Ten Things We Wish Vacation Rental Owners Knew!

Going Dutch has a few things we wish all our vacation rental owners knew!  

1 – Please provide enough dishes to match the dining seating!  If we are renting a big house, we brought a lot of people, and they all like to eat.    

2 – We love to hear from people who know the area…leave us lists of local things to do and places of interest.

3 – PLEASE provide a garbage can or dumpster that is adequate for the size of the rental – overflowing garbage is gross!  

4 – If you have wildlife in the area of your rental, make the trash cans wildlife resistant.  Picking up trash strewn all over the yard of the rental after a raccoon chewed through the plastic lid is not what we had in mind for our vacation!  

5 – A well-stocked kitchen is a MUST…a blender, crockpot, corkscrew, and coffee maker are all necessities.  

6 – Set it up like YOU would like to vacation there!  Little things go a long way to making it nice.  

7 – Please provide toilet paper!  Add a few bucks to the rental price if you have to…but kids need to go after a long car ride.

8 – Don’t forget the hand soap near all faucets…all of your renters will need this!

9 – We’re on vacation… make it easy for us!  If you’re a great rental owner, we’ll happily provide you with a great review when we leave.  

10 – Thank you for sharing your great home with us!  We love having great places available for our vacations together!  

What do you wish vacation rental owners knew?  Add yours in the comments!  Are you a vacation rental owner?  Tell us what you wish renters knew in the comments as well!  

Are You in the Zone?

 If you’re like me, you already have an idea in your head what the perfect vacation looks like.  For me, the picture in my head usually involves some reading time, a bit of water or beach time, a museum or tourist trap or two, and some shopping. Check the boxes and vacation is a success, right?  Well.  Maybe.

One of the best (and also sometimes challenging) things about traveling with friends is that everyone’s mental picture is a little different.  When it comes time to planning how to spend those precious vacation minutes, there are lots of ideas for how to do it.

Our group spent our most recent get-together in the Wisconsin Dells.  If you’ve been there, you know there are LOTS of choices for how to spend your time.  I woke up on Day 1 thinking ok, water park, outlet mall, maybe a boat ride….fun is about to get started!!  However, during a breakfast pow-wow on our activity choices, a distinctly NOT in my mental picture option rose to the top of the list…a ropes course!  Bigfoot Ropes Course, to be exact.

My enthusiasm definitely took a bit of a hit there, I’ll admit.  A ropes course did NOT fit into my personal vacay success checklist.  Especially since my trips to the gym have been less frequent than I’d like lately.  But…key to successful traveling with a group is compromise, right?  These are my people, and I care about what they want to do, too.  Plus, we have dragged non-swimmer Ann on a boat ride too many times to count, and fair’s fair.  I put on my “good sport” hat and off we went….WAY out of my comfort zone.

I endured the orientation and donned the gear, which included a harness that is not flattering to anybody.  And I learned how to use the silly safety clips that apparently would save me from falling to my death.  Or abject humiliation, I wasn’t sure which.  Off we went onto the course.  I was sure the staff and the other patrons were laughing at me (they weren’t) and that I would never get the hang of it (I did).  And then…before I knew it…fun!  I fought through my discomfort (possibly less gracefully than I could have) and we had a ball.

More significant than my own experience, though, was this….my 15-year-old daughter, who is terrified of heights, and her partner in crime, Liz, climbed the entire 4 stories.  All the way to the top and into the helicopter.  It was amazing. They spent the whole afternoon climbing each obstacle on their way to the top, considering and discarding the idea of giving in and climbing back down repeatedly over the course of the day.  Each time, building their confidence in their ability to overcome their fears and rely on themselves to reach a goal.

Psychology experts tell us that there are a lot of benefits from stepping out of your personal comfort zone.  It can help you succeed in business, stay sharp as you age, and make you more likely to take on challenges.  We learn to deal with fear, anxiety, and change.  Maybe failure.  We learn what we’re capable of…something neither I nor my kiddos were going to figure out while plowing through novels on the beach.  And maybe just have some fun while we’re at it.  So next time you vacation with your group, maybe you’ll get out of your zone as well.

What have you done (or are you planning to do) on your vacation that was out of your comfort zone?  Please tell us about it in the comments below!

Where Should We Go, Now?

