Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The inside scoop on beach rentals

Joyce Copeland's love affair with vacation rentals started about a decade ago, when she was planning a vacation for her extended family and spotted a newspaper ad for short-term rentals in Lake Tahoe.

"I was astounded by how little money we'd have to spend, and we could bring the dogs," she says.

Joyce often travels with husband Gary and their three canines.

On her way to Tahoe from her home in Northern California, she worried whether the home she'd rented for family coming in from California, Colorado and Arizona would live up to its description. Luckily, the cabin suited their needs to a T. It was close to casinos for those who liked to gamble and near five hiking trails for others who preferred the great outdoors.

"I was so totally blown away by how perfect it was that I started looking for books [evaluating vacation rentals]," says Copeland. When she couldn't find one, she spotted a niche and decided to write one herself.

It wasn't a total leap into the unknown. After taking a degree in magazine journalism, Copeland worked as an editor at Endless Vacation, a travel magazine for time-share owners. Later, she started writing for the high-tech industry. But around the time she rented the place in Tahoe, the dot-com world imploded and the idea of returning to travel writing seemed particularly appealing.

The result was several books on beach rentals in California. Then Copeland decided it was time to use the Internet to broaden her reach, and the Beach Vacation Rental Scout website was born in early 2009.

Copeland reviews rentals of all sorts--from modest to luxurious--along the California coast, and has plans to branch out to other American coastlines. She does her reviews based on stays (called In-Person Reviews, such as this report on Sanctuary by the Sea Pacific Grove) or detailed interviews with the property owner (called Snapshots, such as this piece on the Laughing Buddha Beach House in Pismo Beach).

Both types of reviews include insider tips from the owners about their favourite things to see and do in the neighbourhood--one of the key selling points of the site, says Copeland. The site also includes separate sections on pet-friendly homes and properties suitable for reunions.

After years of inspecting plumbing, testing ovens, evaluating linens and assessing the quality of ocean views, does Copeland ever get tired of sussing out beach rentals? Not at all. "It's just so diverse that, no, I never do," she says.

She's a passionate advocate for the advantages of rentals over hotels. "There's just such of wealth of things that you can do at a beach house," she says. "And to have your own private house--it almost makes you feel rich."