Owning a lakeside home-away-from-home may be the Canadian dream, but for many, financial and time constraints will keep it that way. Freedom 55 is becoming an increasingly elusive concept, and with the average Canadian receiving just 17 days of vacation per year (some of which doesn’t even get used), it often doesn’t make sense to own a cottage—especially when you consider how much time owners spend clearing the property of fallen trees, getting the boat ready for the season, and gathering firewood. But if you know what you’re doing, renting can be an affordable and stress-free alternative. Our simple advice will tell you what you need to know—from finding the perfect property to managing your expectations—so that you can enjoy a slice of paradise, without the headache that comes with owning it.
The most pertinent piece of advice for snagging the perfect rental? Start early. And by early, we mean now. If it seems crazy to be thinking about summer when parts of the country are still getting hit with winter storms, consider this: Parks Canada started opening reservations for its campsites in January. Why? Because they book up so fast! It’s a pretty good indication that people are thinking about summer earlier than ever, and it’s worth sharing with your friend who doesn’t want to commit to anything just yet.
Beware of scams
Everyone knows there’s no better place to connect with people than on the internet. By the same token, there’s no better place to get taken advantage of—and that includes those searching for a summer rental. Just last year, in fact, five southern Ontario residents were charged for an alleged fraud scheme that involved advertising cottages they didn’t own, with the victims paying a total of more than $50,000 to those charged. The year before, would-be vacationers paid for rentals in Bracebridge, Ontario, that they found on Kijiji, only to learn who the real owners of the property were when they arrived on their doorstep. The easiest way to ensure that the listing you’re looking at is legit? Stick to close connections or reputable sites, which brings us to our next point…
Know where to look
If you’re not sure where to look, or are worried about the legitimacy of listings, stick to well-recognized sites like Airbnb. With more than two million listings to choose from worldwide, including a ton of cabins, you won’t have any trouble finding what you’re looking for. To ensure both your safety and the host’s, Airbnb requires both of you to verify yourself by connecting to your social networks and scanning an official ID or confirming personal details. Each member is also required to fill out a detailed profile, and is given reviews from previous guests or hosts they’ve stayed with. All payment is done through the company’s secure website or app, and hosts receive payment through Airbnb 24 hours after check in. Other popular booking sites with secure payment and messaging features built in include VRBO and HomeAway. But the easiest way to ensure you know what you’re getting? Tapping into your network of friends.
Put together a “must-have” list
Not all cottages are equal, and it’s important to recognize that your idea of a perfect little getaway might be very different from someone else’s. Do a quick search and you’ll find everything from quaint little shacks buried in the woods to sprawling lakeside estates, complete with their own water slides. That also means that while some places are equipped with wifi and every kitchen appliance you could imagine, others are running off a generator. Make sure to take note of features like whether it’s road- or boat-access, distance to the nearest town, and of course, if there’s indoor plumbing. Even if something is included in the listing, it can still be worth asking about. Just because it says there’s wifi, doesn’t mean it will be strong enough for that last-minute Skype call you scheduled for work. In short, never assume anything.
Pick your perfect location (and a few back ups)
Figure out where you’d most love to go based on setting and driving distance, and then come up with a few alternatives. You’re definitely not the only one who’s looking for the rocky terrain, crystal-clear lakes, and windswept pines of Ontario’s Muskoka region—especially after National Geographic named it the number one summer travel destination in 2011. But what if you head a little east toward Ottawa? The northern reaches of Hastings County and Lanark County are home to some equally gorgeous but lesser-known lakes that won’t only be less crowded, they’ll also be cheaper.
Set a budget (but be realistic)
If you don’t set a firm budget before you start to look, it will be easy to get swept up with unnecessary details like cathedral ceilings, pine flooring, and stainless steel appliances. But you won’t enjoy anything if you’re stressing about money all week long. Of course you need to be realistic, too: if sipping cocktails on a dock that extends from sandy shoreline and acres of forest came cheap, we’d all own cottages Unfortunately, that’s not the case. You can expect to spend anywhere from $800 per week to well over $2000 per week, depending on the location and size of the place. Of course the price will drop the further you go off the beaten path (and maybe even the grid).
Be happy with what you’ve got
No matter where you end up or how the weather turns out, just remember: you’re disconnecting from the work week and reconnecting with friends and family—and no amount of rain or faulty kitchen appliances can ruin that!