STUDIO CITY (KCAL9) — If you’re trying to save money but need a vacation, staying in a vacation rental may be the best travel bargain!

Less expensive, more spacious, more comfortable . . . what’s not to love?

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Author Christine Karpinski stopped by KCAL9 Tuesday to explain why more and more Americans are abandoning hotel rooms in favor of vacation rental homes.

Price isn’t everything, of course. Karpinski says there are many other reasons to choose a vacation rental house—or condo or chalet or cabin or villa or farmhouse—over a hotel. Here are a few examples:

• First of all, there are plenty of vacation homes to choose from. More and more people are realizing their dream of owning a second home—and renting it out when they’re not using it. That’s good news for travelers like you. In fact, there’s a vacation home within a two-hour drive of most metropolitan areas in the U.S. There are plenty of others in Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America as well. And by visiting respectable websites—such as HomeAway.com or its affiliates VRBO.com, CyberRentals.com, GreatRentals.com, or Holiday-Rentals.co.uk—you can quickly find the one that’s right for you.

• The rental process is getting easier and more convenient by the day. Admittedly, it’s not quite as simple to rent a vacation home as it is to book a hotel room. You still have to deal directly with the homeowner. (Websites like HomeAway just provide details about the property and contact info; the consumer takes it from there.) Still, it’s pretty darn easy. Services like the aforementioned websites have smoothed the pathway, of course. But also, homeowners themselves are becoming more consumer-friendly in their business practices. Despite popular misconception, you don’t always have to commit to a week. Many homeowners will let you rent by the weekend or even on a nightly basis, particularly during the off-season. And while some of them still expect you to send them a personal check, many others accept credit cards or PayPal®.

• Vacation homes are more spacious and comfortable. Think about the difference between a tiny hotel room, possibly with limited amenities, and an actual home with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms and kitchens, living and dining areas. No contest, right?

• You can live like a local. No one wants to feel or look like a tourist, an “outsider.” You can get inside information from the homeowner. One big reason vacation home renters get to “live like locals” is that most homeowners love to provide their guests with helpful hints. They’ll point you to the best restaurants in town, the best hiking trails, and the best bike rental places. They’ll tell you who has the cheapest gas, which roads to take to avoid traffic, and which attractions are overpriced “tourist traps.”

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• You can cook and do laundry. If you’re on a budget, both of these factors can be huge benefits. Obviously, eating every meal in a restaurant gets pricey. The ability to prepare meals “at home” not only saves money, there’s just something nice about savoring a home-cooked meal while on vacation. (And for parents of small children, it’s far less stressful than choking down meals while praying that the next table doesn’t have to endure a toddler tantrum!) As for the washer and drier factor—well, being able to bring fewer clothes is not only a sanity saver during packing, it’s a space saver for those long car rides.

• If the weather’s bad, there’s more to do indoors. Most vacation rental homeowners provide DVDs (along with the electronic equipment to view them on), board games, playing cards, and other family-friendly diversions. Also, more than half of all rental properties now have Internet access.

• Vacation homes provide more privacy for Mom & Dad. Let’s say you want to have some, ahem, adult time while you’re on vacation. There’s nothing better than being able to put the kids in a separate bedroom down the hall.

• You might even be able to bring Fido or Fluffy. That’s right. Many vacation property owners will accept pets, which makes their homes especially attractive to families who can’t bear to part with their four-footed friends for a week.

Fifteen Questions to Ask Before You Book a Vacation Rental Home

There are other questions you can ask in order to maximize your vacation experience. Here are a few suggestions from Christine Karpinski:

• What’s the best route to take in order to avoid traffic?
• Do you have a DVD player? What movies do you have on hand?
• What kinds of “extras” do you have that I might want to know about, and where can I find them? (A lobster pot under the kitchen sink, board games in the hall closet, a sand bucket and shovel under the kids’ bed, etc.)
• What restaurants do you recommend? What are your favorite entrees there?
• Which grocery stores are the best?
• Where are the best golf courses? Hiking trails? Picnic spots?
• What are some fun, “non-touristy” activities we can do?
• What linens do you provide, if any?
• What “conveniences” do you have on hand? (i.e., hair dryers, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, etc.)
• What kind of cleaning chores, if any, should we do before we check out?
• Can you provide directions to the nearest hospital, just in case?
• What places of worship are nearby? (In case you want to attend services.)
• What kind of dog-friendly activities are there to do in the area? (Assuming the owner allows pets.)
• Who do I contact if there is some sort of problem while I’m here—for instance, if the water heater stops working or the power goes out?
• Is there anything else you can tell me to help my family have the best possible vacation experience?

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For more information and advice, visit HomeAway.