The Changing Face of Travel

As more people decide they want to travel the world on their own terms, private vacation home rentals have become more popular than ever. From home-sharing sites to luxury vacation rentals, travelers of all ages are choosing to create a more customized approach to vacationing—and it’s shaking up the traditional hotel model.

Here’s why:

  • Space to Stretch Out — The average vacation home gives you 1,850 square feet of space, while hotels average just 325 square feet. (Source: VRBO)
  • Cost Savings — The average daily rate of a hotel room in the U.S. is $120 (plus hotel occupancy taxes, which can be up to 17%). While one-bedroom vacation rental prices are comparable, there’s generally significant cost savings based on minimal taxes, added amenities (like free parking) and the ability to cook at home—and the savings often increase with the size of the rental.
  • More Flexibility and Comforts of Home — Travelers value the more personal experience, access to kitchen and outdoor spaces, and privacy of vacation rentals. (Source:

"Vacation rentals are becoming an increasingly popular option among travelers. This comes as no surprise to us—vacation rentals offer more privacy, more space, and more amenities than hotels... and often for less money per night!” —Jen O’Neal,

We picked the brains of 1,620 vacation home renters to gain insight into what today's travelers are looking for in a vacation home. Here’s what we uncovered:

  • 79% of those surveyed have rented a vacation home in the past.
  • Of those, 46% have rented a vacation home in the last year and 52% plan to rent a vacation home in the next year. Traditional hotels/motels are flat with 70% of people having stayed in the last year vs. 70% who plan to stay in the next year.
  • Boomers and Gen Xers are driving the biggest share of rental growth, with a 17% expected increase in those who plan to rent this year vs. last year (while year-over-year rentals among Millennials remains flat).

“When it comes to booking vacation rentals, Millennials like the option to book instantly. They want to search, compare and book rentals with just a few clicks," O'Neal says. "Recent trends show that travelers of all ages are gravitating toward the instant booking model, so we expect that the vast majority of properties will be booked instantly within the next few years.” —Jen O’Neal,

From apartments and cabins to villas, vacation home rentals of all shapes and sizes are an appealing choice for travelers. While single family homes are a great fit for travelers with children, smaller and more economical formats are most popular.

The beach is best for most travelers, with 74% of respondents preferring to spend their vacations on the coast. 83% simply prefer to be near water—whether the ocean or a lake. 51% and 35% prefer mountainous and city vacations, respectively.

The Custom Vacation Experience

Renters’ expectations for vacation homes vary based on their age, gender and family situation, but there are a few commonalities that transcend across vacationers.

“When it comes to amenities and price, different generations all seem to have a similar focus: getting more space and amenities like pools, outdoor space and Wi-Fi for the best price available.” —Jen O’Neal,

From women and men to Baby Boomers and Millennials, we discovered some interesting trends in how different people travel.

Millennials have their sights set on luxury.

  • Millennials have expensive tastes—12% plan to stay in a villa/estate in the next year vs. only 6% of Boomers and 9% of Gen Xers.
  • Regardless of their higher incomes, older generations are more likely to have stayed in smaller format homes like cabins or cottages than Millennials (75% vs. 64%).
  • Millennials are most likely to rent a vacation home with friends (48%). Vacation rentals for the purpose of bachelor(ette) and girls’/guys’ weekends are also popular among both female and male Millennials at 35% and 34%, respectively.

Women prefer to beach it with friends.

  • Women are more likely to prefer the beach than men (78% vs. 68%) while men have a higher preference for mountains than women (53% vs. 49%).
  • Women are more likely to rent a home with friends (40% vs. 34% men). Nearly 30% of women have rented a vacation home for a girls’ weekend with friends (vs. 21% men for a guys’ weekend).

Vacations are a family affair.

  • 90% of people rent vacation homes with family; 36% bring children.
  • The trend of multigenerational living transcends to vacationing. While more than 18% of the U.S. population lives in households with two or more generations, nearly half of those surveyed reported sharing their vacation rental with extended family aside from their spouse or children.
  • Family reunions are the top special occasion (41%) for which people rent vacation homes.
  • 71% of travelers with children said access to cook their own meals was a major reason they chose a vacation rental.

Pets are family, too.

  • 11% of renters typically vacation with pets.
  • Half of all vacation renters look for pet-friendly features; 40% are willing to pay a bit extra for pet-friendly accommodations, most importantly outdoor space (81%) or a fenced-in yard (73%).

The Wish List: What Travelers Want in a Vacation Home

While different types of travelers look for different features in a vacation home, most people want the same basic things—and they even share the same pet peeves. Vacation home rentals appeal to travelers for a number of reasons, with the top four being: Access to a kitchen, value, privacy and ample space.

Turn-offs tend to transcend generational and societal differences. The biggies: Inaccurate listing photos (32%), dingy furniture (19%), a poor location (18%) and outdated appliances (9%).

When it comes to winning travelers over, certain rooms are more important than others; the same goes for specific features. Here’s what vacationers want, from the inside out:

Vacation Home Interior Checklist

Kitchens are key! As noted above, the majority of travelers noted having the ability to make their own meals as a major factor in choosing a vacation home over hotels/motels. 67% said they averaged two or three meals a day at the house, and only 8% admit to eating out for every meal.

“In vacation rentals, kitchens get used frequently, so ease of access and updated features such as layered lighting on a dimmer make staying in a rental much more comfortable,” says design expert Kerrie Kelly, who writes about interior design for The Home Depot. “Updated appliances, a layout for entertaining, and easy-to-clean surfaces like quartz countertops are crucial.”

Respondents also noted that they’d be willing to pay extra for a dishwasher in the kitchen, stainless steel appliances, and kitchen accessories—including a corkscrew!

