Family, restaurant, vacation

To Cook or Not to Cook While on Vacation

So you’ve rented your vacation home and it comes with a fully equipped kitchen. Then the dilemma starts. Should we eat in and cook all our own meals? Or should we eat out and discovery the local restaurants? There is no correct answer to these questions because every family is different. But I can share some experiences I’ve had while traveling with just my husband and also with the whole family.

If you’re traveling with your family you need to consider the cost of eating out. After ordering an appetizer, individual entrees, a few drinks and desserts, at the end of the dinner you may be looking at a tab of over $100 for a family of four. Seven days of eating like this really adds up. I do think it’s important to try a few local restaurants during your stay. Afterall, you’d be crazy not to try the fresh seafood while visiting the Gulf Coast at some point on your visit. There have been trips I’ve taken with just my husband when we ate out every meal. Those are the vacations when I truly want to relax and not worry with the cooking and clean up.

When we have rented vacation homes or condos with a fully equipped kitchen, I do try to take advantage of this as much as possible.

  • Plan your meals well in advance before leaving for your trip. MAKE  LISTS!!!! You’ll need two separate lists. One list will be the dishes and the recipes that go with them. The second list will be your grocery list. I always try to take as much of the dried food with me from home. For example, if I’m making chili I know that the recipe calls for canned tomatoes and chili beans. If these are items that I already have on hand, I pack them up and take them with us. If there’s a recipe that will call for a cup of flour, I’ll go ahead and measure that out into a plastic sandwich bag and bring it from home. That way I’m not buying a 5 pound bag of flour while on my trip just to use 1 cup of it. I also may shop at my hometown market before the trip to gather all the other dry items I may use in the condo. This helps cut down on the time spent grocery shopping on my vacation.
  • I use my second grocery list for the market nearest my vacation home. On this list I have all my cold, frozen and fresh products.
  • There are food markets that offer grocery pick up or delivery to your condo. I know the Wal-Mart in Gulf Shores, Alabama offers the grocery pick up. If you are able to arrange a pick up plan with them, that’s one less thing you have to worry about when you arrive to your vacation town. Let them do the shopping for you. And it’s a free service. Do your research on these markets before you leave your home. This could pay off and save you lots of time.
  • We typically always eat breakfast in our condo everyday. There are those mornings we wake up to bacon, eggs and pancakes. On days that we need to leave the condo to head out to our activities quickly, it’s usually a cereal or Eggo day. By eating breakfast in the condo  you’ve saved between $30-$40 per day.
  • Lunches in our condos are usually sandwiches and chips. Peanut butter works great too. The best part of staying in a beach condo is that you can take your lunch with you to the beach and have a picnic right on the sand. Eating lunch from your condo will save you $50-$60 per day.
  • Dinner time!!!!  I just got one word that makes all the difference when planning meals on your vacation. CROCK POT!!!!!!!!!  Honestly, I’ve never stayed in a vacation home or condo that provided a crock pot for us. I’ve always brought mine from home. It’s the best thing. I can throw in our dinner in the morning after breakfast, turn it on low and allow it to cook the entire day. I’ve made beef pot roast and potatoes, lasagna, taco soup, French dip sandwiches and cube steak, just to name a few. Then we typically have enough leftovers for lunches the next day. Clean up with the crockpot is easy too. Most of them allow the stoneware to be removed and can be placed in the dishwasher. Voila!!! Clean up is done. By choosing to dine in for dinner, you’ve saved over $100 per day.
  • Snacks!!  Keep fresh fruit handy for snacking. Or if you are craving a little something sweet, refrigerated cookie dough is your friend. All you have to do is pop them out on a cookie pan, bake as directed on the package. And you have fresh-baked cookies. When your family smells those cooking baking, you’ll be their hero for sure.

Have fun and plan for as much or little cooking as you want to take on while on Vacation. A good mix of eating in and exploring the local top restaurants works best for our trips. Always find and try something new and enjoy the local favorites.

Comment any thoughts and suggestion!

Visit our website thedunes504.com

Fort Morgan Alabama, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, vacation

What should I look for in a Vacation rental?

Vacation rentals have flooded the market in recent years and your choices are practically endless when it comes to selecting one. So what should you be considering when comparing properties and making a final decision.

  1. Take your time and do your homework. I know I always try to plan a year in advance and make sure I am choosing the right place for the family. Don’t get caught up in the Vacation excitement and make a rushed spontaneous decision.
  2. Be critical! Things rarely look better in person than they do in the photos. Ever met someone in person you had only seen in photos on Facebook? Ever said they sure look different in person. Well the photos that Vacation rentals post are their “best foot forward”. Look at the photos throughly.
    1. If the posting has more photos of the surroundings than of the interior and living areas then I wonder what they are hiding. I can find pictures of the beach and mountains on Google. Show me what the living space, beds, kitchen, and bathrooms look like where I am spending my hard-earned money to stay at over vacation.
    2. Look for what is missing. Our minds have a way of filling in information that is actually missingWas there a washer and dryer? Did you see kitchen appliances like a crock pot to cook meals in while you are out enjoying the sights? Was there counter space to be able to prepare a meal or two to save cost?
    3. Look at the scale of things. If the sofa takes up the entire length of the Living space and even sticks under the counter bar then maybe the living space is a little bit cramped. If the pillow barely fits across the bunk bed then it could be a tad narrow and small. Is that a Queen bed in the Master bedroom?

