Before having kids, we never really considered renting an apartment or entire home while travelling. We would find the best hotel, in the best location within our budget, with the intention of spending very little time in our room. Then we had a baby…
See our Hotel vs Apartment comparison chart in this post: Find the best hotel for your family in 5 easy steps.
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Our first trip to Barcelona, when our daughter was 3 months, still worked very well in a hotel room. She was still in that phase of just sleeping wherever and whenever she needed to. We took her out for late dinners, then she went to bed around the same time we did.
Our second trip with her to New Mexico when she was 10 months old was a little different. We were visiting family in a small town, so our choices of places to stay were limited. Even though she was going to bed around 7pm, we were able to sit outside our room and visit while she slept.
Shortly thereafter, we went to NYC with a baby. Again, we stayed in a hotel room. If you’ve been to NYC, you know the rooms there are SMALL. That was the tipping point for us. After having to manage naps and early bedtimes in that room, we decided it was time for a change.
We also visited Paris with our toddler on the same trip. In each place, we were able to find an apartment that had a separate bedroom and a door on the main living space. That meant we were able to set up the Pack n’ Play for our daughter in the main living space and not have to spend the evening in the dark for fear of waking her.
We went to a resort in Mexico when she was 18 months old and I was pregnant with our son. Having to be back sharing a room was a challenge for us and it solidified our decision to rent bigger places when we travel, at least for the next few years. Since that trip, we have also rented apartments in Sedona, Phoenix, San Diego, Tokyo, Kyoto, Rome, Florence, Lucca, Cinque Terre and Portoferraio – so we have quite a bit of experience with vacation rentals!
We have been really impressed with the places we have stayed in. More importantly, it has been so much more functional for family travel. When travelling with a baby or young children, the idea of eating out for three meals a day is not appealing. Not only are the little ones up super early, but they take so long to eat. By renting our own place with a kitchen, we are able to feed them breakfast and get organized for the day while they eat. It also allows us to keep enough food and snacks around (minimizing the number of times we need to hit a grocery store).
With early bedtimes, we will often self-cater dinner as well, for them… Since we still like to eat out while travelling, we like to take advantage of their early bedtimes by feeding them and getting them down, then getting some take-away. That way we also get to sit down and enjoy a meal together. We’ve also done this at lunch time when they need naps. It’s a great use of time, since we need to stop and eat anyways…
There are also the obvious benefits of having more space for sleeping, play and stuff, because let’s face it, kids take up space! We also enjoy staying in more “residential” neighborhoods to get a more local feel.
Here are our tips for finding a vacation rental for your next trip:
Know Your Budget & Desired Location
Before you begin looking, know what you are looking for. You will be able to filter on price and zoom into a map to see properties that meet your criteria. See our post on Finding the Best Hotel For Your Family in 5 Easy Steps (all the steps apply to vacation rentals as well).
Look at Multiple Sites
We found there to be more (better?) options on VRBO when we traveled to Sedona and San Diego, but Airbnb was the clear winner for London, Paris, Japan, Italy and Norway. Another site worth checking out is HomeAway (owned by Expedia).
Take Time to Review the Pictures in Detail
We look for places that are uncluttered (i.e. limited décor items within arm’s reach of the little ones and not a lot of access to cords around TVs, etc). We also look for potential dangers like stairs or glass coffee tables.
Is the Listing Pet Friendly
If you have any pet allergies in your family, you may want to avoid these. I have allergies to cats and to a lesser degree, dogs. I have stayed in hotels that allow pets, and despite their cleaning efforts, I usually can’t breathe within an hour or two…
Count the Bedrooms
As you review the pictures, do a count of the bedrooms and consider where your toddler or baby will sleep. In our experience, a two bedroom apartment is not always two bedrooms. Often it will be included as a two bedroom if there is one separate bedroom and the main living space can be converted to a bedroom.
Read the Reviews Thoroughly
We like to make sure there are no comments about it being noisy, dirty, near a nightclub or near a train (for example). We also like when we find comments from other families that have stayed there.
Know What You Are Paying For
When we do a search, we enter four guests. Some places charge extra depending on the number of guests. However, they may give a discount or not charge extra for children. If you are a travelling with a baby, some hosts may assume the baby will sleep in the same room as the parents and lock up the extra bedroom.
If you are unsure, contact the host to clarify.
Contact the Host
We always contact the host to let them know that we are travelling with small children. Though they will almost always specify if the property is family/kid friendly, we want to make sure they don’t have any issues with this and we also want to see if they have any baby equipment available. In both London and Paris, our hosts provided a pack&play for us with linens. In Paris, our host was prepared with a sheet to put over the couch. We appreciated this since it meant less worry with our little toddling baby and her sticky fingers!
Upon arrival, we usually do childproofing like moving breakable items and even putting in plug protectors.
If you haven’t yet used Airbnb for your family trip, we recommend giving it a try! Use our link to get a $35 credit that will automatically apply towards your first reservation with Airbnb.