Forget to read the entire listing before you book
The vacation is in the details people. You've really got to read every word of the host's listing before you reach out and waste everyone's time.
Think something not listed must be an error
Just because the listing doesn't mention hot water, don't assume they simply forgot to check that box when they listed their beach cabana. And we aren't only talking about foreign listings that may be missing the usual comforts. There are backyard rentals across the U.S. without any running water, much less heated water. Don't expect sheets, dishes, air conditioning, heating, or an oven unless they are listed. Basically, don't expect anything that is not clearly listed.
Don't take the time to read the reviews
The reviews on most vacay rental websites are limited to people who have are verified guests of the property. Their input might be invaluable in your decision process.
Forget about taxes and cleaning fees
That amazing $49 rate sounds like the perfect money-saving option for your next stay until you add in the hotel taxes, tourist taxes, and host-imposed cleaning fees. Make sure you are comparing all the costs when you are deciding between two listings.
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Book through a rental site you know nothing about
There are scammers out there swiping rental listings for their own sites. They may look completely legit, right up until you arrive to find you have no reservation. The safest choices are the known vacation rental sites and local real estate brokers, which you can verify with a phone call or more extensive web research.
Think that you are always dealing with the property owner
The days of being hosted by the actual property owner are almost a thing of the past in many popular destinations. Management services have taken over the process, particularly in Galveston, leaving you in the cold if you were expecting a warm fuzzy sit down with your host.
Expect the owner to be in the same city as your rental
Your vacation rental is likely to be someone else's vacation house. They rent it out only when they aren't using it themselves. They may not even be in the same country as the rental.
Assume there will be parking
Remember what we said about reading everything in the listing and not assuming it will be available even if it's not mentioned. Parking is a big deal in many vacay locations. Don't rent a car assuming there will be a place to put it anywhere close by unless you have verified it with the host.
It is so tempting to assume that a unit with a self-check-in procedure is available whenever you choose to arrive. That is rarely the case. Don't book travel plans that require early arrival unless you have cleared it with management first.
Think it will be spotless
Even in vacation rentals that are not someone's home, there is really no handbook for how clean the unit should be. Travel with disinfectant wipes and plan to spend a few minutes on arrival cleaning.
Expect love at first sight
Again, you didn't book a luxury resort where everything should be perfect. There may be things you don't love about the place. If your stay is lengthy, give it a day or two to grow on you before you contemplate making a change. Things like long, winding roads back to town or partially blocked views may be offset by charming gardens or the ability to spend time in a local neighborhood.
Assume it will be like a hotel
There probably won't be individually-wrapped bars of soap. The towels may be mismatched. The furniture may be weird, the TV old, or the curtains not thick enough to block out the street lights. Don't compare vacation accommodations to hotel stays and you will be fine.
Expect complete privacy
Even when you've read every word of a listing (twice), there may still be tiny details that are undisclosed. These often relate to your privacy on the grounds of your rental. I once stayed in a villa with an apartment in the sub-basement that I didn't know about until the tenant walked through the garden to access his apartment entrance one evening while I was outside. If total privacy matters, ask if anyone else has access to the building or grounds. The vast majority of beach rentals in the Galveston area are in complexes.
Ignore host advice
Even if you never actually meet the host in person, it is likely they have left you a trail of breadcrumbs to make your stay more pleasant. Besides the listing itself, they may leave you notes, notebooks, maps, magazines, area guides, and guest registries. All of these contain valuable nuggets of wisdom.
Eat things left in the fridge
People tend to leave things behind in rental fridges. Some hosts leave it all in there as community property. Just how desperate do you have to be to use someone else's three-year-old strawberry jam? The exceptions are host-provided treats left just for you and kitchens that are come fully stocked with fresh food.
Leave things in the fridge
Don't perpetuate the old-stuff-in-the-fridge problem by adding your selection of barbecue sauce—especially if the fridge was clean and empty when you arrived.
Take your pet without asking
We have a tendency to assume that everyone will love our pet. That is not usually the case. It is also easy to assume that your teenie-weenie furry family member won't be a problem, even if the listing said no pets. If you don't have permission, don't bring a pet. It's wrong.
Abide by the listing and your agreement with the host. If you said there would only be two of you, don’t bring along your brother-in-law without asking (and possibly paying extra fees).
Throw a party
Almost every time I turn on the news, there's another city somewhere attempting to ban vacation rentals. The purpose of staying in a rental is to have a kitchen, possibly save money, and stay in a neighborhood—not to destroy the neighborhood with your fireworks, 2 am drinking games, and overflowing trash bins. Vacation rental parties are ruining it for the rest of us. In Galveston, there are city-wide occupancy rules that will be enforced by law enforcement.
Forget to forward the details, especially the rules and policies, to your travel companions
Everyone joining you on your trip needs all of the details—especially if you are the one who put up the cleaning deposit, which will be forfeited the minute Aunt Jane shows up with her Yorkie or your brother Fred arrives with a dozen friends and a keg.
Be rude to the neighbors
One phone call from the neighbors about your attitude, your party, or your three extra vehicles, and your next night in paradise might be on the street—or worse—in the local jail. There is also a possibility that the neighbors are the hosts—something you might have known if you had read the listing carefully.
Expect hosts to cater to you
There are some rentals where the hosts behave like your new-found family. They may pick you up from the airport, fix your breakfast, or let you use their bicycles. Those are the exceptions. Most rentals are simply business transactions. They have a place for you to sleep; you pay them for it.
Hog the utilities
Rental owners are not getting rich doing it. In most cases, they are like you and I—just trying to make an extra buck because they own property in a desirable location. Utilities are likely to be their highest costs. Respect that and don’t overuse electricity, water, or gas.
Lock yourself out without any clue how to contact the host
Remember when we told you that the owner may not be in the same city or even the same country? This is when that tidbit matters most. A host once simplified it for me (as I stood sheepishly on the front porch of my locked rental condo): "Always use the key to lock the door so you can't leave the key inside." Obviously there are doors that don’t require a key to lock them, but if you get it in your head that it is required, you are far less likely to find yourself scrambling to find not only the key but the host's contact info once you have locked yourself out.
Let your children behave like they do at home
Travel behavior is not home behavior. Rule number one is respect for other people's property. Rule number two is speaking and playing at a volume that does not disturb the neighbors.
Get too comfortable
After a day or two of living like the locals, it is easy to let your guard down a bit more than you might in a hotel setting. Here's a tip: local thieves can read vacation listings just as easily as you can, which makes you an especially easy target for break-ins. Lock up when you leave and don’t leave electronics in plain view of windows.
Don't patronize neighborhood businesses
Part of the beauty of renting in a neighborhood is to enjoy the neighborhood itself. If you skip over the local eateries or gift shops you not only miss out on the fun you came for, but you deprive those businesses of income they might have had if your new-found home was occupied full-time rather than as a short-term rental, making them a little less tolerant of your presence.
Overstay your welcome
Again, this is not a hotel. There aren't 150 other money-making rooms available for afternoon check-in—there's only yours and it needs to be cleaned. Vacate when you agreed to.
Leave it worse than you found it
Don’t forget that you are visiting someone's home. Even if you never laid eyes on the owners, everything in the rental has meaning for them. Protect their things from harm, clean up after yourself, and consider thanking them in writing for sharing their piece of paradise with you.
Forget to leave a review
Those reviews, both good and bad, are the lifeblood of the vacation rental system. Be fair in your criticisms and generous with your praise.