This post was most recently updated on July 2nd, 2015
Do you want an alternative to staying in hotels–one that you can customize to your family’s needs? Do you want to save money? Using Homeaway has done all that for me and my family. One of our favorite Homeaway stays was an apartment we rented in the Bastille neighborhood of Paris in 2010. It was close to a Metro station, slept all six members of our family, had a well-stocked kitchen where we could cook our own meals, and we had free wi-fi and long distance calling to the United States. We were across the street from a small grocery store and one block from a street market. The apartment owner helped us with our bags and left us some amazing macarons! All for 115 euros per night.
If the only reason you haven’t tried hotel alternatives is because you’re not sure how, please keep reading. I’ll tell you how to make Homeaway work for you too!
Go to the Homeaway home page here.
Scroll down the page and choose a destination by clicking on the state or country you want to visit. For demonstration purposes, I am selecting Europe.
Scroll down to a list of countries . I’m choosing France.
Scroll down to a list of local areas. I’ll select Ile-de-France (Paris region) because I’ll be traveling there next year. (It indicates there are over 8,000 properties to choose from)
Now, you can fill in the “filters” to help you sort for the perfect vacation rental for you!
First, choose the minimum and maximum price for one week’s lodging. You don’t have to be staying one week. Many locations have minimum stays of less than a week, even one day. So, determine the rate you are willing to pay for one night and multipy by 7 days for this search filter. I’m choosing 0 to $1500, because my budget allows for about $200 per night. (I’ll be splitting this cost with another couple).
Choose the number of people who will be sleeping in this property. Be sure to include any children in the count. I’ll choose four, because there will be two couples in our group.
Next, choose the number of bedrooms you desire. If you are traveling with another couple, I suggest you select two bedrooms, so you can enjoy some privacy. If you have young children with you, you may be able to get away with one bedroom, since many apartments have sofa beds in the living room for sleeping.
Under “Booking”, you can narrow your search further by selecting properties that will allow you to book online or will accept online payments. (Some properties on Homeaway will require cashier checks or wired payments; they are not as convenient). I chose “Accepts Online Payments”.
The last option is “more filters”. Use this to narrow down your search even further. For example, you could choose housing on a boat. Or you can specify that you definitely want air conditioning (which you might want if you’re staying in Paris in the summer!). I chose “downtown” properties. You can also choose whether you want the property to be managed by the owner or a property manager. (All of the properties I’ve ever stayed in with Homeaway were managed by the owners, and we had great experiences.)
Lastly, you will need to specify which dates you want at the top of the screen. Start with the day you arrive and end with the day you are leaving. Then click on the SEARCH button.
You will get a list of properties available on the dates you chose, with the filters you applied to the search. My list shows 116 results. I can narrow it down to 90 by choosing only Paris locations.
Now, I have a list I can work with. Assuming you know which attractions you are likely to visit, you may want to choose a property that is close to them. But in a place like Paris, you can get nearly anywhere on the Paris Metro, so as long as you’re not too far from a Metro station, you’ll probably be fine. Your Homeaway list includes a map with all your filtered properties on it. You can scroll down the list and read about each or you can click on specific markers on the map to learn more about each location.
Here are some more things to consider:
Will you have laundry facilities or an equipped kitchen? Will you have wi-fi? How many flights of stairs will you have to walk, or is there an elevator? Just how close is the subway or train station?
2. Minimum night stay
Every listing should post their minimum required stay, usually 3 days or 1 week. However, there are some that require 30 days minimum, and some that have no requirement. I have successfully persuaded an owner to let me rent his vacation apartment in Paris for two nights instead of his 3-night requirement–he was a gem, and I really appreciated it!
3. Look at the photos.
Is it what you’re looking for? Do you like the sleeping arrangements? If you have questions, you can contact the owner by clicking on the “Send a Message” button
4. Read the reviews.
And I really can’t stress this enough. If you don’t read the reviews, you’re taking a risk. Only once did I rent an apartment with a listing so new it didn’t have any reviews yet. I was lucky, and it turned out fine. I was happy to be able to give it a great review after our stay! But it could have gone south. So…read the reviews. Be sure you know what you’re getting. Those who have stayed in the rentals will tell you what to expect!
5. Be sure to read the detailed price breakdown.
Here is where you will learn if there are cleaning fees, refundable damage deposits, or other fees required. It will tell you when payments need to be made and what forms of payments are accepted. It will explain refund and cancellation policies. You know. Kind of important stuff!
6. Contact the Owner
Be sure to ask any questions of the owner or property manager first. When you have all of your questions answered, book your vacation rental! Look forward to having a great stay at the place that’s just right for you. You can feel like a resident (instead of a tourist), you can save money, and you can prepare your own meals if you like. It’s an especially great way to go if you are traveling with a family or another couple. I have used Homeaway for an apartment in Madrid for a week, an apartment in Milan for 3 days, an apartment in Rome for 3 days, and an apartment in Paris for 2 days. All wonderful locations and very affordable options.
Two other vacation rental sites you might be interested in are VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) and Airbnb (where you can rent an entire home, apartment, or a room in someone’s home, at a great rate). I’ve used both, so if you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments section below, or on my Q & A page here. And if you’ve had experience with other similar sites, please share your thoughts about them with PostcardsandPassports readers!
Note: I don’t own stock in Homeaway! Nor am I getting paid anything to promote it. I just really like it!