How To Get The Best Deals On Vacation Rentals, and Why We Didn't Buy an RV

During the first several months we discussed traveling full-time, we were looking into buying a fifth wheel RV. We both have jobs that require talking to people online or on the phone, and we couldn't quite wrap our brains around how that would work in the small space of an RV with two loud boys. There are tons of resources online for families that live in RV's, but not a lot of information about permanently living in rentals so I didn't really know if it was something that would work. The first step was to find out if it was even affordable though, so I sat down one night and e-mailed dozens of hosts on Airbnb and VRBO to see if they could work with our budget of $1700 a month (including taxes and fees). This is definitely more than our mortgage payment was, but we don't have to worry about utilities, maintenance, repairs, yard work, etc.... and the locations are 1000 times cooler of course. So far, we've booked the places we're staying until November. Weather you're considering full-time or just looking to find a good deal on a vacation, here is what I've found out:
  • If you ask for a deal, you might be surprised to find out how many people are willing to work with you. Some may laugh in your face, but some are more than happy to lower their prices. They don't have to pay multiple cleaning fees for longer stays, and if they aren't going to be booked the entire month anyway, they may benefit by having you there the entire time verses renters for a weekend or two. 
  • Don't forget about the taxes and fees. Each rental has different charges for taxes and fees. I've seen anything from $100-$600 and there's no way to know until you get the final quote. Make sure you keep this in mind when looking for a good deal, and especially when negotiating prices. 
  • We've booked half of our rentals with VRBO and half with Airbnb. I'm not sure which one is better, but I'm starting to lean more towards Airbnb because most of their rentals have monthly prices and discounts. Many VRBO rentals only show their nightly rates. I've come across many rentals on Airbnb that give up to 60% off their price if you stay the entire month, and I've been able to negotiate prices even lower than that. 
  • Prices can more than double during peak seasons. If you want to travel cheap, go during the off-season. 
  • When finding a place to stay, I start by entering our must-haves to filter through as many places as possible: must have wifi, washer and dryer, and 2-3 bedrooms. Then I enter the price range up to $100 a night or $2500 a month. Sometimes this pulls up 100 houses, my last search in Colorado brought up 2. It really depends on the popularity and prices of the location. We couldn't find anywhere outside of Glacier National Park even close to our price range, but we had hundreds in the state of Washington to choose from. I don't spend too much time closely checking out each house. Instead, I write a standard e-mail explaining who we are, what we're doing, our monthly budget, and ask if that's something they would be willing to accommodate. Copy, paste, and send to several hosts. Once we find out how many (if any) people are willing to work with us, then we go through and decide which place would be the best to stay. 
Hopefully this is helpful to someone out there! I have had the hardest time finding information from anyone who has traveled this way. I know people do it, but it seems much less common than an RV. At first it may sound more expensive than an RV, but unless you're boondocking and don't need hook-ups, RV parks are not cheap. Sometimes up to $700-$800 a month for good ones. And once you add the cost of the RV, a truck, and the gas to haul it all around, we actually found this worked better for our living situation, and our budget. 


Lauralee Speziale said...

Jamie - You're right that there isn't too much info out there right now. I think people are just starting to realize that this type of travel is even an option. I believe VRBO merged with HomeAway and share listings now (might need to fact check this one to be sure) but those properties tend to (but not always) have a 30+ day stay requirements but some owners will negotiate. I had a newer 3/2 split with heated pool property in Florida for three months at $50/night ($1500/mo all incl) from VRBO (oh, and we have a dog too). Def better than my $1500/mo mortgage with no pool and no utilities included.

The other place some people may not realize has rental properties or is out of a decent price range is Real Estate Agencies. I rented a newer 3/2 split (no pool) for $1350/mo for three months in Florida. The difference is you're working with a representative of the property owner which IMO could be a better experience because the reputation of the agent is on the line if all things don't go perfect for the renter and owner.

Another platform is FlipKey but I didn’t like using it. The best luck I had with short term with AirBNB. I like using their platform in general most too because it’s easy to search, filter, communicate, book, track the trips. They’ve added more stuff over the last few months like ‘experiences’ which I’ve not checked out yet. I rely heavily on TripAdvisor for finding activities, documenting experiences, etc. I’ve tried a few apps and this one is the best IMO. I love that it always runs in the background, creates a map for every place I go and automatically adds pictures that I take to the timeline.

The other thing I found interesting that I don't think is out there is Co-Working space. Advertised affordable co-working space is nearly non-existent. Places like Regis are well overpriced but I think if you're willing to ask, you never know when someone has extra space. One of the agencies I rented from coincidentally had extra office space. They had office equipment, furniture, business internet, and the bonus of meeting new interesting people. The best thing I did in one of my month stays is buy a one month membership to the local rec center ($36 for the fam, kids 2 and 3). Cheap childcare (like 1.50 per hour, max hours per day of course), free internet, pool, playgrounds, food, gym, showers, classes. So sure, you can use this as a work space too but I thought it was most beneficial to get ‘me’ time in.
If I had to give one tip about traveling is, talk to people! Want to know where to eat? Ask a local. Where are the free kid activities? Ask a local. Who the most famous person from their town is? Ask a local. People might seem like they don’t want to talk to you but more often than not when you reach out and say hey, do you know…they're delighted you’re taking an interest where they live and they can share their knowledge with you.

I know you are going to have a great time!!

...oh, and I find it weird leaving a long comment like this to someone I never met so let me introduce myself. My name is Laura. I work with Mark. BYE!