Each year, more and more families are switching up their holiday traditions by opting for a vacation rental instead of their own home.
Vacation rental site HomeAway.com saw a 45-percent increase in demand during the winter holidays from 2016 to 2017, says HomeAway travel expert Melanie Fish.
“The overall popularity of staying in vacation homes has skyrocketed,” she says. “People are realizing they can travel for the holidays, but still be together instead of being split up into sterile hotel rooms.”
Advantages of a Vacation Rental for the Holidays
Sure, you might have fond memories of gathering around the Christmas tree in your childhood home, but there are several advantages to opting for a vacation rental instead.
For one thing, your family home may not be large enough to accommodate all the people who want to gather for your holiday celebrations—and not everyone is game to double and triple up in tiny old bedrooms or on couches.
“The average vacation home is 1,500 square feet, giving people enough room to be together, with space to spread out, and a kitchen to cook holiday meals, whether it’s in a vacation destination or down the street from Grandma’s house where half the family has to sleep on the floor,” says Fish.
Vacation homes also hold an advantage over hotel rooms because of their numerous home-like amenities, but without the other trappings of a traditional family house, such as breakable antiques or arguments over your aunt and uncle’s level of housekeeping skills.
You can even opt for added extras, such as pools and hot tubs, or even a fireplace for Santa to hang stockings (particularly nice if you’ve never had access to one before).
A Change from the Normal Holiday Routine
Family travel blogger Catherine Ryan Gregory of Portland, Oregon, loves renting a house for the holidays because it forces her family to simplify “during an otherwise over-the-top time of year,” she says.
“One Christmas and New Year’s, for example, my husband, daughter and in-laws stayed at a beach house on the Oregon Coast,” she says. “We didn’t have a tree, a fancy dinner or a ton of presents. Instead, the simplicity of our surroundings encouraged us to focus on what really mattered: spending time together as a family.”
“It was lovely to leave all sorts of expectations about what the holiday should be at home,” she says.
What to Know Before You Rent Your Holiday House
If you’re considering renting a home for the holidays, keep the following suggestions in mind:
- Talk with all the people who will be sharing the rental with you to get clear on their expectations for your holiday getaway. Celebrations can mean different things to different people, and you want to make sure you can accommodate as many preferences as possible while you’re deviating from the normal holiday routine.
- Next, be sure to read the entire property description and the rental agreement for the vacation home you choose, says Fish—particularly when it comes to refund and cancellation policies. “Some homeowners offer refunds and some do not, so buy travel insurance, because it would be awful if a White Christmas turned into a winter storm that prevented you from getting to your destination,” she says.
- Are holiday decorations important to you? Ask the homeowner if they decorate for the holidays, or if it’s OK to bring your own tinsel and lights.
- Also, be sure to investigate area options for places of worship, and other local activities and amenities. Some families splurge and treat themselves to a chef-prepared meal while staying in a rental home. It may not be as expensive as you think, and would make your relaxing holiday getaway even less stressful.
Location, Location, Location
Given the prevalence of vacation rentals, you’ll probably have several options no matter which location you choose. Many people prefer to rent vacation homes near where they grew up, which gives them the option to spread out while staying near their extended families.
Some families love the adventure of choosing an entirely different location, though.
“The most popular destinations for Thanksgiving this year on HomeAway.com are traditional getaway destinations like the mountains of Tennessee, neighborhoods near Walt Disney World, and the beaches of Hawaii,” says Fish, noting that this year, Tennessee appears to be a trending getaway, particularly in Sevierville and Gatlinburg, which both offer lots of family-friendly activities in close proximity to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“It was such a great experience spending Christmas away from home,” she says. “We are teaching our children to appreciate memories over material items, so we did not travel with Christmas gifts at all. Our Christmas was filled with fun memories and experiences that we will cherish forever.”
Cynthia J. Drake is a travel writer based in Austin, Texas, where she lives with her husband and two sons. Since becoming a mom, she’s been stranded at sea with her family, gotten lost in the Rocky Mountains, dealt with more than her fair share of public vomiting, and still can’t wait for the next trip. She writes regularly for AAA magazines, Austin American-Statesman, Texas Highways and Cruise Critic. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.