an apartment or villa is that you can keep your own hours, eat what you want when it suits you, and there is much more room to spread.

I’ve rented everything from a studio in Paris to a basement apartment in Brooklyn to a large villa in Spain – all without using the services of a travel agent.

There are many websites which list all sorts of accommodation, and I’ve used most of them – though strangely not Airnb (I really must try that sometime!).

Here are my top tips on what to look for, and how to make sure you’re going to get what you’re paying for.


1. The planning stage

Be clear about what kind of holiday you want.  Do you want to get away from it all or be in the heart of the action?

What facilities are important to you?  Do you want a pool/wifi/heating in the winter?

It may seem obvious, but by searching for particular facilities you’re narrowing the choices down considerably.


2. Even more planning!

Once you’ve decided where you’d like to go and what your accommodation must have, it’s time to look at them more closely.  Examine photos carefully and check the location on a map.  Unless you already know an area very well, it’s best check where it is for yourself, and google street map is great for that.

How close is the nearest supermarket/restaurant/bar?

Are you going to be able to use public transport or will you need to hire a car?  Look for bus stops and do an internet search for timetables – it’s no good having a stop nearby if there’s only one bus a day!

Often the cheaper places will be slightly out the way – particularly in Spain, where much modern housing is in estates (which they call urbanisations).

Time to compare and contrast your selection – you should have whittled the list down to a few promising candidates.


3. Read the reviews

Do take the time to read through all the reviews, and take note of any concerns raised.

I’d be extremely reluctant to seriously consider a vacation rental with no reviews at all – you’re looking for good reviews from a variety of sources.  Look especially for those written by people who are looking for the same kind of holiday as you.

If you’re dealing with online agents who manage the booking for you, then you’ve reached the booking stage.

If you’ve decided to deal directly with the property owner, then there are a couple more stages before then.


4. First contact

You’ll have put in your dates and checked the price – however, I’ve found that if you can contact the owner or their agent directly then you can often get a better deal, especially if you’re planning to stay for a longer time off-season.

I usually introduce myself, give them my dates and ask them to confirm the price.

This is also the time to ask about anything you’re unsure of – if towels are supplied/what the wifi speed is like, that sort of thing.

If your enquiry goes into the void, then cross that place off your list – if they don’t pay attention at this stage, they’re unlikely to be paying attention further down the line.

When you get a reply, that should give you an idea of  how professional they are.  If their reply seems a bit chaotic, then cross them off the list, as you don’t want an unorganised rental.


5. Establish good relations

Do reply and thank people for their time, even if you’re not going to proceed.  If your chosen rental falls through for some reason, then you may need to go to a second choice and they may be less keen if they think you’re rude.

It also means that you can ask any further questions which occur to you nearer the time of your stay.