By Julie Kieras, Founder of HappyStrongHome.com
Considerations for choosing a vacation rental vary with taste. But once you add children to your travel party, there's some basic "must-haves" when you choose a place to stay.
My husband and I are well into our fifth year of traveling with children, so we are well-versed in the art of what to pack, how to entertain kids in the car, and what to look for in an overnight spot.
After renting an apartment in Washington D. C. via the HomeAway.com portal, we were both pleased with the home-like quality of our stay, and the natural transition it provided our little travelers. We’d love to rent a home for vacation stays again, and have used our recent experience to add a few items to our checklist for our next rental!
1. One or two bedrooms?
Hotel suites and furnished apartments usually offer pullout couches for extra sleepers. We went with the one-bedroom apartment, but the boys kept crawling into our bed because they didn’t want to sleep in the living room – I admit that must have seemed strange for them. We ended up trading places with the boys, and that worked out fine, but I might prefer a two-bedroom next time. You’ll need to make the same decision based on the ages and needs for your kids: one bedroom or two? Having two bedrooms means you can save the living room for late night relaxing with your spouse and/or older kids. And because beds are often higher than kids might be used to at home, ask about bed height, bring a step stool, or bring a foldable cot or pack and play for the littlest ones (or ask if they are available).
2. Kitchen versus kitchenette.
If you're planning on eating full dinners at "home," opt for a place with a full kitchen. We saw cute spots that had squeezed a kitchenette into the bedroom, but for making and serving a larger meal to a family, this would've been inadequate. Find out what is provided as far as dishes, cookware, and even dishwasher, as well as soaps and sponges (you can find this info available under Amenities in a HomeAway.com listing, but it doesn't hurt to verify with each owner - we brought a few items that ended up being already provided!).
It's all about the location, right?! What we loved most about staying in a home instead of a hotel was living like a local. However, find out exact mileage to public transportation, parking garages (if you'll pay for parking), and grocery stores. "Just four blocks to the Metro" sounds nice, but it turns out that's actually over a half mile! And, the parking garage just one block away was closed for construction! In nice weather, or with older children, these distances will be a pleasant walk, but in rain or with young children, it's too far.
4. Are there elevators?
If you’re renting an apartment versus a single residency, this is going to be important! Ask about elevators or which floor an apartment is on to make moving in as easy as possible. If I could do one thing differently it would be to find a first floor spot as our two year old had a little trouble with the stairs, and it was hard to carry the stroller up and down as well.
5. Child-friendly and baby-proof.
Many rental properties say "children welcome," but it does help to let the owner know the exact ages of your children and ask if the place is suitable. Some places won't necessarily be child-safe for toddlers or babies (open staircases, balconies, glass tables, etc.). The owner may be able to give insight about whether neighbors are bothered by small children's noises and running. For small babies, bring your own set of outlet plugs and cabinet latches for added safety.
6. Laundry facilities.
The best asset in the home we rented was having a washer and dryer unit in the house. With small children, you never know when there's going to be an accident or spill. You’ll be able to pack a little bit less if you know you can always wash some items halfway through your stay. Plus, when we got home, I just put all the clothes away since I’d washed them all the night before we left!
Every property is different, so it helps to list out what amenities are important to your family. One more bit of advice, search and secure your rental as far in advance as possible to get the best availability!
Renting a vacation home instead of a hotel was such a great option for us with a five and two year old. We had more space than the average hotel room, the neighbors and neighborhood were quiet, and we enjoyed our own cooking. I can't imagine ever again giving up the comforts of "home" while on vacation!