Summer has arrived and I’m ready for a week at the beach, or in the mountains, or anywhere but here! In an ideal world, every vacation home renter would stock the kitchen with everything you need, but many of us have arrived for a week of vacation to find dull knives, a broken coffee maker, or a serious lack of containers for leftovers in our rental home kitchen.
If you’re renting a home, a new timeshare, or a Vrbo over vacation, here’s how to make sure your kitchen is up to par and that your vacation starts right when you enter the door.
– This post has been updated for 2022 –
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1. Ask ahead: What’s specifically available in the rental home kitchen?
I’ve found everything in a vacation kitchen from a slow cooker to a fancy wine fridge, but there are no guarantees. If you use a microwave often and they don’t have one, you’ll have to find another way to thaw the chicken. If the house has a grill — and all its essential tools — that’s good information to have when planning meals. If no vacation is complete for you without a frozen strawberry margarita, ask ahead about a blender. (Also, take me with you!)
If they don’t have what you need, and it’s something basic (i.e. not a pro Viking Range), find out if they would be willing to get one. Point out (nicely) how much people enjoy blender drinks on vacation, or why you need to have some actual tongs and mitts and a baster to go with that new grill they just bought for their home rental. You might be surprised how they might oblige you.
If not, well that’s rentals for you. In which case, remember to bring your own blender, small cutting board, tea kettle, or other must-have small appliance so you can cook and eat the way you’re hoping. Or, just prepare to go without.
And if you get there and there’s no working coffee maker? No reasonable property manager will leave guests without coffee so definitely make that happen.
2. If you’re a serious cook, bring your own knives, spices, and must-have specialty foods.
Experienced vacation cooks will tell you to always bring your own knives. Rentals are notorious for dull, cheap knives from the local big box store and, ugh.
But think beyond knives.
If you have a favorite wine key, seasoning salts or spices, or “exotic” or international condiments that may not be readily available in the town where you’re traveling, bring those too. They’re easy to pack no matter how you travel, and if you’ve ever tried to find, say, Marmite or Sriracha or even a good non-squeeze-bottle mustard in a small beach town grocery store, you’ll know the value of bringing your own.
3. Make a list and hit the store the second get to your rental home. Do not pass go. Do not stop for a dip in the pool.
You may want to throw on your swimsuit and run out to the beach or drag the canoe into the lake out front as soon as you arrive, but it’s best to take stock of the kitchen and go to the store first thing, before you do anything else.
Survey the kitchen as soon as you walk in, make a list, then head straight to the store.
(I used to wing it, but after the fifth time forgetting butter and lemons, I started making a list first. The AnyList app is a big help.)
If you already have a membership, you might be able to have groceries or other staples delivered right to your door.
4. Bring a few of your own reusable containers to a rental home kitchen.
While of course you can grab some reusable plastic containers and heavy resealable plastic bags on your first grocery trip in your vacation destination, here’s another tip: Before I leave for vacation, I clean out my own fridge so I don’t come home to rotten food. I package it in storage containers and take it with me on the trip, then use those same containers to take food back home.
(Not if you’re flying, of course, but if you’re driving from the Hamptons back to NYC for example, you might find you just can’t leave all that gorgeous leftover homemade pesto or those amazing uneaten fresh farmer’s market fruits behind.)
Also, please don’t steal the leftover containers from your vacation home kitchen. I own part of a beach house and people always take our containers. I get it…but I still wish they wouldn’t.
5. Accept that you’ll have to buy a few things for your rental home kitchen — but you get to take them home, too!
One summer, I arrived to find a beachfront kitchen with no plastic cups. I invested in 8 Tervis tumblers and never looked back. This way I could enjoy my all-day mocktail on the beach — something I was greatly looking forward to — and since I own them now, I still use them all the time, and continue to take them on rental home vacations.
If you end up buying a cheap blender, stash it for when your kid gets her first apartment. (Liz loves her single-serve Hamilton Beach Smoothie Blender, which is great for one adult serving or two kids. And it’s small enough to pack, or even order from Amazon and have it delivered the day you arrive). If you need a good but not crazy-expensive set of paring knives to allow everyone to help with meal prep, just bite the bullet and grab one. I’s not like you won’t use them again!
Just chalk those purchases up to a vacation expense and enjoy!
6. Pay it forward and improve the rental kitchen. It may even save you money.
If your rental home kitchen is fairly well-stocked and just missing a whisk, a cutting board, or a measuring coffee scoop or a few bag clips, just buy your own. It’s worth the 3 bucks to run to the grocery or local hardware store, in stead of waiting a day for the home owner or landlord to get you one.
And if you really don’t need to keep them (do you really need more chip bag clips at home?) it’s okay to just leave them behind. Think of it as paying it forward — to the owners and to future guests.
Pro tip: One of the things I love buying for a vacation home rental kitchen are potted herbs. I spend less on one basil plant or parsley plant than I would on a couple of containers of loose basil. I leave the plant somewhere outside and use it all week.
7. When it comes down to it, be prepared to improvise! It might work out even better than your original plan.
Missing a wine key? Epicurious has several ways to open a bottle without a wine key.
No blender? Use Food & Wine’s genius bag technique to make frozen drinks without a blender.
As for that missing Panko or Sriracha, get creative! Turns out the best crab cakes I ever made used crushed Sun Chips in place of bread crumbs. Just think of vacation as a time to have fun, experiment, let a few routines go out the window, and maybe even learn something new.