OK, so you have a group and you know how you’re going to split expenses.  You know how to find a vacation rental or other type of lodging.  So where should you go??  

The options, as I am sure you have already discovered, are endless!  In 18 trips we’ve only repeated a destination a few times.  The right location choice for each group is really a decision unique to that particular group.  The makeup of your group and the goal of your trip, as well as the age of your travelers and your budget all play a part in your decision.  It’s more of an art than a science.  We choose based on interests and availability of activities for the age and size of our group.  We also have to factor in the availability of housing for a group of 20.  If you have a smaller group, that definitely gives you more flexibility for housing in most locations, but you might not get the group discounts that we can score in most places.  

Our group has a lot of conversations about location options, and we do quite a bit of research.  Honestly, it’s a bit of entertainment to most of us, I think.  I would say we average 10 conversations (at least) before we decide and book.  Which, as it turns out, might not be such a bad thing.  According to a NYT article, a study, published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, showed that the largest boost in happiness that we get from vacation, actually comes from the act of planning the trip, rather than the actual travel.

How do you start your list of options?  Ask the group.  Have everyone throw out ideas.  If you need more ideas, reach out to co-workers or check your social media feed.  Trip Advisor or the Chamber of Commerce for a location you are considering can also be great resources for information, ideas and reviews.  

Determine any guidelines for destinations ahead of time.  Our group originally tried to choose destinations that were close to at least one family in order to rotate a bit of a break on travel expenses or required vacation time.   We were spread across four states at the time, which essentially limited us to one of those four or their neighbors.  You may decide that certain destinations are out of your budget.  Rather than looking at these guidelines as limitations, try to view them as assistance in narrowing down your options.

Once you have a list, you can vote, or choose one group member to select and plan.  If you do assign a group member, though….no complaining!  It will be your turn one day, so just relax and enjoy a location that you may not have experienced if you were choosing.  We’ve had many great trips at locations that I would not have chosen on my own.  Arrive with an open mind and a variety of clothing options.  🙂  

Here at Going Dutch, we’ll try to help you choose your destination with some posts reviewing locations that we have traveled.  We’ve also created a new page that we’ll fill with our favorite online resources to help with your planning.  What are your favorite locations to travel?  Share them with us in the comments below!  

The Art of Vehicle Maintenance (or…Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff)

I think the others will likely agree, that I have always been the most high-maintenance of the group.  I tend to want everything to go perfectly, and everything to be just exactly the way I think it “should” be.  The only great vacation is the one where everything goes according to plan, right?  Well…not exactly.  In every vacation some rain must fall, and it’s in those things that some of our best memories have been created.  

Any time you have four families driving hundreds of miles to a vacation destination, a mechanical vehicle failure is a possibility.  Do it often enough, and it’s a certainty.  We encountered this certainty on our most recent trip.  And “replacing a U-joint” was definitely not on our vacation to-do list.  But things happen, and cars that are not in working order need to be restored to that in order to proceed with the aforementioned vacation.  

A broken car is certainly a curveball.  But is it a vacation-wrecker?  Sure, it could be.  The hassle of all those phone calls and time spent waiting….ugh!  It’s enough to raise stress levels just thinking about it.  But the answer to whether it will wreck your vacation or not lies in how your group handles it.  

Our group is fortunate to have some mechanically-inclined folks in it.  And our rental house had a garage that we were able to use.  And so…voila! Instant auto repair shop.  We also have some teenagers and future drivers in our group, so instant auto shop became instant auto classroom.  

A good chunk of an afternoon was spent on what might be considered a bad thing, and we could certainly have allowed it to ruin our vacation, or part of it.   But instead it became a fun activity for the dads in the group and varying numbers of kids (the little ones weren’t in it for the long haul :).  Two teenage girls crawled under the car and helped out with the repair.  A valuable life lesson for two girls who will themselves be car owners someday, and something they still talk about.  It raised their confidence in their ability to fix things, and gave them a chance to further develop their relationship with some great dads in their lives who didn’t happen to be their own.  The moms got some downtime with a glass of wine and some great conversation.  In all, a pretty great afternoon.  

Every vacation will have a curveball or two.  Perhaps your own car will break down, or that of someone else in your group.  Or it may be something else…a mouse in your rental house or an arrival prior to the opening of most tourist attractions at your destination.  Whatever it is, I encourage you to be careful of how you think about it.  If you allow it to wreck your trip, I assure you it will.  But if you employ some humor and creativity, it might just become one of your best memories.  