Narrow your list down to a few options and then drill down even further.

  1. Look at the comfort and amenities with your choices
    1. Bedrooms and sleeping spaces. Look closely at the sizes and quality of the beds. Unlike other items in the rental the beds are used EVERYDAY and for the most about of time! Vacation is about rest and relaxation and how can you enjoy yourself when you can’t sleep well.
      1. What size bed is in the Master bedroom? There is a big difference between a King and a Queen bed.
      2. What size are the bunk beds? I have seen a lot of rental units with bunk beds built into an old closet and they are very narrow and not long enough to be comfortable. In fact they are basically unsafe and dangerous. Again look at the scale of things. Look at the pictures and if the pillow barely fits across the bunk bed that seems like a small bed. Try to visualize the bunk along the wall at the head or foot and see if you can gauge the width that way.
      3. Is it a true twin or full size bunk bed?
      4. How safe does it look?
      5. Does it even have a railing or ladder?
      6. What is the quality of the mattress or bedding? Especially on the Bunk Beds where some people will cut bulk foam and say that is a mattress. Others will use RV or Baby Bed Mattresses as substitutes because of the bunk being that odd size “converted closet bunk”queen-bed-and-no-room-at-the-inn bunks-so-narrow-pillow-barely-fitsBunks-with-foam-mattressprison-bunks-no-railing
        1. Kitchen.  The biggest reason to rent a condo or home versus a hotel is the cooking space.
          1.  Do you have the counter space to cook and prepare meals to save on meal costs? We always like to eat one meal at the rental and one from local restaurant each day with snacks in between.
          2. Do you have the necessary appliances? A crock pot is nice to have. It does the work for you while you are out enjoying the sights and adventures of vacation and is ready when you come home. Just don’t forget to plug it on and turn it on!
          3. Can you fit a pot on the stove top? Some units I have seen barely have enough room under the above stove microwave to fit a pot to cook with.
          4. How many burners do you have on the stove and how big is the oven? Some ovens and stoves are so narrow you can’t fit anything into them.
          5. Does the kitchen size and equipment match the occupancy number?cramped-small-kitchen-no-stove-top-room
        2. Dining space. Once you cook the meal everyone one needs a place to eat it.
          1. Are there at least as many dining chairs as members of your family? Pretty simple to count and see. It is hard enough to get the modern family to sit down for 5 minutes together anymore, but especially difficult if you do not have the seating.
        3. Living space. You see sometimes it just rains. If the family is stuck in the rental can you all comfortable coexist?
          1. Is the living space open enough for us all to fit? Look again at that couch size in comparison to the room for an idea of scale. Also use the tiles in the floor to count and gauge feet in space. Floor tiles are either 12 or 18 inches square as a rule.
          2. Are there separate areas that family members can spread out? Well sometimes you just need a little space too.
            1. Is there an outdoor patio/balcony space you can enjoy no matter the weather?
            2. Is there a desk for child to sit at and color? small-living-space
        4. Technology and TV’s. Those sports teams keep playing and those reality tv shows continue in spite of your Vacation schedule.
          1. Are there smart TV’s? That way you can use your Premium subscription services just like at home. HULU , Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. Watch out for the old school tube television!
          2. What are the size’s and location’s of the TV’s? A lot of rental owners think putting a small TV in the upper corner of the room is a good idea. It is awful! Can you imagine a week of straining your eyes, back, and neck to watch that? I hope they give you a FREE chiropractor visit to get realigned! Look for large TV’s mounted close to eye level so you are not awkwardly positioned to watch it.
          3. Is my check in process electronic and is there keyless entry? Being able to check in anytime 24 hours a day is nice because the unexpected can happen. Delays in arrival are common and having to meet someone and be given a key can be frustrating. Modern rental units have some form of electronic access and check in. Also with keyless entry you do not have to keep up with a physical key and everyone in the family can come and go at their desire. tv-just-a-little-awkward-to-watch-free-chiropractor-after-vacation-compressor
        5. Balconies and patios. Who doesn’t like to lounge on the balcony reading a good book or drinking your coffee listening to the waves crash. Too many Vacation rental balconies are just too small to even use!
          1. How large is the Balcony/Patio? Most seem to be very small, barely able to fit two people. This is one of those additional areas for your family to spread out and enjoy some time alone or together.
          2. Can you all fit and is there seating for everyone?
          3. What type of furniture is there? I see a lot of cheap flimsy plastic dollar store junk! Why can’t there be a nice lounger sectional on a roomy oversized balcony retreat to enjoy? no-room-balcony-and-cheap-plastic-chairsmall-two-person-balcony
        6. Washer and Dryer. You can pack lighter when you have a washer and dryer conveniently in your rental.
          1. Is there a washer and dryer in the unit? Don’t assume and let your brain fill in information that is not there.
          2. Is it full size or stackable? Who WANTS to do laundry on Vacation, but at least with a full size unit you can do it LESS often on Vacation.
        7. The furnishings. So many rentals look like they are furnished with the owners left overs. They look like Yard sale finds picked randomly to go together. Who wants to pay to stay in someone elses “Junk Drawer”? uncomfortable-furniture

Take your time and compare! You will find the dream rental that is perfect for your Family! Happy hunting and have a Great Vacation!

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