Vacation rentals (found on sites such as VRBO, AirBnb, FlipKey, HomeAway, and TripAdvisorRentals) can be a wonderful option for family vacations, as they typically allow your crew to spread out and relax in a home-like environment that’s often more budget-friendly than a hotel.
Vacation rentals also allow families to enjoy different types of amenities than many hotels offer, including full kitchens, laundry facilities and even spacious backyards. (True story: you’d be amazed at how long two kids will entertain themselves with a stick, a tree, and a patch of grass, as we observed during a recent vacation rental stay in San Antonio).
Since you’re not staying in a typical hotel or motel, your packing list might need a little refresh when preparing for a vacation rental stay. It’s always best to thoroughly check over the listing for any surprises, and reach out to the rental owner with questions about what to pack for your vacation rental.
When it’s time to pack for your vacation rental, consider this list of essentials you should bring (plus items you can probably leave behind).
What to Pack for Your Vacation Rental
What to Pack for Your Vacation Rental: Bedding
- Pack and play for younger babies
- Air mattress
- Lovies or special stuffed animals
- Sound machine (or white noise app for your phone)
- Bed rail — kids in an “in-between” age (too big for a crib and too small for a regular bed) sometimes pose a challenge for sleeping in rentals. Consider bringing a bed rail, suggested by Karen Akpan of The Mom Trotter.
What To Leave at Home: Sheets, blankets, and pillows (with a big caveat that you should check with your host beforehand to see if you’ll need to bring your own). “In certain areas of the country, like Cape Cod and rural Maine, it’s unusual for linens and towels to be included in the rental, and families must either bring their own or rent them,” says Maria Lamb, owner of Wicked Awesome Maine Vacation Rentals.
What to Pack for a Vacation Rental: Clothing
7. Weather appropriate outfits (with a spare change of clothes or layering options for warmer or cooler days and evenings.
8. A few extra changes of clothes for little ones
9. Pajamas (with warmer or cooler options, depending on the temperature of the rental)
10. Bathing suits
11. Raincoat or poncho
12. Crocs or waterproof sandals
13. Walking shoes
What To Leave at Home: If your rental has laundry facilities and you plan to wash a few loads, you may not need to pack as many clothes as on a typical trip. You also likely won’t need to bring a hairdryer or iron and ironing board.
What to Pack for a Vacation Rental: Bathroom and Toiletries
15. Pain reliever (for adults and children)
16. Toothpaste and toothbrushes
17. Extra wipes
18. Diapers and swim diapers
19. Lip balm
20. Shampoo, conditioner, and soap (not always provided)
21. Toilet paper — Chances are, your host will provide this (or at least a roll or two to get you started), but it’s always wise to have a spare roll just in case. There are stories of travelers receiving an unwelcome surprise after using the loo!
What To Leave at Home: Bath towels. The same caveat applies here as for bedding. Sometimes the host will provide these in a vacation rental and sometimes they do not. Make sure to ask.
What to Pack for a Vacation Rental: Kitchen and Food Essentials
22. Coffee and coffee creamer
23. Favorite snacks
24. Ingredients for simple meals (can be purchased in advance or at a local grocery store)
25. Condiments — See what’s available at your vacation rental first. Many vacation rental owners provide ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, and the like, but if you use the last of the mayo, be courteous and replace it for the next family who visits.
26. Drinks (including adult beverages–screw-cap wine might be better in the event your host doesn’t provide a corkscrew)
27. Corkscrew (so remember to bring your own!)
28. Cereal or other breakfast foods
29. A good chef’s knife in a travel case. Many home chefs bemoan the lack of sharp knives in rental house kitchens, so if that’s important to you, bring a set along with you.
30. Large mixing bowl — Whether you’re making a large salad or a giant bowl of fruit for the group, there never seems to be a large enough bowl in most vacation rentals.
31. Trash bags
32. Cases of water
33. Reusable water bottles
34. Ziploc bags
35. Aluminum foil and plastic wrap
36. Paper plates (because who wants to do the dishes on vacation?)
37. Paper towels and napkins
38. Crockpot — Set your dinner before heading to the beach and it will be ready and waiting when you return!
What To Leave at Home: Most rentals that include a kitchen offer basic appliances, including a toaster, coffeemaker, stove, range, and refrigerator—check with your host in advance to see what is available. It is highly unlikely you would need to bring your own dishes, silverware, and cups. Typically your home rental will also include dish soap, kitchen towels, and potholders.
What to Pack for a Vacation Rental: Electronics and Entertainment
40. Chromecast, Roku, or Kindle Fire Stick to access all your regular shows and movies
41. Gaming system (if desired — these typically aren’t available in rental homes)
42. Amazon Echo or mini speaker
43. Books and magazines
44. Power outlet surge protector. “There are never enough outlets for charging the multiple electronic devices that we bring,” says Lori LeRoy of Maps, Memories, and Motherhood. “Having a surge protector power outlet is an essential item to make sure our phones, tablets, camera, etc. are ready to go when we need them.”
45. Board games and card games
What To Leave at Home: Don’t feel like bringing everyone’s gadgets? Often just the experience of being in a new place brings alternative entertainment options. You might discover an outdoor fire pit at your vacation rental, where you can roast marshmallows and reconnect with the family.
What to Pack for a Vacation Rental: Other Essentials
46. Blackout curtains. Sierra Schmidt of Free to Travel Mama brings these along to ensure her kids get a restful night’s sleep and good naps. “When renting a vacation rental, you may arrive to find that the bedrooms only have sheer curtains or face the street with bright lights shining in all night,” she says. “If you’re lucky, they might even help your children sleep past sunrise.” Those beach blankets or towels can double as blackout curtains, too.
47. Travel baby gate — To keep your little one away from stairs and other hazards.
49. Clothing hangers — There are just never enough provided.
50. Laundry detergent
51. Host gift — If you’ll be staying in a rental where the host or hostess is onsite or provides exceptional service during your trip, consider bringing along a small gift from home (gourmet treats or a good bottle of wine are great ideas).
52. Beach bag
53. Beach blanket, towels, or an old sheet to use at the beach
54. Beach cart
55. Beach tent and/or beach umbrella
56. Beach chairs – Some vacation rentals have beach chairs, but double-check there’s enough for everyone in the family.
57. Beach toys and pool toys
58. Baby pool
59. Bug repellant
62. Bikes, kids’ bike seats, and bike helmets — While some vacation rentals provide bikes, there may not be enough for everyone or the sizes might not be right for your family. Check with the vacation rental owner ahead of time.
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