When you’ve had a nice time at a Vacation Home and you want to thank the owner – particularly if you want first pick of some popular vacation dates next year – leaving a gift can be a thoughtful and fun way to express your gratitude. For all the following gift ideas, remember to keep in mind the décor of the house and the location – beach homes are different from mountain homes, which are different from urban apartments.
Any decorative additions to a house can be somewhat difficult – does it match the decor? is it to the owner’s taste? – but pillows are generally a sure bet.
If you took a great book on vacation with you, especially if it’s one of those beach bum sort of books, then it’s always nice to leave it behind when you’ve finished. Most houses have a little collection of books for the guests to enjoy, and a small contribution is always appreciated.
Vases are always useful – they’re perfect for flowers or any sort of display and difficult to get wrong. If you want to leave a particularly nice gift, give a vase with some fresh flowers as well.
Windchimes are charming and relaxing, they’re a unique gift that will give pleasure to guests and the owners alike.
5. Board games
Even the greatest vacation can face a rainy day or two. To help others get through the gloom, you can always buy a board game. Anything works, but take into account whether the house is aimed at adults or families and try to buy for the appropriate audience.
Most owners just stock the kitchen with the essentials, but everyone appreciates specialized tools. If there’s no blender or toaster or good chef’s knife, then these are perfect gifts.
7. Gift baskets
If you want to get more personal, you can always send the owners a gift basket, or leave a basket of goodies for the next renter. One great idea – a s’mores basket, with all the necessary ingredients to make s’mores.
You can almost never go wrong with wine. Even if the owners don’t want it, a future renter will.
Many homes are filled with photos and paintings. The gift of a frame can be creative, useful and thoughtful.
10. Special food
Along the lines of kitchenware, kitchens are often stoked with salt and pepper and some herbs and spices, but you can always leave some goodies behind for the next renter. Maybe some good chocolate, a nice spice rack or anything that you wished had been there when you arrived.
When I was in grade school, each new school year presented the opportunity to recount what I had done during the summer months. When classes resumed I was asked to describe what I had been doing with my time away. The grade usually correlated to the amount of work that was required: in kindergarten I gave a show and tell presentation; in the sixth grade, I wrote an essay. Each fall I would tell my teacher the same thing: I told them about my summer vacation. Sightseeing at the Grand Canyon, building sand castles on the beach, or navigating our way through Disneyland – my family always went on a vacation. It was a bonding experience, my parents said, and we were required to spend at least an entire week together – whether we were to be cramped in a single cruise ship cabin or lounging in an entire rented cottage – the time was to be spent together.
The first vacation I have memories from is when I was five years old and my parents, baby sister and I went to the Lake of the Ozarks. I may not remember much of the scenery, or any of the lake for that matter. But I do remember listening to the neighborhood band play in the park while I climbed the jungle gym. I remember going to day camp and creating my own bejeweled hat while my parents were off doing boring adult things. For anyone who debates sending their children off to day camp programs, it was the highlight of my trip.
Since that initial vacation, my family has traveled to a new location each year. Each destination was a new place to explore and buy tacky souvenirs to bolster our vacation T-shirt collection: one for every location. During my teenage years I was a little less enthusiastic to oblige my parents’ vacation plans, but by the time I hit college I was begging them to extend the trips a day or two longer to enjoy the momentary respite from studying and the less than desirable college dining hall food.
Why should your family travel together?
Vacations aren’t just to “get away from it all” or for the relaxation. In fact, anyone who has ever gone on a family vacation – especially with young children – can tell you they are often far from relaxing. What family vacations do provide is an unparalleled bonding experience. Sharing new and exciting experiences with your family connects you in a way that few other events allow. The activities, the meals, even arguing over who was at fault for getting lost are moments that you and your family will always cherish.
Enough with the gushy stuff. When it comes down to it – even with the budget restrictions, the challenges of traveling with youngsters, or the stress of planning – in the long run, family time trumps all the obstacles.
This summer, my family went to Chicago, and due to work conflicts I wasn’t able to join them for the first time since our summer family vacation initiative began. They showed me pictures and brought back my obligatory keepsake (a poster from Wrigley field). But I missed out on the road trips; I missed out on arguing over what we were having for dinner, or what museum would have the best exhibits; I missed out on all of the fun.
