Having learned a lot in the last 3 months, we are updating this article.
Last week we left Los Angeles having sold our home of 7 years, putting most of our big stuff into long-term storage, packed up the car, and headed to the mountains of Utah. Over the next 9 days I stayed in 3 Airbnbs and 3 hotels. We are now in a somewhat anonymous 1970s condo on the side of a mountain for what will hopefully be the next 4 months. It’s quiet, it’s calm, and altogether different than living in downtown LA. We even have a small gurgling stream just out back.
Having done a test run on this sort of out-of-office lifestyle in the spring, we had learned a few lessons. My general rule, pre-Covid as well as now, is that stays of under 4 days are best done in a hotel. I love hotels. They are run by professionals. They have teams of people at corporate headquarters who obsess about how to do the thing they were designed to do: give the guest a good night’s sleep in a safe, clean, pleasing environment. That means a great bed, quiet room, black-out curtains, and climate control. All the other amenities are great, but a hotel must absolutely get that stuff right. The best hotels are dreamily cinematic, dropping the guest into another world altogether, but even moderately priced business traveler hotels are predictably comfortable. Vacation rentals, on the other hand, are less predictable.
Not All LEDs Are Created Equal
Soft White 2700k LED Bulbs. The first thing we did in ours here was replace all the light bulbs; we traveled with a box of 6 of them. All of the vacation rentals I have recently been in have lighting suitable for a Super Max prison: 5500k LED lights. They are horrible. Besides making everyone look like a ghoul with their blue light, they are also exactly what one does not want to be looking at anywhere near bedtime as they will seriously disrupt one’s circadian rhythms. I get the long-term cost savings of using an LED bulb, but not all LEDs are the same. We changed ours to 2800k color temperature, and the whole place felt much more livable. My motto: if you don’t like it, customize it.
Items to Make the Space More “Us”
Based on some of our previous learnings, we brought a number of things with us that instantly make any place we land in more “us.”
Sonos One. The current condo has no less than 5 TVs, but not a single way to play music. Do people really need to have a TV in every room, but have no interest in listening to music? Music is so important that we just bring this little guy with us and we are covered wherever we are.
Our own 5G router. We use this one from Netgear. It’s bombproof. Most rental wifi is the bare minimum and, if you are like us and on Zoom calls all day, you need a solid signal. Bonus tip: no resetting of passwords from unit to unit. Just ethernet the rental router to your Netgear router and you’re good to go.
Apple TV 4. Now we can watch Netflix, Amazon Video and YouTube. I plug it in with an HDMI cable replacing the cableTV box. The rentals have broadcast and a slew of free cable TV channels, none of which are that interesting.
A good knife. We cook constantly and the knives in the rentals are generally flimsy and dull. We brought our Wüsthof 8″ chef’s knife and use it every day. In times of Covid, when eating out is impossible, you will want to make cooking as enjoyable as possible. This one is on sale as of writing today.
Coffee maker. This is a pro move. These rentals will have a Mr. Coffee or similar drip machine circa 1990. We brought our prized Breville Barista Express and use it several times a day. To travel it, we placed it into a garbage bag and strapped it into the back seat with a seat belt. No problems at all transporting our helpful coffee pet. The downside is it makes such good coffee that you will be spoiled forever. This one is on sale today as of writing this post. Yes, it is spendy, but 2 people times 2 coffees a day times $5…we have paid for it in a couple of months.
Vitamix. If the rental has a blender at all, it will not be up to the task of making a daily smoothie. Those budget blenders that are born to just make an occasional margarita are not going to do it. This is another princess move, but we use it twice a day and have for years. The thing is a beast, and if you are making the sort of breakfast smoothies we are, you will want one of these.
Cords. Lots and lots of extension cords, power cords, and plug adapters. Our current place was built pre-code in 1977, and the electric is primitive — as in, a single outlet per room. An electric inspector would be horrified. We have a few of these 12ft cords that allow us to have lamps where we need them, and power the computers.
Alessi pepper grinder. I just like the way ours looks. It makes me happy to see it, and a pleasure to use it. I have had mine for 20 years, it still works great, and is now part of the traveling family.
Pillows, sheets and comforter. You just never know with these sort of places. We bring our favorite sheets in queen size and also our home pillows.
Bowls. We eat almost all of our meals out of these 2 bowls that we got for Valentine’s Day 10 years ago. Another “it makes me happy” item. Why not?
Printer. The rentals will never have a printer. It is not that we often need one, but when you do need one it can be a real problem, especially during Covid. The first time we left, we didn’t bring one and it was a real problem. This time we did, and we use it a couple of times a week.
Lots of clothes, coats and shoes. Because we don’t really know when we will return, or where we will be traveling over the next year, we brought a lot. During the spring test trip here I didn’t bring much, and ended up actually wearing things out. Not this time. Oh no, we are fully suited for all weather and occasions. Bring it on.
Your list blows my mind because, while the details are different, EVERY SINGLE THING IS ON MY LIST TOO! Amazing! Down to the lightbulbs and cords. My nomad existence is a bit longer, so I have a few more things. A small cashmere throw. A couple of Turkish towels that double as couch throws or shawls. A good mattress pad–part of that bedding thing. My juicer. An Instant Pot. A Yeti mug from which I have drunk my morning coffee for a year. Bose noise-cancelling headphones. 4 cloth napkins. A few more kitchen utensils (like a Microplane grater, fine sieve, mortar and pestle, a digital kitchen scale). Are these things essential? Well, maybe not, but they are unspeakably huge, comforting upgrades. One more thing. Many years ago on a Medecins Sans Frontieres trip in Liberia, a French/Swiss couple who had extensive service experience working overseas in low resource settings acquired a large kettle in which they boiled water every morning to take to their room for their daily ablutions. Such a simple lesson and so civilized in a really barebones existence where one bathroom served many.
It’s all about comfort and dignity, right? Love the kettle story!