Essential Savvy Travel Tip: Before you book an Airbnb /vacation rental, research the local laws governing short term vacation rentals at your destination. The big listing websites like Airbnb, Vrbo, Expedia, Tripadvisor,, and other travel search engines DO NOT require their listings to prove legality or permits before allowing a Host to list their property!

I know from being an owner of Hale O' Honu'ea in Hawaii, that local laws differ about legality of the whole vacation rental/Airbnb industry. I carefully researched our own property and registered for the appropriate tax IDs, and follow legislation so that even now, we're current on applying for the latest ordinance that passed last month that applies to our vacation rental location.

So you would think that as a TRAVELER (and I've been finding travel accommodations on the internet since the early 90s), I would only book legal accommodations and never be left scrambling for a place to stay.

Well let me tell you a story of Sad-not-savvy-Sonia, and what happened to her last summer, so maybe it won't happen to you!

Last June/early July I was booking accommodations for a month long trip to Japan. After researching legality of vacation rentals at our destinations in Japan, I knew that Japan had passed a law in June 2018 requiring Hosts to register their listings. I was booking in June and July for our travels for the month of August on Airbnb, a trusted and "legit" travel website because it seemed to have a large inventory. I wanted our family to "live like a local" and experience Japan beyond the hotel chains. I even looked for the registration number on Vrbo and Airbnb listings before booking.

My kids were especially excited about the Nintendo Switch in one apartment (I booked 6 accommodations in total) - we parents figured it would be a respite from the August afternoon heat in Tokyo. I felt like the cool traveler mom for finding such a fun Airbnb!

Until I got this upsetting message in my email just a week before our flight and a few weeks before the scheduled stay at this Abnb:

No explanation from Airbnb or the host, no customer service number for me to contact, just the little footer at the bottom of their email " Sent with ♥ from Airbnb ".

Let me tell you - I was not feeling the " ♥ ".

I scrambled through the internet with only a week before our flight to Tokyo and found another accommodation at a higher price (of course it cost more, it was last minute!), but this time, I made sure the Host had all the legal permits to operate before I sent any money. No Nintendo Switch for the kids, but hey, at least I knew that we would have a place to stay.

Lesson learned? yes.

I still prefer to book a vacation rental over a hotel - we have a 10 year old boy and a 13 year old girl. A vacation rental where we can keep those two in separate beds PLUS have our own separate bedroom, is much better than cramming into a hotel with 2 queens and listening to the kids poke each other and complain about who's being a blanket hog. I've booked 5 more trips staying at vacation rentals since that Airbnb fiasco last summer and I will continue to look for vacation rentals before I reserve at a hotel.

But before I book, I'm checking the local vacation rental laws, I try to book direct with the owner so I can speak with them and ask them to verify their permits/legal status, and I don't trust the "Book with Confidence" guarantee or the "Anyone can belong Anywhere" smoke screens that Vrbo and Airbnb are using to boost their bottom line! I'd rather know that our family will have somewhere to sleep at night so we can enjoy our travels!

So Safe Savvy Travels my friends. Do your research on local laws, and book direct with the owner so you can ask questions and confirm that everything is in order before you send money!

Know where you're staying - is the Airbnb / Vacation rental LEGAL?
The wonderful legal and registered vacation rental that we ended up staying in. Our kids loved it, and even we parents were charmed.
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Great advice Sonia! Thanks for sharing your experience. This will make me think twice to verify before booking.

5 years ago

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