How to find the best travel and holiday accommodation online

How to find the best travel and holiday accommodation onlineThis article may contain compensated links. Please read disclaimer for more info

Have you tried booking short stay apartments or villas or do you prefer hotels for holiday accommodation when travelling?

What has your AirBnB, Booking.com or other holiday rental site experience been like so far?

Why rent an apartment or villa on your travels

Increasingly we look to short term rentals or holiday apartments and villas for our travel accommodation. We feel using apartments and villas gives us more flexibility, space and value compared to hotels particularly when we are travelling to cities in Europe and around the world.

An added bonus is that often these stays have provided a unique insight into our destination at a very reasonable price.

Over the past 5 years, we have stayed in over 30 holiday rental apartments across Europe and Asia and have learned some tricks and tips on how to secure the best short-term rental stays.

Here is my advice on securing the best short term rentals for your holiday whether you are travelling solo, with a partner or with your family.

Bali eco lodge holiday rental

Sun sets over the rainforest at our Bali eco lodge accommodation booked on AirBnB

1 | Research your destination

Do some initial research about your destination. Find out which neighbourhoods suit the type of trip you are taking.

As a general rule, we find that accommodation just outside city centres and old towns gives the most value for money. Make sure there is easy access to transport links and airports.

Check the average prices for accommodation during the time you wish to travel so you can easily recognise value when you review your options. As with most things in life, if you are offered a very cheap price there are usually compromises to be made.

As with most things in life, if you are offered a very cheap price there are usually compromises to be made.

2 | Know your holiday rental criteria

Each person or travel group has a different view of what is great accommodation. As a rule, the constant criteria for me are location, safety, value and special touches. I also like special or unique places to stay.

Criteria to consider

– neighbourhood
– price
– number of bedrooms & bathrooms
– shared or private rooms within a host’s home
– entire apartment/villa

– flexibility of check in and check out
– access to free and fast wifi
– transport close by
– access to free or paid parking spaces nearby
– air conditioning and heating

Depending on how you travel – as a family, couple, solo or with friends – you may also want to consider these other factors.

Travelling as a family

– are children welcome at the property?
– does the host provide cots for small children or will you need to provide your own
– elevator access if the accommodation is in a multi storey property
– are there any potentially dangerous features such as unfenced swimming pools, balconies etc
– is there a washing machine on the property

Travelling solo or when safety is a key priority

– do shared accommodation rooms have locks on doors
– you may prefer to stay with female only, couple or family hosts

Vacation rental cottage in Cotswolds

Room for a family dinner in this cosy Cotswolds cottage booked on AirBnB

3 | Book your holiday accommodation,apartment or villa early

The best holiday rental apartments and houses are snapped up quickly. Do your research and book the place you like as soon as you possibly can.

Booking at least 3 months before your trip means you have access to the best accommodation available however if you are travelling at peak times we find booking 6 to 9 months in advance yields the best results.

4 | Avoid travelling at peak times

If you can manage it, avoid travelling in Europe in August. The laws of supply and demand are in full force at that time of year with most countries taking their annual summer break in line with school holidays. Prices skyrocket and the best places can be snapped up to a year in advance.

It is also useful to do a quick check of public holidays in your destination country. This handy site lists public holidays around the world by country.

travel credit airbnb

5 | Make a short list of holiday rental properties

Choose 5 rental properties based on the criteria you outlined above. Use the search capability available on the site to its full potential to quickly eliminate places that are not suitable. You can easily narrow your search on most sites to include neighbourhood, price and number of bedrooms and bathrooms. But did you know depending on the site you use you can filter your search for features such as:

– elevator access
– locks on bedroom doors for shared accommodation
– 24-hour check in
– proximity to main tourist areas
– washing machine facilities

A full list of available options can be found in the amenities section on AirBnB and on the left-hand side of your browser window on Booking.com

6 | Read the reviews

I mean really read the reviews – at least 5-10 reviews per property. You will quickly discover whether a host is offering standard accommodation and amenities or goes above and beyond to deliver a wonderful stay. Take note if there is a time gap in the positive reviews or if the tone of the review is neutral. Many people don’t like to publish very negative reviews on accommodation sites afraid they will be rejected for future stays.

7 | Look at the photos

The more photos the better. That way you can better understand the layout of a property to see if it will work for your travel plans. I also appreciate a floor plan for that reason.

