Nuggets of Vacation Rental Wisdom

More from Lynne Martin of ‘Home Sweet Anywhere’

Lynne_MartinI love talking to vacation rental owners to find out what they do to create quaility accommodation, but like talking to their guests even better. After all, if we are not pleasing our clients there’s something that needs changing.

So, following my podcast interview with Lynne last week, I wanted to follow up with a blog post as there’s so much we didn’t cover in our chat that I feel would be useful.

For those of you that haven’t listened to the podcast, Lynne and her husband Tim sold their home and put their few remaining belongings into storage before setting off for a new life as nomadic travelers. From Mexico to Argentina, Ireland to Portugal and varying states in the US, these renegade retirees stay for several months at a time in vacation rentals while they live like locals in their new ‘home-town’. Home Sweet Anywhere is Lynne’s account of their first year of this adventure.

Lynne’s experience of many stays in rental homes in different countries has led to her developing a checklist she uses on entry to each new place. It’s useful for us to read this to get a real appreciation of what our guests are looking for. I’ve also pulled a few more nuggets from the book as well as articles in Huffington Post and Forbes. Then I got enthusiastic and added some of my own ideas for good measure. This gives a list of those little things we often forget when setting up a property for vacation rental.

Here they are in no particular order:

Knife Sharpener
The Martins carry a knife sharpener in their luggage as their experience of what is available to them generally is not good.

The poor quality of knives in vacation rentals has long been the butt of jokes and bad reviews and from my own personal experience it’s well justified. Most places I’ve stayed in seem to have the cheaper brands of knife sets from Bed Bath and Beyond or Home Outfitters – you know – the ones that look really smart for the first guests but after a few weeks-worth of use are blunt and pitted and are as much use for cutting meat as a rubber duck.

Check out this list of great home-cooks knives

Meat thermometer
Getting sick in another country is no fun, and testing the temperature of cooked meat is a good way of warding of a bout of food poisoning. Lynne also packs a meat thermometer as this is another item that rarely shows up on a vacation home inventory. They are inexpensive and since barbecuing is a standard cooking method for holiday chefs, a good thing to have around.

The following scary statistics were in a great article on meat thermometers on Amazing Ribs.com.

“Nobody knows how many millions of dollars are wasted on overcooked food, but far more importantly, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that in 2011 roughly one in six Americans got sick from food-borne illnesses, about 128,000 were hospitalized, and 3,000 died, about the same number who died in the attacks in 2001 or Pearl Harbor in 1941. The difference: Many were children.”

The other stat that worried me was this one:

In October 2013 Comsumer Reports tested more than 300 chicken samplespurchased at supermarkets around the nation and found that almost all were contaminated with pathogenic bacteria and half of them had antibiotic resistant strains. It said “It’s unrealistic to expect that the uncooked chicken you buy won’t contain any potentially harmful bacteria” and “even if you keep your kitchen very clean, you could still be exposed to illness-causing bacteria if you don’t cook the chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F. It’s vital that you check using a meat thermometer.”


Besides getting meat thermometers for my rental places I am also ordering the Meat Temperature Magnet from Amazon. I’m not a fan of things stuck onto refrigerator doors, but this is a must since I started thinking about how often my guests use the BBQ.

I know it’s not our responsibility as owners to stop our guests getting sick from undercooking the food they buy locally, but this ounce of prevention is dirt cheap, and happy guests are healthy guests!

Ziplock bags & stuff
When Lynne mentioned she has Ziplock bags in her essential “nomad kit” (that is my term), I understood because I have been to vacation rental homes in different parts of the world where they are difficult to come by. I often speak to owners about what they should supply and oddly, get some push-back when I mention that things like foil, saran-wrap (cling film for my Brit readers), and re-sealable bags. “But don’t they bring their own?” one owner protested. My view is that guests should only need to bring what they need to eat and drink and everything else is supplied for them.

And my biggest bugbear as a guest is arriving at a place to find there is only one resealable bag left in a box, and the aluminum foil is down to the last little strip before the cardboard.

I buy all these items when they are on sale – BOGO offers or in packs from Costco. Don’t go cheap though and get them from a dollar store – guests will see through that ploy pretty quickly.

Don’t forget to supply plenty of garbage bags too.

Plastic containers for left-overs (not old margarine containers)
I stress that again….no old margarine or ice cream containers should be in your cupboards. Why? I just don’t think it looks professional, and a pack of good plastic containers – this Rubbermaid set has a good selection – is just so much better. Remember that everything in your vacation rental kitchen will get put in the dishwasher if humanly possible, which is another reason for not going for the cheapest option on these. Make sure whatever you buy is dishwasher-safe.

