Short Stays Away: Plan Them with VRBO…

I’d like to introduce you to VRBO…Vacation Rental By Owner. This and last Thanksgiving we rented two wonderful homes for our extended family’s four days away holiday trips through VRBO.

Olympic Foothills Lodge, Port Angeles, WA, VRBO listing

Paradise Lodge, Ronald, WA, VRBO listing

Last year we had a group of 16 from ages 6, tween, teens to 60 for four days away (no pets allowed). We selected a property close to the Port Angeles ferry because the day after Thanksgiving we took the gang for a day trip to Victoria. The Port Angeles ferry was 20 minutes away from the Olympic Hills Lodge (website). And, the Lodge had everything we could have wanted to enjoy our Thanksgiving holiday and meal! The Lodge was well laid out, clean, and spacious.

The owner Steve Kunkle was wonderful to work with and had organized the lodge, special directions and amenities in a clear and concise way. There is a music room with a grand piano and internet. There is no TV here and we enjoyed games, conversation and reading. There is a music system and we spent the week-end transitioning into Christmas carols. The kitchen was a dream and there were many cooks creating the traditional turkey, stuffing and sides. There was a small trail on the property and the Thanksgiving Day the Dungeness Spit hike was amazing. It appears an outdoor hot tub has been added to the property since we visited. It does have a large jetted tub indoors.

We headed for Victoria B.C. on Friday taking the 30 minute away Blackball Ferry with its exciting and often bumpy crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We had a splendid day there. We visited the Royal BC Museum (one of the best museums I have been in and I go whenever I can…thoroughly enjoyed by the youngsters to the seniors). With its amazing life-size dioramas with sounds and smells that make you feel like you are really in the scene of the Captain George Vancouver‘s quarters of the ship HMS Discovery, in the presence of a woolly mammoth or in a mine shaft during the Gold Rush era. The native history is complete and compelling. They always have an excellent current exhibit this time it was on the Vikings. Here is a student guide to the exhibits which is a great thing for kids.

We had a great lunch at Sam’s Deli and separated for an afternoon of exploration in our own groups. I always head for the Old Dutch Bakery for a dozen tea fancies to bring home and the British Sweet Shop for their vast array of imported licorices and much more – it always takes us an hour to decide what all we want to have a half a kilo of measured out and bagged for gifts to ourselves and friends.

This year there were 11 of us – all just one year older with a puppy. Again, we turned to VRBO to rent a house. This time we traveled just outside Roslyn to Ronald, Washington by Lake Cle Elum. We wanted something that was not too far away and offered the same amenities as last year. Paradise Lodge fit the bill – with its game room, separate apartment, 4 bedrooms, several TV’s, movie collection and hot tub.

The kitchen was cramped. There were a few little annoyances like furniture that was broken and the smell of sulphur in the well-water which is from hot springs in the area. The location was great! The property is run by All Seasons Vacations out of Roslyn. They have a mobile app that is convenient with directions and instructions clearly spelled out that is sharable with all parties coming.

We enjoyed appetizers and drinks at Suncadia Lodge (kid-friendly they serve in the lobby…and, we had a visit from Santa), discovered the history of the mining town of Roslyn with it 25 cemeteries and little historic Museum. Many of you will remember the show Northern Exposure which brought new fame to this town. We hiked the historic Coal Mines Trail and saw the majestic Lake Cle Elum. We attended a Christmas tree lighting at Suncadia.

Cost Analysis – Pay Attention to the Details: Holidays are usually more expensive because of demand. Some properties have a minimum night stay especially at the holidays so be aware of that. Some add an additional per-person per-night (or per-pet per-night) charge after a certain amount like 10 guests. Taxes are not a part of the rental amount so add them to your costs. Some charge a cleaning “fee” on top of the rent and taxes and it is not refundable. Paradise Lodge did this making that property less economical than Olympic Foothills. And, we were requested to strip the beds, do the dishes and start a load of wash before we left which further added to our frustration over the cleaning fee charged at Paradise Lodge. Assuming it was a deposit not a fee we also did a through organizing of garbage (if you have too much you get charged another fee), cleaning of the stove/refrigerator and left everything in pristine condition!

I usually catch these things but this time I didn’t and it ended up costing more than I would have liked. Read the contract carefully! Many include a security deposit you will get back if the house is left in the order you found it. Properties will sometimes allow early check-in and check-out if no one else is booked, both of these did that. Paradise Lodge will sometimes charge you for the privilege, this time they did not. Which was nice!

I consider it a reasonable deal if the cost stays below $200 a night for a family of four. Olympic Lodge was the better deal – Paradise Lodge ran us $253 a night per family. Olympic Lodge had more amenities, room, and the kitchen was a better space. Each home offered a unique location for fun and interesting activities.

Paradise Lodge had a large garage converted into a game room and an outdoor hot tub which some in the party really enjoyed! The water here was from a well fed by a sulphur spring and the smell bothered some in our party, especially those in the apartment. All this to say…nothing is perfect, you have to weigh the good and bad and roll with the punches. Minimize disappointments by doing good research and asking lots of questions.

