12 Tips for Great Self Catering Holidays
A self catering holiday offers independence, flexibility and of course are ideal holidays for pet owners.
They also offer the chance to stay in a village or community, and experience a bit more of local life than a hotel stay might offer.
Self catering holidays can also mean the chance to stay in a home with a really wonderful location – perhaps on the beach, in a wooded glen, somewhere remote, or in the heart of a country village.
As well as a lovely location self catering holidays also offer the chance to stay somewhere different from your home – a chocolate box thatched cottage, a historic property or simply somewhere with a wonderful log burner or fireplace to gather round.
Self catering holidays, or holiday rentals as they are sometimes known, are a great choice of holiday with everything from self catering apartments, to cute cottages and everything inbetween (including castles!).
There are some things to be mindful of if you haven’t stayed in this type of holiday accommodation before and are perhaps more used to a hotel than a cottage or an apartment.
As a solo traveller I often go self catering, and for most of our family holidays have been self catering holidays because we have dogs.
This list includes some things to check before you book your accommodation and tips to help you have a great holiday experience. It’s based on some of the mistakes we learned the hard way over the years!
Before You Book Your Self Catering Holiday
1. Use Filters To Find Your Self Catering Holiday Home Quickly
There are thousands upon thousands of self catering properties available so use filters to find the ones that suit your needs quickly.
You can generally filter properties by type of property i.e. house, chalet, cottage and then by property facilities such as number of bedrooms, garden and parking.
You can also filter by who is going to be using the property for example the number of guests, and whether it is pet friendly or children welcome properties.
Further filters help find properties that have things you need – for me that’s always wifi and a woodburner or fireplace!
2. Read The Details Thoroughly
Read through all the details of the property that you are interested in to check the layouts, features and what is included.
Sometimes parking can be away from the property which isn’t ideal with dogs or children so this may require clarification from the company or the owner.
If Wifi is really important to you it might be worth checking that it is available throughout the whole property. We have had a couple of holidays where the reception has only been available in downstairs rooms or in one particular spot which has made doing some work a bit difficult.
3. Read The Reviews
Reviews are from previous guests so this is often the best place to see if there are any problems such as maintenance issues, things not being fixed, problems with arrival or mismatch between the property details and the experience.
Read them before you hit the book button!
4. Double Check What Is Included at Your Self Catering Property
Holiday properties vary from one owner to another so don’t assume anything.
Here are the things I always double check for each property;
Whether towels or linens are provided.
I don’t want to be making up and changing beds on the first day so if there is no linen included I won’t be booking.
Whether fuel/heating is included.
This is sometimes a bit opaque from the booking information on the website so you may need to double check with the company or owner direct.
I would always recommend doing this as we had a really unpleasant holiday experience where the heating was turned off during the day completely. It was November in the Highlands of Scotland and it was freezing. We spent the holiday huddled around an open fire because it was so cold. It really affected our holiday experience especially as everywhere was thick with snow at the time.
Whether the garden is attached and enclosed.
We have stayed at a couple of properties where there has been an enclosed garden advertised, however it has not been attached to the house, for example it was across a road or up a shared path. This isn’t ideal when you have dogs and want to let them out into the garden.
Again it is another thing worth checking if this is going to be important to you otherwise you will have to take your dogs outside every single time.
It’s also worth checking if the garden is secure. I have two small miniature dachshunds and they are quite tiny so a garden that is suitable for bigger dogs and quite secure for them is a free for all for my dogs with gaps they can easily get out of.
5. Think About Insurance and Decide If It’s a Good Option For You
Most holiday rental companies will offer you some sort of insurance when you are booking your holiday.
The policies vary but will often cover things like holiday cancellation and damage to the property.
If you are unsure about the value of this policy ask to see the details. You may be covered for cancellation on your travel insurance, especially if you have annual travel insurance, although you may need to double check this covers holidays in the UK.
Like anything – read the small print before you commit your money!
Before You Travel
6. Place an online delivery order to be delivered around two hours after you arrive.
This works really well and saves spending the first day shopping in somewhere unfamiliar and it also helps the holiday budget too by ordering what is needed. If you plan out your meals this can be a great way to help keep to a holiday budget.
Ordering two hours after arrival allows for some traffic delays and you can of course order for a later delivery if you are travelling further.
Ordering earlier than two hours after arrival just puts far too much pressure on the journey, worrying you are going to miss your delivery.
Double check the delivery address for your order. Sometimes the system will default to your home address, so ensure the address is right before you place your order. Yes we learned that the hard way too!
Order something simple and easy to cook for the first night so you don’t have to rush out – pasta and pudding is our easy meal choice.