Selection of herbs and spices
I love that one of Lynne’s daughters bought her a set of herbs and spices to travel with but wonder how those get explained if they fly to destinations. I’ve watched enough episodes of Border Control to have seen that any food brought into another country tends to get scrutinised pretty closely so am not sure I would risk the pat-down for a jar of oregano and a packet of mustard seed.

In my own cottages we bought the herb and spice carousels – I love this one from Cole and Mason – and we then went to Bulk Barn and bought enough of the most popular ones to refill the jars when necessary. Our caretaker carries them in her kitchen replenishment kit so the jars are always full.

Recipe books
Last year we were in Eleuthera and on recommendation from the guest book, went to the local dock to pick up some fresh fish straight off the fishing boats. It looked fabulous but I had no idea how to cook it since it was a type I’d never come across before. Lo and behold there were several Bahamian cookbooks in the property that had recipes for just the fish we had bought. When people stay at my vacation rentals here in Ontario, there is not much to buy that could be called typically Canadian because I fully believe there is no such thing as Canadian cuisine, however since Canada produces 85% of the world’s maple syrup we do have it in abundance. I leave my guests a bottle of locally produced syrup and and they can try recipes from this book.

Lynne recommends Mark Bittmens How to Cook Everything.

Ditch the Teflon
Many years ago a bunch of us would pile into the cars and head off to Cornwall for a weekend of eating and walking along the beaches, as well as theannual visit to Padstow for tiddy oggies (AKA Cornish pasties). What was memorable though were the universally disgusting pans we would find in every vacation rental cottage we stayed in. Peeling Teflon was the norm, and the black bits in the morming scrambled egg were not pepper.

I thought that was long gone in the effort to raise standards yet Lynne has seen these same peeling pans in many of the places she and Tim have called home. Generally she will head out and buy a saute pan for the duration of their stay which shows a real lack of care and attention on behalf of the owner/manager. Lynne’s suggestion is that checking the condition of pans is included on a changeover checklist. My idea is to ditch the Teflon altogether and buy a good stainless steel set, and perhaps a cast iron fry pan. If non-stick is your preference, then replace them frequently.

Are your guests sitting comfortably?
Finally, Lynne mentioned something I had never really thought about – whether our guests have somewhere really comfortable to sit. She said that in all their vacation rental experiences there have been very few places that had comfortable furniture in the living space, which really surprised me. She suggested that owners spend some time sitting (and lying) on the couch and watch a movie for a couple of hours, and really evaluate the comfort.

Of course, running out to replace a couch isn’t the same as buying a new frypan, but when you are in the market for new living room furniture it’s worth spending a little more time thinking about how it’s going to be used, as well as considering durability.

I am sure there are many things not mentioned here that seasoned vacation rental users can thing of, so let us know. Is there anything you have to have on vacation that, in your experience, is rarely supplied. Or are you an owner that ‘has thought of everything”? If so, what do you suggest we should all add to our properties that would make our intrepid renegade retirees, the Martins, call them ‘perfect’!

  • Thank you for such an informative article. I’m doing a template right now on things to put in a vacation rental kitchen and this is an invaluable post! Thank you Lynne and Heather!

  • I’m glad it was helpful Mercedes – Lynne really fired me up to review all my property equipment and I had a great shopping spree yesterday! Beautiful new stainless steel pans, and some great accessories.

  • ToonTownRob

    The problem with leaving high quality plastic storage containers for guests is that guests don’t think they should be reused, and instead throw them out. They take them on day trips and throw them away when empty all the time. And with the introduction of branded ‘disposable’ re sealable containers the problem has only gotten worse. So we DO leave a large collection of cleaned margarine and cottage cheese containers for our guests to use, beside having a good quality set of resealable containers. Some guests continue to use and throw away the good quality containers, but many more use the recycled containers and toss them, and the losses of the good containers has dropped dramatically.
    If someone thinks it unprofessional to have clean recycled containers available in a bottom cupboard I must disagree. Like so many other things it is a matter of context. In some kitchens it would contribute to an impression of cheapness on the part of the owner. In our well supplied kitchen it becomes a thoughtful extra that our guests can take advantage of guilt free.

  • Rob, do you find the same thing happens if the containers are glass? I wouldn’t think glass would ever be taken out or thrown away.