While I always enjoy staying in a great hotel, my family also likes to mix things up and stay in vacation rentals, as well. We frequently use HomeAway to book stays in incredible vacation homes and apartments, which really help you feel like a local, spread out and enjoy making meals in your accommodation.

Some of my favorite accommodations we have booked with HomeAway have been in Europe, like these AMAZING apartments where we stayed in Paris, Bologna and San Gimignano, Italy.

Note: This post is sponsored by HomeAway and contains affiliate links for which I may earn a commission if you make a purchase after clicking through; however, I only recommend products that we know and love.Thank you for supporting the blog, so I can continue to bring you great information free!

San Gimignano Vacation Rental Dining

Our amazing HomeAway vacation rental in San Gimignano, Italy was in a 12th century building with amazing views of the town and Tuscan countryside. Take a look this rental yourself right here.

My Tips for Booking on HomeAway

We spent hours finding the perfect rentals for our family’s 2017 summer trip to Europe (which we flew entirely on miles; here’s how), and I learned a few tips along the way!

Here is what we would recommend for a smooth experience booking on HomeAway:

HomeAway San Gimignano Vacation Rental

The view from the back of our HomeAway vacation rental in San Gimignano

1. Only Book With Owners Who Use Instant Confirmation

When searching, click the box that says Instant Confirmation at the top of the Results page. By choosing these properties, you will be paying through HomeAway, which protects your credit card information and makes you eligible for the Book with Confidence Guarantee from HomeAway.

This guarantee provides you with payment protection, rebooking assistance if the owner cancels your booking at the last minute and 24-hour customer service if you have any questions or problems.

2. Read All the Reviews

Past visitors can alert you to potential problems or items you may not have thought of. For example, one issue we ran into in Paris was that we had limited hot water for showers. Had we realized that earlier, the first one of us to shower would not have stayed in there so long, using up all the hot water :)!

Saint Germain des Pres vacation rental

Our super charming Paris apartment in the Left Bank booked on HomeAway, though it was a tad short on hot water 😉 You can book this exact same apartment here.

Also, reviews will tell you about any problems with payment or the owner, bringing to your attention any red flags.

3. Message the Owner With Any Questions Before You Book

If owners want to book their property, they will respond promptly to any questions you have. If they don’t, consider that a red flag that they may not be a good potential rental.

4. Filter, Filter and Filter Some More

I think I have adult ADHD 🙂 and so a large list of things to look through completely overwhelms me and stresses me out. Thank goodness, my husband largely handled this task, but to help us trim the number of properties to consider, we used the filters to reduce the list by bedrooms, cost and location.

They also have a new feature that allows you to filter by “Recommended for Families” to help if you’re looking for a family-friendly property. You can also filter by castle, boat or even farmhouse, as well as see if it’s near the ocean or perhaps good for skiing.

5.  Beware Damage Deposits

In Europe at least, all owners requested damage deposits. I was fine with this when paying with a credit card and using the HomeAway system (to protect us against fraud), but we had at least one propose we pay them with cash on arrival. I was not OK with that, though apparently this is common practice in Europe, so we bypassed that rental for another.

All of our damage deposits were returned, no problem.

6.  In Italy, They’ll Ask for Your Passports

Bologna apartment HomeAway

Our apartment in Bologna booked on HomeAway; You can book this lovely apartment here. Credit: HomeAway

When we arrived at our rental in Bologna, Italy, our host asked to photocopy our passports. That immediately put me on alert. Couldn’t they take these and steal our identities?

I checked with HomeAway promptly, and they informed me that is the law in Italy as part of an anti-terrorism procedure, so you’re stuck with it, unfortunately. And we have experienced that since in Italy, even at hotels. It’s just the law…

Top HomeAway Destinations for 2018

Arc view Eiffel Tower Sunset

Where are the most popular places to book a vacation rental?

In the U.S., here are the top spots listed by demand, according to HomeAway:

Top international destinations by demand:

Why Book a Vacation Rental?

While I certainly love to stay in hotels, especially boutique properties with unique design and amenities, I enjoy equally stay in unique vacation rentals.

Here are my top reasons to choose a vacation rental instead of a hotel:

1.  Experience a Destination Like a Local

Saint Germain des Pres neighborhood

The bustling and vibrant Saint Germain des Pres neighborhood just outside the doors of our HomeAway Left Bank Paris apartment

In Europe, we felt less like a tourist and more like we were just part of the neighborhood, especially in Paris, where we could walk right downstairs to the local market or cafe. It gives you the feel of what it would be like to live there complete with the amenities of home.

2.  More Room to Spread Out

San Gimignano Vacation Rental Loft

Our boys loved sleeping in this amazing loft area of our historic 12th century Tuscany vacation rental; Credit: HomeAway

When traveling with a family, more room is always helpful! With a vacation rental, you can often get bedrooms separate from the living space, which means Mom and Dad can stay up a bit later while the kids can go to sleep. A big perk for parents! Everyone falling asleep while the TV is on in one hotel room is not ideal 😉

3.  Save on Food

Food while traveling can be super expensive, especially if you eat out for every meal. When traveling in the U.S. on Southwest, which lets us check two free bags per person, we often bring a suitcase filled will breakfast items and snacks to save on the cost of eating out.

Most vacation rentals come with kitchens, allowing you to prepare full meals, which can save a ton of money. Plus, you can, again, feel like a local by shopping at the local market or grocery to get items to prepare your meals.

4.  Do Laundry!

I probably should have made this No. 1, because boy is this helpful, especially with kids.

In Europe, finding vacation rentals with washer/dryers is challenging, but we managed to for two of the three and that helped reduce the amount of clothes we needed to pack. Plus, my youngest is like a real-life version of Pig-Pen who seems to always instantly be covered in food and dirt ;-). There’s no re-wearing any of his clothes, ever!

5.  Save Money

We find that vacation rentals often cost the same or less as staying in a hotel room and afford you so much more space. For example, the Paris apartment we booked on HomeAway is just $185 per night!

You do lose the benefit of amenities like pools, on-site restaurants and the front desk for asking questions, but you gain a kitchen, washer/dryer and room to breathe! Yes, please!

Do you like to book vacation rentals? Have you used HomeAway? What your top tips?

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