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Renting a vacation home for the first time? Don't take anything for granted.

Rehoboth Beach is a city on the Atlantic

Rehoboth Beach is a city on the Atlantic Ocean along the Delaware beaches in eastern Sussex County, Delaware. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/DenisTangneyJr

When we sat down to plan our first family trip since the start of the pandemic, we knew we’d have to try something new. The size and composition of our group — four adults, two kids, and two dogs — would dictate our options. We were looking for drivability from D.C. (no one was ready to fly), a seaside walkway for strolling and teaching the toddlers to ride bikes, plus a dog-friendly town. Rehoboth, in Delaware, met the criteria, especially because pooches can romp in the sand and trot the boardwalk, and people can pedal the boards any time of day in the offseason.

We weren’t welcome at the city’s inns or hotels. Although some accept dogs under 30 pounds, none allow pets as big as Lily, my 100-pound Newfoundland pup, and almost none take two. Lexa, my daughter’s 12-pound Westie, was part of our pack. That’s why we dove into the listings on a well-known vacation rental booking site with a healthy roster of family- and dog-friendly properties in Rehoboth.

We haven’t even gone on the trip yet, but we’ve already made a few newbie mistakes.

We discovered a four-bedroom, three-bath house that we dubbed Ocean Adventure in honor of our long-deferred vacation. It granted my daughter, son-in-law, their two kids, and my husband and me space to be together — and apart. We craved simple.

Of course, we perused the property’s photos and glanced at the reviews. The five images revealed an older house with a sea view from the deck, a one-person kitchen, and ’70s furnishings that would make Edith and Archie Bunker feel at home.

No problem. We didn’t need fancy. But we did need clean, especially in a pandemic. Managed by a top-performing host cited for cleanliness, the property rated 4.9 out of 5 stars. Reassured, we booked the house.

It was the blankets that tipped us off.

A week or so after booking, we read the reviews more carefully. A former guest praised the host’s willingness to wash the blankets before her visit. What? Since the host had assured me that she followed covid-19 cleaning protocols, we assumed we would bed down under fresh covers. Not so: She fessed up to washing blankets only at the beginning of the season, a period that stretched from mid-April through mid-September.

After that, we parsed the guests’ reviews and probed the host’s answers to our emails like wannabe Sherlock Holmeses. We needed to know if Ocean Adventure’s definition of clean matched ours.

You have probably guessed by now that it didn’t.

The bottom line: If you want specifics about how your potential rental is cleaned — and stocked — ask on the front end.

We learned the importance of carefully reading the list of amenities, and of asking the right questions.

Next time, to calm our fears and lighten what we must lug, next time we’ll book a property that comes with clean linens, towels, sheets, blankets and all the comforts of home — including toilet paper and soap.

Travel Extras