Summer is here! Whether you have school-aged kids or just one cooking in the baby-maker, chances are you have overnight plans outside your zip code in the next few months. I know “Staycations” are cute and budget-friendly, but let’s face it – sometimes we just gotta get the hell out of Dodge.

Once you’ve decided on your sans Dodge locale, it’s time to figure out where you can catch some Zzzzs after that long day of swimming, hiking, or pina colada-ing. More and more families are ditching the traditional hotels and booking vacation rentals on sites like Aibnb, VRBO, and HomeAway. I for one have a huge Texas house booked in August for my brother’s wedding (we started small but as word spread that my 46-year old bachelor bro was finally getting hitched, the number of eyewitnesses requiring a crash pad multiplied – but I digress).

With the potential to rent an entire house with a kitchen, a pool, and separate bedrooms for the offspring, there are definitely a lot of perks to this housing option. Despite these obvious pros, there are some cons (or, for you Trekkies, KHAN!), including the number one concern for families: SAFETY.

The truth is, vacation dream houses aren’t inspected or regulated like hotels. In fact, Casa Barbie may lack the most basic of home safety precautions such as smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Does this mean you should opt for a Motel instead of Mattel? Not at all; booking Barbie’s Dreamhouse just requires more preparation. With some precautionary measures, you and your family can keep your rented dollhouse from becoming a doghouse.

Sound the Alarms!

The majority of short-term rental injuries/deaths are due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Alarms are certainly encouraged, but unless the local government requires an in-person inspection (which is extremely rare), there are no regulations when it comes to Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Alarms. Even if the listing says CO alarms are present, you have no way of knowing if they are to code and in working order. Don’t risk it:

Ask the owner about the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms – when were they last replaced? Are they to code? Most states require Smoke Alarms in every sleeping room, outside every sleeping area, and on each floor. CO Alarms should be outside every sleeping area and on each floor. Ask the owners to send pictures if necessary. Most hosts will thank you calling attention to this detail; in fact, many owners don’t even realize how old their alarms are and most do not know current regulations for placement. If the host gives you grief over these safety questions, consider that bullet dodged and move on to a host that cares.

BYOB!

It’s not what you think – this is a family vacation after all. In this case, BYOB stands for Bring-Your-Own-Batteries. Add some AA batteries and a 9-volt or two to the diaper bag and test both the Smoke and the Carbon Monoxide Alarms when you arrive at the rental. Better yet, BYOA; First Alert sells a travel Carbon Monoxide Alarm and this cute little smoke alarm will take up minimal room in your luggage (note this alarm cannot be turned on and off; also note that any device with a lithium battery cannot be put in carry-on luggage).

Clean Up, Clean Up!

Many short-term rentals require a fee for cleaning services. While a budget-conscious family may balk at the added expense, this cleaning fee buys you more than a lemony-fresh rental, it buys you an added level of safety. The web is filled with rental horror stories of toxic mold and filth. Let’s face it, when you book an STR, you are giving a chunk of hard-earned change towards something sight unseen. Unless the rental has used a third-party inspection service like DwellWell or similar, a cleaning service may offer they only set of real eyeballs on your intended abode. Rentals that engage professional cleaning services are less likely to surprise you with potential safety issues like mold, excessive dust, cockroaches, and unsanitary bathrooms.

Seriously Folks! Please take current health conditions seriously. For those with ongoing health issues, a vacation away does not mean a vacation from self-care. For example:

Should expectant mothers or those with asthma stay at home in a bubble? Of course not, but don’t think your body will react to the environment the same way it does at home. Knowledge is power – if you are at-risk to environmental changes, do your homework: check pollen levels, smog levels, and the water quality. A little research can go a long way when it comes to vacationing your mind, body, and spirit.

Now that you’ve done due diligence, go ahead and book that professionally cleaned short-term rental. Grab the fam, pack your batteries next to the sunscreen and enjoy your time away. You’ve earned it.