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How to Rent a Vacation Cottage


There are many ways to find a suitable vacation cottage. Owners across the United States advertise their vacation properties on the Internet on websites such as Vacation Rentals by Owner and VacationRentals.com. Craigslist, the popular classified website, also lists vacation rentals. Many regional, state and national parks rent cabins during summer months. Local real estate companies also handle vacation rentals. Don’t forget to ask around. Some cottage owners only rent by word of mouth, especially in popular vacation areas.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Varies

Here's How:

  1. When you’ve found a good prospect, it’s time to contact the owner or property manager. You can usually do this by telephone or e-mail. Ask about availability for your selected dates and tell the owner a little about your group. If you’re renting with your children or grandchildren, list the ages of anyone under 18. If you’re renting with your spouse or a group of friends, let the owner know that your group only includes adults.

  2. If you and the owner agree on rates and dates, you should ask about payment and cancellation policies. These can vary widely. Some owners do everything by mail – you send a check, they send a key. Others ask for a credit card deposit and send a property manager to meet you when you arrive. Be sure you get the cancellation policy in writing.

  3. Ask about the owner’s expectations, and request an emergency contact number to use if problems arise.

  4. When you book your rental, the owner should send you a confirmation and a list of policies and procedures. You need to know about details such as check-in and check-out times, cleanup procedures, items to bring (some units don’t include sheets or towels), security deposits and special seasonal issues, such as hot tub maintenance or winter water shutoff. If you’re renting a mountain cabin, ask if you’ll need to bring your own firewood.

  5. If you plan to bring a pet, make sure you get the owner’s permission. Don't risk your security deposit.

  6. If the key doesn’t arrive by the day before your trip and it was supposed to come by mail, call the owner and explain the situation. Chances are, the owner has an emergency key, left with a neighbor near the cottage for just this purpose.

  7. When you arrive at the cottage, check the water, lights and heater/air conditioner to make sure everything is working properly. If things don’t seem right, give the owner a call. If the worst should happen and your rental cottage is a mess, contact the owner or manager immediately. The owner may not realize that the previous renters didn’t clean up and that the inspection service failed to stop by. The owner or property manager should take immediate steps to rectify the problem. Your referrals and repeat business are important.

  8. As you prepare to leave your getaway cottage, make sure everything is as clean as when you arrived. Follow the owner’s instructions for removing garbage and locking the cottage carefully. Leave the key, if directed, or double-check that you have it with you for later return.


  1. Ask about kitchen facilities, grocery stores and nearby restaurants.
  2. Don’t forget to sign the guestbook.
  3. Purchase trip insurance if you are renting an expensive property or if the cancellation policy is restrictive.

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