Sometimes vacations are about traveling to new places and exploring new cultures. And sometimes they're about relaxing, kicking back and spending time together as a family. One of the best ways to do this, especially for families with kids, is to rent a house in a lovely location. My family has been lucky enough to tag along on a few of these vacations with extended family over the past few years and this year we took the plunge and rented a place ourselves. Here are some tips for what to look for in a kid-friendly rental.
Location: Whether you have kids in tow or not, location is always going to be one of the first considerations when renting a vacation property. Depending on the vibe you're going for you may want to be in the thick of things or farther away for a quieter stay. With young kids there are some extra considerations: how far will you have to walk to activities and amenities? will you need to bring strollers? will you have to pack the kids up into their car seats each time you want to do something? are you in a "party area" where other homes or bars are going to be creating a lot of after hours (i.e. after your kids' bedtimes) noise?
Proximity to Water: You may very well be looking for a rental that is on or near a body of water and/or has a pool on the property. Sounds great, but if you have young kids it's worth knowing how close you are to the water or whether the pool is enclosed. Are you going to be constantly worried about kids toddling off a dock into the lake or getting too close to the pool? The home we're renting this year is a few blocks from the beach so nothing to worry about there, but it does have an outdoor, in-ground hot tub which means extra vigilance any time the kids are playing outside.
Yards/Porches/Balconies: Nice outdoor space is usually a big plus in a rental. It's great for kids, too, but it's worth paying attention to the outdoor environment especially if, like me, your kids are used to apartment living. Is the yard enclosed by a fence? Is the porch screened in? Do many of the bedrooms have balconies and, if so, do the doors to them have locks? None of these are necessarily deal breakers, but depending on the age of your kids they might factor in to the overall kid-friendliness of a property.
Furnishings: Is it too nice? For our upcoming vacation one of our top candidates was recently renovated and beautiful. The furnishings, including carpets, were mostly white or beige. The effect was airy and beachy, but not very kid-friendly. Rental owners expect some wear and tear in their homes, but I didn't want to worry about spilled sippy cups all week. I also noticed that the living room coffee table was glass with sharp edges - probably fine, but contributed to my overall assessment that this wasn't the best home for us, this year at least.
Beds: To maximize space and the number of people a house can sleep, many vacation homes use bunk beds in some rooms. Kids will undoubtedly be psyched for this, but check to see if the top bunks have rails or safety guards, especially for kids who aren't used to sleeping in a top bunk. Some rentals even have cribs which can save you the trouble of bringing a portable playyard for a baby or infant, but check to see if they are a recent model and in compliance with current safety requirements.
Bathtub: Of course every home has a bathtub! Or maybe not. I looked through a ton of property listings and saw several that only had standing showers. This could be a problem with young kids - my 5-year-old, for example, is terrified of showers. If you're okay giving little ones sponge baths on vacation, go for it. But this could be a deal breaker for some families.
Amenities: Most vacation homes will list the nitty gritty details of the home and you really should read them carefully. For example, does it have a television? If you're looking to unplug, maybe you'd prefer not to have the temptation of one. Or maybe you have really young kids yes with early bedtimes and you're bringing your Breaking Bad boxed set to enjoy at night. Is there wifi? Is there a washer and dryer? Do they have a highchair? Are there bikes you can use? Is there a supply of board games for rainy days? (and for what ages?) Are there outdoor games and toys like horseshoes, lawn darts, and balls? The less you have to bring with you the better.
Finding rental properties: Like most things, getting personal recommendations is best. Ask your friends, co-workers, Facebook /Twitter communities for ideas of family-friendly places to vacation and specific properties. In the US, the big online rental sites seem to be Home Away, Vrbo and Airbnb. On these sites, read reviews (with a grain of salt) of others who have stayed there and keep in mind how recent the reviews are. I've also noticed that many rental owners are uploading their properties to Pinterest (search your "desired location" + "rental"). You are usually led back to the property's profile on one of the above mentioned sites, but it's a good way to search visually and to collect your favorites for consideration. You could also use a digital tool like Dropmark to bookmark your favorites in collaboration with other family members.
My best piece of advice is to look for a home that another family with children owns, uses themselves and rents out for part of the year. It is more likely to be well maintained and to be kid-friendly. Have other tips to share? Leave them below and see you at the beach!
(Images: Carrie McBride)