Next summer, when my parents schedule our annual trip’s destination and dates, I will take off work months in advance. When I return and my boss asks how my trip was, I’ll give my vacation presentation, the same way I did in elementary school. Family vacations are an important part of my life, I’ll tell him. And I have the T-shirts to prove it.
Bethaney Wallace is a social media advocate for the mortgage rates website, MortgageSum. She is passionate about blogging and family vacations.
Back in the day when checking bags at the airport was not a luxury, travelers brought it all. Luggage was roomy! In fact, I have distinct memories of being able to climb into my parents’ suitcase, and fit my seven-year old self in there quite comfortably, along with my five-year old sister. These days, it would be hard to fit a pair of Chihuahuas into the typical rolling suitcase, and travelers need to get a whole lot pickier about what they pack.
For an urban visit, packing light is easy – good walking shoes plus a few versatile outfits that can go from museum to dinner, and you’re set. When your vacation involves one or more days of outdoor recreation and adventure, however, successful packing requires some serious thought and planning. Whether you are heading to the mountains, the woods, or the beach, having the right clothing and gear available can make or break your vacation.
Lodging at a vacation rental makes the clothing part easier, because laundry facilities are usually available in the home, so you can pack fewer items. Sweaty, muddy, dusty clothing from one day’s hike or bike outing can be freshened up for the next day’s adventure—trust me, your friends and family will thank you. You’ll also appreciate having access to laundry when you re-pack for the trip home, without needing to bag up your grimy adventurewear!
Planning what clothes to pack means thinking about the climate. Even in the summer, mountain towns experience a huge range of temperatures from morning through evening. Several thinner layers – such as a long sleeve thermal, a fleece, and a shell – can be just as warm as one large jacket, but take up less space, and are more adaptable to conditions. Can your shell serve as a rain jacket? Choose clothing that can do double duty (pants that zip off into shorts are a great example.)
In most cases, it’s the gear that really eats up space when packing for an adventure-filled vacation. Helmets, boots, snorkel masks, skis, boards, paddles, neoprene, binoculars, waders, fly rods… this is where the rubber meets the road when packing for a well-equipped trip. The trick is to decide which pieces to rent at your destination, and which are critical enough that you really would like to bring your own. There are no hard and fast rules, just personal preferences based on how you’d answer a few questions:
How many times will you use the gear? On past trips to Cozumel, I packed all my own snorkel gear: fins, gloves, booties, mask and snorkel. We snorkeled every day, it was great to have everything fit and work well. Recently we traveled to Cabo, and I knew we’d have only one day of snorkeling. I still packed the mask, but rented the rest of the gear.
How picky are you about fit? Some items are one-size-fits-all (ski poles, for example). Sometimes the normal sizes just don’t fit! This seems to be especially true for ski boots, because unhappy feet can spoil the best bluebird day ever. It’s worth making room or paying the extra luggage fee to BYOB—bring your own boots. When size doesn’t matter, like with waders for fly-fishing, by all means renting is a great option.
Is it available to rent? A few calls to local gear shops can help identify what is available. If you’re planning to bike, be sure to specify whether you’ll just be cruising flat forest roads, or if you’ll be riding hard on singletrack—the bikes are very different for each of those scenarios! Reserve the right sizes as well, and find out if the shop has helmets available.
One final packing tip: any day of outdoor recreation is better with a little picnic action on the summit or the sand. Plan ahead and pack (not in your carry-on, of course) a corkscrew, a cheese knife, and a can opener, or a multi-purpose tool with all three. Then toast to your grand adventure and your excellent packing skills!
One of the perks of family travel is spending time together. At the same time, traveling with the kids can make it hard for the grownups to get the downtime that they need. Here are five ideas for what to do with the kids while you take some time to relax.
1. Take Turns with the Kids
If you’re traveling with another family, take turns with kid duty. Try alternating days when one family takes the kids one afternoon, and the other for the next afternoon. This way, each of the grown ups gets a chance to relax and have some time to themselves. What’s more, the kids get a break from their parents for a few hours.
Alternately, if you’re traveling as a couple with your own kids, switch off so that one person can relax and have some me-time while the other takes the kids. Alternate so you each get equal “time off.”
