The realm of vacation rentals can be intimidating and precarious, but it doesn't have to be. There are multiple mobile apps and websites out there that can help you book the best places to stay no matter your needs.
With access to millions of rooms, houses, condos, and campsites (did someone say glamping?), these free services help match you to the best getaway locales. Whether you’re looking for a beach balcony, secluded cabin, urban bedroom near a metro stop, or a place to party with your pals, these are the 7 best vacation rental apps and websites for any kind of traveler. And of course, some tips for smart booking.
By far the most popular vacation rental service, Airbnb hosts over 4 million listings in more than 190 countries. You can book from a computer, but the app is just as easy (if not easier) to navigate. There are dozens of options to filter searches for your vacation needs, down to pool availability and parking preferences. Thanks to verified reviews, and degrees of host credentials, you don’t have to worry about getting duped. As further protection for guests, Airbnb holds your payment for 24 hours after check-in before releasing the funds to the host.
Vrbo, short for Vacation Rental By Owner, specializes in larger vacation rentals, such as houses, condos, villas and cabins. Unlike Airbnb, you can only rent entire homes on Vrbo, which means it has fewer rentals than Airbnb, but you’re guaranteed extra space and a kitchen. Vrbo says it has over 2 million rentals worldwide, compared to Airbnb's 4 million. So if you’re suspicious about sharing a space with homeowners or other travelers, Vrbo is a great rental service for you. You can use it to search for popular destinations, find vacation inspiration, and collaborate with friends or family to design the perfect trip for your group.
Globally, HomeAway has over 2 million vacation rental listings in 190 countries. It uses the same catalog as Vrbo (which HomeAway acquired in 2007), but with less emphasis on collaborative booking and more flexibility with search filters. You can find rentals with a baby crib, exercise equipment, vegetable gardens, and more. If you have a specific vacation niche or need, HomeAway is your best option. Your rental information, booking details, and vacation itinerary are automatically downloaded for reference at any time, even when you’re offline.
FlipKey is a TripAdvisor subsidiary with more than 300,000 rentals in over 11,000 cities around the world. Like Vrbo, you can book non-shared home, apartment, boathouse, and villa rentals. The major difference between FlipKey and its competitors, though, is the external booking system. While some properties can be reserved instantly through the app, more locations encourage contacting the property owner in a Craigslist-style fashion. So use the same discretion you would on Craigslist. FlipKey’s blog is an excellent resource for vacation planning, whether you need suggestions for romantic getaways or kid-friendly beach towns.
If you’re the outdoorsy-type, HipCamp is the rental app for you. It lets you search and rent campsites on privately owned lands in the U.S. while fostering experiences outside the traditional vacation model. When Americans scrambled for accommodations along the path of totality during the 2017 solar eclipse, Hipcamp revealed 789 Hipcamp hosts with over 1,000 campsites available within the path. Since then, Hipcamp increased to more than 17,000 camping rentals. There are 1,833 hosts and 2.2 million campers who used the site last year. Some of those hosts even provided shelter for people fleeing California wildfires.
If you're seeking more unique outdoor accommodations, Glamping Hub offers stays at hosted tree houses, camper vans, and tents.
While Roomster’s primary service is securing long-term housing and roommates, you can also use it to temporarily sublet apartments around the U.S. if it suits your travel needs. Whether you’re staying in a city for a few weeks or a few months, you can work out a short-term lease for certain locations. You’ll probably wind up with a roommate, which could prove a useful resource if you’re unfamiliar with the locale. Overall, Roomster is a great rental option if you’re relocating to work on a project, immerse in a new community, or test out neighborhoods before a more permanent move.
Tips for Searching Vacation Rentals
No matter the app you use to search, there are some things you should keep in mind during planning:
- Each home is unique, so take advantage of search filters to find the place that best fits your travel needs.
- Rentals ≠ resorts. If you’re looking for resort amenities, include a pool and gym in your “must-haves.” You also might be better off at a resort.
- Do your homework. Be sure to read reviews, ask the property owners questions, and check out the area on Google.
Tips for Booking and Paying for Vacation Rentals
Protect yourself during the booking process with these reservation tips:
- Review the total cost before you click. There may be hidden fees in the rental’s fine print that aren’t advertised in the main search.
- Pay directly through the app whenever possible. Using the service’s system provides information protection.
- Read the contract. You should have a clear understanding of cancellation policies, occupation limits, and damage waivers before booking.