Amazing things happen on great vacations! A whole new world opens up. And the increasing popularity of vacation rentals has expanded fantastic opportunities even more. For those who don’t know about them, vacation rentals are when people who have great homes/condos/flats/townhouses in all kinds of interesting places around the world open up their homes for rentals by the day, week, month, or even year to those looking to travel to exciting locations. There are a couple of well-known services that cater to bringing together those renting their homes with those looking for places to rent – VRBO.com and HomeAway.com are the best known (they’ve actually merged now). And one of the best aspects of vacation rentals is access to a kitchen while on vacation! Now you can have your morning coffee in your jammies, toast a quick bagel before hitting your tourist locations, and enjoy a quick and easy dinner or late night snack all in the comfort of your vacation home! All of that begs the question – cooking in a vacation rental… what do you need to know?
So there we were sitting on the patio of our vacation rental, sipping our early morning coffee and nibbling on some fresh pineapple that came from the grounds, gazing out over the tropical jungle canopy to the warm Pacific waters of the southern Costa Rica coastline known as Costa Ballena, trying to catch a glimpse of a breaching whale, when out of nowhere my 23 year old niece said, “I’m moving here.” We all chuckled a bit. Yeah, dream on. Wouldn’t that be nice! And we headed inside for our vanilla yogurt and granola parfaits before heading out to the stunning tropical beach for the day.
How to Prepare for Cooking in a Vacation Rental
Having a rich cup of coffee early in the morning at your dream vacation rental is a wonderfully relaxing way to start your long-awaited and much deserved vacation. And having an evening cocktail as the sun goes down is even better! These quiet and relaxing times are often the defining moments of a fabulous vacation. If you want them, you’ve got to make them happen. It takes a bit (not much) of preparation, though.
We’ve stayed in vacation rentals all over the world and have enjoyed every single one of them. Cooking in a vacation rental is one of the nicest perks – you get to eat and drink on your own schedule, nibble here and there, drink your coffee in the quiet of the early morning sunrise… not to mention the money saved by not going out for every single snack or drink. But how do you make it all happen? Although some vacation rentals are very well stocked, many are not. You need to bring a few critical items. These tips will get you started.
Bring the Essentials if you’re cooking in a vacation rental
- Coffee – Traveling to a dream destination often requires a long day of travel. And when you finally arrive, you’re tired and want to relax. It’s often late at night so you hit the sack to get a good night’s sleep. When you wake up early in the morning, it hits you… you don’t have coffee! And the last thing you want to do is get dressed and schlep around a place you don’t know and hope to find that steaming Cup of Joe you absolutely need to get your morning started! So, bring it with you! Starbucks Via is instant coffee that comes in small, single serving packets that pack well, travel well, and actually taste really good! Pack them in a zip top bag along with a few packets of creamer and sweetener and you’ll be good to go when the sun gets you up that first morning of your dream trip!
- Salt, Pepper, and Spices – No matter where you are or what you cook, salt and pepper are essential. These basic spices can turn any bland food item into something quite tasty! Bring a set of those small travel, picnic sized containers. Seasoned Salt also goes a long way – it can go on veggies, meat, pasta… you name it! Throw a little into a small zip top bag and bring it with you so you don’t have to buy a full sized container when you’re there. Your taste buds will thank you!
- A Decent Knife – Most vacation rentals will come stocked with basic flatware and cooking utensils, but the knives are almost always very dull. Tough to deal with! If you’re checking a bag, then wrap up a knife in paper towels and stick it in one of your shoes (please don’t forget to take it out when you unpack!) Dealing with dull knives is one of the most frustrating parts of cooking in a vacation rental. Don’t try to bring it in your carry-on bag, though! TSA might have a problem with that. You don’t want to spend the first several hours of your vacation in the strip and search room at the airport!
- Booze – For those who enjoy an evening cocktail, bring a few of those cute mini alcohol bottles. You can buy them on the plane (for $7 a pop!!), or get them at your liquor store before you leave (for $1-2 each) – I’ll let you decide the better choice on that one… TSA allows as many of these bottles as will fit in your allotted quart sized zip top baggie, so feel free to carry them on. If you’re checking a bag through, then bring as many as you’d like!
- Stick With What You Know but Go Local – Although that may sound contradictory, these actually go hand in glove. Cooking in a vacation rental means you’re likely cooking outside your comfort zone. This is particularly true when visiting a foreign country. Going through a market in a foreign city or town can be daunting, especially if you don’t speak the language. Some things look familiar. Others don’t. Start with the familiar when you’re just starting out. Pasta, rice, basic veggies, and pork and chicken are pretty readily available wherever you go. Keep it simple – grill or sauté the meat, boil the pasta, and cut up some fresh veggies. Add the salt, pepper, and seasoning you brought to everything, and you’ve got a tasty meal in about 30 minutes! Enjoy it while sitting out on your deck or patio as you overlook the bustling city, skyline, or piece of nature you came to see. On the other hand, when buying staples, avoid American “name brand” items and stick with local brands. You might not be able to understand what is written, but most products have pictures on them. You almost can’t go wrong and the local products are typically much less expensive than American brands world-wide. This goes for packaged products, as well as fruits and vegetables. And even if you get it wrong (like that time I thought I was buying potato chips and ended up with lime-infused pork rinds… it was, well, interesting to say the least).
A few months after that glorious trip when my niece announced she “was moving” to beautiful Costa Rica, we went back. Sitting on that same patio, overlooking that same deep blue Pacific Ocean, this time drinking boxed wine I didn’t recognize and boxed milk I had never seen before, we anxiously awaited my niece’s return from her job interview down the street. They loved her. She loved them. The wheels were set in motion. And a few short weeks later, she’s living her dream. Living in the most beautiful place she’d ever seen. Goal set; mission accomplished. Go after your dreams – they do come true! And in the meantime, be prepared when cooking in a vacation rental. You never know where the experience will lead!