Monday, May 11, 2009

Clear expectations and meticulous planning

A few of you have emailed me asking exactly how one orchestrates a successful overseas home rental.

The answer is: clear expectations coupled with meticulous planning. It's a little scary wiring thousands of dollars overseas hoping that you're not being taken. I'm always relieved when we arrive at a rental and find out that it really does exist.

We've been lucky two out of three times. The apartment we rented for four days in Paris was disgusting. The location and view were pristine but there was no hot water and it was filthy. We didn't use the kitchen at all.

Fortunately our longer home rentals of Mas de Gancel and Villa Fantino were even better than they appeared online.

Mas de Gancel's owners, native New Yorkers Lydia and John Dean, restored an old farmhouse and added vineyards and American amenities like extra bathrooms, a modern kitchen and a fenced-in pool. Not only did they put together a vacation rental with all the comforts of home, they also founded GoPhilanthropic, a travel company for the socially conscious. During our time in the Mas, Thing 1 was bitten by a spider and needed medical attention. Lydia rushed right over and took us to their doctor. Everyone pretended that Thing 1 was one of the Dean's kids and voila, we were home in an hour with prescription meds. If you have time, read the Dean's story. It's touching and heartfelt.

Villa Fantino was another find. The house was 400 years old and its walls were 18" thick, which translated to lots of privacy. While its kitchen was not as clean and modern as Mas de Gancel, its location was prime, on the outskirts of Siena, and we were there right before the Palio. We did not anticipate the stunning views from the property and the grounds were ideal for the kids, three acres on which to run around. Olive oil is made on the property from the olive trees there. If you got a hostess gift from us that year, chances are that it was olive oil I brought back. I love this picture of my brother, Ice Cream SIL and my 15-month-old niece in one of the hill towns we explored.

What does this all tell you? Essentially, I look and look and look until I find the right property. And then I hope that it really exists.

Things that have worked for us:

1. I am a dictator. I pick the house. I pick the dates. There is no negotiation.

2. Lodging expenses are shared. We take the cost of the house and divide by the number of bedrooms. Choose how many bedrooms you want and send us a check. Then your spot is guaranteed.

3. Food expenses are shared. Everything in the house is fair game for everyone else to eat. Everyone shops and saves receipts. We divide it up by number of mouths at the end. If you're the kind of person who likes to split the check down to the cent then this is not your kind of vacation.

4. Come for one week and one week only. We stay for two weeks and have two sets of visitors. We suggest that you go someplace else first and then come visit us. This way you can do laundry at the house midway through your trip and you are adjusted to the time change when you join us.

5. The first one up in the morning makes breakfast for all the kids while the rest of us sleep in.

6. Leave your judgment stateside. Everyone parents differently. Everyone travels differently. Assume people are doing the best they can and that their intentions are good. I'm not much of a drinker. You are. You drink as much as you want and I'll buy as many shoes as I want.

As silly as it sounds, one of my favorite parts of the trip is the initial provisioning run. Neeracha and I have this down to a science. We take the larger of our two rental cars to the local supermarket. We then meander up and down every aisle and fill two carts with everything we need and everything that looks interesting. She's a ham junkie. I'm a cheese junkie. Dave likes crunchy snack foods. Sean needs coffee. We buy beer for the boys to tide them over until they can pick out some wine.

Next: Malaga preview.


Neeracha T. said...

LOL - brings back some great memories. It's the best way to vacation in my book! I'm looking forward to the ham in Spain :)

Thom Singer said...

you are NOT a dictator. You ARE the big toe of the whole operation!

Hello Spain, here we come.