Because ‘accommodation-led-holidays’ are the best holidays!
There are so many homes to book!!! It’s an exciting world of possibilities, but it can take a bit of practise to hone your search options and find the best place for you and your group. And you need to be prepared to look at lots of different places, and to contact owners to ask questions – all of which takes time. The actual ‘booking’ bit is simple, but here’s some tips to make the searching process as easy as possible…
1.Find your favourite websites
Airbnb is mine. I love how easy it is to use, the search options, the layout, and of course the endless ideas for homes to stay at. Love, love, LOVE!!! I particularly love it for giving you the chance to stay in people’s actual homes, as opposed to just villas and dedicated holiday-lets/second-homes.
If you aren’t keen on staying in people’s everyday homes though, then I recommend using holidaylettings or homeaway . These sites specialise in dedicated holiday-stays, so the listings aren’t always inhabited and therefore might be a bit newer/cleaner/simpler (but IMO, less interesting) than an Airbnb home.
But if you are open to all holiday-home options, then HomeToGo should be bookmarked in your browser. It’s a bit like Trivago for hotel bookings, as it compiles listings from multiple holiday lettings sites (including Airbnb, tripadvisor etc) based on your requirements. I’ll admit I’m new to this site, but I can see myself using it loads in future!
Finally, another website I use a lot, but mainly for inspiration, is iescape. This is my holiday porn (if there is such a thing)! It has tonnes of self-catering listings, as well as homes you can rent in their entirety, but it also lists some of the most stunning boutique hotels and guesthouses you will find anywhere on the internet. I’ve stayed in a few of the places, and my wish list of where I want to try with the kids is always growing (thanks to the brilliant iescape kids collection)!
Just some of the wonderful (and highly recommended!) places we have stayed
2. Use the accommodation to build the trip
So, you and your family/friends have decided you want to go away somewhere, ANYWHERE! While this may sound like looking for a needle in a haystack, it gives you the chance to book your holiday around your favourite accommodation-find, as opposed to being forced to stay in a place that’s below average just because it’s close to a particular holiday destination. And when holidaying with kids, I’m realising that this kind of ‘accomodation-led-holiday’ (as I am going to start calling them!) is the way to go as you will spend more time at the house than you will spend sight-seeing. It doesn’t actually matter where in the world you end up – finding a home that has enough space and a great feel is more important for everyone to have a good time.
For example, I wanted to plan a trip with the kids and my parents for our first dose of school-enforced summer holidays. I had no specific destination or duration in mind, but it’d have to be UK-based to keep it cheap and easy to travel to. So I looked at Airbnb for homes with 3+ bedrooms, ticking the ‘family-friendly’ filter, and ‘beach nearby’, and I found an absolute corker of a beach house in Greatstone, Kent (pics below). It only had one week of availability left for the summer, so that automatically nailed down our travel dates! And there we have it – a one week holiday for 7 people booked in no time, just from finding an amazing home as a first step.
The Greatstone beach house! source: Airbnb
3. Search tips when you don’t know all the details of your trip!
Some of the best places I have stayed have been the result of some VERY vague initial searches, neither knowing where we wanted to go, nor when. The key is to start with what you value and what you want to avoid, and then include/omit these from your search criteria.
For instance, now that we are travelling with kids, the must-haves we require for holiday homes, include:
- Minimum 2 bedrooms (ideally 3 when the baby is bigger)
- Cot and high chair (if overseas)
- Cooling/heating as appropriate
- Wifi (sorry, but my family aren’t likely to be doing any screen-detoxes anytime soon!)
- Close to supermarkets/amenities and at least a couple of good looking cafes or restaurants
- Kitchen facilities
- A washing machine if we are staying for 5 days+
- A pool is we are abroad, ideally with a fence or other safety barrier
Airbnb have filters for all the above (except a ‘pool fence barrier’ – I do keep asking them to add one though!), so if I know nothing else, I will just start with the things I know we need to have a good trip.