2. Enlist the Grandparents
If the kids’ grandparents are close by – or if you’re traveling with them – ask them to watch the kids for a few hours so that you can get some grownup time. Not only will it give you a break, but the grandparents will enjoy the time to hang out with their grandkids – without their parents noticing. After all, how can they appropriately spoil their grandchildren when their parents are around?
3. Put on a Movie
Depending on the kids’ ages, a movie can be a good way to occupy an hour or two of their time, as well as giving the parents a chance to escape and get some time to themselves. For young kids, select an age-appropriate movie and stay nearby in case they need something. For older kids, give them a little leeway – but still stay in close range to monitor their activities.
4. Sign up for a Kids’ Class
Some shops, local businesses and city recreation departments offer classes for kids; sign them up for an hour-long class and take time for yourself while they’re learning a new craft, playing a sport or learning a game.
5. Enlist Babysitting Services
Hire a babysitter and take some time off away from the kids – and the house. Ask for local references for babysitting or nanny services, and have them come to the house to watch the kids for an afternoon while you get a break to spend time doing what you want to do.
Vacation with the kids can be a great way to bond. It can also mean being on kid duty for the duration of the trip. Make a little time for yourself by signing the kids up for a class or getting some assistance from family and friends and spend the time relaxing. Make sure your family vacation is really a vacation!
Teresa J. Shaw is a Michigan-based writer specializing in travel and family content. Read more of her work at www.teresajshaw.com and follow her on Twitter @TeresaShaw.
Last summer we spent some time in Whistler, British Columbia. We hiked, we biked, we swam in the River of Golden Dreams. I thought we’d done it all… until I looked up. There, soaring through the treetops, squealing in delight, came a teenage girl on a zipline. Shortly after, and squealing just as loudly, came her grandmother. I’ve never been a fan of heights, but if they could do it, so could I! It didn’t work out to zipline on that trip, but I resolved to make it happen on an upcoming vacation, and since then have found what I think are a the top options for zipline adventures. Now I just need to choose one, and plan the rest of my vacation around it!
For those unfamiliar with ziplines, they are cables strung high between two platforms, spanning forest canopies, raging rivers, or dramatic canyons. Riders harness in and clip onto the cable, and with a little help from gravity, they zip from the high end of the cable to a platform at the lower end, at speeds determined by the change in elevation. Ziplining requires little coordination or skill – but plenty of nerve.
Ziplines may be extreme adventure, but it seems downright sane when compared to other Whistler sports: all summer, downhill bikers hurl themselves down the trails and off six-foot drops, and all winter the best skiers and snowboarders push the limits of riding the snow. So it’s no coincidence that Whistler’s zipline tours have gone massive as well, with all-day tours down ten ziplines that span from mountain to mountain.
British Columbia’s forests are impressive, no doubt, but even the Pacific Northwest cannot compare to the biodiversity of a Costa Rican rainforest. Ziplining in Costa Rica is about more than just adrenaline – it’s a chance to experience the canopy ecosystem first-hand.
There’s only one way to get to the zipline in Durango—you’ve got to climb aboard the Durango-Silverton steam engine train, and ride the narrow-guage rails that haven’t changed in over a century. A huge variety of zipline tours and packages are available. Riding every zipline crossing this old Ponderosa forest would take days! Their latest addition has set up two parallel cables for zipline racing.
I know, I know… when on vacation in Hawaii it is really difficult to pull yourself away from the ocean! This zipline tour, however, is worth the effort of leaving the white sand behind for a day. Zipliners glide over tropical canopies broken up by misty waterfalls. Or, leave the harness behind to explore suspension bridges over natural swimming pools.
When envisioning the perfect summer vacation, we usually picture beaches with spotless sand, clear water and comfortable amenities. But the truth is, many beaches are strewn with litter, polluted with chemicals or sewage, and have awful facilities. They can be unsafe for beach goers as well as local wildlife and waterways.
One way to be sure you’ll be swimming in safe, clean water this year is to seek out a beach certified by the Blue Flag Programme, an eco-label earned by over 3,500 beaches and marinas across 41 countries. Besides looking after your own health and enjoying more pristine views, you will be helping to protect the environment if you choose to catch some waves and rays at a Blue Flag certified beach.
