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VRBO, or Vacation Rentals by Owner is not just a website, but a way of travelling where instead of hotel rooms, travellers rent private homes from individuals.

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VRBO: A Vacation Option with a Big Reward (and a Little Risk)

  • Aug 30, 2009
  • by
As I write this review, I am sitting in the living room of a small, stylishly furnished four-room adobe in the artsy West Texas town of Marfa. There is large original art on every wall, interesting floor coverings on the rustic and squeaky wood floors in every room, and there just happens to be a large horse skull (my best guess) on the coffee table next to me. Behind me is the fully stocked kitchen (complete with stove, oven, microwave, fridge, coffee maker, dishes, etc.), and the adjacent dining room, which seats six.

This home looks like an interior designer put it together. That's probably because one did, and we rented it from her. We don't know her, have never met her, and likely never will. We live in Dallas, she lives in California. Yet only ten minutes after our initial phone conversation, I sent her $725 to stay in her house for most of the week. Our paths have crossed through VRBO.

VRBO is an acronym for Vacation Rentals By Owner.

Basically, VRBO is a private home owner renting property to a renter for a short time period via a mutually acceptable contract. This contract term might be for one night or several weeks, or more. It may include any terms and amenities the two parties agree upon (internet service, bicycle usage, anything).

VRBO is a great way to travel for those who are willing to try something different from the run of the mill hotel room vacation. People who can greatly benefit from VRBO travel include:
  • Budget conscious travelers: VRBO accomodation costs are usually in line with, or less than, decent hotel accomodations in the same geographic area. And with VRBO, travelers can manage their meals, in both cost and nutrition aspects. Travelers staying in hotels have no option but to eat all meals out, which often means fewer healthy choices and more impulse decisions. VRBO travelers can stock up on healthy and/or affordable food options at a local grocery store, and eat in the comfort of their vacation home, or enjoy the local restaurants at will. VRBO travelers have a choice. True VRBO means no daily tipping for the housekeeper, no valet parking fees, etc. but, VRBO typically includes bed linens and plenty of towels.
  • Families: VRBO accomodations are often homes with multiple rooms. Families can rent a multiple bedroom home and have separate sleeping space for the kids. A separate sleeping area for the kids means well rested kids, and adults who can have private time, rather than everyone being cramped in a hotel mini-suite. VRBO homes may have amenities in the secondary bedrooms and very often include laundry facilities.
  • Travelers with pets: Many VRBO accomodations allow pets, some specifically prohibit pets. Some accomodations charge a fee for pets, and I have even seen one discount offered to owners traveling with a specific breed of dog.
  • Immersion travelers: People who like to immerse themselves in the local culture will appreciate VRBO. They will live among the locals, shop with the locals, be neighbors with the locals.

Of course, there are trade offs for the benefits, which might include:
  • Clean-up: VRBO travelers usually don't enjoy daily maid service. So if you want your bed made, unless you've negotiated otherwise, you will have to make up the bed yourself. Same with washing the dishes, and cleaning up after the kids.
  • Reading is FUNdamental: VRBO travelers should carefully read the descriptions and terms of available accomodations and not assume anything. If the ad doesn't mention a dishwasher, don't be upset if there isn't a dishwasher. Same with air conditioning. Just don't assume, and read carefully. Some VRBO owners have a formal contract, and some don't put anything in writing, so you have to be comfortable with the person with whom you are dealing.
  • The owner of a VRBO unit is often an Average Joe type who doesn't live there either. Most of the time, things go as planned, but if the family there ahead of you doesn't leave when they were supposed to, Average Joe doesn't have another room to give you, and will have to coax the prior family out via telephone. Be patient, be flexible, be open to solutions in the event of scheduling snafus. And if something isn't to your liking, be sure to discuss it with the owner.

Whenever we travel, our first accomodation search has become VRBO. It won't be the best option every time, but it is always something to consider. To date, our VRBO trips have included (but there have been others):
  • A 1950s two bedroom, one bath upper flat with an ocean view in the Los Angeles area
  • A two bedroom, two and a half bath mid-century modern condominium in the desert community of Borrego Springs, CA
  • A courtyard home with two bedrooms and two baths, private courtyard and rooftop terrace in the Palermo barrio of Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • A one bedroom, one bath modern high rise in the exclusive Retiro barrio of Buenos Aires.
  • This one bedroom, one bath adobe house in the artistic community of Marfa, Texas.

We have had a few situations where things have not gone exactly as planned, but nothing that would ruin our trip or cause us not to use VRBO in the future:
  • At one rental, the prior family hadn't left on time. We put our luggage in the flat and disappeared for a few hours while the housekeeper cleaned the flat. At this same location, we later had to ask the neighbor to turn down her music.
  • In Argentina, our contract had a typo in the address. We were looking for an address that didn't exist. After a few minutes of thinking, we figured out where to go and met up with the owner and had a great stay.
  • The kitchen in the Marfa adobe from which I am writing this review is not clean. I am disappointed that I have to wash the dishes before I use them, and yet I have paid a cleaning fee. I will address that with the owner and report back later.

The positives definitely overweigh the negatives, in my opinion.

I'm open to any questions regarding VRBO.

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September 22, 2009
Hey Amanda...thanks for this review! I'm a huge fan of VRBO and it has become my first option for traveling. Also, thanks for including cons- I haven't come across any of those but, it's good to be aware of what can happen. Which place was your favorite?
September 22, 2009
Thanks for the comment! The "cons" were nothing major, but I wanted to be 100% honest since some people would be upset by such mishaps. And, in the moment, they weren't pleasing experiences, just something to get over quickly.

As for a favorite place, there are so many types of favorites, and I am a crazy happy traveler. My favorite city in which we traveled VRBO, I think is Buenos Aires. The first house we rented there, in the Palermo barrio, was greatness. The owners have put their heart and soul into making that home a pleasant place for travelers. The owner has prepared a wealth of information that he shares before the trip and sends by email, as well as postings on a blog and website. Here is the website, very nice place! The suggestions were all spot on. This was not the home where the address was wrong on the contract, obviously.

Here in the U.S. I am currently in love with Marfa, TX. We went for a week and are now in the process of buying a vacation home there. If all goes well and we actually get the house, we will want to make it a VRBO when the opportunity arises.

What has been your favorite place?
More VRBO reviews
Quick Tip by . September 22, 2009
I LOVE VRBO.com- it has saved me a ton of money in the past. You get to live like a local w/o paying the high cost of a hotel and dining.
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VRBO, or Vacation Rentals by Owner, is an alternative to typical hotel lodging. Travelers can rent a home in almost any destination, from a private party, and negotiate the terms. VRBO is often pronounced "verbo".

There are various websites facilitating the VRBO relationship between property owner and property renter. Searching the internet for "VRBO" or "vacation rentals" and inserting a desired city will frequently produce multiple sites. The popular Craigslist website also offers VRBO possibilities.

Homes available for rent range from efficiency units (known also as "studios" in some regions) to palatial mansions. Rentals are available in most major cities of the world as well as suburbs of most cities.

Renting a VRBO can be very rewarding, but there are also risks. If the home is not available as promised for whatever reason, unlike a hotel there is no other room to offer in substitution. Many transactions are paid in advance via check. There is often a deposit, which should be returned upon returning the unit in a satisfactory condition.

The rewards include the ability to live as a local, with cooking and food preparation and storage facilities, often multiple bedrooms and bathrooms if traveling with family, and even laundry facilities.

Drawbacks can include properties that are not as advertised, that are not clean, or in the case of fraudsters, simply don't ...
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