Rent Vacation Homes, Live Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

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I admit it, I’m an aspirational gypsetter.

Villa Solana on the island of Mykonos is one of the homes available for rent on PorticoClub.com. (Handout, PorticoClub.com)

Villa Solana on the island of Mykonos is one of the homes available for rent on PorticoClub.com. (Handout, PorticoClub.com)

(The term “gypsetter” is a mashup of “gypsy” and jetsetter” and refers to wealthy bohemians and bon vivants who travel the globe in search of the next trendy place to vacation.)

I lust after lifestyles of the rich and famous and yearn to relax in exotic luxury. And although my budget is more Motel 6 than mansion, I’ve found ways to indulge my expensive tastes without breaking the bank.

My favorite high-end, low-cost vacations are home rentals. Gather a group of compatible friends, find a fabulous property and split the cost. On average, the price per square foot for a U.S. hotel room is more than twice the price per square foot of a vacation rental, according to HomeAway, an online vacation rental company.

Over the past several years, I’ve stayed in a gorgeous Berkshires home with its own private lake, a 5,000-square-foot mansion on Cape Cod and a $2 million “cottage” on the Rhode Island shore. Last month, we rented a sprawling home overlooking the waves in San Diego’s Mission Beach area.

Each cost me less per night than a typical hotel room and all offered amazing amenities — including gorgeous views and designer kitchens and baths.

I’m not alone in my interest in staying in a home away from home. Renting a private home while on vacation has soared in popularity in recent years. According to research by the Vacation Rental Managers Association, 22 percent of leisure travelers have stayed in a vacation home rental as an alternative to a traditional hotel, and 24 percent of family travelers have stayed in a vacation home or condominium rental. Close to 50 percent of leisure travelers say they are interested in staying in a vacation home rental as an alternative to a traditional hotel or resort during the next two years.

In response to the demand, well-known websites such as TripAdvisor.com, VRBO.com, CyberRentals.com, WeNeedAVacation.com, HomeAway.com and CraigsList.org offer vacation rentals ranging in scope from modest to magnificent.

New players in the home vacation rental arena include PorticoClub.com, a private luxury vacation club targeting affluent consumers. The site features rental residences in 70 vacation destinations around the world. Members pay $2,500 annually for access to listings of one- to eight-room villas, which rent for anywhere from $300 to $3,000 a night, and such services as a personal “Escapist” who helps you plan your vacation and an on-site concierge who helps customize your day-to-day activities. Along with daily housekeeping, some properties feature household staffs, including cooks and gardeners.

“Portico was created in response to the growing trend of people wanting to stay in homes rather than hotel rooms,” says spokeswoman Kathryn Archambault. “All of our listings are top-of-the-line homes that have been vetted. Members don’t have to worry about anything.”

More than 2,500 people have signed up for the service since it launched in 2012, including younger families with children and grandparents looking for the perfect location for multigenerational getaways, says Archambault.

DesignTripper.com focuses on the speedily growing network of for-rent vacation homes, apartments, villas and haciendas and highlights the unique and the unusual. The site doesn’t act as a broker or handle reservations, but it does cull through listings on a variety of rental sites and offers details on the 200-year-old family-owned hacienda down a dirt path from the beach or the French country house nestled in a field of lavender. DesignTripper provides prices and rental contact information. (If you’ve ever clicked through hundreds of listings looking for the perfect home in San Diego, say, you’ll recognize the value of a site like this.)

EducatorsTravel.com offers current and retired teachers and school employees and their immediate families the opportunity to travel the world on a shoestring budget. New members pay $46 to join (and $36 annually after that), for access to more than 6,500 listings around the world. Many are “hosted” stays, (i.e., stays in another member’s guest room; $40 a night for two guests), but the site also has a “Home Stay” option, which allows members to rent an entire house for $50 a night.

At EvergreenClub.com, travelers over 50 who enjoy meeting local residents when they travel can schedule stays in other members’ homes for about $25 per couple, per night. Membership is $75 a year. The club has about 2,500 members in the U.S. and Canada.

Roomorama.com targets travelers with mid- to high-end budgets and bills itself as offering “quality accommodations for the discerning traveler.” The site offers more than 40,000 properties, ranging from spare rooms to entire homes, worldwide. Popular destinations include New York, London, Paris, Sydney and Tokyo.

Airbnb.com is an online marketplace where users can book accommodations in more than 35,000 cities in 192 countries around the world. Rental options range from a spare room for a night to an entire villa for a month, and guests pay through the site, rather than to hosts directly.

Holding Down The Risks

To make home rentals as low-risk as possible — and to avoid online vacation home rental scams, request references, research the owner and property before your stay, and ask for a rental contract signed by both parties. Most rental sites issue consumer alerts and offer extensive information on protecting yourself against online cons. Many offer protection plans for both renters and rentees, so choose one that you’re comfortable with.

Craigslist pulls ads reported to be fraudulent. VacationRentals.com, part of the HomeAway network, “investigates suspicious listings and removes listings for serious or multiple complaints.” Airbnb.com requires both guests and hosts to verify their IDs through social networks and/or by scanning official IDs or confirming personal details.

Other tips: Never wire money to owners via Western Union, Moneygram or other instant wire transfer services.

Pay with a credit card, if you can.

Don’t pay the entire fee upfront. Ask the owner to accept a night’s deposit and pay the rest when you arrive.

If you don’t feel comfortable with a situation, pass