Family, Travel, Vacation

On Being the Family’s Travel Agent

The time of year has arrived when I drive myself absolutely insane looking for our family’s annual vacation house. (cue the fanfare!)

Next year will be our 13th year (lucky 13?) of vacation houses, and each one has been better than the last one. No pressure.

Over the last two years, finding a vacation home is proving to be very challenging (Thank you, COVID!). People are sticking closer to home, opting for driving destinations vs flying. And because our vacation house geographical area is New England, more than 70% of the houses are already booked for next summer. Not only are they booked, but the prices per night have gone WAY up.

I know about this price increase because I have been stalking houses for so long, and have made so many Trip Boards and Wish Lists that I remember how much houses cost. Houses that were in my “acceptable” price range last year, have increased more than $200-$300/night.

As the family’s travel agent – and someone who has traveled extensively with both my parents and my inlaws – I have a very good idea of the type of house that will work for us as a group.

Criteria includes:

  • 4+ bedrooms
  • Ideally, 3+ bathroom (one for each family; we could get away with 2, but…why? we’re on vacation)
  • Close to beach (bonus if it’s walkable!)
  • At least 3,000 square feet (trust me, this is a good starting point for square footage)
  • Parking for 3 cars
  • Close to a town with great restaurants
  • Large kitchen, big enough to fit the entire family around the island and leave me enough room to move around and cook
  • Countertop where we can set up our bar
  • Seating for 8 in the living room; we need to all be able to be in the living room relaxing at the same time
  • Outdoor space for eating and hanging out
  • A reading nook for my mom
  • A desk area for my mother in law to do her “correspondence”
  • A chair where my dad can go from reading to napping in 3 minutes flat
  • A play area for Little Mister
  • An outdoor napping space for Mr. KK
  • A warm spot in the sun for me
  • With our price range (which, it seems, used to be easier than it currently is)

I do all of my research on two specific websites; one rhymes with Bear B and B and the other, Mer-bo. I have spend so many hours on these two particular sites, that I have grown to know each and every house for rent.

My obsession is SO extreme, that you could show me just the fabric swatch of a sofa cushion from a random house and I could likely tell you what the house looked like (“It’s the modern farmhouse with the wide plank floors, blue kitchen cabinets and orange drapes”) where it was located (“Thats the house in Kennebunkport, near the beach with the playground in the good walking neighborhood with the ice cream shop you can walk to”); whether or not it was in our price range (“Affordable before 4th of July but is over $1500/night in August”) and one other random yet distinguishing fact about the house, such as (“Oh that’s the place with the finished basement with the dart board and pool table and weird light up Nude Beach sign”)

While this year is proving to be challenging, it hasn’t stopped me from obsession over these two websites. I’m on them late at night when I can’t sleep, and I’m back searching first thing when I wake up.

If I may make a suggestion to the creators of these two websites: can you please create a “thumbs down” icon? I already have the option to “favorite” a property with a little heart, but I would also like to be able to mark any houses I’ve looked at and rejected so that they no longer show up in my search results. There is nothing more annoying than having a house show up in search results, tricking you into looking at the property again until 4 photos in you realize you’ve already looked at the house and dismissed it for whatever reason.

And speaking of rejecting properties, it doesn’t take much for me to say “no” to the house (sorry, home owners). I rationalize it as if I’m going to spend a precious week of vacation somewhere, it better be pretty spectacular.

Reasons why I will reject a property almost immediately (don’t hate me):

  • Outdated kitchen
  • Outdated living room
  • Outdated anything
  • Patio furniture acting as actual living room furniture
  • Carpet in the main living areas (I’m sorry, but carpet in beach houses is weird)
  • Black leather couches
  • Dark wood paneling
  • No AC
  • Shared outdoor space with owners
  • Too many personal items in the house (Are you living here, or am I?)
  • Cluttered countertops and dressers
  • Raised ranches
  • No outdoor space
  • No linens included
  • Blonde wood furniture
  • Non-open concept floor plans
  • Mismatched furniture (but not in a cool way)
  • Four poster beds
  • Papasan chairs
  • Big furniture in a small room
  • Small furniture in a big room
  • Doilies

Before you judge please know that I believe if you are going to be charging $1,000/night to rent your house, ti better well be worth $1,000 a night. And white appliances in the kitchen are not worth that much money.

But here’s a secret, homeowners: your photos can tell a really nice story. If you take nice photos.

