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With Holiday Rentals it’s the Little Things That Make a Difference

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With holiday rentals it’s the little things that make a difference to your stay, the thoughtful extras that can set one property apart from the next, and help to make an experience special.

When you check into a hotel, you come to expect certain amenities depending on the class of hotel you’ve booked. Hotel ratings exist to give you an idea as to the standard of facilities and what you can expect to find in your room, so there are generally no surprises.

At a minimum, you expect some toiletries, a mini bar, and tea and coffee-making facilities. You might then find yourself getting excited by little things like beautiful bath crystals, a fluffy robe, glossy magazines, or a good bottle of wine and quality wine glasses.

With holiday rentals, however, there is no rating system, so everything is a surprise.

While it’s nice not to have any expectations and therefore, theoretically, no disappointments, there are some basics that, after almost four months staying in holiday rentals as part of our year-long grand tour, we have come to expect and believe every host should provide. And then there are the little things that can really make a difference to a stay.

Our HomeAway home in Sardinia is the inspiration for this post, although this is a subject we’ve been mulling for some years, to be honest. In Sardinia, Casa Teulada is one of those properties crammed with so many treats intended to make your stay as comfortable, enjoyable and as special as possible, that you can’t help but be delighted whenever you open a drawer or cupboard.


So what are the basics that we have come to expect in a holiday rental and why should the owner provide these things?

Toilet paper, soap, towels

We’re not asking for a six-pack, just one roll, please. After a long flight and a taxi ride, some things simply can’t wait for a trip to the supermarket, and do you really want guests with dirty hands opening the fridge afterwards? And, yes, we have stayed in a couple of properties where not even a single roll was provided. At the very least, provide one cake of soap, one towel per person and a hand towel.

Breakfast basket

It’s no fun arriving late at night, or on a Sunday when shops are closed, only to have to wake in the morning and get organized without a cup of caffeine. Hotels offer breakfast or are at least in the vicinity of a café where you can buy breakfast, but some holiday rentals are located in the countryside or suburbs where there aren’t shops on every corner. Coffee, tea, a loaf of bread, butter and jam is all that’s needed. However, go with the local customs and local produce if you want to offer a more memorable breakfast. Here in Sardinia, Antonio and Christina left us Nutella and Italian biscuits, in London we were left delicious free-range eggs.

Sugar, salt and pepper

People staying in holiday rentals often love to shop the local markets and love to cook, or at the very least, they like to buy nice local bread, cheeses and cold cuts. Leave them some salt and pepper for their tomatoes and to season their meals, and sugar so they don’t have to buy some. We find we never use all of what we’ve bought and leave a lot behind. These things are cheap, so cost owners little, and can be stored for a long time. Here in Sardinia, our hosts provide both fine and coarse-grained salt! But they’re Italian.

Kitchen equipment

Holiday rental owners who love food know how to fit out kitchens. In London, Dubai and Ceret, we had every kind of kitchen utensil conceivable, from wooden spoons and whisks to spatulas and graters, along with plenty of plates, glasses, cutlery, and pots and pans. In Sardinia, Antonio and Christina provide all the basics plus they have a secret stock of supplies that they make available to foodies who they know will appreciate them. All of these owners enjoy eating and entertaining and it shows. However, we’ve stayed at properties where not even bowls were provided.

So what are the basics? If cooking is not your thing, you can’t go wrong with an IKEA dinnerware starter kits (or two), which includes big white plates, bread plates, bowls, cups, and glasses. IKEA also has sets of utensils and pots and pans.

We’d also add good knives, including a bread knife, a bottle opener, can/tin opener, wooden spoon, tongs, scissors, mortar and pestle, bread board, colander, grater, a tea-pot, an Italian espresso-maker and espresso cups to our essentials list. Fit out the kitchen the way you would your own.

