Choosing the best site for your next vacation rental: Airbnb, Vrbo or

My husband and I are voracious travelers and over the years have sought to collect destinations. We both have over 100 countries on our to-do lists.

As we get older, we haven’t so much slowed down as discovered the joys of lingering in one place by renting an apartment, condo or house in an area we want to explore.

We stayed in Italy, France (including Paris) and the United States Our aim is generally to immerse ourselves in a picturesque city or an exciting city and to get into the rhythm of local life. Since we weren’t just renting for a night or two, we were very careful to find a good place – and a good deal.

Here’s an overview of the pleasures and rewards that a home rental facilitates, some pointers on what I look for in a longer-term rental, and the differences between, Airbnb, and VRBO.

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Live like a local

Immerse yourself in the rhythms of daily life in small towns like Minori, on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. (Photo by Atlantis Phototravel/Getty Images)

Our favorite trip was 15 nights in the seaside town of Minori, on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. The town of less than 3,000 people is popular with beachgoers in the summer. At the end of February when we visited, we were an attraction for locals – the only Americans in town. We feasted on temperatures in the 60s and walks among the vines and lemon trees.

We booked an apartment in a stone building next to a church, not knowing we were staying in a historic old abbey with deep stone stairs – many, it turns out, to get to our modern second floor apartment floor, which was really on the third floor (in Europe, the first floor is the ground floor). It was our only oops booking somewhere out of sight – but the oops turned out to be a positive 75-step workout every time we got “home”.

We loved the ocean view from our sunny living room and the fact that we could hear parents cheering on their kids from a nearby stadium. I especially enjoyed the short walk to the shops we visited twice a day, like everyone else in town, to pick up ingredients – sausages from the butcher, artichokes from the greengrocer, noodles from the pasta maker, calamari from the fishmonger – for lunch and dinner. I even learned how to operate a small fridge and stove to cook our meals!

And we learned a new phrase, uttered with smiles by the locals as we became a novelty as we walked down the street: Sono americani (they’re Americans).

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Related: What’s happening in Italy right now

Hotel-like rating system

For our Minori rental (and later an apartment in Cinque Terre), we used, which, in addition to hotels, also lists houses and apartments for rent. My husband has been tasked with finding accommodation (I was able to comment on his shortlist of choices) and prefers the hotel-like rating system for rental properties on the site (there are also guest reviews).

‘Ask a question’

There is an “Ask a question” button which we used to communicate with the owner of the apartment we had targeted. This communication turned out to be a big bonus. Just before we arrived, the owner (a woman who lives out of town but owns several apartments in Minori) asked us if we would mind moving to a bigger place with a better view in the same building, because someone another asked for “our” apartment. Of course, why not, we thought. We ended up with a large living room and a small balcony overlooking the sea, two bedrooms, a small kitchen and a laundry room — a lovely place.

Growing and easy to search inventory, according to its website, lists more than 850,000 apartments, more than 450,000 villas, nearly 35,000 chalets and nearly 148,000 cottages. Search filters include price, type of accommodation, and key items such as “laptop-friendly workspace” and a dozen other categories of room amenities, and eight categories in terms of accessibility. There is also a new “Sustainable Travel” search option.

Genius Credits and Flexible Booking Policies

My husband loved that we earned credits for our stay – which (along with our bookings) put him in the Genius category in terms of discounts on certain future hotel bookings. He also chose because of the easy cancellation policies (again, more like hotel policies). In addition, hosts pay the reservation fee.

Related: 6 Ways to Book a Vacation Home Rental


A new Airbnb feature makes it easier to select unique accommodations, like a treehouse, barn, or houseboat. (Photo courtesy of Airbnb)

Endless Possibilities

We’re Airbnb veterans, especially when it comes to long-term stays in the US. The choices are staggering – the massive network includes over 4 million hosts in 220 countries and regions around the world.