What vacation curveballs have you dealt with?  Were you able to make some fun memories?  I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.  

Think Pink!

One of the big challenges of a group vacation is managing everyone’s expectations for a vacation home.  To add to the fun, you really don’t know what you are going to get until you plop your suitcase down on the front step.  Vacation rental listings generally have lots of photos but a tiny digital image doesn’t always tell the whole story.

Individual people have different ideas of what they want their vacation to look like.  Included in that package is usually a nice place to stay.  But my Taj Mahal may look like a trailer park to my fellow traveler.  

This became apparent to me about a month ago.  It has become a tradition for my husband’s parents to organize a family vacation to celebrate their milestone anniversaries.  This includes the families of Greg and his two brothers.  This year we are marking my in-law’s 50th Anniversary.  

At Christmas, the adults gathered and tossed around proposed locations for a couple hours.  Dates were discussed but no decisions were really made at that time. Several weeks and quite a few emails later, the choice was narrowed to a beach house on the coast between Washington, D.C. and Florida.  

Two things I then learned:  there are a TON of vacation rentals along the Atlantic coast and if you want one, do not dally.  More than once we settled on a house only to find that it had already been booked by the time everyone had a chance to weigh in on the decision.

My father-in-law eventually found the perfect house and immediately put a two-day hold on it so we could confer.  It has the exact number of bedrooms we need.  They are configured so that the two families with kids have a kid room with the exact number of beds set up as a suite with the adult rooms.  There are four bathrooms, one for each family.  It has a pool.  And a hot tub.  And a boardwalk out to our own stretch of ocean-lapped sand.  The only way this house could get more perfect for us is if they renamed it with our family name.

Ah, but there was a problem: it’s pink.

When my father-in-law called to tell me he had found this house, he said he thought it could work, but it was kind of ugly.  When I asked for details, he told me the color.  I thought it must be some garish fushia.  As I scrolled through the photos, I saw the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the amenities and a pastel shade of coastal pink.  

I called Greg and had him look at the pictures to see if he thought the color was too much.  He is a man who is not a fan of pink, but he didn’t mind the house looking like an Easter egg.  He said, “We’re not buying the house.  Tell Dad to book it.”

So I did.

The next afternoon, Greg called to tell me that his mom had called and she was concerned about the vacation rental.  She didn’t know if he would mind spending a week in a pink house.

So I called my mother-in-law to find out what she was thinking.  She had spent all morning searching through dozens more homes without finding one that seemed to fit our group as well as the rose-colored beauty.  

In, probably not the most diplomatic tone, I reminded her that we were not purchasing this home.  It is a rental and after we have rented it, we can come home to our regular color houses.  Why was it such a big deal that the house was pink?

Her response to me that day was that we had such a nice house on our last trip five years ago.  She just wanted this house to be as nice.

Long story short, we booked the house.  I think it helped that my daughters Anna and Kay were super excited about the hue and the fact that the house is named after one of their favorite mythical sea creatures.  

Recently I called my mother-in-law back and chatted with her about why they had been so concerned about the color.  She mentioned something that we have often discussed over the many years I have been in the family.  She is concerned with form over function while I am the total opposite.  Where I saw perfection in the number of beds, she saw imperfection in the aesthetics.  

She mentioned how our last rental had an amazing backyard with a 15-foot waterfall.  It was a pretty cool 1920s California bungalow.  But it also had that weird cork wall and had been added on to a time or two, resulting in a broken layout.  There was a fabulous bedroom reached by a spiral staircase, but the nearest bathroom was a floor below and down the hall.

No vacation rental is going to be perfect for all people.  There will always be something broken or perplexing.  The furnishings or appliances will not be to everyone’s taste.  But try to remember (and remind your fellow travelers) that you are renting this house.  No thirty- year mortgages will be signed.  This isn’t a love affair for the ages.  It’s a casual fling.    

Now that the house is booked, we are planning to spend our vacation looking for rentals uglier than ours (with the exception of Kay and Anna who will be looking for prettier houses).  And if we don’t find one, at least we will always remember the vacation where we stayed in that pink house.

