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Homes away from home.

CALLIE HULSLANDER COOPER, 45, and her sister, Cristin Hulslander, 43, hoped to surprise their parents with a family trip to Hawaii in December. "We knew we wanted something private," Cooper says, "something unique--not your typical hotel or resort." The gallery owner from Bigfork, Montana, found just that on HomeAway (homeaway.com): a secluded, three-bedroom house rental in Hilo (above).

"It felt completely isolated and serene in the jungle," Cooper says. "We woke up to the sound of birds, not the neighboring room's door slamming shut." The house was big enough to accommodate her family group of eight--for just a fraction of what they would've spent on a Big Island hotel.

Not that long ago, Cooper's wish list would've been harder to meet. But in the past few years, home- and apartment-rental services like HomeAway have boomed in popularity, and now it's easier than ever for travelers to get custom-fit accommodations. Here, we provide a playbook for finding your ideal escape.

HOMEAWAY

HOMEAWAY.COM; VRBO.COM

625,000 LISTINGS

163 COUNTRIES

If you don't like the notion of lodging in a stranger's personal space, HomeAway has two sites (home away.com and vrbo.com) that may be just right for you. "These are homes specifically outfitted for guests," says HomeAway's Jaime Dito. "They're not someone's primary residence." So what's the difference between these rentals and those run by an agency? Personal attention. Take the Hilo house that Cooper rented: Owners Jack and Jane Stevenson live nearby to maintain the house for guests. "We want visitors to walk through the door and feel like no one's ever been there before," Jack says. The Austin, Texas-based company is in the process of combining listings for homeaway.com and vrbo.com.

BEST FOR Travelers who really don't want to see anyone else's clutter.

SUNSET TIP

Most of the company's properties are listed on both sites. Each is easy to use, with interactive maps that allow you to browse rentals by region, as well as standard search engines for researching specific destinations. But we prefer the simpler design of homeaway.com.

THE HIGH-DESIGN DESERT COTTAGE

Glass walls provide views of the Sonoran Desert and Catalina Mountains from this 1-bedroom, 1-bath house (left), built in 2013. Details include a 2-person glass shower, bamboo ceilings, and quartzite decks. From $90 (the average cost of a 2-person hotel room in Tucson: $88); 7-night min.; $95 cleaning fee; homeaway.com/ vacation-rental/ p3591063.

THE TROPICAL RETREAT

Surrounded by rain forest above the Wailuku River, this 3-bedroom, 3.5-bath home (top) is a 1.4-mile stroll to the farmers' market in friendly Hilo. There are hot and cold soaking tubs and a 25-foot waterfall in the front yard. From $315 (the average cost of a 2-person hotel room on the Big Island: $214); 6-night min.; $200 cleaning fee; homeaway.com/ vacation-rental/ p309336.

AIRBNB

AIRBNB.COM

600,000 LISTINGS

192 COUNTRIES

Why stay in a cookie-cutter hotel when there are tree-houses, train cars, and yurts to rent? Airbnb, which is based in San Francisco, specializes in unconventional accommodations, though it has plenty of traditional apartments and homes in its database too. Unlike HomeAway, most of Airbnb's rentals are listed by residents; some rent a spare room, while others offer up an entire apartment when they leave town. That means you may get to stay in neighborhoods that downtown hotel-goers can't access. It also means close interaction with hosts--a turnoff to some, but clearly not all. "Having a local contact feels so welcoming," says Ali Drennan, who rented an Airbnb apartment in San Francisco last summer. "Our host tipped us off to some amazing spots in the Mission, like Four Barrel Coffee."

BEST FOR People who like a bargain and prefer being houseguests to hotel guests.

SUNSET TIP

Airbnb's Social Connections feature allows hosts and potential guests to use Facebook to correspond--and, say, check to see if they share any mutual contacts--before booking.

THE PALM SPRINGS VILLA

Once owned by Bing Crosby, this 1934 hacienda (top) has 4 bedrooms, 4 baths, and a heated pool framed by lush bougainvillea, palms, and stunning views of the San Jacinto Mountains. From $675 (the average cost of a 2-person hotel room in Palm Springs: $123); 3-night min.; $200 cleaning fee; airbnb.com/ rooms/722266.

THE URBAN ESCAPE

A classic 1 885 Victorian in San Francisco's hip Liberty Hill Historic District, this 2-bedroom, 2-bath (left) was recently renovated. There are 2 fireplaces inside and a spacious, shaded patio out back. Dolores Park, along with some of the city's hottest restaurants and bars, is within a few blocks' walk. From $400 (the average cost of a 2-person hotel room in San Francisco: $ 176); 2-night min.; $ 180 cleaning fee; airbnb.com/ rooms/1516545.

THE JAPANESE-STYLE TREEHOUSE

Set amid redwoods on a working organic farm near Nehalem, Oregon, this solar-powered 1-bedroom cabin (above) was built from salvaged cedar. A wood-burning stove, Japanese paper lanterns, and local artwork decorate the simple interior. Manzanita Beach is a 15-minute drive west. From $ 125 (the average cost of a 2-person hotel room in the area: $ 179); airbnb.com/ rooms/921289.

FLIPKEY

FLIPKEY.COM

275,000 LISTINGS

179 COUNTRIES

Consider it a combo of HomeAway and Airbnb: FlipKey (flipkey. com) lists vacation properties owned and used by individuals. In other words, when the hosts aren't staying in these places on their own getaways, they're yours. The Boston-based company is owned by TripAdvisor, and its properties are listed on that site (tripadvisor.com) as well.

BEST FOR Comparison shoppers who want a side-by-side look at vacation rental and hotel options, which they can get by going to TripAdvisor's website and searching by destination.

SUNSET TIP

Every week, FlipKey lists a handful of deals (30 percent off select Maui rentals, for instance) on its home page--ideal if you want to get away but don't have a specific destination in mind.

THE ISLAND MANOR

This 5-bedroom, 3-bath New England-style home on Whidbey Island (top left), one hour north of Seattle, has private beach access to Puget Sound. A bird sanctuary borders the property. From $ 190 (the average cost of a 2-person hotel room on Whidbey: $114); 2-night min.; $50 cleaning fee; flipkey.com/clinton-vacation-rentals/ p642170.

THE MOUNTAIN CHALET

The slopes of Breckenridge Ski Resort are just down the road--and wooded trail--from this 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath A-frame (top right). The wraparound porch and second-story balcony each have clear views of the Rockies, and there's a private cedar sauna in the yard. From $150 (the average cost of a 2-person hotel room in Breckenridge: $197); 3-night min.; $ 100 cleaning fee; flipkey. com/breckenridgevacation-rentals/ p680540.

THE RIVERFRONT CABIN

The fly-fishing-friendly Gallatin River frames this 3-bedroom, 3-bath cabin (left), set on 30 rural acres near Bozeman. The porch offers views of the jagged Gallatin Range, and Yellowstone National Park is a 1 1/2-hour drive to the southeast. From $375 (the average cost of a 2-person hotel room in Bozeman: $95); 2-night min. during high season (Apr 1-Oct 31); flipkey.com/ bozeman-cabinrentals/p597272.

DIGITAL BONUSES Ready to pack your bags? For more Airbnb recommendations from Sunset editors, head to: sunset.com/airbnbwishlist.

Want to rent out your own place? Read about features editor Christine Ryan's first attempt at renting out her apartment on Airbnb: sunset.com/hosttips.
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Title Annotation:LODGING
Author:Minarcek, Andrea
Publication:Sunset
Date:May 1, 2014
Words:1205
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