My first memory of a family vacation adventure ended when my mom and dad hugged each other sobbing. I was 7 years old. There were 31 of them. We traveled 11 hours in our black Oldsmobile to a rental my dad found in the Stony Hill Farm newspaper. It was under the armpits of New Hampshire, and we had dreamed about it, talked about it and planned it during a whole grim winter in New York.
I can still see the scene where we drove on the property. I was sweating in the backseat with my 3 year old sister and my grandmother Annie. We had pulled off the main road and when we saw the sign for Stony Hill we were delighted that every day of our two week vacation was waiting for us. Next, we saw the “cottages” – tiny shabby huts that were more than chicken coops, but unacceptable dwellings for humans who could walk upright.
We moved in, but not really. At 4 am my parents woke us up and we jumped in the car and got away, presumably skipping our reservation and any financial commitments to the fraudulent “resort” owner.
The story came back to me this week as I began to dream of finding a rental for a few weeks in Maine next summer. I know it’s crazy early on to plan anything, but I’m dreaming. I need to buy a future where we can travel again without risking our lives. In case you were wondering, everyone goes to Maine; it has become the âitâ place of summer. Ogunquit is the new East Hampton. Part of Maine’s popularity has been its shabby chic and inexpensive cachet.
No more. Gone are the days when the first settlers fed their prisoners with lobsters, considered waste.
Since my first trauma in New Hampshire, vacation property rentals have become big business on Vrbo, Airbnb, HomeToGo and other platforms that bring together landlords and tenants, not without problems. Businesses have grown so big and so many people are looking to escape that fees have skyrocketed and the potential for scams is still there. Having said that, we have found reasonably good apartments and vacation homes over the past 30 years, and I was looking in Maine for our getaway.
Maine may still be seedy, but the prices are for the rich and famous. For the uninitiated, when you rent on the docks, for a period ranging from one night to several months, you get photos and a list of equipment and house rules and availability.
I am now the world expert in deciphering what the descriptions and photos of the houses actually reveal. Wherever you walk, I offer you this as a public service:
When reading about a property, look no further if you see the words “cozy” or “adorable”. This is online for cramped talk. You may have to crawl into the skylight. If the list of equipment includes “washing machine available”, it can be prepaid. You don’t want to play your washing machine like a slot machine. âBasicâ kitchen supplies are a red flag. Expect only salt and pepper. Neighborhood “in development” not positive either.
Study, study, study the photos. The angles can make a 6 by 8 room look like a football field. We almost booked an attractive spot until we looked at a photo of a room and found what turned out to be a toilet right next to the bed. Another place had beautiful wooden floors, white walls, and sleek appliances, but no other furnishings other than beds in otherwise empty bedrooms and living spaces.
âWaterfrontâ can mean anything from waves crashing on a beach in front of the house to a glimpse of a canal from an attic window.
You must read all of the house reviews posted by renters. People will write about the perfection of the house indefinitely, and then, perhaps with a conscience push, add something like, âJust a little thing. There were mice in the walls. But, really, the owner took care of it immediately.
One house looked very promising until I read a review that said, âIt was a spectacular house with a great view of the bay. Would definitely stay here again, except for the man who lives in the basement.
Now I’m looking for properties outside of Maine, slightly off the grid, with more acceptable prices. Canada is a possibility if it remains open to travelers from the United States
I saw a beautiful house in South Dakota. It boasted of “breathtaking mountain views” and “chef’s cuisine”. But a critic complained more than once that bears got into cars. There is always something.
Copyright 2021 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be contacted at [email protected]