Laura

Getting Started: Choosing Your Group

The first thing you need to travel with a group is, well, a group!  Who are the folks you want to spend time with?  These could be people you see all the time or perhaps people you don’t get to see frequently at all.  If you want to spend time with them, they’re candidates for your travel group.  Our trips rose out of a desire to spend some time with people we weren’t getting to see  often enough.  And a desire to vacation! 

Some things you will want to consider when forming your travel group:

What is the purpose of your group and your trip?  Our group has always been very clear…the purpose of our trips is to have fun and spend time together.  We will compromise on just about everything else.  We adjust our budget, timing, or location in order to make sure our full group can join us.  In our early years, we camped because it was budget friendly, and we tried to give one couple a break on travel expenses each year by vacationing near where they lived.  Although this once led us to camping in the insane Kansas heat in July, we’ve always had fun everywhere we’ve been.  Our shared purpose helps ensure that. 

If you are very committed to seeing the Grand Canyon or hiking every national park in the US, you’ll want to choose a group that shares that goal with you so that you can all have the best experience.  Otherwise, the folks who want to relax with a book and a chair at the nearby beach will be sorely unhappy with your destination activities.  So getting clear on where you can and cannot compromise is important. 

Once your purpose is clear, everything else can and should be negotiable and flexible.  There are some things to consider and potentially plan for when forming your group, but with a shared goal and a cooperative spirit, most of the other things can be adjusted or overcome.  Differing budgets?  Find a destination with costs that make everyone comfortable.  Some travelers have kids, some don’t?  That can work; just ensure those traveling enjoy kids and some activities that are kid-friendly.  And build in some adults-only time in your schedule, whether it’s with a babysitter or a partial group outing.  

Your group may also have multiple generations, or some couples and singles…those groups can also be accommodated with some planning and flexibility.  Although it’s impossible to cover anything your group might run across in one blog post, the key is to remember that you care about these people and it IS possible to travel together successfully.  Talk these things through beforehand if they are big concerns for one or more group members.  

Staying focused on your goal and staying flexible will ensure maximum enjoyment and memory-making. 

Who’s in your travel group?  How did you choose the group you travel with and what is your shared purpose?  Where have you had to compromise to ensure a successful travel experience?  If you don’t have a group, what’s holding you back?  We want to hear from you in the comments below!  

 

Who We Are

Collectively we are the eight vacay moms and dads of twelve rambunctious teenagers, tweens and kiddos. Fifty-one weeks out of the year, we are four families living busy lives across a couple hundred miles in the Midwest. For about a week each year, though, we do something pretty incredible—all 20 of us vacation together…and we have each year for almost 20 years!

We hope you will get to know us a little better through each blog entry, but here are a few quick details. As you may remember from our first post, all four of us women met in our freshman year in college. Only one of our husbands attended college with us; since all the men met through us, it is even more impressive that they get along so well. In real life, our careers span from engineer to educator, IT expert to investment advisor and media manager.

Our 12 kids range in age from 5 to 17 currently. It hardly seems possible that we are staring down annual high school graduation parties when one of our first trip traditions was guessing who would announce their pregnancy each year. The largest gap between kids actually occurs between the last two—just over two years.

Jen and John are parents of four kids—Libby, Michael, James and Marie—and showed us how to do the parenting thing since they had the first two kids within the group; they also claim the most (but not only) vehicle repairs completed during trips. Jaime and Victor are parents of Grace and Andrew; they hold the dubious claim to fame of being the only family to make an Urgent Care visit on the trip (knock on whatever wooden surface is near)…and the most victories at the annual poker tournament. Ann and Eric have three girls—Liz, Mae, and Noelle; Eric’s trip claim to fame is being the house hunter and also preserving memories with an annual video compilation. Anna and Kay are twins and older sisters to Matt; the three of them keep the last couple Laura and Greg busy. Laura was the first one of us to consider capturing the stories of our trip in written form.

As a group, we have vacationed in eleven different states, rented sixteen different accommodations (excluding some repeats), and eaten probably a hundred dozen ears of sweet corn! If you happened to be a fly on the wall observing one of our vacations, you would see a wide range of activities, traditions, and adventures…and we always leave already planning for the next year! We have enjoyed our trips so much that we have all also traveled with other family groups. It is our hope that we can share our enthusiasm and expertise with you and encourage you to find a group and get started on making your own memories.

