Booking a vacation rental is quickly becoming one of the most popular ways to enjoy a holiday in Bali. The delight of stepping foot into your own tropical sanctuary and getting to spend your holidays like a queen and king can change the way you look at holidays.
Vacation rentals are great for privacy and space, but there’s a lot that can get in the way of your perfect holiday. Being in the hospitality industry for over 8 years in Bali, I’ve learned some clear signals of a perfect property and also some pitfalls that you can avoid as a traveller.
1. What matters most to you ?
The very first thing to keep in mind before plunging into searching for a villa is to ask yourself some basic questions about your style of travel and accommodation criteria.
Do you like adventure?
Are you willing to trade comfort and certainty for the chance of getting out of your comfort zone into an unforgettable and unique experience?
Do you like non-standardized villas without a big hospitality brand behind it?
Do you like to give independent villa rental owners a chance to make a fair living faced with the recognized hospitality leaders?
Are you tolerant and patient and recognizing that language barriers sometimes require a sense of humor?
Do you like to rent a villa through a local host, which can be just as luxurious as a villa in a 5-star luxury hotel without necessarily the hefty price tag?
OMG, for our girly weekend, I found this amazing 3 bedroom pool villa through this Bali host and saved so much money.
If you answered those questions with yes, then read on.
Bali is still within a developing nation and hotels & resorts do a good job of insulating their guests from the unpleasantness of power failures, slow internet, the misunderstandings resulting from language barriers and nocturnal visits from geckos and mosquitos.
However, if you choose to rent a villa, your minimalist designer villa could be sitting in a local village with 19th century infrastructure. That could mean hearing roosters at dawn and stray dogs barking at every passing motorbike. So how do you make sure your dream vacation doesn’t wind up being an unforgettable for all the wrong reasons?
Not interested in sharing your private pool with strange neighbor dogs. Ask your host the right questions2. How to spot a winner and reading the right signals?
Choose your villa carefully. It’s not easy to find winners in the vast landscape of rental properties. I did a count recently and found over 7,000 properties on just one major vacation rental website alone.
Sorry guys, thousands of villas in Bali, how am I supposed to find mine?
Recently with sites like Airbnb, Villas.com, TravelMob, there is a bit more transparency in the market and with search rankings and peer reviews, it’s easier to spot a winner if you can read the right signals.
2-i) Location, location, location
Bali has a number of areas, each with a different theme.
Seminyak – The fashion and lifestyle capital of South East Asia. This is a playground of chic restaurants, sexy beach lounges and the fashionable travelers. The best villas will have great service, a sleek interior design,private pools and should feel ‘hip’.
Finest Indonesian dining in Kerobokan, close to Seminyak
Very chic, very Seminyak
Kuta – for hardcore partying, big shopping malls. Most listings are going to look a bit older in this area. It’s good for party groups and being close to the beach.
Kuta Beach – Life is a party
Looks like a pretty cool villa for a group of friends ready for a party to me!
Uluwatu – for surfing and pristine beaches. The best properties should be close to the beach, or have an ocean view. Look for shabby-chic surfer bungalows or cliff-front villas for that authentic, local feel.
Only to be found on the Bukit at the furthest tip in South of Bali. Wait until you see the sunset from this cliff setting!
See yourself in those chairs with a cocktail in your hand?
And did you imagine finding pop art at Bali’s hottest surf spot Berawa beach ?
Ubud – For Balinese culture and spectacular nature. There’s a strong yoga and spa influence, so be sure to indulge in some yoga lessons and Balinese massage. There’s some amazing properties set on rice paddies or the rim of rainforest canyons. A great option is to stay inside a Balinese family compound and experience true local hospitality, cuisine and adventure.
Be in touch with nature – still lots to be found in Ubud
A picture worth a thousand words
Amed – for diving and snorkeling. Visit the amazing coral gardens in Amed and do some shipwreck diving in Tulemben. Great properties close to the beach and dive spots.
Amed – Traditional outrigger fishing boats.
Share your diving stories of the day at dinner at this family & friends friendly ocean facing villa
Canggu – an increasingly popular alternative to Seminyak. There’s a growing surfer culture with chic villas, Sunday music sessions and healthy organic food. Properties in this area enjoy lots of space, great dining options and can feel a bit like a modern suburb in the rice-paddies.
Organic food to be found in Canggu
A luxury surf villa as hip as Canggu itself
Decide which area suits your interests and then look for your listing in the area.
3. Tips on saving time searching your villa online
If you haven’t found your dream villa, keep scrolling. I worked as a real estate agent for 3 years and visited hundreds of hotels and villas.
The world of vacation properties is vast and beautiful: Tree-houses in rainforests, luxury billionaire’s dream homes on the beach, eco-friendly bamboo houses, minimalist villas fronting oceans of rice paddies, shabby chic surf cottages.