When I think of Airbnb, it’s mostly when I’m looking for a bargain for a room in someone’s house – or, my favorite, a tiny backyard house – for short-term rental, although we’ve also rented small houses for a week or more at a time. According to company’s first quarter earnings reportextended stays of 28 days or more are the fastest growing segment of the business, doubling in size since the first quarter of 2019.

Unique properties

A new feature makes it easier to select unique accommodations if your goal is, say, to stay in a treehouse or barn or on a houseboat — Airbnb claims 170,000 unique properties. For seniors looking to park somewhere without having to cash out their retirement savings, a more useful new feature is the “flexible” search, which lets you put a price on it and see what’s available over periods of time.

Superhosts and other friendly filters

Ratings on Airbnb are assigned by travelers. I tend to look for accommodations with “Superhosts” that really seem to do their part and are highly rated. You can also look for Airbnb Plus properties, which are quality and design verified, or Airbnb Luxe homes, which focus on luxury. Other filters include price, entire location or private or shared room, amenities and accessibility features, and host language.

Hosted “Experiments”

Airbnb also offers hosted “experiences” and when you book you can be overwhelmed with these offers. Renting an apartment in Paris with a grandchild in tow, I booked us a creperie class with a Parisian. My granddaughter was more intrigued by the swing set in her living room than the cooking class.

Related: A guide to the best credit cards for Airbnb stays


Exclusive rentals

Vrbo, now owned by Expedia, has always struck me as a more sophisticated and selective booking option – the place you would go if you were looking for and could afford an entire villa. As if to make this point, in May the company released its first Holiday homes of the year list, recognizing 10 in the best-in-class category, including a designer home in Palm Springs that is to die for.

Opinions of tenants and landlords

Vrbo offers easy booking of apartments, condos, beach houses, villas and other home categories worldwide – over 2 million entire homes in 190 countries, in total. Users comment on places they book and owners respond – so you get two sides of every story, which in my book is a big plus for the site.

Granular selection criteria

You can get very specific information about the type of home you’re looking for, even the type of view you want, and the site has plenty of choices for popular tourist destinations. Filters allow you to access details such as location and accessibility. If you are traveling with grandchildren, for example, use the “families” button.

Virtual tours

You can also specify that you only want to see properties with virtual tours – good for your peace of mind, especially if you’re renting for two weeks or more. You can also contact the host before booking.

keep in mind

Make sure your rental has all the gadgets and equipment that are important to you. (Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

Here are some things to consider when booking a home rental:

Additional Fees and Cancellation Policies

You can see the same properties on all three sites. When deciding which site to use for booking, be sure to compare additional booking and cleaning fees, as well as cancellation policies (which vary by booking company and specific property), and the amount of your total cost you are expected to pay. in the front.


If you cook, ask the owner about kitchen equipment. I have learned from experience to pack a good knife and a meat thermometer in my checked baggage.


If the owner of the apartment lives in the same building, like our owner in Paris, accept his offer of advice on local attractions, such as the location of the best croissant shop. It’s also a good idea, if possible, to establish contact with your host before travel – you may, for example, be able to arrange a flexible arrival time after your overnight flight to Europe .

Don’t always expect your arrival to be a smooth experience. Be prepared to deal with a third-party custodian, for example. During one of our vacation rental stays in Italy, we got our key from a man in a bar. Make sure you know who to call if you run into any problems during your stay.

Due diligence

Read, re-read and re-read reviews from past guests, not only for their opinions but also for advice on accommodations and destination you might not have considered.

At the end of the line

When it comes to choosing a vacation rental, Airbnb, Vrbo, and have plenty of diverse options to suit every budget. But each site has certain features and tools that are more important to me depending on the type of trip I’m planning and who I’m traveling with.

For longer, budget-conscious stays, I tend to opt for For short stays (less than a week) I opt for Airbnb. And if I ever realize my dream of renting a villa with the kids and grandkids, I’ll probably book with Vrbo.

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