VRBO v Hotel

When Emily and Brian decided their wedding would take place in Apopka, we delved into the world of VRBO for the first time. Unhappy with hotel offerings in the Apopka area and wanting to shorten our 75 minute commute from home, I searched the Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) website looking for an answer to our wedding weekend accommodation problem.

I found a four bedroom house on the Wekiva River which served as our base of operation, housed eight for the weekend and hosted more than two dozen guests for a rehearsal party. It also created a beautiful backdrop for pre-ceremony wedding photos. What a find!

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A year and a half later, another wedding, this time in Virginia, I again searched the VRBO website for a house for nine. Success again and at a cost one third of what we’d have spent on hotel rooms.

Of course when planning a trip to Portland, I didn’t even look at hotels. Instead, we stayed in a house complete with raspberries and blueberries growing in the backyard, access to a washer and dryer and an ice chest for our day trips…all for only $100 a day.

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More good luck in Jacksonville for family weekend last August. Five bedrooms, pool and boat lift on the St. John’s River. A perfect place for family fun.

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And most recently, we found a small two bedroom apartment in the Little Italy neighborhood in Boston. We enjoyed being in the middle of the city’s best restaurants and again spent only half as much as hotels.

But staying in houses or apartments instead of hotels come with their own unique problems. The house on the Wekiva has some water issues and the one in Virginia had beetles. In Portland, the doorway to the bedroom was only an inch above my head (the sticky note warns of low ceiling) and while the house in Jacksonville advertised their covered patio as a great place to enjoy a meal cooked on their gas grill, the propane tank was empty and the oven didn’t heat properly. In Boston, we walked up to the fourth floor on the narrow stairway and yes, that’s a step to the toilet and a post in the middle of the small room.

These problems would not have been acceptable at a high priced hotel but were taken with a grain of salt due to other advantages offered by these VRBO properties.

HOWEVER, WHEN THINGS GO WRONG, THEY CAN BE VERY WRONG. Five good experiences…but the bad one in Toronto makes me a little nervous about future rentals. Upon arrival, we found the house extremely warm. The thermostat registered nearly 90° and no amount of adjustment helped. That’s when we found the window unit AC in the closet under a pillow. No wonder we couldn’t cool it off! And the patio touted as a highlight of the property was stacked with wood and overlooked a yard of weeds…nothing like the wonderful patio in Portland.

We didn’t stay in the Toronto property instead moving to two rooms at the Marriott in downtown. Everything worked out, but it can be difficult leaving a prepaid VRBO property uncertain about a refund and possibly exceeding the vacation budget. And we learned that the guarantees offered by VRBO provide little or no   protection.

Read reviews carefully. Try to use Google Maps to get extra information about the neighborhood and pay on credit card to protect yourself. Houses or apartments can be a great alternative to traditional hotel rooms, but do your homework and protect yourself.

Traveling? Get to Know Your Neighbors

It’s always important to get to know your neighbors, but when traveling, neighbors who keep an eye on your house are indispensable.

We’ve been very lucky to have great neighbors over the years. Our back door neighbors when we lived on 28th Street would call and check on us and offer advice when they’d hear a newborn Meghan crying. During the nearly thirty years on 11th Street we had neighbors who built furniture for our girls from our discarded cabinets found on our trash pile and others who helped us celebrate the births of two daughters. One neighbor would cut our grass on occasion and another shared in ownership of a cat. We’ve had neighbors who watched over our house when we were away and who took interest in our girls. Neighbors have called to let us know they found our dog that escaped from the yard and one time we received a call to let us know they’d called 911 because our hedge was on fire. We’ve shared phone numbers, keys and alarm codes so we could watch out for one another. And of course with my brother living only a couple blocks away, we always had someone who could pick up mail and newspapers and check in when we were out of town.

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Things are a little different living on the lake since we’re not in a neighborhood, but we still need to depend on neighbors. Less than a month after we moved, a tree limb fell on the shed next door, and we realized we couldn’t contact the neighbors who aren’t full time residents. Fortunately the limb caused no serious damage, but it did result in trading phone numbers.

Last week we got another reminder of the importance of watching out for one another when we got a call from our neighbor asking for assistance with sprinklers that had been running for nearly twelve hours. After trying to solve the problem and even calling her lawn service, the sprinklers were still running and she needed to leave. John said he’d check on it as soon as we returned home.

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Fortunately, he knew a lot about the house next door and how to shut off the pump. He also knew the sprinklers might be controlled by not one but two timers, and after about thirty minutes of trial and error, he’d found the problem. Ants had caused a short in the timer for the sprinkler (a timer the owner didn’t know existed) and once he’d cut the power to the timer, the problem was solved.

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This problem reminded us that exchanging phone numbers was not enough. When away, you need someone who can enter the house or garage to take care of an emergency, as well as the names and numbers of family members who can be contacted to act on your behalf when out of town. Keys, codes to keypads and emergency numbers have been exchanged. Hopefully, they won’t be needed, but it’s good to know we’ve got things covered.