I’ve even seen a room in a Balinese palace. There’s likely a perfect property for you here, so don’t despair if you haven’t found it. Keep looking until you’re satisfied with what you find.
To reduce the time of searching, use the advanced filter which many online villa rental companies have on their website. If a swimming pool is important, type in the key word swimming pool and you will only see the properties that have a swimming pool. Put the key words to shortlist only the relevant properties, but don’t try to narrow down your choice too much, keep it limited to only the features you absolutely do not want to compromise on.
4. The importance of the property review test
The next step is validation. Does your dream villa pass the review test? Great rental properties will have a lot of reviews with enthusiastic praise for both the property and the host representing it. Read the reviews carefully since this is where you’ll get signals about what kind of experience you’re likely to get.
Pay attention to past guests’ review on the host website, the more positive ones you see, the better.
Pay attention to things like:
“Was the property as described and did it match the photos?”
“Was the host/staff attentive and involved in the experience?”
“Were there any surprises, good or bad?”
Something I always look for in a review are signs of delight and joy. Generally, a property with three or more reviews, all above 4.5 stars, is a good sign that a property is well-run and has been delivering above expectations.
Not the kind of host attitude you want when your villa wifi breaks down again
Ok, what if your dream rental has no reviews? Then it’s time to have a chat with the local host (but please be patient, remember most hosts are not professional international hospitality professionals and often their english is limited).
Actions speak louder than words, so keep a few things in mind.
Check out the host’s profile. If they’re verified on at least two major social networks and have a few references, then it’s a good sign.
A short response time to your inquiries is also a good sign and indicate that someone is attending to your needs. If it takes 12 hours to get a response from your host, imagine the time it’ll take to fix a toilet or WiFi problem in your villa?
Look for hosts that respond frankly and answer difficult questions promptly and without being vague (some websites mention that showers are available, but not always if hot and cold water is coming out or only cold, so better to ask too many questions than too few. The more questions you ask the least bad surprises you will have).
5. Top reasons travellers had disappointing villa rental experiences and how to avoid them
Ask beforehand: How often is the villa cleaned?
Ask beforehand: Do you provide mosquito coils or use fumigants for the villa surrounding area? Be realistic though, those are private villas and not hotel structures. Many hotels (especially the branded ones) do regular fumigation, but this cannot be expected from the private villas. Remember, you are in a tropical country. Wear mosquito repellent when sitting outside, because especially during the night mosquitos are the most present and dengue fever is very common in Bali.
5-iii. Sleep comfort
Ask beforehand: Do you have double beds or twin beds? Does the AC cool down the room sufficiently? Are there animals that could interfere with my sleep in the morning? Will there be sunlight coming through the windows in the morning?
5-iv. Noise pollution from animals or construction
Ask beforehand: Is there any noise from the neighborhood (barking dogs, noisy next door bars, traffic, construction side)?
5-v. Slow or non-existent WiFi
If internet access is important to you, ask this question very clearly and in writing, so if things go wrong you have a written confirmation about the internet provided and should there be ongoing issues during your stay, you have something to show to your villa rental company for possible re-claim of part of your rental fee (another important reason not to do transactions offline). But please keep in mind that you are on an island and very often it is out of the hand of the host if the internet is completely off for a short period, power cuts can happen.
5-vi. Inattentive staff or host
Do your homework, check the reviews for the property and very often you already realize when you write to them, how communicative they are. Somebody who answers quickly, answers your questions correctly without being vague and makes you feel welcome, will most probably also be an attentive host once you get to the villa.
5-vii. Getting lost on the way to the villa
Ask the host to send you a google map screen shot or any kind of map (even hand written) so you could show it to the taxi driver when you get to the airport. Sometimes it also helps if you ask them for some land marks well known by taxi drivers.
5-viii. Maintenance issues with pool, AC
Ask beforehand: Will you get the telephone number of a contact person to call 24/7 in case of an emergency in the villa
5-ix. Difficult to finding food and services
Ask beforehand: How far is the villa from restaurants and supermarkets?
Mom, the kids friendly restaurant is one hour drive from the villa, why did you not ask before. Grown up are sometimes so stupid
6. Tips about payment
When it comes time to payment, don’t be tempted to take transactions offline to avoid a service fee.
Companies like Airbnb and HomeAway have good customer support and are responsible should anything go away during your stay. They also advocate on your behalf if you’re not getting an honest deal from your host.
Do not underestimate this service, you are in a foreign country and most of the time do not know cultural habits, how to deal with local hosts, have language barriers, etc.
Having said this, if you return to the same property on a next visit and you already know your host and are happy with the accommodation, there is no harm in contacting the host the next time directly and save on paying the commission. But remember, if something goes wrong, you will have to deal with the host yourself.
There really are incredible experiences out there in the world of beautiful villa rentals in Bali. You can live experiences that speak to the majesty and authenticity of a tropical island lifestyle. Hopefully with a few of these tips, you’ll be on your way to enjoying that dream holiday soon.