Look for clear and bright photos that showcase all rooms of the apartment, cottage or villa listed.

best vacation rental with view of Honfleur

The view from a loft apartment in Honfleur we chose on AirBnB

8 | Check the fine print

Each site has its own set of rules and payment terms. Make sure you read and understand them carefully as they do differ from site to site. I have been caught out a couple of times when renting apartments that required cash on check in or check out. The problem has been resolved quickly but it is best to avoid embarrassment. Some things to note

✪ AirBnB takes payment for your stay as soon as your booking request has been accepted. The funds are then held by AirBnB and distributed to your host after you have checked in

✪ Some Booking.com rentals require cash payments directly to the host

✪ Check if additional charges for cleaning, hotel tax or sundries are required to be paid to the host

9 | Communicate with your host

Great hosts will respond to queries promptly and in detail. You will quickly discover which hosts are professionals and take pride in their accommodation. The best hosts anticipate your needs and offer relevant advice about their property and neighbourhood as you proceed with the booking process.

best holiday accommodation rental chateau in france

A value for money chateau stay in France



Booking.com

10 | Favourite booking sites for holiday rental accommodation

There are so many online booking sites these days but here are the ones we use regularly and enjoy.

booking.com logo

My favourite site to book accommodation is Booking.com because I feel it has the biggest listing of apartments, b&bs, hotels and other specialty accommodation available. Many of the properties may be booked with free cancellation which is useful when you are in the initial planning stages. Please do remember to cancel your bookings well in advance if you have done this. Many smaller operators really suffer from late booking cancellations.

Industry giant TripAdvisor is a great place to read accommodation reviews and tips and now you can also book short term rental properties online using TripAdvisor’s booking engine – Holiday Lettings which is also integrated into the main TripAdvisor site. Note – When you book hotels you are given several options of hotel booking sites to choose from while lettings are sold direct using PayPal

We have been using AirBnB since 2014 and have stayed in some fantastic places. We always choose to rent the entire home. I like to use AirBnB for longer stays as since Booking.com entered the short term rental market the convenience of searching for and comparing accommodation options in the one place is useful. If you haven’t tried AirBnB please feel free to use my link for free AirBnB credit [£25 or equivalent] when making your first booking.

 

Smaller booking sites worth checking

bookings for you logo

UK based Italian villa specialists Bookings for You have a wide selection of villas and apartments across Italy, France and Croatia

plum guide and Untold Morsels

The Plum Guide curates the best of the London holiday rental apartments – see feature below

home away logo

Finding the best holiday accommodation in London

If you are headed to London and want all the hard work taken out of finding the best holiday accommodation apartments do try The Plum Guide.

With over 250 properties assessed against 32 strict criteria, you will be viewing the best short term holiday rentals available in London without having to search and refine them yourself.

Here are a couple of favourite special places to stay from the site that offer excellent value for money.

I love this gorgeous houseboat in Maida Vale – doesn’t it look cosy and inviting? It is just a stone’s throw from all the action in central London. What a perfect little nook for a romantic getaway.

Book the Velvet Morning houseboat on Plum Guide

Stay on London houseboat with Plum Guide

This bright and airy two bedroom apartment in Shoreditch – shown below – would be an excellent base for exploring London’s hip east side. Here you could explore the bars, boutiques and street scene of the area and retreat to this haven to recharge your batteries.

Book the Pure apartment on Plum Guide

Stay in an apartment in Shoreditch with Plum Guide

Finding the perfect holiday rental for your travels

There is a wealth of choice of accommodation for travellers these days beyond hotels and traditional bed and breakfast options. Putting in a bit of time to research and refine your search will reap big rewards. Using this approach we have stayed in a chateau in France, a houseboat in Amsterdam and at an eco-lodge in Bali. All for very reasonable prices.

Our hosts have been friendly and helpful and have often provided those little touches that make all the difference on our holiday. Bottles of wine, luxury bathroom amenities, cookies and toys for our children and insider tips on the local neighbourhood are some of the added extras we have enjoyed. These were all amazing experiences that we would have struggled to find at a hotel.


I’d love to hear about your holiday rental stays. Do you use sites like AirBnB and Booking.com to book accommodation or do you prefer staying in hotels?


For a full list of travel resources we recommend check our travel and trip planning resources page


This post contains affiliate links which means I may receive a small commission if you click through to a site I mentioned and make a purchase at no additional cost to you. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Read our full disclosure policy.