And don’t forget to provide the most basic of kitchen essentials like a plug for the sink, dishwashing liquid, a cleaning cloth, and tea-towels. Think you might have forgotten something? Stay a few days and you’ll soon find out.


These are things that aren’t essential, but they’re things that make a difference to the guest experience and show them that you care.

Bottle of local wine/champagne/beer

Could there be a nicer gesture to welcome people to your home? Your guests have had a long journey, and with everything travelers have to deal with these days from volcanoes to airline strikes, it’s probably been a stressful one. Who doesn’t feel like a drink? See it also as an opportunity to highlight local produce and show off your destination. Here in Sardinia, Antonio and Christina left us a bottle of wine from Santadi winery, a 15-minute drive away, along with local cheese and crostini.

Thoughtful extras include an ice bucket, ice containers in the freezer, a range of good wine glasses, beer mugs and champagne flutes, and a cocktail shaker.

Kitchen Equipment

Include the sort of items you like to have at home. Imagine what would come in handy if you were taking your own family away and cooking for a group. Think: paper towels, utensils like a peeler, soup ladle, a sieve, a potato masher, meat thermometer, a rustic juicer, etc. An apron can come in handy. A nutcracker is a nice thought, especially around Christmas time, as is an egg poacher if you’re offering good local free-range eggs, a fish scaler if the house is near the beach. Think about the local specialties and what people will need to cook and eat them.

Dinner kit

No matter how many great restaurants there might be in the neighbourhood, if your guests have arrived late or after a long journey they might be tired, jet-lagged or just don’t feel like going out. Leave the basic ingredients so they can whip up a quick meal: pasta and a can of tomatoes or pasta sauce is the best thing. In Sardinia, our hosts also provided olive oil, onions and garlic, a local specialty, bottaga, and even a Sardinian cookbook to give us some ideas.


In the days of 20-kilo luggage allowances, even less for low cost airlines, and restrictions on taking liquids on board planes, some basic hotel-size toiletries will be appreciated the first day, especially by families or people who are settling in for a while who intend to buy large-size products when they get to a supermarket. If you really want to make an impression buy some products from a local specialty producer or handmade soaps from the local markets.


People need down time, even when they’re staying in some of the world’s most engaging cities, or it may be that the weather is unexpectedly miserable and they’re just not in the mood for battling the same rain they do at home, families might want to bond over board games, or groups of friends are fed up with charades… games, books, magazines, DVDs and CDs will all be appreciated.

Special extras

Picnic baskets, cookbooks, hot water bottles and bicycles… some holiday rental owners think of everything. The properties we stayed at in Ceret, London and Dubai were also impressive when it came to attention to detail. Like Casa Teulada, they not only offer the basics above, intended to make their guests’ lives a little easier, but also offer little luxuries that make a stay really special. At the London property, we had an iPod docking station and espresso machine; Dubai had a TV room with entertainment system, video games and DVDs; and in Ceret there were guidebooks, maps, decks of cards, dice and board games. In Paris, the DVDs, CDs and books were Paris-themed.

Have you stayed in a holiday rental before or are you planning to? If so, what are some of the things that really impressed you and what are the things you expect next time? If you are an owner of a holiday rental, we’d love to hear what you think too. What are the essentials that you provide? Is there something unusual you offer that sets your property apart from the rest?


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Terence Carter is an editorial food and travel photographer and infrequent travel writer with a love of photographing people, places and plates of food. After living in the Middle East for a dozen years, he settled in South-East Asia a dozen years ago with his wife, travel and food writer and sometime magazine editor Lara Dunston.

33 thoughts on “With Holiday Rentals it’s the Little Things That Make a Difference”

  1. Good post! Such little extras that many vacation rental owners overlook but can make for happy guests who will recommend you to their friends and family later. Although we provide the basics and much more, we’ve taken a hint or two from this piece to make our vacation rental home more comfortable as we would want it for ourselves.

