Up until about eight years ago I had never stayed in a vacation rental.
Years ago when Yankee Bill’s mother was a young lady, her parents built a cabin on Seventh Lake in the Adirondacks. My mother-in-law spent many happy summers there, and in turn brought my husband and his sister there as children. They all loved the time they spent “at the lake”. Unfortunately the family cabin was sold when the grandparents retired and moved to Florida.
My sweet mother-in-law always missed those summers in the Adirondacks, and she wanted more than anything to make the same kinds of memories with her grandchildren that she had with her own family and kids in the Adirondacks. Since the family didn’t own a cabin any longer, she looked for a vacation rental. Every year she rents a cabin for several weeks and invites us up to spend a week with her. We enjoy it so much that a couple of years ago we decided to rent a cabin for a second week towards the end of the summer.
Vacation rentals can be a great way for family to save money. Typically the cost of the rental is less than booking the same number of nights in enough hotel rooms for the whole family. Because you’re in a house you have a kitchen and can save on one of the biggest vacation costs-food! You can eat meals at the rental and keep a big stockpile of snacks and drinks for your day trips. You save even more when you bring your groceries from home (vacation communities are notorious for their high grocery prices). Many vacation rentals also come with “built-in fun”–a pool, a lake, or a playground. And I don’t know about you, but on a rainy dreary day I’d rather be stuck in a house than a small hotel room.
When vacationing in a rental, there are a few things you need to know:
1. Vacation rentals are typically fully furnished and the kitchens stocked with plates, cups, utensils, and cooking implements. The selection might be a little spotty, so make sure you bring anything you can’t do without, like a corkscrew!
2. Vacation rentals do not have linens, paper goods, and toiletries. Typically there are pillows and blankets, but you need to bring your own sheets. The bathrooms will have no toilet paper, no tissues, no soap and no towels. The kitchen will be sans paper towel, dish towels, garbage bags and dish soap.
Note: Don’t forget to ask what the number and types of beds are so you know what size sheets to bring.
Pro Tip: if you don’t have sheets of the right sizes for the vacation rental-twins for example-save money by picking up used sets of the correct size at a thrift store or garage sale.
3. You are taking your chances if you expect to find more than salt-and-pepper in the spice cabinet. Sometimes later in the season you will be lucky, and previous renters will have left behind some of these items–but you can’t count on it.
Pro Tip: instead of raiding your spice cabinet, or buying full-size spices just for the vacation rental, try buying the McCormick recipe inspirations. These are little cards of three or six spices in a bubble pack. Just enough for one or two recipes. Another option is to get all DIY and convert an old pill case into a small spice case.
Does all of this sound like a lot to remember? It is! That’s why having a good packing list is essential to getting ready for your rental vacation. Without a list you’re likely to forget something important–like toilet paper, sunscreen or cooking oil.
That’s why I’m here to share with you-on behalf of Walmart- how I pack for my rental vacations. I’ll even share my printable packing list with you.
The first couple of years we used a rental cabin, we packed into whatever we had on hand. Some items went in suitcases, some into laundry baskets, and others into plain old trash bags. Packing everything into the truck was a little bit like a jigsaw puzzle, and unpacking everything on the other end was a hassle. Stuff wound up everywhere at the vacation rental, especially in the kids rooms, and the inevitable repacking/unpacking at home was a lot of work just when we wanted to sit down and relax.
So here is my biggest packing tip for vacation rentals.
Bins are regular in size, stacked neatly, prevent delicate things from being crushed, and stack inside each other for storage. I usually place all the bins and a less trafficked part of the house in the week leading up to our vacation–as I purchase or come across items that need to go on vacation I place them into the bins.
Of course I keep a copy of the packing list right there by the bins and check items off as I go. Then on the final day before vacation it’s a simple matter to see if everything is packed in the bins or in our suitcases. The bins can be closed up and Yankee Bill and slide them into the truck. When we get to the rental it’s easy to just pull out a bin and put it in the correct room to be unpacked.
Of course there are always items that don’t go in the bins. The kids pack their own suitcases as do we, large items like camping chairs and tiki torches just get slid along the side of the truck bed or wherever they fit.
Buying bins just to use for vacation packing doesn’t have to break the bank. You can pick up the sturdy bins at Walmart for less than five dollars–and they are really big. I grabbed four to use for this year’s vacation.
Now that we’ve discussed how to pack, let’s look at what to pack. I find the easiest way to tackle the problem is to organize my list by rooms/sections. My printable spreadsheet is divided up into the following rooms/sections: kitchen, groceries/dry goods, groceries/perishables, bedrooms, bathroom, entertainment, outdoors, grilling, boat/water, clothing. These categories work for me, but you’ll need to find what works for you.
Note: the reason I subdivide dry goods perishables in the groceries is because the dry goods can be packed ahead of time and the perishables will have to be packed the morning you leave on your trip.
Printable Vacation Rental Packing List:
Vacation Rental Packing List (Excel Spreadsheet-editable)
Vacation Rental Packing List PDF (non–editable)
Let’s talk a little bit more about food. Although we do eat out for the occasional lunch or dinner we always plan on eating most of our meals at the rental to save money. Since we are vacationing with my mother-in-law we split up the dinner duties–I usually take four nights and she takes three. So I need to plan and shop for four dinner meals. I also provide all of our family’s snacks, breakfasts, and lunches.
Note: We frequently share food, but I’d rather pack too much than too little.
It’s my vacation too, so I don’t want to have to work too hard making dinner. I plan a couple of grilling meals (steak, hotdogs) an easy meal like spaghetti, and usually something I can throw in the crockpot to cook while we’re having fun during the day (sausage peppers and onions cooked in beer our favorite for the crockpot).
Note: I never trust that there will be a crockpot at the rental, so I always bring one from home.
Breakfast and lunches are kept intentionally simple. A couple of boxes of cereal, a dozen eggs, some refrigerated cinnamon buns, nice bread, luncheon meat and cheese, some canned tuna… things like that. I remind you again that mama is on vacation too! I don’t want to spend all of my time cooking and washing dishes.
Note: I’m not big on disposables most of the time, but I make an exception for vacation. More paper plates means less dishes for mama to do.
The final area I suggest you consider is entertainment. One of the reasons we enjoy vacationing in the mountains is because of the calm and relaxing pace that life there has. Sure, we plan in a few touristy events like a trip to the waterpark, visiting a museum, or even just the day spent in Old Forge hitting all the touristy shops, but the rest of the time we have a slower pace. Just enjoying each other’s company, taking the boat out on the lake, tubing, swimming and playing games.
Sometimes the kids are a little less thrilled with the slow pace. I like to plan ahead and have a few crafty projects they can do on a quiet afternoon if they get antsy. I love that my local Walmart now has some great paint by number sets–even teenagers can enjoy doing that. There are also plenty of other crafty kits for both boys and girls in the Walmart craft aisle–I especially like things like the rubber band gun for boys!
Classic board and card games are another great way to while away the time. They might gripe a bit at first, but the competitive nature eventually shines through. Trust me, the kids will eventually adapt to the slower pace and each other’s company. After all these years our kids look forward to going to the mountains every summer–and they KNOW that for our family that means no TV no video games and no internet for the whole vacation.
So if you’ve been considering a vacation rental, take the plunge! I know with a little planning (and my advice) you’ll have a great time.
Don’t forget to check out the Walmart Weekly Ad for more great summer ideas for your summer vacation.
Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.