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When it comes to your hard-earned vacation, a rental property can make or break the trip. For example, you might get lucky, and end up booking a place that is even nicer in real life than it is in the listing photos.

On the other hand (and probably more likely to happen), upon arrival, you might discover that the host took quite a few liberties when describing the property in the listing.

And while reading the reviews can help, it’s important to keep in mind that one person’s rustic dream house is another person’s outdated vacation nightmare.

To help avoid situations like that, be on the lookout for certain words in listings that could be red flags, or at least tell you more about whether a property is a good fit for you. Here’s what to know.

Red-flag word in vacation rental listings

Like regular real estate listings, there are certain words used in Airbnb and VRBO descriptions that can say a lot about the property without actually spelling it out. These include words like “cozy,” which, in addition to its actual definition, also tends to be used to describe smaller-than-average spaces.

Here are a few other examples—and what they might really mean—courtesy of a report from Elliot Advocacy:


Maybe it’s referring to decor that mixes several different design styles. Or maybe it means that you can only enter one bedroom by crawling through a window, or that the only sink is located over the toilet.

If you still have questions about the eclectic property after looking at the photos and reading the reviews, it’s probably best to get in touch with the host to ensure that it will meet your needs.


Like “private,” this probably means that the property is far enough away from other people that you can turn the volume up on the stereo without disturbing anyone. But how far is that, exactly?

More importantly, it could be a clue that the home is pretty far from the nearest gas station, grocery store, or hospital. For this reason, always check the approximate distance from the house to civilization before booking. The listing may not provide the exact address prior to making a reservation, but it’ll at least give you an idea of where it is on a map.


Of course you want your vacation rental to be secure, but what prompted the host to include it in the description? While it could mean that they recently installed a video doorbell (which is its own issue), it could also be a clue that the home is not located in the safest area.

If everything else about the property is appealing, you may want to do a little research on the location, including looking at the home on Google Street View (which is a good idea prior to making any rental booking).


“Rustic” is in the eye of the beholder, and exists on a spectrum. So when you see the word in a property listing, it’s your clue to really go through the reviews and photos carefully to make sure that the rental at least meets your minimum standards.

For example, a 150-year-old house may be described as “rustic” because of the usual quirks that come with a property of that age—including the fact that no matter how much you clean, it’ll never be spotless as a newer, hermetically sealed home built in the 21st century. While people who love and appreciate historic homes probably know what to expect, those used to more modern properties may be disgusted.

In fact, for some people, anything other than luxury accommodations may seem rustic. In other situations, “rustic” can mean the rental doesn’t have air conditioning, or has a limited supply of hot water, or a composting toilet, or a weak wifi signal—all things that are perfectly acceptable to some people, but dealbreakers for others.

The key is taking the time to find out what the word refers to at that particular property before booking it.

These are clues, not hard-and-fast-rules

Of course, just because these words appear in a listing it does not mean that the owner is trying to hide something, or that there’s something wrong with the property. Instead, consider these another screening strategy to use before booking a vacation rental.

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