Booking An AirBNB or VRBO with Little Ones - a How-To Guide
Looking to go on vacation with your baby or toddler in tow? Booking an accommodation through a apartment rental site like AirBNB or VRBO can have many advantages over a traditional hotel – separate bedrooms for the kids; a kitchen; quiet residential neighborhoods with access to playgrounds and more.
Still, it requires leg work and careful screening to improve your odds of booking a home that will be comfortable, safe and relaxing for your family.
My husband and I are no strangers to AirBNB, having stayed at dozens of homes and hosted three properties of our own. Nevertheless, our summer seaside vacation plans with our 14 month old and her grandparents were dashed this past summer after we arrived at a rental with dirty floors, an unsafe beach, off leash dogs; nearby construction and a lack of heating.
Here’s what you should know – and do – before booking a vacation rental on AirBNB or VRBO:
Know that a “kid friendly” listing means little more than “As a host, I’m fine with kids staying at my house”. Under the property’s Amenities, the host can self-select the kid friendly option. What “kid friendly” means is up to that host’s own interpretation – and does not guarantee that the property will have the configuration, amenities or safety features that your young one requires.
So, you’ll want to select the ‘kid friendly’ filter, to rule out properties that aren’t comfortable renting to families. However, you’ll definitely need to do additional due diligence to guarantee that a rental is suitable for your little ones.
(If you have a young infant that’s not yet mobile, and find that your search is providing limited options, you may chose to keep the “kid friendly” filter unchecked, and reach out to the hosts to see if they’re open to young babies. I’ve done this in the past with some success. Sometimes hosts are worried about their glass coffee table or steep stairs for mobile kids, which aren’t really an issues for infants.)
Inspect the photos carefully. Do the balconies have unsafe gaps? Is the pool fenced? Are there stairs that will need to be blocked off?
Keep in mind, though, that there are plenty of possible issues that may not show up in photos. Hosts are going to photograph their home in the best possible light – meaning that you likely won’t see the toddler size hole in the screen door that they haven’t gotten around to fixing. And many things can’t be gleaned from a photo, like the construction happening next door or the temperature of the ocean water. So, although a picture is worth a thousand words, keep digging for the full story with the suggestions below.
Of course, one way to improve your odds of securing a wonderful, truly kid-friendly rental is to rent from a family that has small children of their own. Unfortunately, there are no search filters on AirBNB or VRBO that allow you to filter down on kid occupied homes, and these properties are few and far between. When scanning photos, definitely keep an eye out for cribs and toddler beds, but know that finding these rentals can be tough.
Read all the reviews – and look in particular for reviews from other families with small children. The vacation rental we chose had several complementary reviews from couples and grown families, but none from families with small kids. The floors were dirty, and broken glass and rotting fruit were left all over the private beach area. If we were staying without kids, this may not have warranted a comment. But when you have a crawling, toddling baby that puts everything into her mouth, suddenly you have an issue.
Introduce your family. Reach out to the host of properties that interest you, and be transparent about the fact that you are travelling with little ones. I’ve read plenty of articles and comments on the web from frustrated guests that think it’s unfair to be denied a rental because they have kids, or to have to pay the “extra guest” fee for their toddlers (Note that on AirBNB hosts cannot charge for babies under 2), and think the way around both these issues is to not mention their kids.
This is poor form and short sighted for many reasons: 1) The rental is someone’s private home. I think that certainly gives them the right to decide what rental scenarios they are comfortable with. 2) Hiding the fact that you have kids does not allow you to have an honest conversation with your host about the suitability of their property for your little ones. 3) Sometimes hosts lock up unused bedrooms. You booked the two bedroom so you didn’t have to tip toe around the sleeping baby, and suddenly she’s in your room 4) If your host discovers you lied, it complicates the relationship and you’ll likely get a bad review; 5) If you have concerns about the kid-friendliness of the property once on-site, it can be harder to get the resolution you want. It’s hard to complain about no heat in the second bedroom if you’ve told the host you’re a single couple that only needs the master bedroom.
Ask lots of questions. Start by asking yourself what your family needs to have a safe and relaxing vacation. Then email the property’s host with your list of questions/ needs - assume nothing. For example, we assumed that the property would be pet-free, since there was no mention of animals in either the property description or the reviews. However, the owners, who lived down the road, had three dogs who ran free – something I first discovered as my toddler came nose to snout with one on our private beach. Another wandered into the living room through a hole in the screen door. It was clear the pets spent time inside the rental house from the paw prints on the dishwasher – which could be a huge deal breaker for anyone with allergies, or for those of us with little ones that are still learning how to interact safely with animals.
(Note: Hosts are required to disclose the presence of pets on a rental property. If they do not, the guest has the right to cancel with a full refund. However, if animals are a deal breaker for you, better to ask upfront than have a wrench thrown into your vacation plans).
Is your baby a light sleeper? Ask about how much light the blinds keep out, and about noise levels in the neighborhood. Would your toddler venture out of bed given the chance? Best to inquire that the bedroom doors fully close and about options for blocking off the stairs. Does your kid put everything in his mouth? Fess up and ask whether there are things that you will need to keep out of reach in the rental.
Definitely ask about heating and cooling. In summer, you may think that heating won’t be needed. But some summer homes are old and uninsulated, and temperatures by the water can dip down significantly at night. Our vacation home did have heating – but the baseboard in our daughter’s room didn’t work, which meant we all had a rough night’s sleep.
Understand the cancellation policy before booking. The cancellation policy is set by the host, and outlined through the property’s webpage. Strict and Moderate cancellation policies mean that you may forfeit 50% of the remaining booking value as well as fees.
This means that you may still be on the hook for part or all of the booking costs, depending on how amenable your host is to working with you if you arrive at the property and discover it’s not as “kid friendly” as you had hoped. Which leads us to the topic of our next blog post – how best to address concerns if you arrive at a vacation rental and find it less than kid-friendly.
Consider ways to DIY your own kid-friendly rental. If a rental looks great but you know your kid would sleep much better in a crib than your pack’n’play, then look into renting a crib at your destination. Or example, you can rent a crib for $72 USD/ week in Cancun. Friends that rented a summer home for two months bought Ikea cribs for their twins, figuring it was a relatively small expense in the grand scheme of things.
If you’re driving to your destination, you can certainly pack your baby gates. And travelling with a bag of outlet covers in never a bad idea with little ones.
Though finding a great kid friendly rental can feel frustratingly time-consuming, the pay off can be truly rewarding. Using rental sites, we’ve been able to host family reunions with the extended family that have accommodated the needs of a baby in ways that a hotel can’t. A house with a bedroom for baby means that the family can keep visiting long past baby’s bedtime, and my sister and I were able to take the baby on walking naps through beautiful, quiet residential streets. And sharing moments and making memories are what vacations are all about.