Bottom line on costs: Figure in all the charges and look at them carefully before you sign on the dotted line. Someone will have to front the bill and be the person responsible for arrangements, contracts and contacts with the owner. NOTE: Remember at Thanksgiving, other Holidays and during high season the prices are higher so off-seasons become a better bargain! Sometimes properties offer specials. Weather conditions also play a part in where you chose to go so be aware of that and check out the current and past weather patterns for the areas. We had 4 inches of snow last year on the day we left making it fun and Christmassy but hard to get to the Hood Canal Bridge! This year bare and clear on Snoqualmie Pass, a little hard to get to the house on the off-roads due to ice. Make sure for winter travel everyone is prepared for weather and road conditions!

The beauty of VRBO is the vast selection of properties and the sophisticated search tools that make narrowing down your choices to just what you want on the days you want it in a simple and effective search tool.

More about VRBO: “HomeAway, Inc. based in Austin, Texas, is the world’s leading online marketplace for the vacation rental industry, with sites representing over one million paid listings of vacation rental homes in 190 countries. HomeAway® offers an extensive selection of vacation rental homes that provide travelers with memorable experiences and benefits, especially more room to relax, for less than the cost of traditional hotel accommodations. The company also makes it easy for vacation rental owners and property managers to advertise their properties and manage bookings online.” Plus more square footage and amenities than a hotel.

  • Spend less but get more room than a hotel
  • More space – the average vacation rental home is 1850 sq. ft. versus the average hotel room that is 325 sq. ft.
  • More Privacy – plenty of space, comfort and little disturbance; perfect for family time
  • Kitchen – prepare a quick meal; save from having to eat out
  • Authentic experience in your travel destination
  • More opportunities to create lasting memories with family and friends
  • Easy to find a pet-friendly accommodation in most destinations

“The company also makes it easy for vacation rental owners and property managers to advertise their properties and manage bookings online. The HomeAway portfolio includes the leading vacation rental websites, and in the United States; and in the United Kingdom; in Germany; and in France; and in Spain; in Brazil; and in Australia; and in New Zealand. Asia Pacific short-term rental site,, is also owned by HomeAway.”

“HomeAway also operates, the most comprehensive global site for finding bed-and-breakfast properties, providing travelers with another source for unique lodging alternatives to chain hotels.”

How to Make VRBO Work for You: I always start my searches for holiday properties early – 2-3 months out. It helps to know what areas will work and begin with the number of bedrooms you need. I find bedrooms and baths narrow the property searches down quickly for large groups. I have created an account so I have the option to save properties to my favorites which really helps. Sometimes, like this year I started looking for ocean properties close to Portland and then changed my mind and opened up the search for places not more than an hour and a half out of Seattle. By saving your favorites you can keep all the options in one place to refresh your memory of the properties that interest you.

VRBO has pictures, well written descriptions, things to do near-by, maps and online calendars, reviews and most properties you book right from the site. There is access to owners for questions and concerns before you book. I strongly advise you to get to know the owner by asking a lot of questions!

I look for responsive owners who are knowledgeable, friendly, helpful and courteous. Ones with well-stated rules and clear directions of use. Paradise Lodge went a little overboard with their many signs posted with red capitol letters warning against parties and noise after 10pm. Grey areas always lead to problems when it comes to getting deposits back look for the words deposit and fee! Then ask what you can expect back and what is required to get it fully refunded. I also read all the reviews. Properties with many 5 star reviews are the ones that attract me. While owners do a lot of campaigning to get good reviews they usually only get them when they are deserved in my experience. The reviews also give you a feel for the home and the place.

The Final Word: I like VRBO. There are other sites out there to check out that operate on similar philosophies AirBnB, Vacasa if you want to explore them. Many of the properties on VRBO are cross listed on these other sites and many of the properties also have their own websites. I look at all of these if I get serious about a property before I sign on the dotted line – so should you. I have enjoyed my short stays using VRBO properties and I hope you will too!

Added Bonus Travel Tip: Planning for meals can get overwhelming for large family gatherings! I make lists…lots of lists. I assign a meal and happy hour to each family and they are responsible for bringing all ingredients needed and for preparing the full meal and appetizers on the night assigned.  Those that cook do not have to do the clean-up. I make suggestions and they can vary from them if they like but everyone has to communicate the changes so the menu can be balanced.

For the main holiday meal I divide the meal into main, sides, salads, desserts and everyone selects what they want to bring ahead of time. That way everyone gets to make sure their favorite dishes are on the table. For breakfasts we bring: bacon, sausages, cold cereal, eggs, veggies and cheese for scrambles, cinnamon rolls, and pancake mix. Divide the list up. It becomes a buffet type affair so those that want to sleep in may.

Special treats and snacks (dietary needs) are brought by each family and usually shared. Everyone brings drinks. And, everyone brings fun stuff. Happy hour comes early enough to cover lunch and left-overs come in handy as well. Often we try a local place for one of the happy hours. And, if there is a specialty bakery or artisanal food/drink being made in the area we check it out. The Cle Elum Bakery is well-known and loved as is Owen’s Meats and the Roslyn Brewing Company is fun.

This is done by email and phone. The initial email goes out about 3-4 weeks before the trip and final menu and assignments the week before the trip.  I prefer to make ahead and shop before we leave as groceries are often very expensive in vacation areas. But, I always look for an adequate grocery store in the area and the hours/days it  will be open in case we need supplies. This is a system that has worked well for my family holidays away for years – whether we had 6 or 26.



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