As we head toward Memorial Day and summer and are planning for a vacation in a tough economy, I realized I had not shared the fun and food from last year's Dowd Beach Week, and I definitely wanted to do that. But I decided that I wanted to do it in a way that would help readers get the most out of their vacation dollars. So here is my advice for a great vacation:
1) Take you time and find the right place - The Outer Banks of North Carolina are within a 3-hour drive of our home and since everyone in our family loves the beach, it is a logical place for a vacation. If your family is more a mountain climbing, or hiking, or kayaking, that is fine too, just pick a place and then enlist the experts. Our family makes choosing a place a big deal, after all, we really only do one vacation a year and so we want to get the most for our money. For a large group, renting a house is a much better deal than a hotel, it gives you room to spread out and you can prepare many of your meals in, which saves a great deal of money. We request catalogs from several different rental companies, look at houses in the areas and with the features we want in our price range, and narrow the list down. If you are close enough, take a page from our book. We plan a day trip to look at the houses in person since often the photos in the catalog or online may not give you the full picture of the good or bad points of a house. It is also a great time to scout out the nearest supermarket, where a movie rental is or how far it is to the beach.
2) Don't be afraid to bargain - While some people work only with one realty company year after year, we always shop around looking for the best deal for us. We have worked with Resortquest (now part of Brindley), Brindley Beach, Kitty Hawk Rentals and Elan, and the last two years we have worked with Sun Realty, one of the oldest rental companies with properties in the Outer Banks. Choose some homes you like and then establish a relationship with a rental agent to see if the owner might be willing to make a deal. Most owners (and rental companies) would rather rent at a discount than have their homes set empty. Many realty companies, including Sun, have early and late season weeks that they offer at a discount, so that is a good place to start.
3) Make a list and Prepare - We have several "beach nights" to prepare and plan. We start with the list of lists (Food/Menus, Room Assignments and who is arriving when, things to pack, things to be done before we leave, etc), then we fill them out. Planning meals is one of the most fun parts- we discuss what we had the year before,what worked, what people loved and what went begging. I don't try to do real gourmet since it is my vacation too, focusing instead on the fresh produce and simple foods that are light enough for the dog days of summer.
All this led up to an amazing week for us last year in Whalehead, where the houses are set on larger lots, providing privacy. Our home was aptly named A Perfect Escape, and no wonder- decks faced the ocean with nearly unobstructed views, a large pool beckoned, ample parking allowed our family and friends to all gather and the house itself was decorated and outfitted for relaxation and fun. The breezes off the ocean and the sight and sound of the surf were visible from almost everywhere and the beach access was a mere 200 feet away from our door! The house was prepared, the linens were waiting, and we were lucky to be able to check in early so we had time to settle in before extended family and friends began to arrive. The people at Sun were very helpful, the house was well-equipped, and they even checked our pool and hot tub midweek.
As a surprise and to commemorate our family being together for vacation, I wanted to have t-shirts made, but by chance I got a random email from the Queensboro Shirt Company
and found that I could, for nearly the same price, have polos embroidered with a design of my choice. They were so easy to work with, and for new customers, the embroidery set-up is free!
Everyone was surprised and delighted with the shirts, which were high quality, soft and well-made... and were perfect fora family photo!
My advice for a summer vacation-take one! Even if money is tight, there are ways to cut costs, but still make the wonderful family memories that come with being away from the day-to day responsibilities and a change of scene.