With easy access to vacation rentals now available through national sites such as Vacation Rental by Owner, AirBnB and HomeAway, and local sites such as Craiglist, locating a place for a group vacation gathering with family and friends has gotten much easier. Coordinating multiple families can prove tricky, though, so here are some lessons we learned that may help your group vacation stay focused on the fun!
Find a date and duration that works for everyone. Our cabin rentals with family and friends last 3 nights long. We really enjoy this length of time, as it allows for 2 full days at the cabin, plus the afternoon of the first day, and the morning of the last day. Also establish a maximum travel distance–we have people traveling from 3 different cities and try not to make one family do a significantly larger amount of travel. Our trips are all relatively brief and local-no airfare.
Check the sites listed above and find rentals that accept bookings for your trip length. Be aware that many rentals (especially waterfront properties) only allow weeklong rentals during the summer months. You can always try contacting the owner to see if they are willing to accept stays for your trip length, especially if you are booking late–they may happily take a 3-day rental in a week that no one else booked.
Establish the group priorities and budget and then start sharing rental possibilities with the group (we do this via email). Our friend group prioritizes waterfront property, and we need at least two bathrooms. Sadly, the nicest lake we ever stayed on was at a cabin with only 1 bathroom for 13 people. We haven’t been back to that rental.
Choose the point person who will make the actual reservation. This should be a group member who communicates well, as they will need to convey information to the whole group from the rental owners. Most owners will send out information in the week before your visit with travel directions and reminders about any stipulations about bringing your own linens, etc.
When You Arrive:
Take time to read the binder or welcome materials that the hosts have left for you. This will give you many pieces of helpful information, and also usually includes expectations for cleaning before you leave (see Departure, below).
Choosing Your Rooms:
Establish before you arrive how you will decide which family will stay in which room. Some groups may allocate the rooms based on size, others might choose to allocate the rooms based on which family has the earliest risers and would be just fine near the common area where people would begin to congregate in the morning. We tend to allocate the rooms based on extra space; one year we had a family who needed the largest room because they needed to set up a pack ‘n play and two inflatable beds for their kids. Another year, my husband and I ended up in a bedroom with twin bunkbeds, so we got first choice of bedrooms the next year because we had taken one for the team the previous year. If your group is going to claim rooms based on when people arrive at the rental, make sure that everyone understands that clearly.
Make sure you read the rental information thoroughly and pack the recommended items. One of the biggest surprises to me at a few of our rentals was that we needed to bring our own towels, both for swimming and for use in the house, including the kitchen. Also check and see if you will have access to the laundry machines. It helps to bring along a few loads’ worth of laundry detergent so you can launder swimming towels overnight and have them ready for fun the next day.
The first year we shared a cabin with my in-laws, we sent approximately 10 million emails trying to coordinate food for all the meals at the cabin. It was a disaster, and one couple ended up doing most of the cooking for the twenty people because it was their personality to just take care of things, while the other couples had a more laissez-faire approach. The next year we changed the plan, so that each of the four families provided one large meal for the group. This meant that all three dinners were provided, and because we had four families, the fourth family cooked a large breakfast/brunch one of the days as their contribution. We scheduled meals that would create significant overage/leftovers on the first two nights, because that could help feed the group for lunches on following days. The family providing the meal did the cooking and clean up for their one meal, helping to even out the workload. This meant that each family also had at least two of the nights when they could relax a bit and enjoy the fact that loved ones were preparing a meal for them. We have continued this “one dinner per family” setup with our friend group and it works really well. In addition to the main meal that each family provides, we also bring shareable breakfast and lunch food, as well as snacks.
Pantry items that you may want to pack, or email the hosts and ask about beforehand: coffee (!) and coffee filters, sugar, salt & pepper, butter. Plan to bring any condiments you will need.
Most vacation rentals will have some cleaning requirements for you before you depart on your last day. These tasks may include taking out all the garbage, stripping the beds/starting loads of linen laundry, and cleaning the kitchen and all dishes. In all honesty, these tasks can put a damper on your final day, if you let them. It helps if all adults are actively working on the tasks, and if kids have a specific activity to do. After everyone has their belongings loaded into their cars, we like to take a whole-group photo to remember our time together.
We think of our time at these cabin rentals with friends and family as a highlight of our summer. The kids have built in playmates, the parents can tag-team so couples can head out together to kayak or some other adventure, and we create amazing memories at a laid-back pace. One day last January, my 4-year-old randomly said from the backseat, “Mom, I wish I was at the cabin with our friends right now.” Me too, kiddo. Me too. Come to think of it, I should start looking at some fun winter cabin locations right now.