Ordering something easy for breakfast the following day will make a relaxing start to your holiday. It can be really difficult to get a full breakfast done when you are cooking on a unfamiliar cooker – croissants, porridge, cereals are easy morning options.
To help budgetting and planning decide a rough plan for your meals.
Eating lunch out can often be cheaper so on holiday we often eat breakfast and a light tea at home and eat out during the day. We generally have a takeaway one or two nights while we are away just so it doesn’t feel like someone is spending their whole time in the kitchen.
Another Top Tip
Don’t forget to include toilet rolls in your order as often there won’t be a huge supply at your holiday home.
7. Take Some Essentials From Home
You don’t want to be spending loads of money buying things that you have perfectly good supplies of at home and then spending lots of time packing stuff up and bringing it back at the end of the holiday. Taking a few essentials from home saves money and time.
Teabags and coffee, dog treats, something to nibble on when you arrive and some milk are usually the basics. Taking things like pasta and other cupboard staples will help you having to buy more than you might need while away and then having to bring it back.
If you are staying somewhere with a wood burning stove or fireplace then Cooks Matches are good to take, or a gas fire lighter.
Things To Take With You
If you are planning on doing a bit of cooking while on your self catering holiday then taking your own knives might save you a lot of frustration.
Often the knives in the holiday home are not as good as the ones at home, making food preparation a bit more difficult and time consuming, not to mention dangerous – blunt knives are awful!
Not only are the knives often not as good quality as the ones you have at home, especially if you have nice knives, there often isn’t the same variety of knives, meaning you end up trying to chop things with a tiny knife. Very frustrating!
Can Opener and Bottle Opener
These two items are two of the things that can go missing at holiday homes.
Of course someone should check these things are there before you arrive but we live in an imperfect world so I would recommend just taking it and saving the hassle of having to organise if they are not there.
Blankets and Towels for Pets (Also Upholstery Cleaner)
Taking blankets and towels for pets means you can easily clean up any accidents, spillages or just dry off your dogs if they come in wet from the garden or back from the beach.
Most dog owners have dog towels so taking these with you will ensure you don’t have to worry about messing up the property towels.
A spray upholstery cleaner will enable you to clean up any mess on the carpet left by your dogs.
Top Tip If Your Dog Pees on a Carpet
Dachshunds are notoriously difficult to house train so I’ve had to clear up lots of accidents.
A great way to get dog pee out of a carpet is to fold up a towel, place it over the pee and then walk on the spot, on the towel.
Don’t do this in bare feet otherwise you will end up with wet feet.
After a few minutes the pee will lift out of the carpet onto the towel and you will not be able to see where the dog has peed.
You may need to use another towel or refold to get it all out and maybe reposition the towel depending on the size of the accident.
8. Ease Yourself In With An Easy First Evening and First Morning
If you have ordered your shopping to be delivered then it is just a case of finding the kettle and getting a cup of tea on the go whilst you unpack your belongings and wait for shopping to arrive.
Check everything is working OK so you can raise any maintenance issues quickly with the owner.
Enjoy an easy meal on your first evening to take a bit of pressure off and to give you a chance to get familiar with your new surroundings and the local area.
Often self catering holiday homes will have a selection of leaflets about the local area or a folder with information in. This can have helpful information about local places to eat as well as things to do.
A bit of local research is always a good idea.
Having an easy breakfast makes an easier start to the first full day of your holiday.
It can be pretty stressful trying to cook a full breakfast for everyone at the best of times, let alone on a strange cooker.
9. Share Out the Tasks
One of the main differences of a self catering holiday compared to a hotel is that there is no housekeeping coming in and tidying up.
Having to organise all your own meals can mean that catering can become a bit of a burden.
The property is likely to be much bigger and there will be some need to do cleaning and tidying during the week, on top of the need to do some catering.
Having been on a number of self catering families it can often fall to the same people to do all the chores.
This means that their holiday is not quite as relaxing as everyone else’s.
Having a holiday rota can really help with this and of course agreeing it in advance will really help avoid any build up of tension or resentment.
Children can help out with tasks too and if everyone does a little bit it makes the holiday experience much better for everyone.
10. Last Evening
The last evening is still your holiday and making it something a bit special and different can help avoid turning it purely into the night before you go home.
Having a takeaway can be a great way to have fun and relax a little bit on the last evening.
It means there isn’t so much clearing up to do and there isn’t the pressure of having to prepare something to eat.
This then gives some time to do a bit of packing up reading for departure the following morning, rather than having a mad frantic rush at the last minute.
Check you know what the requirements are for linens and towels. Some property owners ask that the beds are stripped of their bedlinen before guests leave for example so checking the night before will ensure you know what needs doing.