More articles you might enjoy

Staying on a houseboat in Amsterdam
10 quirky alternatives to hotels for inspiration

travel credit airbnb
Tips and guide to finding the best rental accommodation for your travels online

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13 Comments

  1. 22nd September 2016 / 5:31 PM

    thanks for the tips:)

  2. 23rd September 2016 / 10:21 AM

    Lots of excellent tips here Katy, speaking from both the traveller’s and host’s point of view, especially for single travellers staying in someone’s house We always use either Booking dot com or Airbnb (as a starting point, more on that below) and I quickly totted up that we’ve stayed in 25 in the last 3 years (plus 4 house swaps). A couple of things I’d add would be having found a place you like on Airbnb to try and find it directly if there are any hints in the listing/photos as that way you’ll save a decent amount of money on commission fees (and the host will earn more) so it’s a win win situation. Serious owners will nearly always have their own website and prefer dealing direct. Also if there’s a gap in reviews it isn’t usually anything sinister… hosts don’t have the ability to edit/choose which reviews to publish on either of the sites we’re talking about so it’s not that they’re trying to hide something, it’s just that they didn’t get any reviews from that particular site at that period! I’ve been booked solid in my gite since March but not everyone has written a review, (repeat visitors certainly don’t review each time) and yet I can promise you that everyone has loved their time here (only need to look at the visitor’s book which about 99% of people write in to see that). I think reading the reviews it’s more important to see how the host deals with any criticism if there is any rather than gaps in the time frame.

    • 24th September 2016 / 8:55 AM

      Thanks so much for your excellent insight Phoebe. It’s an excellent point about the gap in reviews which I had not considered. I imagine it must be difficult for hosts to manage all the different sites and their requirements as well as taking the hit on commissions. I’d be interested to know what the booking aggregators are doing to help owners like yourself given the market is becoming more competitive. Can’t wait to stay in your gorgeous gite someday soon!

  3. 24th September 2016 / 3:18 AM

    I wish I had read your post before I made my first AirBnB booking earlier this morning, Katy. Would have been great to have that 25 GBP discount 🙂 Enjoyed reading your post. I am using booking.com and airbnb for the first time, for my upcoming visit to UK later this year, and I found booking.com easy to navigate and love the feature of ‘free cancellation’ because it means that I can choose a few places and then make decisions, once I have decided on my travel route.

    • 24th September 2016 / 8:46 AM

      Oh no! That’s such bad luck Ahila. Let me know when you are coming to the UK. I’d love to catch up for a coffee if you have time. Free cancellation is a great feature but I hope people don’t abuse it. I have heard of people booking 3-4 places for the same time and cancelling at the last minute which must hurt small operators. See you soon I hope ?

  4. 26th September 2016 / 8:09 PM

    I swear by Booking.com and use them for all of my hotels in Europe. Sometimes we’ll use AirBnb for a UK getaway or girl’s trip but I’ve come to really trust Booking.com. Great guide!

  5. 29th September 2016 / 4:13 PM

    Finally catching up on my reading..have been wanting to read this article since your IG post. Great tips, and so comprehensive. For me, the most important thing has always been to read the reviews – key!!! I will be saving this for our next trip;).

  6. 1st October 2016 / 7:30 PM

    I think property layout is particularly important – especially for families

    • 3rd October 2016 / 12:03 PM

      Absolutely agree. We are always keen to see floorplans but they are often not provided.

  7. 3rd October 2016 / 1:18 PM

    These are some really great thoughts! We love booking.com and actually prefer it to Airbnb, but both are honestly pretty great. Thank you for sharing!

    • 4th October 2016 / 9:10 AM

      Thank you Ashley. I think these newer options to find accommodation are fantastic and have really enabled our family travel adventures. I love hotels too but the logistics and costs of two hotel rooms can be a bit restrictive when traveling as a family.

  8. Alicia Dawn
    1st June 2017 / 10:46 AM

    I prefer to stay near beaches and mountain view site houses, apartments and cottages.I like your post…I think I will find it the best place to stay.
    Private holiday rentals italy

  9. Stefanie Ebersbacher
    23rd June 2017 / 10:42 AM

    Thank you! Really appreciate your efforts to help us find a holiday. So many beautiful places to choose from…now just have to make a decision! Such a beautiful website full of inspiration.
    Ferienhäuser italien

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