Thanks to the recent boom in Boulder’s hotel scene, there’s no shortage of places to stay when you’re visiting town. Many of Boulder’s established hotels (from the Hotel Boulderado to the Adventure Lodge) have recently renovated, too.
But sometimes you want a little more privacy, a location off the tourist trail or to feel more at home, often for a lower price point. That’s when vacation rentals look appealing.
The vacation rental scene continues to surge worldwide. Airbnb alone has seen a 153 percent global compound rate since 2009. Every year in the United States, Airbnb sees a 45 percent increase in bookings.
But the growing number of vacation rental options means it can be harder to pick the right place. And even though your Airbnb experience is protected by insurance and the website is quick to refund money or find a replacement property if yours ends up being a bust, vacation rentals still have an element of risk. They’re not as regulated as hotels, don’t have long-standing reputations like a Hilton or Four Seasons and aren’t run by a professional staff. If you’re not careful (and sometimes even if you are), you can land in a room that was misrepresented online, or at least a place that doesn’t fit your needs.
To help mitigate the risks, here are 14 ways to help you pick the best vacation rental for your next stay in Boulder.
1. Make sure a vacation rental is a good fit.
Research the traditional options in Boulder and compare them. If you want a homey, more personal experience, Boulder has established B&Bs, like the Bradley Boulder Inn, that may meet your needs. Make a list (even just mentally) of the qualities you want in your lodging and use that as a launching point.
2. Get an overview on vacation rental options.
Once you’re sure you want to stay in a vacation rental, research those options. Yes, searching for a room online is like online shopping: It seems like a bottomless hole of options and comparisons. But still make sure you have a grip on the various options out there before you commit. Airbnb is not the only website for vacation rentals, although it is a popular one.
3. Use the map tool.
Airbnb has a useful map that can help you pick a room by location. If you don’t have a car and need access to public transportation, make sure your room is close to downtown or a bus stop. Boulder’s different neighborhoods have different offerings, but downtown, the mountains and The Hill tend to be the most popular destinations for visitors. While Airbnb won’t provide the exact address until after you have booked, the map gives you a good idea.
4. Search by date.
The first thing to do is filter your search by the days of your trip. The worst is finding the perfect room and then learning it’s booked the day you need it or that it requires a 30-day stay.
5. Filter, filter, filter.
The filters are your best friends, especially in the Boulder area, where there are so many options. Filter by price range, property style (Boulder has a ton of tiny homes, nearby cabins and downtown cottages), number of beds and bathrooms, degree of privacy, amenities (like a kitchen, fireplace, wifi, washer and dryer) and facilities (like free parking, hot tub, gym, pool). When setting a budget, make sure you look for extra fees, like cleaning costs. These can tack on an additional $20 to $100 per stay.
6. Consider something unique.
If you are doing a vacation rental, you might as well look for something totally different than you could get in a hotel and unique to the region. You can search Airbnb for “unique stays.” Stay in campers and RVs, on farms and campsites, in a trolley car in the mountains, an Airstream on the Boulder Reservoir, a barn in old town Longmont, a creekside tipi, a little red treehouse in Lyons, a room in a nature lodge, a dome house, a room on an alpaca ranch and even “chill tents in a backyard of fun 420 house” for just $17 a night.
7. Organize your favorites.
Airbnb allows you to create collections where you can save and compare various properties. If you are planning on staying in multiple locations, this can help you mentally piece it all together before pressing “book.”
8. Look for quality and experience.
Picking experienced rentals minimizes your risk of landing somewhere awful. Here are some things to look for: high-quality photos, many positive reviews, a quick response rate, “Superhost” status. A Superhost is kind of like the dean’s list of vacation rentals; they’re experienced hosts with positive reviews. You can search listings to only show Superhosts.
9. Look for warning signs.
While Airbnb tries to keep everything legit, it’s impossible to watch every listing. Be wary of rentals that look too good to be true, like an entire mountain mansion for $25 a night. Be careful of new hosts or hosts with multiple listings in different cities. Although they may be safe, give them an extra look.
10. Don’t make assumptions.
Don’t assume a place has wifi, parking on site, shampoo and conditioner or even necessarily soap and toilet paper. Think about the photos that are not shown, too (like an intentionally omitted bathroom).
11. Prioritize communication.
A good host will have good communication. This means clear and detailed descriptions of the property and quick and clear messaging back and forth. If the messages are unprofessional or spotty, take that as a red flag. Message the hosts before you arrive to be clear on how and when to check in and check out. Be clear on their expectations, like if they want you to vacuum or put the sheets in a specific spot. Otherwise, you may end up with a poor review.
12. Know the rules.
Each property lists its rules. Read them and make sure you like them.
13. Consider instant booking.
When searching the map, if you’re looking for a quick room, listings with a lightning-bolt symbol means they’re available for instant booking. This means it will automatically book; you don’t have to wait for the host to approve the request. That speeds up the process.
14. Don’t overlook the “experiences.”
Airbnb centers around the lodging, but it can also connect you with unique experiences. Search sports and outdoors, classes, food and drink, health and wellness and more. Take a goat hike along the Gold Miners’ Trail, enjoy a “luxurious feast” atop Gregory Canyon, take a guided sunrise hike, take an Astronomy Tour, go on an excursion tea ceremony (or a traditional meditative tea ceremony), do a “horse whispering” experience, learn glassblowing with a local artist and more.