Whether you are camping, living the van life, at a hotel or vacation home rental, we can all agree finding a place to stay is important- and part of what makes the journey so much fun! I have stayed in some wonderful homes and hotels that really enhanced our experience and was a lovely home base to recover from a long day of adventures.

Beautiful sunrise over the mountains. This was the view from across our driveway in Ramona, CA.

It can also be one of the stressful and expensive parts of traveling. For those who are booking a hotel or vacation home rental, this post is for you! There are several websites you can use to find and reserve a place to stay. However, Airbnb is arguably one of the most well-known vacation home rental sites in the world. Even for the a well known, widely used service, it’s still important to know the essential tips for booking your dream place to stay to protect yourself, your wallet and to ensure your vacation goes as smoothly as possible.

The Glass House from Ramona, CA.

Let’s face it- part of travel is expect the unexpected. We can plan down to the last minute of each day, yet there will still be something that doesn’t go our way- and that’s okay! During many of my travels, those moments were the most memorable. (We have had the honor of booking some of the most gorgeous places to experience- like the Glass House in Ramona or the Arboretum Luxury Mountain Retreat in Eugene and Mossy Hollow Cove along Lake Superior! ). I also want to point out no experience is going to be perfect- and that’s okay! There are going to be some horror stories from Airbnb, VRBO and hotels. Will people still rent from them? You bet!

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Disclaimer: Everything in my blog is based on my own opinions, experiences and perspectives- I am not a travel agent & these tips I have learned from my own journey. We are all different and my hope is you can go out and create experiences and perspectives of your own. I also have some affiliate links with Adobe, Back Country and throughout my blog and advertisements for brands I partner with and use such as Just Strong, Goli Vitamins and DIFF Eyewear. I make a very small commission if you purchase through the link & offer a discount code.

  1. Know EXACTLY What You Want
Our lovely cabin called Mossy Hollow Cove on the shores of Lake Superior.

The following questions are crucial to make sure you find the best place possible for you & your group of travelers: Most importantly, where would you like to book your place to stay? Are you wanting a central location downtown in the city to cut down on driving? Do you want a private place in the mountains with a stunning view? What’s the purpose of your trip? What activities would you like to do? Will you have kids with you? Are you wanting a pet-friendly option? What amenities are you looking for- what are the nonnegotiables? What’s your budget for renting a place to stay? Will you be bringing pets? These are all important things to consider (and all things you can enter in when you do your search on Airbnb).


2. Book Directly Through the Hotel/ Host Website

Relaxing on our porch in the desert area of California. We stayed at a nature retreat called The Glass House.

Have you ever wondered how hotels decide who gets what room? Here’s a tip for you: Guests who book directly through the hotel or the host’s websites not only get better deals sometimes, but if you are staying in a hotel, you may get one of the nicer rooms as well! Priority often goes to those booking through the website itself instead of a travel site like Expedia, Kayak and sometimes even VRBO or Airbnb. Also, if you are booking directly through the hotel’s site, cancellations are much more convenient. Otherwise, you will have to go through the third party you booked through (Expedia, Airbnb, etc).

I also want to point out more and more hosts whose rentals are advertised on Airbnb have their own websites to directly book through. Often times, you can score a better deal this way because a lot of the fees charged on Airbnb are not needed if you book directly through them. I will note, you have to be careful for this to ensure they are a legit host, the reservation is legit to avoid being scammed- keep reading for more details on this topic. You can use the Airbnb site to make sure your host is verified.

3. Use Airbnb/VRBO as a Search Engine

A deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Gualala, CA. The rental is called Stairway to Heaven.

I have heard a lot of horror stories about Airbnb and frustrations with the rise in costs and cleaning fees (when guests find themselves doing a massive chore list for some places before check out). Whether you like to book through VRBO or Airbnb, both are excellent search engines at the very least! Think of them as a version of Google only for finding reservations.

Airbnb especially has very detailed features to find exactly what you want-from type of reservation, the cost, sleeping arrangements to waterfront views, hot tubs, washer and dryer and many more amenities! (I totally dig the OMG! category) If you are curious, you can always Google the name of the rental & see if there is a direct website to book through or view the hosts’ Instagram as well.

4. Scope Out Your Host’s Profile

If making a reservation on sites like VRBO or Airbnb, make sure to read your hosts’ rating, about their experience & to make sure they are legit with their identity being verified. Airbnb requires hosts verify identities by uploading their driver’s license, phone numbers and email addresses as well as information regarding their rental property. Also take note on if they are a superhost, which means they have maintained a consistent rating of 4.8- 5.0 from their guests- which is a good sign of their credibility. If booking through the host’s direct website, I would absolutely scope our their profile first on Airbnb/VRBO.