4. Where in the world?
After setting up my Airbnb search, I tend to view my search results on a map, rather than a list. That way you can easily rule out places that have come up in parts of the world you know you definitely can’t visit on this occasion, and zoom in your search to the areas that interest you (which will reveal more options the more you zoom-in).
5. Save places, and refine when you know more of the details
Airbnb gives you the option to save the places you like. I tend to create a new ‘wishlist’ named after each of the holidays I am searching for e.g. October half term 2019, and then I’ll bung in anything I find that catches my eye. You can then filter these saved lists further by specific dates and number of people, so this will help you make your final decision once you know these details. AND, you can always refer back to these lists for future bookings if somewhere you found that you loved the look of wasn’t available the first time round.
6. If the listing is vague or photos are bad, move on
This might sound harsh, but I feel there’s no excuse for posting bad photos if you want people to stay at your home and support your income. If the owner can’t be arsed to make the listing look good, will they be arsed to make the house look good??! And if there’s a lot of information missing in the description that you’d normally expect e.g. room configuration, local amenities etc, then I wouldn’t waste my time on contacting these hosts with tonnes of questions. Only contact hosts whose homes you are genuinely interested in staying in – they should give you enough information and a good feeling about their place up front, so that you only need to contact them with one or two questions before you commit to booking.
7. Only read the most recent reviews
You don’t need to get sucked in to reading every Airbnb review, just those from the last 6 months or so. You can pretty much guarantee that any problems which caused negative comments will have been dealt with by the host (or, you can always contact the host direct to ask if you are concerned about some of the feedback you’ve seen) – it is their home after all!
I wouldn’t be put off from staying in a place that doesn’t have any reviews yet. If anything they will be more eager to please and get your feedback! But I will make sure I have a good conversation online with the owner/host to make sure that their home has everything we would need/expect.
One of the best Airbnb’s I have EVER stayed in was one that had zero reviews at the time of booking – Eduardo’s house in Setubal, just outside Lisbon. OMG it was beautiful, stunning, friendly, amazing (all the good adjectives!), and Eduardo’s family went out of their way to ensure it was as safe as possible for our 3 year olds at the time (even erecting a temporary, but very sturdy, fence around the fabulous pool). I’ll be posting a feature about this place at some point!
Eduardo’s house in Setubal, Portugal. These are my photos and they don’t do the place justice. Check it out on Airbnb!!
8. Check if the home has its own website
You are more likely to find a place on Airbnb or HomeToGo, first. But once you have a shortlist of places you are considering booking, it can be worth googling the names of the homes (or the hosts’ name) as they may have their own dedicated websites with more photos and details to help you make your decision. AND sometimes, booking direct with the owner through their website can be cheaper as they remove the Airbnb service charge.
If you are going back to somewhere you’ve stayed at before via Airbnb, then definitely contact the owner again directly as they are more likely to give you a better rate ‘offline’ if you have proved yourself a good guest. We did this for our second year of staying at Bastide de Fanny – a beautiful French chateau I originally found on Airbnb. After striking up a good relationship with the owner during our initial stay, she contacted me to let me know she had launched her own website and could do us a better rate for the next summer if we booked with her again. Sold!!
The glorious La Bastide de Fanny! Found first on Airbnb, but now bookable direct. So good we stayed there twice!
9. Investigate the local area and ‘star’ some places to see
The final step to honing down your options, is to check what is in the local area. I will use google maps for this, and save stars on places that look like they’ll be worth a visit e.g. bakeries, cafes, markets, and anywhere kid-friendly. If you’ve not already made a decision about where to stay at this point, then the place that has the most ‘stars’ nearby is the one you need to go for!
10. Book it, and try not to panic!
So you’ve found some places you think look great, but you’re still having a last-minute wobble about which place to book to suit everyone’s needs. I have experienced this feeling a lot, and it’s only because I care so much about making the trip fantastic and great value for everyone. But I’ve had great feedback on all the trips I’ve helped arrange for family and friends, and I know none of them will have been as thorough as me in the search! So if you stick to the above tips, I know you will be able to book the best trip possible.