Water is tested regularly and found to meet quality standards
Beach is free of sewage and industrial pollutants
Environmental education activities and information are available to beach goers
Garbage and recycling containers are readily accessible
Restroom facilities are clean and properly maintained
Sustainable transportation options are available in the area
Plant matter and natural debris are left on the beach
Nearby coral reefs are monitored
Actual blue flags are erected at qualifying sites, giving visitors extra peace of mind. While most of the certified beaches are concentrated in Europe and North Africa, there are also Blue Flag beaches to be found in Canada, the Caribbean, Brazil, South Africa, and New Zealand. There are plenty of FlipKey vacation listings to be found near Blue Flag beaches: check out these possibilities in Cyprus, Greece, Wales, Ireland, and England.
The Blue Flag Programme is the most widespread eco-certification system for beaches, but there are similar labels cropping up in other countries. In the U.S., the Clean Beaches Coalition awards deserving beaches with Blue Wave certifications. And in Costa Rica, the Blue Flag Ecological Program rates beaches with one, two, or three stars according to their level of commitment to the environment.
Joanna Eng is a New York-based writer and editor who covers travel, green living, food, careers, entrepreneurship, and more. Her travel experiences have ranged from hostel hopping in Mexico to staying with distant relatives in China to renting a beach apartment in New Jersey.
A few years ago in Cozumel, Mexico, my friend Susan made a late night run to the local emergency room with a severe respiratory illness. The stress of feeling terrible was compounded by the language barrier, by the fear of a substandard facility, and by not knowing exact directions. The vacation gods were on her side that night; a few hours later she and her husband returned reassured by a competent physician who spoke excellent English, and armed with strong antibiotics. Her bronchitis was a bump in the road on an otherwise excellent vacation.
Who plans on getting sick on vacation? If we did that, we’d just stay home, right? There’s no way to predict the mishaps that can take place, but there are a few ways to plan ahead and make such bumps in the road just a little smoother. Some of these steps to a healthy vacation require planning before you ever leave home; some depend on where you travel; and some are common sense practices that we all should be doing anywhere, whether traveling or staying home.
First, know your insurance policy. You pay them loads of money for the policy, so dig up that customer service number and give them a call. Find out if your coverage is different in the area you’ll be traveling, especially if you are going abroad–if so, consider purchasing short term medical or travel insurance. Ask whether you need approval for emergency care, and whether the insurance company offers a hotline for advice on symptoms (add this number to your phone’s contact list). Also, let them know the dates you’ll be traveling and the general area, so there are no surprises.
If you are heading out of the country, add the American embassy phone number to your contact list. They can supply information on physicians in your area, and help out in case you have a more serious emergency. If language is a barrier, buy a small travelers dictionary with a large section on words for body parts, maladies, and other terms you’d need to talk to a physician.
Second, pack like a seasoned adventurer: Stock the first aid kit with benedryl, immodium, pepto bismol tablets, and a thermometer. Add a tube of numbing antiseptic cream, butterfly bandages, and a tube of cream for bites and rashes. Pack a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer in your carry-on, and use it liberally.
Finally, in order to stay healthy on vacation, just remember all the advice your mom gave you when you went off to summer camp: Wear sunscreen! Don’t go barefoot! Stay hydrated! Eat your fruits and vegetables, but only if they are peeled or cooked! Tuck your pants into your socks when you hike—there might be spiders or ticks in the woods! Wash your hands before you eat! Get a good night’s sleep! Seriously, mom’s advice goes a long way toward staying healthy, especially in an environment teeming with germs just waiting to meet you.
And if, despite your best precautions, you find yourself seeking medical help in unfamiliar territory, just remember Susan. Chances are you’ll come home with the right medication, feeling reassured, and with a great story to tell.
As a parent, the goal of family vacations is always to ensure as many happy, enduring memories as possible, especially for the kids. These getaways are the perfect opportunity to instill in them an appreciation for new people and places, and hopefully to pass along some of your own wanderlust tendencies. Vacation is also a great time to slow down and reconnect, free from the day-to-day distractions that can unwittingly build distance throughout the year.
