With the holiday season fast approaching Kenyans are – surprise, surprise. Still not making their holiday plans. It doesn’t quite feel last-minute just yet. Last minute: that window of time when Kenyans actually get stuff done. When reports are submitted, when bills are paid, when we go to the hospital just in time to avoid impending death, and when one finally calls their travel agent to ask about that Mombasa package they saw three months ago on their Facebook page. Sorry, it’s sold out! However, do not give up just yet. There is hope as always for the last-minute Kenyan. Self-catering vacation rentals are becoming popular with Kenyans. They are much more affordable than hotels especially for families or large groups of friends. So once you realize you have missed out on all of those Mombasa SGR or flight packages you now quickly hop onto Booking.com and the likes to make a last-ditch effort at booking a vacation rental that ends up being subpar to your expectations. Well, here are 6 tips on choosing the right vacation rental to ensure your vacation rental meets your expectations.


  1. Check the reviews and the overall rating
  2. Use a trusted booking site or travel agent to make your reservation
  3. Scrutinize the pictures of the property thoroughly
  4. Contact the owner/property manager before you make your booking and get clarification on anything
  5. Familiarize yourself with the property rules
  6. Whenever possible go for a property recommended to you by someone you know personally

1. First and Foremost, Reviews

The importance of going through reviews cannot be overstated. Basically, someone else went ahead and made a reservation, paid money, and actually stayed at a property and is now giving you a first-hand account of what their stay was like. It does not get any more real than that. All in all some degree of shrewdness should be called upon when sifting through reviews.

There are three steps to determining how good a property is based on reviews. One, how high is it rated? Out of 5, you should be looking for ratings of 4.0 and above. Out of 10, go for 8.0 and above and similarly out of 100% go for 80% and above. Once you’ve narrowed it down to properties with such ratings next go for properties with the most reviews. A rating of 4.5/5 averaged from 500 people is a much better indicator of quality compared to the same rating averaged from 3 people. 3 people could even be the property owners who opened individual accounts just to review their property. Finally, read actual reviews. A property may have generally good reviews and a good rating but guests keep complaining about one particular issue that may be a dealbreaker for you.

Also while reading reviews, a host who takes time to respond to both the positive and negative reviews is always a good sign. At the very least it shows the host cares about what his or her guests think of their stay and are more often than not likely to make improvements. Going through reviews should be the first thing on your mind when choosing the right vacation property.

2. Booking on the Right Platform

Or using a trusted travel agent is just as important as going through reviews. Why? Because money is involved. Usually, sites like Booking.com, Expedia and the likes have measures in place to protect your money. Payments are made to these sites and not directly to the property. The reservation is made but payment is withheld until a time just before your stay, therefore, allowing for cancellations if you have a change of heart. Sometimes one has the option of paying cash on arrival thereby completely eliminating the risk of paying for something one has not seen.

Using a travel agent is also a good idea. Normally, travel agents have established relationships with some of the properties. They have organized stays for other clients and can vouch for the legitimacy and quality of a particular vacation rental. If you are not comfortable using your card on booking sites – the paranoia is completely understandable – travel agents can handle payments on your behalf hence mitigating the risk of losing your money. The point is to only transfer money on a platform you trust, a travel agent you know or under risk-free conditions.

3. Pictures, Amenities, and Location

Making purchases based on pictures one saw online can go one of two ways. Either the product is as depicted in the pictures or it is not. However, when booking your vacation rental you do not have the luxury of visiting each property before-hand to inspect it. One has no option but to trust the pictures as well as the list of amenities. The good news is that booking platforms usually have some standards expected of property managers when uploading images of their property. Scrutinize the images. Look for signs that may hint at the actual quality of the property such as the type of furniture, the general cleanliness of the property, the landscaping of the compound and so on. Pictures of bedrooms and other rooms are also important in judging the quality of the property.

Another thing to be on the lookout for is photos of some of the amenities listed on the property’s profile. If a property claims to have a swimming pool there should definitely be a picture of the swimming pool. The photo of the swimming pool should have the main house in-frame or at the very least feel consistent with the landscaping of the property. That is how you know the swimming pool actually exists at the property.

Thirdly, find out as much as possible about the exact location of the property. More often than not most vacation rentals are located in posh estates or prime locations. Apps such as Google Maps come in handy including the Street View feature that can allow one to view a 3D real image of the location with the property appearing in the view. Although, this feature may be limited in some areas. All this leads us to our next point.

4. Contact the Property Owner and Ask Questions

Once you make a reservation, firstly you are not charged immediately. Making a reservation on a booking platform allows you to contact the property owner. Use this opportunity to find out as much as possible about the property. Ask about amenities that are crucial to your decision making criteria. Have it on record the property manager confirming this and the other and giving you assurances on your points of concern.

One particularly notorious cause of dissatisfaction is usually on the sleeping arrangement. A property manager will tell you, “Yes, the property can hold 15 guests.” However, they may fail to mention that in order to accommodate that number of guests some may be forced to share beds or beds may be set up in odd rooms such as the living room which may not be what you were expecting. Always ascertain the sleeping arrangement and make sure it is acceptable for your group or family.

Some of the holiday homes even have independent websites where they list their full contact information. While dealing with a property owner outside of the booking platform is not advised it could be a good opportunity to get more information quickly and to have a sense of the kind of person you are dealing with. We Kenyans are tough interrogators especially when our money is at stake. We have the uncanny ability to smell a con miles away. That being said when it comes to payments revert back to the booking platform and do not send money directly to a property owner.

5. Read the Property Rules

Vacation rentals usually have some rules and they can be read on the property’s profile on a booking platform. While you may be savoring the feeling of being an esteemed client having the property owner address your concerns at your beck and call, remember the property owner is also assessing you. Some property owners are very particular about the types of guests they will host and those they will not host. Most property managers have strict rules about noise and interactions with other guests staying at the property as you may not always rent out the whole property exclusively for you and your party. Rules around pets are common. Some properties allow them while others do not. Others may not be too keen on hosting smokers usually because of complaints from other guests and so on.

Make sure you read and understand the rules. One can also make special requests to have the owner allow one to bend a few rules especially on the check-in and check-out times. At the end of the day, booking a vacation rental is first and foremost a human interaction between you, the guest, and the host. Therefore, lots can be discussed and agreed upon. It is not necessarily a contract negotiation with hard lines.

6. Got Any Recommendations?

Relax. This is not an interview. What is meant here is that if you’re lucky enough to know a friend or family member or colleague who has stayed at a particular property they may recommend the property to you if they enjoyed their stay. This would be the ideal scenario. A friend has been to a property, say, in Naivasha. You are planning a getaway this weekend and they tell you they know this great place right on the shores of L.Naivasha. The property is posh. The staff members are quite professional and friendly. Oh, and here are a few things to avoid that your friend wishes they had known before staying at the property. All in all, it was a good experience and they strongly recommend it. This way you can make your payments and go for your getaway stress-free.

If someone you know and trust recommends a property it is almost always going to be a smooth and good experience for you as well. However, if you do not have such a recommendation from someone you know personally then refer to the tips on choosing the right vacation rental listed above.

Lastly, avoid the last-minute rush. Email us at sales@starlucktravel.com to plan your holiday early. From Mombasa packages to safari packages, vacation rentals, and international packages.

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