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13 Little Etiquette Rules to Always Follow in Vacation Rentals

Check these out before you check in.

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Holiday accommodation rental keys for apartment
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The popularity of vacation rentals

Whether looking for a more authentic local experience or to save money by having the option of cooking their own meals, people are turning to vacation rental properties in increasing numbers. In fact, according to a 2019 report from iProperty Management, one in four Americans has used a short-term rental platform, like Airbnb or VRBO. Now that vacation rentals are becoming more mainstream, it’s time to have the discussion about what’s OK—and not OK—to do in this form of accommodation. Traveling with pals? Brush up on the 12 etiquette rules you must follow when traveling with friends.

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Man Adjusting Volume On Wireless Speaker At Home

Keep the volume down

Ideally, you’re always going to be respectful of the people around you, but this is especially the case in a vacation rental. “Usually, rentals are located in [residential] neighborhoods, and though you and your friends are there for the party, try to have to some decorum, please,” Toni Dupree, etiquette expert and coach and author of Straight Up From The Teacup tells Reader’s Digest. Keeping the noise down is important because you don’t want the homeowner’s neighbors to complain: not only because it may negatively impact your own rating, but also because you don’t want to get the owner in trouble with their own neighbors.

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cute golden retriever dog sitting in car trunk with luggage for trip
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Don’t assume a rental is pet-friendly

If a listing doesn’t state the rental is pet-friendly, don’t assume it is. “Owners will typically mark ‘pet-friendly’ if it is, but if it’s unclear, ask before you book if you can bring your pet along and what their pet rules are,” Marco del Rosario, chief operating officer of VacationRenter, tells Reader’s Digest. Aside from pets potentially making a mess— especially if they’re in an unfamiliar environment—they can also make people with allergies sick, whether it’s the owners or future guests, not to mention that some apartment buildings don’t allow dogs. So unless the rental explicitly says pets are welcome, leave Fido at home. And either way, keep these 9 etiquette rules all dog owners should memorize in mind.

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Man arriving from business travel inside the front door of his home.

Assess the place as soon as you get there

When you arrive at your vacation rental, the first thing you should do is scan the entire house for any items that seem damaged, stained, or defective, del Rosario recommends. “Take photos with timestamps, so if the property owner tries to deduct it from your security deposit, you will have solid proof that the damages were already there when you arrived,” he explains.

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home interior
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Let the owners know if it’s not clean when you arrive

“If you notice the rental wasn’t very clean when you first arrived, notify the owner,” del Rosario says. “Cleanliness should be of utmost importance to owners, and all feedback is helpful, so they can improve next time around.” Plus, this way you give the owners a chance to rectify the situation by sending a cleaner as soon as you get there, so you can enjoy a tidy rental during your stay.

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straw hat and colorful clothes in luggage on wooden floor. empty nobody in messy white bed in bedroom packing suitcase for travel abroad summer vacation holidays. mirror by window at dressing table.
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Don’t trash the place

While most vacation rentals have built-in cleaning fees, you definitely don’t want to leave the place in disarray, Dupree says. “Always treat the rental like you would want someone to treat your home, but better,” she explains. As a side benefit, staying tidy helps keep cleaning costs down for the owner—and future guests—but it also benefits you by allowing you to keep track of your belongings. Looking for more tips on good manners? Here are 50 little etiquette rules you should always practice.

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white bedding
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Strip the beds

As a rule of thumb, remove all bedding and put it in the laundry room before you leave, del Rosario says. If there’s not a laundry room, place the bedding on top of each bed. “This process will make it easier for housekeeping and ensure all items get cleaned,” he explains.

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Glass broken dishes wine glass tea cups sauser spoon with fragments on modern rustic wood background with text copy space
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Let the owner know if something breaks

If you accidentally break something while you’re staying in a vacation rental, don’t try and cover it up. Instead, Dupree recommends that you call the owner of the property to let them know what happened. It’ll be better coming from you than having them find something broken after you check out. Along the same lines, Dupree says that you should never take it upon yourself to fix something in the house unless you’ve already discussed it with the owner. You, as a house guest, are probably not covered by their insurance, so do everyone a favor and leave the repairs to the pros.

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Hanging White Towel draped on Exposed Concrete Wall in the Bathroom

Don’t leave wet or dirty towels on the floor

Not only is this about respecting someone else’s property, but it’s also a cleanliness issue. “Place all used towels in the laundry room or in a pile on the bathroom floor,” del Rosario notes. If a few days pass between when you check out and when the home is cleaned, the towels could get moldy or musty, ruining them for the owners and future guests. Not only that, but wet towels could potentially warp a wood floor.

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Sugar, tea , cookies and coffee beans for breakfast in pantry shelf

Replace anything you use from of the cabinets

Sure, the kitchen cupboards may be filled with food, but unless the rental agreement specifically says that you’re welcome to eat the food provided, Dupree says that you should replace anything you ate. Not only will this help the owners keep the rental costs down, but it means less work for them—in the form of grocery shopping—between guests. Good manners are essential at the dinner table—these are 10 table etiquette mistakes you really need to stop making.

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Leave a thank-you note

Some vacation rentals come with a guest book like you’d find in a bed and breakfast or small inn, where guests can leave the owner’s notes about their stay. Dupree suggests writing a thank-you note for the owners of the property letting them know how much you appreciate the rental, what you liked about it, and that you would be happy to come back and rent it again. You can do this with an actual paper note left in the rental after you check out, or you could leave a positive review (if the property deserves one) on the booking site. If you take this more public option, it won’t just make the owners feel good and provide feedback, but it will also help your fellow travelers learn about the home before they book it. Here are 8 other times you should leave a thank-you note.

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kitchen garbage
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Toss out food that can expire

If you don’t finish all of your kitchen and food products—like coffee creamer or sugar—it’s acceptable to leave these items in the fridge and pantry so others can use them, del Rosario says. But do make sure to get rid of your half-eaten leftovers or quickly-perishable items. Mold can make people sick, and you definitely don’t want to be the one who left food to rot.

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Take out the garbage

Many vacation rentals will provide instructions on what to do with the trash at the end of your stay, but when it doubt, take it out. If there are a few days before the owners or cleaners can get to the property, the garbage could get smelly inside the house—not to mention attract rodents or ants.

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Talk to the owner before leaving a bad review

If your stay didn’t go as expected and you’re thinking of posting a bad review, try talking it through with the owner first, del Rosario says. “They will appreciate the opportunity to make it right because reviews will affect future bookings, and you can tell the entire story in your future review, including how the owner handled the feedback.” Plus, it will give them the chance to improve their property for other guests and score those five-star reviews. Inspired to travel? Find out the most popular Airbnb in every state.

Elizabeth Yuko
Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and journalist covering politics, public health, pop culture, travel and the lesser-known histories of holidays and traditions for Reader's Digest. She's always mentally planning her next trip, which she'll base around visits to medical museums or former hospitals, flea markets, local cuisine and stays in unusual Airbnbs or historic hotels.