I Made This Mistake Booking a Vacation Rental, and I Won't Make It Again

When I travel with my family, we tend to favor private vacation rentals over hotel rooms. First of all, we’re a family of five, so cramming into a single hotel room is often uncomfortable, and renting two adjoining rooms or a suite is often cost prohibitive.

Also, while we like to dine out as a family while on vacation, we don’t necessarily want to go to a restaurant or cafe every single time we need to eat. The upside of renting a private home is getting access to a kitchen so we can buy groceries and cook rather than pay for prepared food.

Finally, it’s hard to find a hotel that will allow you to bring a dog. But many vacation rentals are dog-friendly if you’re willing to put down an extra deposit.

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This past summer, we decided to take a family trip without our dog since we’d be driving about 14 hours to our destination, and our dog doesn’t love being in the car. Between that and struggling to find a dog-friendly rental at our destination, we decided to leave him behind and have my father look after him, which he’d already done once or twice before.

It was a good plan in theory. But in practice, it failed, and we almost lost all of the money we paid for our rental as a result.

When your plans have to change

Many of the homes listed on sites like Airbnb and VRBO have fairly inflexible cancellation policies. It’s common for these homes to have a 60-day policy where if you don’t cancel at least two months before your trip, you get no refund at all should your plans change.

We found out about 45 days before our trip that my father would need eye surgery in August that couldn’t wait. The problem was that as part of his recovery, he couldn’t do anything strenuous for a month after. Walking my dog is a pretty strenuous activity since he’s about 75 pounds and pulls a lot. And since my dad doesn’t have a fenced-in yard, walking him is the only option.

As such, my father could no longer watch our dog while we were away. And while we reached out to many pet sitters that were recommended by friends, every single lead turned out to be a dead end. At one point, we were pretty convinced we were going to lose the $1,000+ we’d put on our credit card to book our rental.

Lesson learned

In the end, we managed to find a pet sitter through Rover in our area who had glowing reviews. We wound up using her services while we were away and she did a great job with our dog. But it was nerve-wracking leaving him with a pet sitter for the first time, and it wasn’t our ideal choice. Rather, our preference once we found out about my father would’ve been to cancel our trip and rebook a vacation that was dog-friendly, which our initial booking wasn’t.

If you’re planning a vacation and intend to book a private rental, you may want to consider one with a more flexible cancellation policy than the home we booked. Some private homes, for example, will allow you to cancel your booking up to 14 days before your check-in date for a full refund. That’s better than 60 days.

But ultimately, if you want the most flexibility, you may need to settle for a hotel. Many hotels allow you to cancel without financial penalty up to 48 hours before your stay, so if your plans change at the last minute, you won’t necessarily be out any money.

On our end, I think this is the last time we’ll book a private rental with a 60-day cancellation policy. And it may be the last time we book a home that isn’t dog-friendly, too. Even if we decide that it’s better to leave our dog at home for future trips, it’s still a good thing to have the option to bring him along should our plans for his care fall through.

Had we not found that dog sitter through Rover at the last minute, our only choice would’ve been to have my husband take our kids on vacation while I stayed home with our dog. And that clearly would’ve been a bummer all around. I’m glad we managed to salvage the situation in the end, but I’ve definitely learned from my mistake.

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