What I would say to the people taking the photos for house rental listings:

  • Put the toilet seat down
  • Wait until a sunny day to take photos; natural light trumps evening with the lights on every time
  • Put the dishes in the drying rack in the kitchen away
  • Toss the magnets on the fridge
  • Make the bed vs “pulling up the comforter” (hello, hospital corners!)
  • Wash your windows, fixed broken outdoor furniture and pick up your child’s toys in the yard
  • How in God’s name are your photos blurry???
  • If your finger is in the photo, take a new one. Please.
  • If you can’t get a good photo of the entire room, just forget it. No one needs to see a close up of bi-fold closet doors

Do a better job, people!

Fingers crossed I find us a family rental!

Maine, NaBloPoMo, Uncategorized, Vacation

The Best Things to Do In Maine

One of the things COVID robbed me of this year was my annual trip to Maine. Whether it was a weekend away with Mr. KK, a beach house for me, Little Mister and Mr. KK, or our big family vacation in either Wells, Kennebunkport or York Beach, we always found ourselves up north along the Maine coast. And boy, did I miss going to my Happy Place this year.

So, in honor of the vacation that didn’t happen, I compiled my favorite things to do and places to visit in Maine.

Best Things to Do in the Southern Coast of Maine

Go to the Beach

Every beach in Maine is gorgeous. The sand is soft and the water is cool, with just the right amount of waves. We particularly love the beaches in South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, where we’ve spent most of our time.

Eat Lobstah

The best lobster roll in Maine from Bite Into Maine food truck in Cape Elizabeth.

There is no shortage of lobster in Maine. Whether you want fresh steamed lobster, a famous lobster roll, or want to experience life on a working lobster boat, Maine has it all. We love the Lucky Catch Cruises lobster tours, and even Little Mister loved heading out to sea and helping pull up the lobster traps and holding a starfish right in his hand. Lobster is priced right all along the coast, and you can buy lobsters right from the fishermen and some will even steam it for you. My favorite way to enjoy lobster is in a lobster roll, and the best lobster roll in Maine is by far from the Bite Into Maine food truck that parks at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth. It is filled with fresh lobster meat (big chunks, not shredded pieces), just enough mayo on a toasted bun. Perfection!

Have Dinner and Walk the Rocks at The Lobster Shack at Two Lights

Mr. KK and Little Mister exploring the rocks one summer.

This institution definitely fills up with tourists during the summer, but the view and atmosphere can’t be beat. The Lobster Shack at Two Lights is an outdoor, BYOB restaurant set on gorgeous rocks over the Atlantic Ocean. Is it the best seafood in Maine? Nope. But when you pair the view with your own cooler of beverages and some fried scallops and shrimp does it feel like quintessential Maine? You betcha.

Eat Like a Local

I mentioned in my post about pimento cheese that Scratch Baking in South Portland makes the best. I literally lived on this and some of Maine’s best beer for a week straight. And it was awesome. A must-try when you’re in the area. And the baked goods are pretty amazing too.

Explore a Lighthouse…or Five

Portland Headlight in Cape Elizabeth.

There is no shortage of lighthouses in Maine. Visiting one is just something you do when you’re there. My favorite way to view them is by relaxing on a boat ride while a native Main-ah shares the history of the light house, the coast and sea.

See a Sunset

The fishing huts at Willard Beach in South Portland.

Whether you’re on a beach, at a restaurant or on a boat, you will see some of the best sunsets on the Maine Coast. Golds, pinks and yellows paint the sky. And if you’re an early riser, the sunrises aren’t so bad either.

Get Your Craft Beer On

On one of our trips to Portland with the Little Mister, we thought we’d hit a brewery one afternoon. After a morning at the beach our Little Mister was exhausted, and he fell asleep on the short 10 minute drive from our beach house to the brewery! And since you NEVER wake a sleeping child, Mr. KK and I backed our car up against the patio and took turns going in to have a beer. One person would drink their beer right at the patio where the car was parked, while the other person stood next the car chatting with them while they drank. And then we would switch. Ah, parenthood!

The number of breweries in Portland alone is astounding. You can brew hop all day and still not hit all of them. We’re bit IPA fans (the hoppier and hazier the better!), and some of our favorites are Bissell Brothers and Goodfire Brewing. Bring a cooler so you can bring some home.

Rent a House and Relax

Our most relaxing vacations have been on the coast of Maine. There’s just something in the air, the laid back attitude of the locals and the amazing cuisine. Falling asleep to the sound of the ocean, and having a little chill in the air at night after a warm summer day. I really missed being at a beach house this year with our family, cooking up dinners, mixing up cocktails and playing games. Fingers crossed we make it next year.

There is truly something magical about Maine. I can’t wait to go back and do some of my favorite things.