By Jim Donovan

By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Today we flip the calendar ahead to May and before you know it, summer vacation season will be upon us.

Have you already made vacation plans? If not, 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan has you covered with advice from the experts at Smarter Travel that could save you money and some headaches.

Whether you’re headed to the beach, the mountains, or maybe a national park, consider renting a house or condo instead of staying at a traditional hotel. The experts at Smarter Travel say this can be a big budget saver, especially if you’re traveling with a group.

Rental properties typically keep the per-person/per-night costs down and you get more space for your money.

Check out what real estate agencies in the area have to offer. By using an agency, you will likely contract directly with the company, rather than an owner. In this case, you actually have an agent to whom you can reach out should there be any problems with your rental before, during or after your stay.

Online sites like Homeaway, Vacation Rentals by Owner, Flipkey and Rentalo offer properties of all different types, for all different prices, all around the world. In most cases, you will contact an owner directly and negotiate the terms of your rental contract. Most sites allow previous renters to write reviews about both the property and the owner.

Smarter Travel advises renters to pay by credit card or PayPal and avoid wire transfers or cashier’s checks. Also be extra careful of any listings you find on sites like Craigslist, which offer little or no protection against scams.

Smarter Travel warns, before you sign any contracts or pay any portion of your rental fee, know exactly what you’re getting into. This includes all the fine print about security deposits, cleaning fees and cancellation policies.