  2. I think I’m switching gear now. No more hotels for us. With 2 kids and a husband, 4 people in a cramped hotel suite is something I’m not looking forward to. I think, for a family like ours, home rental is the way to go. I’ve been scouring HomeAway’s pages already. Thanks for reporting!

  3. When I was growing up, my family always stayed in vacation rentals. I vaguely remember staying in a hotel once or twice, but my memories of ‘exploring’ new houses each year are quite vivid.

  4. I’m starting to browse vacation rentals for a family get together in the U.S. over the holiday season. I was wondering if we could expect to find towels in the bathroom or if we should bring our own?

  5. Essential for me would be kitchen knives. So many times I’ve ended up somewhere trying to chop vegetables with a table knife and it just doesn’t work. Also, a sharpener for said kitchen knives – they’re not much good when they’ve gone dull. Again, the knives don’t have to be expensive (one of my best veg knives came from Woolworths. I miss Woolworths. Sigh.) but something with a sharp blade that can cope with slicing and chopping is really appreciated.

  6. Joanna, once you narrow it down, email the rental person and ask them whether they have towels or not. We use a lot of holiday rentals and I think it is important to check on these things because it is really a pain in the neck to have to run to Walmart on your first day to buy towels. Most usually provide towels but in the US, a lot of them don’t provide beach or pool towels.

    Great post, Lara and Terry. One of the things that I really appreciate is when the owner leaves olive oil (or some other oil) because oil is an expensive purchase and I rarely use the entire bottle for a short stay. In the condo we stayed in Maui, the owners provided pineapple peelers — which are probably the coolest single-use kitchen utensil ever — because Maui pineapples are so famous. They also left us a wonderful fruit basket with pineapple and some other fresh fruits. It is still one of our all time favorite vacation rentals.

    I also would add two more things to your list that I wish more owners would provide: kitchen towels and an oven mitt. Often, an owner will provide one tiny dishcloth which isn’t enough to dry dishes and pots and pans, etc.

  7. Thank you for this post highlighting the differences – unbelievable that owners don’t consider loo paper as essential!!
    Is it really wrong to feel horribly smug that we provide absolutely everything on your list and a few more – logs, free landline calls, etc?! The only thing not at the cottage are bicycles because of a storage problem but we have a great local hirer who will deliver them to wherever you want.
    The problem we have is conveying these differences to potential guests who understandably don’t have the time to do more than scan a website when they are researching their holidays.
    The Visit Britain grading scheme helps but is still only a rough guide as it can’t take account of taste and style but does ensure that specific services and items are provided.
    Let us know if anyone ever wants to come to Updown Cottage in Dorset, UK!

    Best wishes

  8. We stayed in a Holiday Rental last year. The villa was fantastic and very well equipped – everything that you could need was provided EXCEPT for toilet paper and a few basic grocery items whch would have been very welcome. The villa was managed by a company (the owners live in Ireland) and the person left in charge was not particularly good. The directions to where the keys could be picked up were less than clear (it took us over a hour to find the place) and were supposed to be provided with a map to get to our villa in the Altea Hills resort. There was no map. So at about 20:30 we had to find our own way with the help of a local who spoke NO english. Unfortunately this poor start was not the fault of the owners of the villa but the management company – and certainly some toilet paper, bread, milk and coffee would have been a very welcome but obviously was not part of their service. If I was the owner – I would make sure that those basics were provided!

  9. Thanks for your comment Maggie. We’ve found too that some of the people left in charge of the properties are not as thorough as the owners would be if they were there themselves. But conversely, at some places we’ve stayed at the local people left in charge can really open some doors – I’ve learnt to make a local pasta by hand and how to use the outdoor wood-fired pizza oven here in Puglia. And of course, there was plenty of toilet paper as well…

  10. Hi Heather, for us it was either a caravan or a holiday house. Loved holiday houses by the beach the best. Fishing, surfing, home-cooked meals and the occasional fish n chips!