That distance doesn’t just fall between you and the kids though. Consider your significant other and how much excitement a change of scenery would add to the two of you stealing away for a night out on the town, or perhaps even a day trip to a less than kid-friendly destination, such as a winery or particularly challenging hike. Regardless of your taste, you shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting to incorporate some “adult time” into your vacation.
You might be lucky enough to have extended family with you on vacation to keep an eye on your little ones while you go have some grown-up fun, or you might be ridiculously lucky and have a nanny who goes where you go… although that one is a lot less likely. Many families, however, are left trying to find a babysitter in a place where they don’t have any personal connections whatsoever, a decidedly frustrating act when the well-being of your children is on the line.
The only way to minimize this hassle is by the same means with which you’d ensure the smoothness of any other part of your vacation – preparation. Here are some tips that can help you in your search:
Post a Detailed Job Listing
There are many great online babysitting services you can use, like Sittercity.com or Care.com. You can even post in the part-time or etcetera jobs section of craigslist for the city you will be traveling to. No matter what you use, you’ll want to create a detailed job posting about a month or two before your vacation, including information such as:
Exact date(s) and time(s)
Responsibilities the sitter will have
General personalities of your children (active, artsy, etc.)
Any special needs information about your children (allergies, disabilities, etc.)
What you are looking for in a babysitter (over 18, CPR certified, etc.)
Hourly rate you will be paying
There isn’t an easy rule of thumb for what hourly rate to pay your babysitter, but the team over at Sittercity.com has compiled data from thousands of babysitting jobs into a really nice (and free) babysitting rate calculator.
Interview the Candidates
Once you’ve read through the responses and narrowed it down to a handful you feel are a good fit based on their experience level, enthusiasm, and general personality fit for your children, it’s time to do some interviews. By phone is OK, or even via video chat if the option is available. Here are some questions you should consider asking:
What is your favorite thing about babysitting?
What is a challenge you have experienced when babysitting in the past, and how did you resolve it?
Have you ever been convicted of a felony?
Do you have your own car, and are you comfortable driving with children? (if applicable)
Do you have any pet allergies/fears? (if your pet will be with you)
Questions like “How long have you been babysitting” and “Are you trained in First Aid/CPR” should have already been answered via their resume/response to your job posting, but feel free to ask again for posterity’s sake. Try to think of anything that might be considered unique to your situation (special needs, dietary considerations, daily religious practices, etc.) and make a list so you don’t forget to address them during the interview.
After selecting your final candidate(s), they should be completely willing to submit themselves to a reference and background check, so don’t worry about requesting these things from them if you require that extra layer of security/peace of mind.
Make a Plan
About a week before your vacation, contact your sitter to make sure they are still available, and to communicate the plan for their upcoming job. In your plan, be specific with dates and times, document where you’ll be, important phone numbers, and any information that is critical to your child’s well-being. Pretty much the same as you would do for any babysitter back home. You should also consider what activities they’ll be participating in, especially if you’ll be away for an entire day, providing your sitter with the funds needed to cover expenses for both them and your children, including gas if you feel comfortable with them driving together.
When the time comes to meet your babysitter in person, it’s not a bad idea to schedule them to arrive an hour earlier than your planned departure. This will give you time to brief them on the situation in person, watch them interact with your children, and make sure everybody is comfortable with one another.
The final, and most important step – go have a good time!
Jay Ferris is a Seattle-based writer, husband, and father of three, whose penchant for outdoors-based travel is rivaled only by his dependence on a steady internet connection and spider-free existence. Follow him on Twitter at @jayferris.
Meet Big Tree, a quintet out of Brooklyn, New York with high hopes and empty pockets. Three dashing young men and two friendly ladies make up this indie pop band. We are the luckiest people on the planet. Our job is to drive from one amazing place to the next, play a show, make new friends, and explore new cities. While we’re on the road, FlipKey invited us to share our experiences living like locals everywhere we go.
Imagine a land where Spanish moss sways softly in the breeze and people of all ages walk smiling through the parks. Imagine quiet coffee shops and gourmet restaurants along cobble stone streets. Imagine music festivals and art galleries, students and professionals. Imagine boating on rivers and skinny-dipping in the ocean, with sparkling phosporescent algae on your skin and the moon lighting up the sand. Now open your eyes, and breathe a sigh of relief. This place is real! Savannah, Georgia is a beautiful, hospitable town just waiting for you to visit.
