I love the carefree, yet slightly homey feeling of a weekend spent in a small rental where I can hike, swim, explore a nearby city, and bring home local market delicacies to make simple meals for myself. Even driving down the road to a place you already like for a day trip can be a real treat when you don't have to rush yourself to cram all your activities into one day. For instance, I live about 1:30 from Rocky Mountain National Park. We most often go for the day, leaving right after an early breakfast, fill the day with a long hike, and drive home for dinner. But once in a while, we treat ourselves to a cheap hotel room in town with hot tubs on the premises (because: mountains) and then we can hike both days, enjoy the town at night, and just generally move at a more leisurely pace. It's pretty cheap, and because we're not flying, we can toss all kinds of contraband in the car (beer, flamethrowers, large bottles of shampoo--the sky's the limit). You could try:
A nearby city. See the art galleries you never quite make the time for, stroll along the antique district that's a little too far past your usual destinations,shop at a local specialized market, and actually have breakfast in that cool cafe you can never seem to get to before they close when you're driving from home. Fun cities to consider, if you don't have one nearby: Seattle, Denver, Portland, L.A., Boise (seriously!), Omaha, Nashville, Minneapolis, Madison, Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City, Washington D.C. Best housing options: AirBnB, hostels.
The beach. Do I need to say this? It's freakin' summer! What's better than rolling out of bed, spending the whole day at the beach broken up by snacks of fresh oysters and ice cream (not together), and then grilling dinner on your balcony while you watch the sun set? Restaurants are not usually known for being fantastic in touristy beach towns, but amazing, cheap seafood is usually available at even the crappiest grocery store, so a kitchen really comes in handy in these settings. Areas to consider: Gulf Shores (Florabama), northern Michigan/northern Wisconsin, coasts of Oregon and Maine, Pismo Beach, San Diego. Best housing options: vacation rentals, state park cabins.
A state or national park. You can hike, fish, boat, or just lay around in the poison ivy all weekend. These remote areas are also not known for their great eateries, nor are the groceries usually very cheap, so if you're driving, pack a cooler with groceries from home and some beer and get your money's worth out of that cabin kitchen! Parks to consider: Arches, Custer and Mt. Rushmore, Rocky Mountain, The Sinks...everyone has a park within a couple hours of home--go use it! Best housing options: vacation rentals, state park cabins.
And while you're at it, if you're planning on cooking at all in your AirBnB/cabin/etc. kitchen, I love Food 52's oh-so-true list of things you need to bring with you. Because rental kitchens are very poorly equipped, no lie. But I would make a couple of swaps:
- Definitely pack your cutting board. That is not an option, and you always have room.
- Under "spices you use most", don't forget plain old salt and pepper. There may not be any.
- A cast iron pan? Puh-leeze. Bring a deep-ish, large aluminum frying pan (oven-proof is even better) that can boil some pasta or rice and also be used to cook what goes on top. I mean, that could be cast iron, but that shit is soooo heavy.
- If you think you're going to bake, a pie plate will work for quiches, pies, cobblers, casseroles, and more.
- Make that vinegar rice vinegar (seasoned or not), and it'll go with everything.
- A cork screw is not an option. It is a necessity.