5. Always, ALWAYS read reviews!

The TropicPOOL Oasis in St. Pete, Florida.

I like to use Airbnb to read the reviews no matter where I am renting. I actually do this for reserving hotel rooms too. I will look up a hotel room on Airbnb to see the honest reviews, then book on the hotel website if everything looks promising. I pick rentals that have several reviews and I read them all. I have a lot of focus put on cleanliness, especially living in the midst of COVID. If a rental has several disheartening reviews or lacks cleanliness and accuracy of website description, that’s my cue to scroll to the next option. I’d also look through reviews before booking on a hosts’ direct website.

Also- make sure you ALWAYS leave an honest review after your stay. Usually you have 14 days after your stay to do so. I always make sure to because it helps out fellow travels and the host as well. Let’s do our part!

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6. If Possible, Pay With Credit Card

NEVER pay with cash or using an app like Cash App, Facebook Pay, Venmo, etc to avoid being scammed. Airbnb and hotel websites are safe to book through because they can protect against fraudulent behaviors. Paying with card also allows your credit card company to help address any scams, fraudulent behaviors and most give the opportunity to earn points or book with discounts. It’s not a bad idea to pay with a credit card, get any points, then pay it off.


7. Communication is Key

If you are booking a vacation rental home, communication is crucial. When I first reserve a place to stay, I always message the host, introduce myself, tell them why I am traveling and ask any questions. This has helped me set up accommodations for my kids (our host got a pack & play and high chair for us) & it’s also saved us from booking errors. For example, I reached out to a host from South Dakota who informed me my reservation was double booked. Had I not reached out with a question, we would have all showed up at the rental home. I was able to resolve the issue, get a full refund and assistance with booking an alternative place to stay. Also- if something is wrong with your rental- do not hesitate to reach out. Believe me, they want you to vs. you leave upset & give an angry review.

8. Review ALL Amenities- Do Not Assume

Sometimes I assume every place I stay will have WiFi or A/C. I learned the hard way this is not always the case! Before clicking the reserve button, read through the ENTIRE description and figure out all the amenities and items provided. Usually for Airbnbs, especially when we go up north, our host provides us with so much that we barely pack anything besides clothes, shoes and our toothbrushes and toothpaste. However, not every place will provide you toiletries, laundry detergent and blankets. I also read through the amenities a second time while I pack our bags. If booking a hotel room, I take note of if they offer breakfast, have a pool/hot tub and a place to do laundry. (I absolutely love having laundry options when I travel with kids- it means less packing for us!).

9. Have a Plan B

The view from Mossy Hollow Cove is a dream.

Going back to my example of the double booking error from Airbnb, what would I have done if we showed up with someone else at the rental? Or if the host canceled on us? It’s important to know how to use the customer service feature on Airbnb-not only can they fix reservations & get refunds for you, but they can help you book a place to stay. It’s not a bad idea to have a few other places on your wishlist & knowledge of some hotels in the area as well- just in case! If you have family & friends in the area- that can work too!

AIRBNB Customer Service Number: 1 (844) 234-2500

Click here for the Airbnb Help Center

VRBO & Homeaway Help Center- click here

10. Follow Your Favorite Hosts on Social Media for Updates and Deals

It can totally pay off to follow your favorite hosts on social media! I have several of my favorite hosts on Instagram & I enjoy seeing other people’s experiences, sharing pictures & learning about other updates to the rentals & new rental options. Often times, you can hear about the new rental places before they are even put on a rental website. For example, I follow Haven.Co, known for their beautiful tiny homes in the forests of Wisconsin, for some time now. Recently, they built a new tiny home with a lot of unique features. They offered 20% off to the first few people who rented the tiny home & also do random giveaways and drawings. It pays off to follow your favorite hosts- especially if hosting is their main business and they have tons of options!

11. Always Check for Discount Opportunities

View from our Gualala, CA vacation home. We had a friend, the one legged seagull named Ham, keep us company every day.

While they Airbnb guest referral program has ended, there are always deals out there! Item #10 on the list talked about hosts offering exclusive deals on their social media accounts. Hotels often have deals for veterans, those working in schools, in the military, those who have AAA or if you book using a specific credit card. Sometimes the time of year you book can also get you a discounted rate. For example, we booked at the Great Wolf Lodge Inn water park during their promotional spring time savings in Minneapolis & got beautiful rooms for a discount. Do your research!