Beyond the kitchen, 30% would like to have a fireplace, while 55% will pay extra for a washer and dryer for clothes. In the bathroom, vacationers often appreciate a relaxing environment. “Updated plumbing fixtures in the bathroom for a spa-like atmosphere are always a plus,” Kelly says.

Vacation Home Exterior Checklist

The majority of travelers (68%) said that one of their favorite activities while vacationing is relaxing outside. 42% identified access to a deck, yard or other external space on the property as a major feature they consider when choosing a vacation rental. 66% enjoy cooking outdoors, including grilling, outdoor kitchens and fire pits.

From personal experience, having ample entertaining amenities makes the experience that much better,” Kelly says. “Having an outdoor entertainment area with lounge chairs, an umbrella and an outdoor kitchen also allows guests to feel more relaxed and at home in the rental.”

60% of travelers are willing to pay more for a pool or hot tub. Other big exterior wish list items: proximity to natural attractions (65%), outdoor living space (42%), patio furniture (32%), recreational equipment (32%) and an outdoor kitchen (15%).

Let’s Get Technical: Tech Needs of the Modern Traveler

Few travelers are completely unplugging on vacation—survey respondents say they browse the web and check email less frequently (62%) while on vacation, yet more than half (54%) would not give up their cell phone for a week in exchange for an extra week of vacation! But their needs go far beyond strong Wi-Fi.

“Wi-Fi is a necessity! Considering how many people need to work while traveling, or even just want to share their latest vacation photos to friends and family at home, Wi-Fi is definitely a key amenity for vacation rentals to offer.” —Jen O’Neal,

When it comes to tech expectations, Wi-Fi is a major must-have item, while cable TV and HDTV are also popular features.

A quarter of people (26%) look for smart home features. The top requests are a smart security system or entry (door locks/video doorbells/garage opener) and a smart TV or electronics.

One in four Millennial males expect a smart TV at the very least!

While Millennials are as open to “unplugging” as other generations, they don’t compromise on music. 64% say they listen to music the same or more frequently on vacation versus the average vacation renter (47%).

The key to installing tech devices in a vacation home is to keep it simple, says technology expert Jennifer Tuohy, who writes about home tech for The Home Depot. “Guests don’t need to be downloading apps just to turn the lights on,” she says. “The best tech for making guests happy in a vacation home are devices that are simple to use, or those that work autonomously.”

Tuohy’s top five tech picks in a vacation home:

1. Smart Locks. Nothing is more annoying than arriving at a vacation home and discovering you don’t have the right key, or that you have to drive 10 more miles to pick one up. A keypad-enabled lock or a smart door lock is the perfect solution.
2. Smart Lighting. Walking into a home and having the lights come on automatically is a really nice way to begin a holiday—no fidgeting around in a dark, unfamiliar place while balancing suitcases. Smart lighting paired with the smart door lock can make this happen seamlessly: When the door unlocks, the lights come on.
3. Smart TV. A Smart TV with internet connection and pre-loaded with apps such as Netflix and Amazon Video is as important in a rental today as having basic cable was last century.
4. Streaming Music. All holidays need a soundtrack, and Bluetooth-capable speakers are a must these days so you can hook up your own music in minutes. An added bonus would be wireless streaming speakers such as Sonos, again with pre-installed house accounts such as Spotify or Pandora.
5. Welcome iPad. An iPad or similar tablet, loaded with apps for local attractions, is a great alternative to a pile of outdated brochures on a table. Plus, a Google doc or other cloud-based document pinned to the home screen that has all the details you need to know about the home and the area is an excellent touch. Additionally, the tablet can be preloaded with the apps needed to control or understand any of the technology in the home.

The Eco-friendly Traveler

Eco options are a plus for many travelers who want to live green even when they’re away from home. Many modern vacationers expect eco-friendly features in their vacation rental, with 42% of respondents saying they hoped to stay in an energy-efficient home. Recycling is a big draw: 52% of respondents wanted to see recycling options.

Effortless recycling and integrated bins always make the grade for eco-friendly homes,” Kelly says. “Water filtration systems, full-sized beauty/cleaning products (as opposed to wasteful travel sizes), and Energy Star appliances also help renters feel that they are helping the environment.”

Among travelers’ other eco-friendly must-haves: overall energy efficiency (heating, cooling, appliances), and green cleaning supplies and building materials.

Still it’s worth noting that 33% admitted eco-friendly features are not a factor when renting a vacation home. But as one respondent wrote: “[Given] two equal choices, I’ll always take the more responsible one.”

“Eco-friendly properties aren’t widespread yet, but as people become more sensitive to energy and water conservation, we expect to see an increased demand for environmentally friendly vacation rentals,” O’Neal says. “Travelers can enjoy their vacation while knowing they’re doing right by the Earth—what’s not to like about that?”

What’s Next for Vacation Rentals?

As the process of booking vacation rentals becomes easier than ever, they’re likely to become even more popular than they are today. “In the future, travelers may opt to stay in hotels for quick urban trips, but vacation rentals will be the clear choice for families and large groups who are seeking space, privacy, and all the perks that don't typically fit in a tiny hotel room,” O’Neal says.

She also notes that multigenerational travel is one of the biggest trends in the travel industry today. “This includes not just parents with children traveling, but grandparents coming along for the adventure,” she says. “Having more adults around means everyone can enjoy both quality time with the kids while also getting some of those much needed off-duty hours to unwind.”

Where will these future travelers be staying? Survey respondents’ top dream vacation rentals include a private island, overwater bungalow, treehouse, castle and log cabin!

What are your must-haves in a vacation rental? Let us know below!