Joie de Vivre

Our intent for this blog is to share some useful tips and practical ideas for planning and executing group trips.  But events of the past week have brought home some things that I wanted to share.

I am a substitute aide at my children’s school.  Last week, a sixth grader passed away after a sudden and very short illness.  Prior to this, he had been the picture of health and vitality.  Full of sunshine and joie de vivre, his passing touched all those who knew him, no matter how slight. 

As can be expected when a community loses a child, the next few days were full of difficult moments.  But one thing that was brought home to me was how fleeting life can be.  We can plan for an event five years in the future but there is no guarantee that tomorrow an oncoming car won’t cross the centerline into our lane or a routine doctor’s visit won’t end with x-rays and a terminal diagnosis.

Thinking about this young man’s untimely passing, made me not only hold my own children tight, but also think about the other kids in my life, especially the ones who are a part of our yearly group trip.  I have watched these babies grow into young men and women getting ready to spread their wings.  I’ve bandaged their boo boos.  I’ve cheered their successes.  I’ve even threatened them within an inch of their life when their behavior warranted it. 

My memories of them are wrapped up in weeks spent searching for geocaches in Colorado, splashing through waterparks in Wisconsin, hiking around Mt. Rushmore and schlepping carseats through a cave in Missouri.  I hope and pray that I get a lot of years being one of their “Vacay Moms.”

It seems so easy these days to stay in touch by text message and Face Book posts.  But life is so short.  We never know when our time is going to be up.  Wouldn’t it be better to have memories of things done with people you love?  Let’s all put down our smart phones and make the effort to spend time with friends and family.

I’m not saying that you should break the bank to go on that dream vacation.  Maybe the Alaskan cruise or the African safari will have to wait until the mortgage is paid off.  But isn’t a long weekend spent exploring a location you’ve never visited with friends who will (hopefully) become even closer in the glow of shared experiences and discoveries worth the effort?

Life really is short, even if you are lucky enough to make 90 trips around the sun.  Make the most of the time you get to spend with those you love.

Welcome to Going Dutch!

More years ago than I’d care to admit in a public forum, I stepped onto the campus of a small midwestern liberal arts college.  Over my next 4 years there I came to meet and get to know 3 other amazing women.  We had a great college career, and then it was time to head off into the real world to pursue our lives.  Each of us got married and the other three of us came and did what friends do at weddings.  As so often happens, this could have been the end of our story.  We were scattered into different states and different careers, and well, sometimes that means you lose touch with awesome people.

Then one of us had the idea to get together for a weekend.  Four couples at a Minnesota campground.  Low key, inexpensive for recent college grads, and lots of fun.  And a tradition was born.

Eighteen years and 12 kids later, we get together for up to a week every year.  So far we’ve been to eight different states.  We’ve stayed in hotels, vacation homes and campgrounds.  We’ve been on trains, planes, horses, jeeps and rafts.  We’ve battled raccoons, suffered through heat-waves, shivered through rainstorms and drank hot-chocolate while watching 4th of July fireworks.  Our kids enjoy these trips so much we are convinced they believe college is where you go to find the people you will vacation with every year!

Over all these trips, we’ve developed a system of traveling with a group of people.  Every year we tweak it depending on the location.  We make mistakes and promise not to do it that way next year.  We’ve all followed roughly the same format with family groups.  It works for us.  It works so well we end up planning the next year’s trip almost as soon as we show up for this years’ trip.

Through our trips we’ve learned that traveling with friends has a LOT of benefits.  These are some of the best experiences and memories of our lives.  Our kids have built-in friends. If we plan things right, we can build in kid-free time for all of the adults on the trip. But when we tell others we’re going to vacation for a week with 3 other families, the reaction is generally curiousity mixed with a diagnosis of insanity…”you’re going to go on vacation with HOW many people? Wow…”

Yes, group trips definitely have some pitfalls.  But here’s the thing.  Yes, our group is special, but all groups are!  Traveling together is something that we think lots of groups can do successfully.  With busy lives being what they are, time to connect with friends is limited.  Making time for a shared vacation every year helps keep everyone in touch and is a great way to spend some of your 365 allotted days every year.  Our blog is here to help you travel with your friends AND keep them in the end!