You know the nightly pitfalls of traveling with kids: the sound of infants howling in the night, hiding out in a hotel bathroom with a book or phone, desperately waiting for preschoolers to settle into a strange bed… to name a few. A rental home, cabin, cottage or condo can make a major difference in your vacation, with plenty of bedrooms and living spaces to spread out, a full kitchen, washer and dryer and other creature comforts.
Skipping a hotel or resort, though, requires a slightly different mindset and a little more planning when it comes to packing. Here are our top tips on making the most of a vacation rental, from creating a home away from home to saving money with your own kitchen.
1. Figure out beds.
If you have an infant or toddlers, make sure there is a portable crib available or a small bunk or twin bed. Cribs are occasionally first-come, first-served, so check into any local companies that rent cribs or portable beds for the week. You can also invest in a small blowup bed or sleeping bag when you reach your destination and leave it behind if needed. Always pack a favorite blanket for the trip and consider your own crib sheets if you have room.
2. Think about safety.
Take outlet covers, corner protectors for sharp table edges and anything else you might need for baby-proofing a vacation home if you have new crawlers in the family. If you’re renting from a multi-unit destination, there may be some units already child-proofed or with a safer layout that doesn’t have multiple levels and stairs. Consider packing or renting a childproof gate if needed, and ask if there are nightlights to prevent middle-of-the-night stumbles. It’s also wise to put away any breakable decorative items and to make sure you have a tippy or no-spill cup to prevent leaving any stains behind.
3. Plan for entertainment.
Some rentals may have games, TVs and even a rec room, but it’s good to pack some books and toys for the trip. Buying some new (or used) items like art supplies, action figures and new apps for your vacation (or unearthing old favorites) can make it more exciting for kids and keep them busy when mom and dad need downtime–especially after a long day of traveling.
4. Prioritize beach gear.
Ask about walking paths, beach access and any amenities at the rental, such as beach chairs or mats, beach towels, sand toys, umbrellas, bicycles, boogie boards, a football, soccer ball or Frisbees. Fill in additional items as needed, such as a stroller, rolling cooler, or a wagon to tote beach gear. Take along a beach bag or backpack that you can stock with sunscreen, bug repellent and a small first aid kit with bandages and antibiotic cream. If you’re flying to your destination, look for collapsible water bottles, easy-to-pack inflatable beach balls and a flat-packing hot/cold insulated bag for picnics (freeze juice pouches to keep lunch cool, and then have late-afternoon slushies).
Related: The Ultimate Beach Bag for Families
5. Remember spices and condiments.
If you’re the type to squirrel away ketchup and salt and pepper packets, now’s the time to use them. Most rentals offer salt and pepper and possibly some basic condiments, but chances are, you’ll need your own. Take along a sectioned shaker bottle with several herbs in it or create your own using a pillbox and your seven favorite seasonings.
6. Bag it and clip it.
Rentals may have basics like foil and plastic wrap, but it’s a good idea to pack a few sturdy, freezer-weight gallon zip bags packed with smaller bags in assorted sizes and some backup foil for on-the-go snacks and leftovers. Tuck in some twist-ties and clothespins for hanging towels or clipping chip and cracker bags. Also good: disposable plastic containers for food and delicate souvenirs like seashells.
7. Keep it clean.
If your rental unit has a washer and dryer, pack a handful of laundry detergent pods (quarters, too, if needed). If you can wash mid-week, you can pack less and go home with mostly clean clothes to ease the work of unpacking post-vacation. Pack a couple of grocery bags, too, for wrapping up dirty or sandy sandals and shoes and dirty clothes.
8. Make it homey.
Kids can struggle to get to sleep in strange surroundings, especially if they’ve had a disruptive day of travel. Pack a favorite nightlight, blanket or pillow for their assurance, and a baby monitor for yours. White noise phone apps or portable noise machines also can be helpful.
9. Plan your meals.
Pack a few lightweight items for a quick arrival meal (like microwave mac-and-cheese, pasta packets or soup) or hit the super-easy button and grab a meal to go or order pizza on your first night. Then take full advantage of a rental kitchen and gather all the staples and groceries you need for the week, such as butter, milk, eggs, cereal, meat and vegetables, fresh fruit and a few special treats. This is vacation, after all. Plan carefully so you’re not throwing out too much at the end of your stay — you may end up eating ice cream and meatballs for breakfast.
10. Look carefully before leaving.
More room to roam in a rental unit can increase the chance that something will get left behind when it comes time to pack up for home. Check under beds and bedding for beloved blankets and stuffed animals, showers for swimsuits left to dry, behind doors for shoes and outlets for forgotten phone and computer chargers that could send a teen into a toddler-worthy meltdown. Last of all, leave a comment in the guest book and pay forward the fun you had.
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