How to book a holiday home that is perfect for your family
Booking a holiday home in the digital age can make the process streamlined but it can also make it overwhelming. The choices seem endless, the photos and descriptions merge into each other. It’s easy to get led down rabbit holes in cyberspace you never imagined. Having recently undergone this process myself I thought I would share a little of what I learnt. As a professional holiday letting manager for over 7 years, I have some unique insights.
The last holiday home we booked was booked for looks rather than substance and we felt the effects. It was a stunning house in Oporto Portugal with incredible antique furnishings and a library full of old books. Beautiful to look at but a disaster on the allergy front. I couldn’t be in the library because the age of the books made them musty and sent me sneezing every time I walked into the room. The antique furniture was tiny and my 6-foot husband looked like he was using kid’s furniture. I spent the day racing after my daughter to ensure that she didn't break anything old and priceless.
There was nothing wrong with the house it just wasn’t the right house for us.
1. The real information on a holiday home is found in the text and floor plan
Pictures are the drawcard for anyone travelling. They are bright, light little gems that get you dreaming and wanting to visit the house and the location.
However, like photos for tinder and our driver’s license people will often show their best sides. Dusting off their best outfits, have their hair and make-up done and show you their best side.
There are strict rules about holiday home advertising photographs not being deceptive. Keep in mind that images are captured during at a moment in time, usually when the property is set up and sparkling new.
So this what I recommend. Have a quick breeze through the photos and then read the text. Words can create delicious excitement and give you a chance to find a gem that has not been beautifully photographed but is none the less a great place to stay.
Next study the floor plan, a good holiday letting manager should provide a clear floor plan. Plot out who is sleeping where and what impact this has on them and the rest of the family.
The little holiday home we booked had both bedrooms opposite each other facing into the kitchen. This worked beautifully for us. Our daughter could sleep right across from us and she is at an age where dinner is still early. The lounge room was away from her bedroom so we could settle in front of the fire and TV without disturbing her. It’s was a small but significant win being able to spend to stay up later for a glass of wine and some adult time.
2. A good holiday home has to be comfortable - but what is your idea of comfort?
Our family suffers from allergies and so we needed a property that minimized our exposure to allergens. Otherwise our we would spend our whole holiday sneezing and spluttering. The holiday home we choose had slate floors, minimal soft furnishings and an open clean layout.
For you, it might be that having long family meals around an alfresco dining table. Or a fully kitted out kitchen so that you can cook up a storm. Maybe your car is your baby and you would not rest if she was parked on the street so a garage is essential.
You can’t have everything unless you have a bottomless budget so figure what is going to make you most comfortable and relaxed in a home. Is it the temperature is it the furnishings or a big screen TV? Contact the holiday letting manager and have a chat about what is important to you and make sure that it is covered.
3. Plan your meals ahead - that way you will know if the kitchen is stocked for your needs
I did not want to spend my holiday cooking and that I couldn’t afford to eat out for every meal. I made sure that breakfast was covered and then planned a menu of slow-cooked meals for dinner. The property we rented didn’t have a slow cooker so I took my own.
By planning what I needed and checking with the property manager I knew exactly what was there. I also had a cake on my list and so I took a cake tin and baking paper.
Most properties would identify as having a fully equipped kitchen. This is true, it is fully equipped for the person who owns the property and their range of cooking. If you want to whip up something fabulous then its best to take what you need.
4. Trawl the reviews for clues and learn from those who have gone before you
Reviews are often the best way to glean little insights that only travellers can offer.
For instance, the property I booked had a review saying that the view from the back deck was beautiful. Being a winter getaway I made sure that we were home for lunch on the warmest day of our holiday to enjoy the outdoor setting, view and alfresco dining.
People often look at reviews for an overall rating, but reviews contain all sorts of clues about how to best enjoy the property. Things to look out for and aspects that you may not have even considered.
On this same note leave a review that goes beyond rating the property to one that will help the next traveller. I wrote about how great our allergies fared at the house and how the layout works as I thought this would be most helpful to the next person.
5. Immerse yourself get beyond your holiday home and out into the community
Holiday homes are merely the outside packaging of your holiday experience. The landscape and unique culture, food, artistry and lifestyle of the people are what makes the holiday an unforgettable experience.
Our Oporto trip was magical we got to know the city inside out. Visiting the local bakeries and eateries, taking buses to every corner, and soaking up the soul of the city. We noticed that some of the palm trees were dead and drooping and asked the locals. We found out that bugs brought in from Asia were ravaging the trees. The city was making a concerted and loving effort to save the remaining date palms. Our daughter was so taken with the story that she was spotting palms all around the city and sending love to the sick ones.
The town we recently visited has one long main street lined with shops and cafes mainly pitched at tourists. We did visit the local gourmet café and gift shops but we mixed it up. The local pub had live music every night with performers showcasing their songwriting or jazz musicians gathering to jam. It happens every night regardless of tourists depending local support to keep it going and so feels authentic.
We had to do some school work while we were away and choose to go to the library rather than just jumping online. We had a great chat with the librarian who sent us to the next town for further research and learnt a bit more about the community.
By visiting places that largely used by locals we were able to connect beyond our holiday house.
1. Photographer: James Hose Jr | Source: Unsplash
2. Photographer: Dave Lastovskiy | Source: Unsplash
3. Photographer: Daiga Ellaby | Source: Unsplash
4. Photographer: Brooke Lark | Source: Unsplash
5. Photographer: Volkan Olmez | Source: Unsplash
6. Photographer: Serge Esteve | Source: Unsplash