Airbnb may be the gold standard nowadays in terms of renting out real people’s houses and apartments to more adventurous travelers, but since 1999, I’ve been using Habitat NY, HomeAway, and Craigslist to find homier places to stay in locales ranging from Chelsea to Soldotna, Alaska. As a general night person—or, at best, one who needs four hours after waking before feeling ready to leave the house—staying in apartments and homes makes for an overall more pleasant travel experience. Sitting in a hotel room for hours is only fun in the kinds of hotels I can’t regularly afford, because hotels are for sleeping and sex, not actual living.
But one thing hotels do have are blackout shades—one of many things lacking in too many vacation rentals. There are people in this world who enjoy having the rising sun wake them early in the morning, who live without bedside lamps, who don’t have coffeemakers in their homes. They believe this is a perfectly sensible way to live. It’s not. If I wanted the rising sun, no evening reading, and no coffee, I’d be on an ascetic yoga retreat, not staying in an apartment. But my coping strategies have become routine over the last 16 years. They might seem like overpreparation, but I assure you that in every vacation rental I’ve stayed in, I’ve needed at least one of these things.
A few years ago, I stayed in a lovely Philadelphia apartment with a fantastic kitchen and deck, but a nightmare of an open skylight directly above the bed. Look, I go to bed at 3 am. Sleeping until 11 isn’t sleeping in—it’s just a normal amount of sleep. Which means a skylight that can’t be closed is a torture device. I made it through that stay with a sleep mask, but I could still feel the sun on me in the mornings; it was terrible, and it was only January. Luckily, most places just lack sufficient drapery to keep a room dark, so the sleep mask is sufficient. There’s been a recent design development courtesy of the Canadians, presumably because they, like myself, are a people who limit their exposure to sunlight. It’s called the Nite Hood, and it’s a combination hat/sleep mask/sound muffler with a cute little tassle on top. Bonus: If you wear it on a plane, people will leave you alone, because it looks disconcertingly like an executioner’s hood.
Too much light in the mornings and none at night—who except for actual farmers keeps the kind of hours that obviate the need for bedside lamps? The vacation-rental bedroom with no bedside lighting—or only one source that you and your sleeping partner are forced to fight over—is all too common. You’re left fumbling your way to bed after turning off the overhead light, with no convenient way to read once you’ve arrived. I find this kind of bullshit most often in resort towns, in homes that are full-time vacation rentals, but I’ve also seen it in people’s actual homes.
So awhile back I started traveling with this extremely sexy contraption, which is basically a headband with a loop of elastic that you can stick a Maglite into. I like it because it means I always have a flashlight on hand, but actual headlamps are cool, too, and my husband uses one of these. There are travel lamps, of course, but some of these places don’t even have bedside tables to put one on, and book lights/e-reader lights are fragile bullshit.
Having access to a full kitchen while traveling is great, so long as you remember to bring your own knife. The knives in vacation rentals are sad, dull things, and you will hurt yourself using one. Back before 9/11, everyone traveled with knives in their pockets—that was just the law then—but now that all our weaponry has been confiscated, it’s best to get a light ceramic knife that can live in your checked luggage. Sorry, carry-on-only travelers, but I’m pretty sure you are out of luck, and you’ll just have to buy knives on arrival if you want to avoid injuring yourself while cooking.
There’s fancy folding knives out there, though I think they’re hard to clean and susceptible to rust. If you have a case, you can just bring one from home. I would never do this, because once a year, I forget to put the knife back into my checked bag and just leave it at security, which is fine, because it’s one of these knives that’s cheap enough that it’s not a tragedy, but still 10 times better than the options in the average vacation rental.
I understand people who have shitty kitchen knives because they don’t cook, but not having the means to make coffee in the morning is evidence of real depravity. I can only assume these people are the coffee equivalents of alcoholics, and simply can’t have it in the house. I shudder to think of what that’s like. But since we live in a world where the Aeropress exists, all you need is to buy some pre-ground coffee at the store, and as long as there is a kettle (or a saucepan, even), you won’t have to go outside to get coffee before you’ve had your coffee. Get the reusable metal filter for convenience. These things are so culty they have competitions, so if that puts you off, feel free to travel with a collapsible filter cone. And if the Aeropress itself isn’t enough for you, go ahead and buy this hand-grinder to grind your coffee fresh. It’s a little workout, too! Just don’t use those Starbucks VIA packets—they’re disgusting. I’d rather drink tea than resort to those.
For a while there, every vacation rental had those iPod/iPhone docks connected to their in-house sound systems. You know what they have now? Docks you can’t connect your new iPhone to. So don’t forget the aux cord you already use with rental cars; an RCA-to-aux cord or adapter is often useful in the likely event that the stereo is 20 years old. If you want to watch television from your laptop, don’t forget the dongle or cable of your choice, though I don’t even assume there’s going to be an HDMI input on the TV. Sometimes there’s not even a television, which strikes me as slightly judgmental, though no more so than assuming people wake with the sun.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.
Adequate Man is Deadspin’s new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.