  11. Hi, we’re owners of two holiday homes and enthusiastic holiday makers at holiday homes elsewhere.

    In Scotland there is an excellent grading scheme run by the tourist authority called VisitScotland, and this scheme grades properties according to the facilities which they provide. Star ratings mean that things like basic kitchen equipment must be provided and the grading authority have a checklist which owners can use to ensure they meet the standards. It’s a great way for potential guests to select holiday homes with the standard which they expect. At certain standards things like provision of towels are essential and the minimum requirement is one hand towel and one bath towel per guest.

    We’ve stayed at holiday homes where essential kitchen equipment was missing: our Easter selection had NO WOODEN SPOONS – an oversight we remedied by buying a supply and leaving them behind. And there was a BBQ provided, but no tongs or utensils to turn our burgers – again the next guests will find that we’ve bought them.

    As holiday home owners, we do encourage our guests to let us know about any ‘little irritations’ like this so that we can rectify them for our own guests, so if any of your readers are taking a holiday in a holiday home and find that it’s lacking little extras, why not buy them if they’re a cheap addition or at least let the owners know – don’t suffer in silence or go home moaning, help the owners to get better and improve the place for those who follow!

    Enjoying reading about your round the world adventures and thanks for the great post.


  12. Thanks, Marlys! Glad it was helpful. I think that’s the key – set the place up the way you’d want it, people will love it and happy guests mean more guests in the future, right? Thanks for dropping by!

  13. Hi Keith

    Agree, bicycles are wonderful if you have the weather to enjoy them – sadly, we have rain now :( I’d love a holiday where I didn’t need wi-fi (one day), but at the moment we think it’s a pretty basic requirement obviously.

    Good reading material is great, isn’t it? The Paris place we stayed in had a fantastic collection of everything you could imagine on Montmartre and Paris – photography books, art books, cookbooks, phrasebooks, guidebooks, novels set in Paris, books on history, social life, jazz, architecture, you name it… that would probably be my model destination library.

    We’ll definitely go take a read of your piece – once we get a better internet connection!

    Thanks for dropping by!

  14. Hi JoAnna – based on our experience so far this year we’ve had towels, linen and blankets provided everywhere – although Sarah, who we work with at HomeAway Holiday-Rentals was telling me that many places in the countryside in France don’t provide those things. It’s always a good idea to check the lists on the property’s page on the site and ask the owner some questions. Personally, we think owners should be providing whatever a hotel would normally provide in relation to those things and obviously you bring your own personal toiletries and buy your own food. Though I remember as a child staying in holiday houses in Australia which had furniture and little else and we’d have to take everything, but I had assumed those days were long gone. Perhaps not?

  15. Hi guys, great post and I am really honoured that our Casa Teulada in Sardinia inspired you for such an unparalleled piece of advice to both holiday makers and home owners.
    As Terry says “While it’s nice not to have any expectations and therefore, theoretically, no disappointments, there are some basics that a discriminating traveller comes to expect and believes every host should provide. And then there are some little things that can really make a difference to a stay”. Like you, I’ve been travelling for over 20 years in over 55 countries and hotels around the world have been my home since I was a teenager, so I kind of developed the eye for certain little things which I would expect anywhere and we added a touch of personality in the things we provide in our home, which makes in our opinion the difference in experiencing an unforgettable or a terrible holiday in a “home away from home”. I come to be very picky when selecting a place I am going to stay for a holiday and with the same attitude we designed, furnished and provided our house with all the amenities and little things that could really make a guest feel home. Of course, there is always some kind of trouble when you are not there to manage the property directly, because obviously who owns a place can make a big difference from who manages it. We were lucky enough to find a very authentic local family to do all the managing things on our behalf and that has helped us a lot with most of our guests. We are always aware that such a “unique” feature cannot always be provided as it does not rely on the owner, so we are thankful for that extra bonus. But we never forget – and other owners should think the same, we believe – that such a house is OUR house first, so if we love it and if we loved creating it from scratch, we can’t be wrong when sharing such love and passion with all our guests: the house becomes “alive” and it tells a story, the story of the owner and the guest who chose to stay in a “home away from home” would have probably chosen one house instead of the other because of its message! Not by chance we used the motto on our website: “Casa Teulada – A Place for the Senses”.
    We really can’t think now of extra items to add to your list, as it seems to be quite complete and once again, not being there all the time doesn’t enable us to realize what is missing in the house.
    We believe though that the secret of success for the owner of a holiday home, as well as for the manager of a good business is simply not to take advantage of your customers and being honest. This is the number one rule for a certain kind of success which relies on word of mouth! We witness such thing in what we’ve done so far and we are proud to keep doing it this way, along with striving for improving the quality of the holiday experience at Casa Teulada (the time will come soon for us to move there at least a few months a year, and then the extra bonuses will be activities which will make even more the difference and will – why not – create the alternative job that most people can’t think of, a new way to earn a living!).
    Know what we would add to the list? A little gift to departing guests which makes them remember you dearly when they are home, and helps spreading the word of mouth… (but I understand that such a thing might not be feasable for many home owners).
    Ciao for now and see you soon!