On this tour, Savannah was one of our last stops, and a welcome retreat from the rough life of rockstardom. We drove into town and were greeted by perfect spring weather and newly blooming pink flowers in every direction. Our show was at a wonderful venue that doubles as a delicious coffee and sandwich shop. The Sentient Bean is the place to go for a vegetarian panini, an iced coffee, and some live local and touring acts. The New York Times has called it “a haven for indie film, live music and literary readings,” and we try to stop here on every tour. We played to an attentive audience and enjoyed dinner outside on the patio in the back.
Earlier in the afternoon we had decided we were going to find Forest Gump’s famous park bench, which we were sure was around there somewhere. Our quest led us from park to park, where countless fountains, statues, gardens, and playgrounds awaited us. We walked along the sidewalks to look at the historic homes and mansions, and wished we were all painters or artists so we could have gone to SCAD, the Savannah College of Art and Design.
We stayed the night at our good friends’ home close to Tybee Island, which happened to be right next to Paula Dean’s incredible house. Right on the water, we enjoyed homemade shrimp and grits while looking out at the docks and talking about how much we loved Savannah. Full of Southern cookin’, we talked our host into taking us out for a boat ride on the river. He took us up and down each winding inlet and out to the Atlantic Ocean. It was our first glimpse of it since leaving the East Coast a year ago, and boy, did it feel good to be back.
Anyone who has planned or attended a wedding knows that there is one very important issue that must be addressed for out-of-town guests: where to stay. More often than not families or wedding planners will contact a local hotel to reserve room blocks at a special rate for wedding guests, taking the guesswork and worry out of what could be an unnecessarily stressful situation. This system works pretty well for the most part, but things get a little more complicated when the wedding in question is a destination wedding.
Why’s that? Well, in a destination wedding, not only do guests require out-of-town accommodation, the same goes for the bride and groom, their families and the wedding party. Expenses can be through the roof not only because of the extra bookings involved, but also because space considerations usually demand booking superior rooms and suites. Will the entire bridal party be comfortable getting ready in a tiny twin room? Not likely.
Renting an apartment or house for a destination wedding is a great solution to the dilemmas of space and cost. If a large rental is available – perhaps a multi-room beach villa – most of the family can be accommodated together so that they can truly celebrate the occasion (don’t worry bride and groom, there surely is a private bungalow nearby to rent for some peace and quiet). A rental is a great staging area for the bridal party to get together. Instead of trekking out to a salon to do hair and makeup, the professionals can come to you. And depending on what kind of ceremony is planned, many rentals have their own private gardens or beaches, so everything can be done on site! Most catering companies have worked parties at private residences, so food should not be an issue.
Even if the wedding itself is held elsewhere, a rental will still come in handy. For the budget conscious, a rental is the perfect place to host brunch the day after the wedding. Many rentals in the Caribbean or as far away as Bali come with private chef perks. Or you can DIY! Renting an apartment or house saves the need to book venues for the welcome gathering, rehearsal dinner, brunches and more, thus cutting down considerably on expenses.
Before you leave for your big day, here’s a checklist to help with some common destination wedding issues:
Do you have your officiant in place? It’s easy to find registered officiants in the popular destination wedding locales – a quick google search should do it.
Do you need to bring birth certificates, divorce certificates or any other supporting documentation from your home country? What documents do you need after the ceremony to make sure the wedding is legal back home? Do you need them translated?
Does your bridal fashion pack well? Do you know a highly recommended local dry cleaner for last minute wedding dress/suit pressing?
Have you contacted a local florist for decor?
Which are the trusted caterers in the area? Do any local restaurants offer catering services?
If you plan on cooking your own meals at the rental, where are the closest supermarkets and food shops?
Have you booked beauty and grooming appointments? Can the stylists come to you?
Mary-Elizabeth O’Neill is a New York based event designer who has lived in Paris and London. She travels frequently, loves writing about her adventures and appreciates your comments! You can find Mary-Elizabeth on Twitter as @m_oneill_nyc.
FlipKey is a vacation rental marketplace with more than 240,000 rentals around the world. Find the perfect place to stay for your trip, and get great value along with the space, privacy and amenities of home.