If fuel and/or electricity hasn’t been included then you might need to arrange payment for this. Sometimes property owners can require a meter reading and they will then charge for electricity used. Thankfully this is much less common than it was as it’s a bit of a pain and makes holiday budgetting a bit more difficult.
11. Last Morning
Do a room by room double check of everything before you leave.
Make sure everything is as you left it and that you haven’t left anything behind. It’s always worth double checking drawers and cupboards.
Taking a photo of the rooms as you are about to leave can be helpful just in case there was any sort of confusion or disagreement about the property after you have left.
Some properties require a deposit for damage which you then get back at the end of your holiday once they have been in to make sure everything is there and everything is OK.
However, by that time you will have left. In such cases you can ask that the owner does the property inspection while you are there, but this might not always be possible so taking photos might be worthwhile.
After Your Holiday
12. Leave A Review
Your review will help others decide whether to stay in the property you did or not.
If you haven’t given the owner a chance to rectify a problem or an issue at the time it can be unfair to put a comment about this in the review.
Likewise, if you did give them a chance to rectify an issue and they were unwilling to do anything then this is something that other guests should know about.
Mention anything you found locally that might be helpful to other guests – nice local pub, café or restaurant for example or takeaway that delivers to the property.
Think about the reviews that you found helpful when you were looking at booking your self catering holiday.
Longer Term Lettings
If you are interested in going self catering for longer there are some great deals. These apply more to longer term lets overseas rather than in the UK.
If the idea of spending a month or more in one place is as appealing to you as it is to me then check out a couple of my favourite sites for slower travel inspiration.
Longer Term Lettings literally has places all over the world. You can search by monthly rentals and then use your search criteria to find the properties and countries that suit you.
Staying somewhere for a month or so seems an ideal way to experience more of the life as a local.
Another site that I really like is Rent A Place in France. They have some really lovely properties and the prices are great. It’s a much cheaper way than taking a weekly rental for 4 weeks.
Another way to travel on a self catering basis but without any accommodation costs is to do some house sitting. There are lots of sites around this theme and I will be writing a much longer piece in it in the future. For now here are a couple of sites that I have been checking out.
Trusted House Sitters – this seems to be one of the largest sites. There are house and pet sitting jobs all over the place.
House Sitters UK – this seems quite a big site too with a good amount of choice.
There is generally a small fee to join these sites and then you apply for opportunities. Whilst I haven’t done this myself I know someone who has and once you get a good reputation it can be a great way to travel.
You could swap homes completely just like Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet did in the film The Holiday.
The Guardian has a home swap site which is free to join.
Homelink has a good choice of properties and has been going since 1993 which has got to be good. It’s £115 per year to become a member.
There are plenty of sites and membership costs vary. Some are monthly, some are yearly and the prices tend to be over the £100 per year mark.
Self Catering Search
If you are interested in searching for a self catering holiday then you can search on VRBO and quickly find a property that suits your needs.
Search Filters Include;
- Property Type – houses, cottages, cabins and bungalows.
- Property Area – county, region or city.
- You then need to choose specific dates for your stay. Unfortunately there is not option to select a whole month or cheapest period.
- Guest Type and Number – number of adults, children and pets you will get search results.
Refining Search Results
At the top of the search column there are a number of options that you can filter the results by;
- Free cancellation – you can filter according to the cancellation policy
- You can use the slider for price per night to refine your results further
- The results are for any bedrooms but you can do an exact match for;
- The number of bedrooms
- Number of bathrooms
- Highly rated for cleanliness
- Highly rated location
- 4 stars
You can also choose a location to filter the results further including;
- Beach, ocean, waterfront, village, beachfront, beach view, rural, city centre, lake, mountains, ski in or out, golf course
- Premier Host – these are hosts which have consistently provided great experiences
- Virtual tour
- Rooms and spaces – kitchen, dining room, living room, outdoor space
- House Rules – pets allowed, children welcome, smoking allowed, events allowed
- Cottage house, bungalow, barn, apartment, chalet, cabin, mobile home/caravan, bed and breakfast, studio, guest house, chateau/stately home, farmhouse, boat, mill, castle, yacht, hotel, estate, town house, houseboat, resort, tower
- Safety – smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detector
- Booking Options – instant confirmation, 24 hour confirmation
Parking available, internet or wi-fi, garden, hot tub, garden hot tub, pool, washing machine, dryer, hob, oven, bed linen provided, TV, dishwasher, private pool, fireplace, microwave, barbecue, iron & board, baby cot, patio or terrace, baby high chair, air conditioning, balcony, properties good for families
Spa & wellness, theme park, zoo or wildlife, walking, museums, shopping, golfing, hiking, fishing, wineries or breweries, horse riding, cycling, water sports, scuba diving/snorkelling, tennis, rock or mountain climbing, winter activities, casinos
Wheelchair accessible, lift