While the amenities of hotel living can certainly be one of the perks of travel, having a home away from home has its perks as well. Considering giving up housekeeping and room service for your next trip? Dreaming of a beach vacation destination? Here are a few things I’ve learned from renting beach homes when traveling with my family.

Top Considerations in Renting a Beach House

  • How close is the beach? If you have to schlep your kids and gear a mile to get to the sunny shore, you might want to reconsider.
  • Is the beach access public or private? Public beaches tend to be more crowded, but also have several points of access to the shore. Private beaches can be less crowded, yet can also be harder to get to.
  • Lifeguard on duty? Be sure to check with your rental company to see if your beach has Lifeguard service. If it does not, be sure to have a plan for water emergencies.
  • How do you access your beach house? See “Know The Road” below for why this is an important consideration.
  • Be sure about the type of beach you are visiting. More info below.
  • Get a detailed outline of what amenities are included in your rental. Do you need to bring towels, kitchen utensils, laundry items, toiletries? Where is the closest place to restock, if you need to?
  • What other activities are available beyond the beach? See below.
  • Get to “know” who you’re renting from. There are a lot of large rental companies that offer amenity packed, “tracked” homes which could be a perfect fit for you, or not. There are also tons of independent home owners and smaller rental companies that offer more personal service. Either way, be sure to do your research. Sites like Vacation Rental By Owner and HomeAway are excellent tools.

Know the Road

Our most recent beach rental in the outer banks of North Carolina. For this trip my family chose to leave behind both the housekeeping and the beaten path by renting a fully furnished home seven miles down the four wheel drive side of the seaside village of Corolla.

Wait, there is a four wheel drive beach?! This was my exact reaction when I connected with Karen from Carova Rentals. Being a left coast girl, I’d never been to a beach you could drive on*. This was first for me, and I had a lot to learn.

photo(29)

Lesson 1: Four Wheel Drive (4WD) and All Wheel Drive are not the same. Karen – our rental host – was very clear about this point. Seeing that our family car is equipped with the latter, I reached out to Traveling Mom’s sister sight She Buys Cars for help. Infiniti provided us with their QX56 -a 4WD SUV- so we could put it to the test. (read all about our adventures with 4WD over at She Buys Cars)

Lesson 2: When the sign says “Only Four Wheel Drive Vehicles Beyond This Point,” pay attention. It isn’t a suggestion. We personally helped a couple push their Prius out of the sand. Every day there was a new crop of cars stuck in the sand. The cost of having your car towed back to the road can be upwards of $250.

Lesson 3: Bring quarters and a tire gauge. You’ll need to air-down (let air out of) your tires before hitting the beach. When you come back to the paved road you’ll need to put that air back, facilitating the need for quarters at the air pump and a gauge to make sure you get it right.

photo(33)Be Sure About the Beach

Two summers ago we rented in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Yes, we visited “The Rock”. The home we rented was stunning. What it did not include was a beach we were used to. Yes there was sand, waves and seagulls galore, but the shore was rocky to the point of being nearly impossible to traverse. This was a shock for us, and for our feet which were not protected with water shoes.  Be sure to ask the rental owner about the condition of the beach if that is where you plan to spend most of your time.

When staying on the four wheel drive side of the beach, make sure you know the rules about where to park your car and where to drive. This usually changes with the tides. Also, keep a very close eye on drivers who will pay absolutely no attention to these rules or the speed limits. More than one time in Corolla, NC, my heart lept into my throat as a car got uncomfortably close to my family.

Last but not least, when you book your beach home rental be prepared to escape. I call the beach “Mother Nature’s Amusement Park.” It has everything from thrill rides amongst the waves to laid back attractions on the sand. Let’s be honest though, could you spend an entire week in any amusement park without a break? Plan activities beyond the shore for your stay, it will make those days on the beach that much more fun.

Have you ever rented a vacation home at the beach? How about another destination? What are your tips? Feel free to share in the comments below.

beach collage
*On a personal note, were you to ask me, I’d say that cars just don’t belong on the beach. The novelty, or even the ability to escape civilization, just aren’t worth the impact it may have on the environment.