You’ve opted for renting a vacation home in small town America*.

The autonomy of making your own meals appeals to you. You need more room, but suites are expensive. Whatever your reason, renting a house especially in a small town, can be the way to go.

Tips for Renting a Vacation Home

Research your town and decide why you want to stay there.

Having lived in Red Lodge, Montana for several years, I picked it out of eagerness for my husband to experience summer in this place I love so very much.

  • Go to local websites—from the Chamber of Commerce to restaurants and hotels. You’ll get a broad sense of what’s available in the immediate area.
  • Check the state websites. Montana’s tourism site, for instance, breaks the state into areas and you can request specific information.

Do an internet search: “vacation homes in Red Lodge”

This gets a ton of results from Airbnb, Flipkey, HomeAway, TripAdvisor, VRBO,—these are huge sites, but bypass them, at least initially, even if you don’t have a friend in the business. Why?

Because you’re going to a small town and you’ll want to try to support the local businesses, right?

Main Street, Broadway, Red Lodge, Montana
Main Street aka Broadway

Everything in life comes with a fee.

I’ve been an AmericanExpress cardholder for years. Do I get affronted when a small business doesn’t take my card because AmX’s fees are too high for the business to process? Not at all. (It is a surprise that AmericanExpress is a sponsor of Small Business Saturdays. What’s up with that?)

One thing to keep in mind is that a site like VRBO will have booking fees, service fees and credit card fees. Once, the site was free to the lister. Now they charge the property rental companies credit card fees. This means you, the vacationer, will be charged these fees. While it seems that VRBo should be paying those, that’s not how they see it.

They have nothing to do with actual property maintenance, unlike a local company, yet they will charge a cleaning fee. Hence, again the fee to the renter goes up to cover both company’s fees.

As a consumer, we have no obligation to be concerned about what a small business pays their vendors in fees. But did you ever notice that once you learn such a thing, you start to shop differently?

Check Other Vacation Home Rental Companies

I don’t know what the above agencies charge for renting properties listed through them, but a rough search might show the same property listed there and on a small company’s website for a lesser price.

  • Airbnb – old fashioned me is still freaked out by the idea of renting a room from someone I don’t know. Skipping that. Okay, okay, I know they’ve expanded to include homes…maybe I should lighten up.
  • VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) has a bit of a misleading name. Yes, individual owners can list their homes there. But often those owners may choose to have a property management company care for and rent out their property. What that does add to VRBO rates?
  • TripAdvisor has upped their game since we rented our first Welsh cottage in 2014, our second in 2016, and am dreaming of one for 2018. Once I found both cottages on TripAdvisor, I did further searches on the properties to see if I could find different rates on other sites, if they were listed by the owners without an agency, etc. In both cases, it was simplest to go through TripAdvisor. Whether or not that’s because it was a foreign country is unknown.

Confirm What Amenities are Provided

If you’ve searched the listing site for the property and can’t find any details there, email the listing company and ask, but be specific.

We learned that many self-catering cottages (as they are called in the UK) do not provide sheets or towels. What a shock it would have been to arrive from America and find out there were no linens or bath towels! Luckily, we learned that with the first house and knew to ask for the second. In America, it is routine for these to be offered.

However, you might ask how much toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, tissues, if any, are provided. Then you know what to pack from home (if you’re driving, at least!) or be prepared to purchase once there.

Which brings up the next point: where to shop.

You would guess, and be right, that the smaller the town, the less options to buy certain of your favorite things (for instance your husband’s addiction to Kirkland Brand Animal Crackers) and the more expensive they might be.

Do a search of the surrounding areas for what retail is available. If you’re flying, check near the airport to make it easy on yourself. If driving, what’s the last large city you will pass through on your way to your destination?

Vacation Homes & Towns

Babcock & Miles - great Red Lodge coffee, wines & more in Red Lodge, Montana
Babcock & Miles – great Red Lodge coffee, wines & more

PS. Don’t forget to find the best local coffee shops.

  • Disclaimer: this is the first house I’ve rented in the USA—Montana—and I have a personal affiliation with Red Lodge Rental Properties.

Head South to Heart Mountain, Wyoming