  16. Your article about little things meaning a lot was very useful, and I was pleased to see that I had thought of most of them. IN addition, one thing I like to do for guests is have a lovely bouquet of fresh flowers in their accommodations on arrival. Yours will be waiting for you when you arrive on August 14th at The Casita, Casa Mandu in San Miguel de Allende. Mexico
    Looking forward to meeting you both
    Ruth Hayward

  17. As an owner, it’s often difficult deciding what to provide, that’s why staying in your holiday rental in different seasons will often provide ideas which you wouldn’t have thought of.

    Hot water bottles, for example are appreciated.

    If you are an owner, don’t lock items away which you use whilst holidaying at your rental as guests are also likely to use these.

    Also, it can be useful to provide guests with an inventory before they arrive so they know what to bring.

  18. Thanks, Akila – great tip for JoAnna there!

    Agree re the olive oil, although Terence now carries around a small spray bottle (with his kitchen kit) which he fills with olive oil that we don’t use at the properties, and we leave the rest. We’ve been in Puglia and the caretaker of the property there brought over here own olive oil from her own olive groves, which was absolutely sublime, so Terence made sure to take some of that with us!

    Terence will totally agree with you on the issue of kitchen towels and oven mits too, although must say that Antonio in Teulada seemed to have quite a collection of oven mits and the place we’ve just stayed at in Puglia, which we’ll write about later today, had plenty of tea towels.

  19. Hi Katja: Terence will agree with you re knives. He got so tired of finding bad, blunt knives in places we’ve rented in the past, that for this trip he bought a good knife and a sharpener, and a few other essentials he travels with that we often don’t find in places, like a peeler (for cheese mostly), silicon kitchen tongs, a spatula, etc. He uses them all constantly.

  20. Hi Jane – yes, the loo paper is an odd one, isn’t it?! It was only two places we stayed at that didn’t provide any, and I think one of those was a mistake on the local cleaner’s part rather than the owner who lives in a different country. Some owners told us they give their staff on-the-ground checklists but even then they admitted that they occasionally forgot to replace things. I guess that’s the difference between trained hotel staff and local caretakers doing the job for some extra cash or because they enjoy it.

    That’s handy to know that Visit Britain has a grading scheme for holiday rentals, but if other countries don’t have them (I’ve no idea) then it makes it tricky to compare, doesn’t it? People have to constantly adjust their expectations. And absolutely agree that it doesn’t take account style/taste, and those things also make a difference – whether the owner provides an espresso machine or a coffeemaker that brews (more like ‘burns’) the coffee.

    Thanks for the open invitation to our readers! Very nice of you! :)

  21. Hi Susan – thanks for letting us know about the Scotland grading scheme – Edinburgh will be our last stop of the trip in January 2011 actually.

