Thursday, November 12, 2015

Here are 11 questions to ask before booking a
vacation home for the family.
Every year since our first child was born, my husband and
I have rented a house on Cape Cod for family vacation.
We usually stay for two
weeks, a lovely stretch that gives us a chance to settle in and get
comfortable in the space before packing up to leave.
Since we live too far
away to check out the houses before we put down a deposit, we've gotten
pretty good at sorting through listings and reading between the lines to
identify both potential issues and promising attributes.
We've found that some listings that claim to welcome children aren't
actually all that welcoming.
And then there are the wonderful houses whose
owners—likely parents themselves—anticipate your every need, from an extra
pack-n-play in the hall closet to a basement full of enticing toys.
The trick
is in distinguishing between the two, which isn't always obvious.
Here's a
list of questions to help you determine if that Airbnb listing you're
considering truly is family-friendly: Is there onsite laundry? The first
year we went to the Cape, our daughter was seven months old.
The trip was born
out of an idyllic fantasy of summertime family life—collecting seashells on
the beach! eating ice cream cones in town! sparklers!—a Platonic ideal based
in some part on our own childhood vacations, but which really stemmed from our
fervent but unarticulated hopes that vacation-parenting would be simple and
blissful; as full of s'mores and uninterrupted sleep as real-life parenting
was of break-of-dawn coffee runs and arguments about laundry.
That first family vacation, as it turned out, was pretty blissful.
There
were still some break-of-dawn coffee runs, but they took place at the beach,
where we watched the tide go out while sipping from to-go cups.
And arguments
about laundry were mitigated by the presence of an in-house washer and dryer,
a luxury we lacked at home in our small city apartment.
If you're staying
somewhere with children for longer than three days, access to a washer and
dryer will go a long way towards familial happiness.
(Note: Don't assume
that every freestanding property has its own laundry facilities; we made this
mistake once, and it was not fun.) Are there stairs, and can they be
blocked off, if need be? Stairs were my nemesis when the kids were very
little.
One house we rented had an open staircase that led down to the
finished basement smack in the middle of the living room.
It was carpeted, but
there was no door and it was difficult to gate off.
Every time my kids toddled
by that opening took a month off my life.
No one needs extra stress on
vacation: if you have young children, find out the staircase situation and
bring or request safety gates as needed.
Does the house have a bathtub? Some children are okay with, or even
prefer, taking showers; our kids are not among them.
When my older daughter
was a toddler, we rented a house that didn't have a tub, figuring that she
would get used to the shower.
She did not.
She was scared of it, and every
post-beach rinse-off was a struggle.
We never did that again.
Are there ever any problems with noise? Unless you're in the middle of
nowhere, a little noise from neighbors is inevitable, but it's a good idea
to make sure there aren't any hidden issues that could ruin your
trip.
During one vacation, loud music from a bar down the road kept us up
every single night.
If you're sensitive to noise, ask if there's ever a
problem with loud neighbors, nearby businesses, or traffic sounds.
If you're
not sensitive to noise, I salute you.
Is the property close to a busy road? It's nice to be able to give your
kids a bit of freedom during vacation, but that can be difficult if you're
near a busy road.
If your children are young and/or prone to running off
without warning, this is something to ask about.
Does the house contain a lot of breakable stuff? While you're on
vacation, the last thing you want is to have to constantly nag your kids about
being careful with someone else's stuff.
If a house seems somewhat
cluttered, or is decorated with tons of knickknacks or pottery, I move on.
For
me, it's not worth the hassle.
Are linens included? If not, what size are the beds? One year we arrived
at our rental after a long, hard day of traveling with a carsick preschooler
and a screaming infant only to find that we had packed queen-size sheets for a
king-sized bed.
(Our bad: we hadn't checked.
Now we always do.) Also, make
sure you know ahead of time whether the house's owners provide linens and
towels or not.
Many owners provide bath towels but not beach towels, so it's
good to ask about this as well.
How is the house laid out? When traveling with babies who don't yet
sleep through the night, staying in a house with bedrooms on different floors
can make nighttime wakings even more trying.
(When the kids are older,
however, that set-up could be ideal.) Is the house equipped with a
highchair or a portable crib? These are two bulky baby items that can be a
pain to schlep.
Lots of smart rental owners stash a portable crib and/or a
highchair in a closet in case it's needed.
Also, if you have young children
who are used to sleeping on a low toddler bed and might roll off the bed,
check to see if there are any hideaway bed rails on hand.
(If not: pad the
floor with extra pillows and hope for the best.) Does the house have any
toys? Bored kids make for a lot more whining and a lot less early-morning
sleep for their parents.
Houses that come with a variety of toys, no matter
how well used, will contribute to a happier trip all round.
What sort of beach equipment do the owners provide for summer visits? Not
having to cram beach chairs into the back of the car can make packing for a
trip infinitely easier.
Before leaving, find out exactly which beach
accessories the house comes with; some rentals are stocked with everything
from umbrellas and chairs to boogie boards and sand toys.
And if they have one
of those beach carts that hold all your stuff and roll across the sand, book
that house immediately.
Here's a list of questions to help you determine if that
Airbnb listing you're considering truly is family-friendly.

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