Summer-vacation planning often involves exploring and choosing among hotels and motels. But you have other choices for accommodations.

Whether headed to the beach, the mountains, a lake or a theme park, more families are renting full vacation houses, cabins and villas. Rental home, besides being much more spacious and with more amenities, can be less expensive than renting a hotel room.

In fact, renting a house instead of a hotel room is often a better choice, contends Christine Karpinski, author of "How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner" and "Profit from Your Vacation Home Dream: The Complete Guide to a Savvy Financial and Emotional Investment."

Karpinski's book audience is vacation-property owners, and she has a financial stake in vacation-rental Web site HomeAway.com. But she highlights persuasive arguments for considering home rentals instead of hotel rooms.

Renting a house or condominium is a familiar concept for those who vacation in some parts of the country, such as East Coast beach locations. But in other regions, the idea of renting a vacation home is just catching on.

"It's a much bigger industry in Europe than here, but it's really been growing in the past 10 years in the U.S.," Karpinski said.

A vacation-home rental might be the smartest way to spend your vacation dollars. Here's what to consider:

-- Size of your party

Generally, if you are traveling with enough people that you have to get at least two hotel rooms, a home rental would be cheaper. You'll get a lot more space, often with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, and bigger living and dining areas.

In some expensive markets, rentals are cheaper than a single hotel room of comparable luxury. Envision a 250-square-foot hotel room with two double beds and a rollaway for the same price as a 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom house.

"For someone with two, three or four kids, staying in a couple of hotel rooms just isn't fun," Karpinski said.

With more space, you will be comfortable just relaxing, rather than feel like you have to be out of the small hotel room and on the go. And people accustomed to their 3,000-square-foot houses, or larger, might feel cramped in a hotel room all week.

"When we go on vacation, we don't want any less than we have at home," she said.

-- Eating in

Having a kitchen in a vacation rental means you will have to eat out less often. Dining out for every meal is not only expensive and time-consuming but also can be a hassle if you have a large group or young children.

"You might say you want to eat out for every meal, but do you want to, really?" Karpinski said.

Sometimes, a quick breakfast of coffee and cold cereal or a bagel before hitting the beach might be more enjoyable than waiting for a table at a restaurant every morning.

-- Amenities

With a vacation rental, you won't have daily housekeeping, concierge service, room service dining and a fitness center, but you might have use of a grill on a patio, beach chairs and beach toys, bicycles and kitchen appliances and utensils. You also might have a free washer and dryer, which allows you to pack fewer clothes.