How to book & search
Pros & Cons
Make the most of reviews
How to book and search for villas and apartments
Getting the right accommodation for your holiday is an important part of the whole experience so if you've always fancied lounging by the pool in a private villa or soaking up the vista on the balcony of an apartment then read on.
Once you've decided where to go my favourite websites for finding self catering accommodation are Homeaway* and Booking.com* (choose 'apartment' or 'villa' from the left hand 'filter by' menu) Both allow you to search with location, dates and number of people and then you can pick more search criteria to narrow down your choice. You can also search with a map facility so you can get a good idea of how close you are to the beach or nearest town. This tool is also handy if you need to broaden your search out a bit or if you are not finding the results you want. Once you press 'search' a list of accommodation options should come up and you will then need to sift through it picking out the ones you like best. While you are doing this keep the following tips in mind:
Make sure you follow the process through to the end to get an accurate total price. All prices will vary according to the time of year and some will vary according to the amount of people going, so make sure you have put these in accurately. There may well be an extra cost for cleaning or booking fees added on at the end. Other extras (which you may have to inquire about separately) might include heating or air conditioning, pool heating, towel and bed linen, tourist tax (which is often per adult per night), wifi, extra beds, cots and highchairs. Inquire about all of these things beforehand and agree the full price in writing.
I'm a total sucker for being persuaded by a good picture especially if it includes a sunset or sparkling swimming pool! However, it's really important to flick through pictures and look at the interior and exterior of the property to be realistic about what the property is really like. I'm always a bit suspicious if they only show a couple of shots of the outside and then the local town or beach. Also look carefully at the layout and descriptions of the rooms and facilities. It's really important to make sure you are aware of how many beds and bedrooms there are and if this is realistic. For example, some properties claim to sleep 10 in 2 bedrooms - how does this actually work? Is everyone in bunk-beds or are there sofa-beds in every room? Think carefully about how the space will work for you and your group.
If you're booking somewhere with a pool be clear about whether it is shared or private. If it's shared try and find out how many other properties it's shared with. If it is private look at the measurements (pools always look huge in photos!). If you have small children you might want to find a pool with a gate or other safety features. If you are travelling out of season make sure that the pool will be up and running and warm enough to swim in.
...the top of this page gives you more tools to make good decisions when choosing accommodation. Make sure you read 'make the most of reviews', 'avoid scams' and 'useful links' which will give you loads more pointers.
Once you've agreed on a price and any extras you need, pay your deposit
and you're all sorted!
Pros & Cons of staying in villas and apartments
BUT it is possible to get all kinds of different villas and apartments so also consider the following:
How to avoid scams when booking
Many people worry about booking self-catering accommodation because you are often dealing with owners directly rather than a company. However most sites are designed so that you have to operate through their systems which offers some protection and companies have clear procedures if things go wrong. You can also do a few simple things to protect yourself:
Legitimate owners will be able to answer any questions you ask them about their accommodation and the surrounding area. Most sites provide a phone number so don't just do this via email but on the phone too.
Once you have the name of the person then look them up on Facebook or on Google. See if their profile looks legit and see if you can link them to the property. Also search the property online and see if any complaints show up or if it is listed under a different name or with different details. Check how long they have been listed on the site and how many reviews they have.
Use Google Maps
Check out where your accommodation actually is by using google maps. Make sure it really is a 5 minute walk from the beach or the nearest shop and not on a main road or whatever is important to you. Use 'street view' mode and you can check out the whole area. It's also really helpful to have a vague idea of what it looks like so you can find it easily on arrival.
Always pay via the site if possible
All the major sites allow you to pay using their payment systems and offer protection from fraudulent bookings. However smaller sites may not be so sophisticated and want you to pay owners directly. If you decide to pay the owner directly be aware that Western Union or other similar money transfer sites as this are untraceable. Bank transfers are traceable but there is still little chance of any comeback if something goes wrong. Trust your instincts if things don't add up ask more questions and investigate further until you feel sure one way or the other!
Top tips for using accommodation reviews and ratings
Most accommodation websites now have a rating and review system and these can be super helpful when deciding where to stay. If the site itself doesn't have ratings or only has a few reviews then check out Tripadvisor which has reviews for an astonishing amount of properties. When you're looking through any reviews bear in mind the following points:
How many people have rated it?
All ratings sites should inform you of how many individuals have contributed to the overall rating. 3 people saying something is five stars is a completely different ballgame to 1000 people saying how great it is.
Read the middling reviews
It's easy to say something was brilliant or awful but middling reviews tend to offer a more balanced view with pros and cons.
Don't just look at the star rating
Take time to scan a few reviews to get a flavour of what is bringing the rating down and make your own decision based on what your priorities are.
Look for common themes
What is it that people are complaining about and how important is that to you? Masses of reviews moan about bad wifi and that definitely lowers the overall scores of some otherwise really lovely places. Are people complaining about things that matter to you?
Reviews that allow management to respond are often really telling and will give you an indication about how any future complaint you might need to make will be dealt with.
If you have to book
Sometimes you might not have much choice about where to book because of poor availability or sometimes you might be willing to compromise on rubbish wifi and a crap breakfast because it's in the most perfect location. Just be informed and realistic about what you're signing up to and you might be pleasantly surprised!
Villa &apartment holiday rental websites
Homeaway* and Booking.com* are our favourites!
Holiday Lettings - loads of listings for all types of properties all over the world
Airbnb - offers hundreds of thousands of apartments, villas, town houses, rooms in houses, huts, boats, even caves and more. It sometimes gets a bad press but millions of people swear by it and we like it too!
iescape - beautiful range of handpicked accommodation all over the world with really helpful descriptions. Each listing has 'highs' and 'lows' and there is lots of information about child friendly options.
James Villas - villas in Europe, the States and the Caribbean with a section dedicated to villas in resorts if you want more of a hotel service
Travillas - specialising in villas situated on the Algarve, Portugal
Oliver's Travels - award winning company with 2,500 luxury villas in Europe and the Caribbean (and a few other palaces!)
Vintage travel - villas in Europe with some nice search choices such as 'near a beach', 'fenced pools', 'close to golf courses' and more
Simpson travel - beautiful, top end, villas in France, Mallorca, Corsica, Italy and Turkey
Holidaycottages.co.uk* - handpicked cottages across the UK on the coast, in the countryside and in cities. Accommodaiton for all budges.
Spain holiday villas - loads of Spanish villas and apartment rentals with a range of price tags.
Simply owners - good range of properties and a dedicated search for 'wheelchair friendly' accommodation.
Quirky Accommodation.com - this great little website has a range of really unusual accommodation including tree houses, helicopters, forts, boats and hotels with a difference!