Chevy Chase plans the family vacation on his computer in National Lampoon's Vacation

Before Clark Griswold loaded the car, he planned his Family Vacation using a computer.  I am sure all Techlife readers have used their computers to plan trips and book accommodations for years now.  

For our reader’s travel plans Techlife has covered sites like Travelistic, Farecast, Google’s MyMaps and RovAir which all aid the traveller.  Today there are countless websites devoted to planning a trip by air, land and sea along with various hotel accommodations.  But there is another way…vacation rentals. 

A Techlife reader shares this story with us…

We were heading from Oakland to Chicago for a week of fun this spring.  Our family has two small children and a week cooped up in the hotel would have been unbearable.  So we hopped on the computer and found salvation.

If you are looking for a bit more local flavor and unique roof over your head, combined with a chance to get a great deal in a down economy vacation rentals are a great option.   So this is just another Craigslist article, right?  C’mon give Techlife a little credit.  Check out, which stands for Vacation Rentals by Owner, to find over 120,000 properties all over the planet.  

In addition to a more local experience, a VRBO is perfect for the travelling family, as the typical listings are condos or  homes instead of just a hotel room.  This gives you bedrooms, a common area, and often a kitchen for equal or even less money than a single room.  For the family with small children through the extended family or friends travelling together, you get the privacy of your own room but the fun of hanging out at night and in the morning.

As one friend of Techlife is fond of saying, “vacations with little children aren’t vacations but just changes of location.”  Searching the VRBO site, has listings that include all sorts of kid friendly amenities, including homes with pools, swing sets, beaches, dvd players, and a few with use of the property’s boat!

Due to the economy we put ourselves on a tight budget, after searching around we realized our budget was not enough money, but we couldn’t spend anymore.  So we waited, and waited, and waited some more.  Then just a week before our trip, we put our plan into motion.

VRBO does have some drawbacks, each listing is maintained by the property owner so the occupancy calendar is not always up to date.  That alone gave me pause about some of these owners in maintaining their property.  In addition, unlike a normal travel site the search tools were a bit weaker.  I was looking to travel over the Fourth of July weekend and had to visit each property, and then click a second time to the occupancy calendar.  I would have preferred to only be shown properties that fit my criteria from the start, including date.

Price also is weak search criteria.  The site has to sell itself to the property owner and the owners clearly prefer a week rental or longer.  Some owners see the value in offering just a weekend or single night price, but again a bit of manual search is required.

There are some other things a traveller has to get used  to, dealing with countless different owners.  You can easily call or email each owner though from VRBO’s easy to use interface to book or ask a question.  The best feature of VRBO is consistency, you get used to the way the listings are laid out, photos here, description here, bullet points here, price here and can quickly assess properties.

At that late date, I sent out emails to all the best properties on the site in the Wrigleyville area of Chicago where we wanted to stay.  We explained we had this much to spend, and understood they were asking more.  We quickly got a few replies from aggressive owners who realized some rent is better than no rent.  We also lucked out, no Cubs games that week so the owners were going to be fighting for us.  What we got was….

Techlife has been using this site for some time and enjoys the adventure of finding the perfect place and that moment where you open the door and hope it really is perfect.  Of course some properties have guestbooks with comments which really helps.  Remember if your vacation rental ends up like a Griswold vacation you will always have the memories and a killer script.

An amazing place with hardwood floors, cherry cabinets, granite counter tops, stainless appliances and we actually entertained at our place one night while our kids slept.  It was truly a great vacation and the vacation rental was the best.