    How generous of you to buy things and leave them! That’s probably a notion that’s foreign to a lot of people because people wouldn’t go to a hotel for instance and buy things to leave at the hotel, so I expect we all think that owners of holiday rentals should provide certain amenities to save people having to buy them. We’ve been arriving at our properties on Saturday evenings and finding that nothing is generally open until Monday and in some towns where they stay open for half of Saturday the shops are also closed for half of Monday, so sometimes it’s been a bit of a pain to find things not supplied.

    Thanks so much for your feedback! Glad you’re enjoying the blog. :)

  22. Hi Ruth – thanks for your comments and nice to know your place is so well equipped – especially as we’ll be staying there! :) We can’t wait! We just love Mexico! It was the first place we ever travelled to a very long time ago and the last time we were there was the mid-90s so really looking forward to returning. Totally agree re fresh flowers. If they’re not there, I’ll often buy them myself to make our ‘home away’ more like a ‘home’.

    Muchas gracias for dropping by!

  23. This is a very interesting thread on how to equip a holiday home with the things that guests would like to find. We have our own holiday home in Cairns, Australia and take bookings for a small number of other local owners.

    Also on our list of things to have in the house are: torch, candles, matches, (we have cyclones and power failures!) picnic rug and hamper, sewing kit, complimentary milk, fruit and biscuits in fridge, free advance shopping service for late/early arrivals, environmentally friendly shopping bags, cleaning chemicals for the house in case they get the urge to clean, dishwasher and clothes washing powder, plenty of loo paper!, information folder with stuff like what day the rubbish bin is collected, what can go into the recycling bin, local 24 hr medical clinic, tours and adventures in the area, pet friendly parks for those that bring dogs, in fact all the things that I would like to find when I rent a holiday home.

    We always meet guest to hand over keys. We feel that if people get a chance to know you and see that you love your house, they will respect and look after it.
    I am always on the look out for ways to improve our service and make a guests stay more enjoyable, so thank you all for a very interesting read.

  24. Thanks for your comment, Lizzie. I’m sure that your own experiences in renting homes and your hands-on approach is the best to take. We’ve also found so far that owners who live in the same city or actually occasionally stay in the property do better equip the place to allow guests to live like locals as much as possible.
    Respect and looking after the property is something that we’ll be looking into for a post soon.

  25. We provide following items to in our Villa to help families with children. A cot, high chair, bottle warmer and a baby monitor. One more item we are planning to add is a stair gate. We left a Nokia phone charger in the villa and guests have been adding chargers for other makes.

  26. Dear Lara,
    Dear Terrance,
    I think it is amazing what you are doing : sensibilize the home owners in order to present their guests a better holiday accommodation. I made in the past the same experience by all
    holiday homes that I visited with my 3 daughters : I had to wash each utensil in the kitchen before I could use them. I lost every time one day of my holiday to make our stay in the house hygienic. Ok, perhaps I exaggerate a little bit! Now I am the owner of two stone cottages in South Turkey and I know what is important for my guests. The principle problem is that the owner lives for the most of the time far away from his holiday rental. You can not control the quality when you live 1000 miles away. The cleaning ladies are doing their best, But they do not have your soul and your perfection. The” little things that make difference” can do only a sensible owner. Onur Altayli

  27. Hello Onur – thank you for dropping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment. We totally agree with you! We shall have to check out your cottages. We love Southern Turkey. Thanks for visiting!

  28. As the holiday homes provider, we are impressed with your knowledge and attention to details, a must-read for anyone whom seriously consider top notch service experience for their customers.

  29. Thanks! Much appreciated. We’ve had a lot of experience staying in holiday rentals. They’ve been our favourite accommodation option for the last 6 years or so and for the whole of 2010 we only stayed in holiday homes for a ‘grand tour’ project we did in partnership with HomeAwayUK. Thanks for your comment!

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