12. Plan Ahead of Time & Assess Payment

One of the many waterfront view cabins in Colvill, MN we have been grateful to rent.

This tip more applies to those who are looking for vacation home rentals (although hotels can fill up quickly depending on the events going on!). The beauty of vacation homes is they are very unique-but that also means there are only so many of them. There are several places I’ve stayed at who book out a year in advance-it sounds crazy but it happens! When I travel to the North Shore, I always make sure to book 9 months to a year in advance to have options- and to be able to get my dream place to experience!

I usually select the partial payment option & added a reminder in my phone of when the rest of the payment will be charged (for vacation rental sites, it usually comes out of your account automatically). What if life happens & you have to cancel? Let’s talk about that next!


13. Cancellation Policies

Always, ALWAYS read the fine print for cancellation policies. ALWAYS. This is something I do before I reserve anything, including campsites. Life happens & sometimes you have to change your plans (this literally just happened to me with our South Dakota road trip). Each hotel, vacation rental, ANYWHERE has a different cancellation policy. Some only give you 48 hours, then everything is non-refundable. Others give you a few weeks prior to your stay to cancel and some give you an opportunity to get a partial refund right up until the date of your stay. (Airbnbs policy options for cancellations always categorize by flexible, moderate and strict).

14. Compare the Fees

Photo credit to

A lot of travelers I have had conversations with regarding Airbnb had shared their frustration with the cleaning fees paired with a long chore list before they check out. I think this is why it is important to see the breakdown of your charges before you reserve your place to stay. Before you hit reserve, you will see a breakdown of the cleaning fee, occupancy fee, service fee and lodging. Some places have a really low cleaning fee, which saves you money! Also keep track of the occupancy fee- some places will charge you more for more guests, while it won’t affect the cost for others.

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15. Use the Map Feature

Hot tub fun in the mountains in Eugene, Oregon.

I use the map features on vacation rental sites because I am a sucker for waterfront views & I like to visualize exactly where a property is. This can be a good way to choose the place you want to rent, but also to familiarize yourself with the neighborhood. I like to use Google Maps (street view) to get an actual view of the location of a rental (this has saved me many times from booking something that was not accurate in the pictures!).

16. Browse Beyond the First Page

Private shore side area that came with our Colvill, MN cabin rental.

We all do it- even on Google- we browse only the first page and make that our only option. I suggest browsing through as many pages as you can to see all of your options! Just because it’s on the first page, doesn’t mean it’s a better place to rent- or a cheaper one for that matter. Sometimes my friends & I actually enjoy this and make a fun lunch or coffee date just to look through places to stay when we plan trips. The fun is in the journey-not just the destination! And the planning is part of the journey!

17. Confirm Instructions for Check-In

This is important, because some hosts may want to meet you & show you around their property. A lot usually have a self check in set up for you & message you directions a few days prior to your arrival. Make sure you have these instructions in hand along with the host phone number. We were grateful we did this when we went to Chicago & had to figure out parking. That’s also another thing- figure out the parking situation prior to arrival as well. (A question I ask almost every time unless it’s already in the description).

18. Review All Photos

The Glass House in Ramona, CA.

If a reservation only has a few photos, that’s a red flag. If they have blurry photos or certain areas/rooms are not pictured- that can also be a red flag! Review all pictures carefully and reach out to the host with any questions you may have. If a room is mentioned in the description or you notice one of the 3 bedrooms mentioned is not pictured, it never hurts to message the host if you have your heart set on staying there. The same goes for hotels- view pictures of the rooms and the gallery of the amenities.

19. Utilize the Wishlist

If you are short on time, add your dream places to stay to your wishlist & come back to look it over later. This saves you a lot of time & makes it easy to compare your options. You can also share lists with friends & family or view other travelers’ wishlists to save time.

20. Utilize Your Travel Influencers

We are blessed with an abundance of all different kinds of travel influencers. A lot of people have put their favorite places to stay on their blogs, Pinterest and social media. I always add the places I stay to my itineraries and I make a video tour of the rentals to show my audience. I give honest advice and feedback to everyone interested with incorporating these beautiful properties into their own journeys.


If you enjoyed this post, comment below which of these tips you found helpful! Also, make sure to tag us on Instagram @thetravelingwildflowerr with any pictures you take on your vacation- we would love to hear from you!


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