How do I snowbird?
January 23, 2018 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Mr. DrGail and our new-to-us dog are driving from Chicago to a VRBO in Hilton Head for a week to thaw out. Yay! But this is our first time doing this and I'm pretty much lost when it comes to deciding what kitchen and living supplies to take with us and what we can or should purchase there. Can you help?

The house we are renting provides a full kitchen (pots, pans, etc.) as well as towels and bed linens. To avoid leaving the dog alone any more than necessary, we intend to cook most of our meals there. So do we plan our menu in advance and take most of the seasonings and other ingredients with us, almost like meal kits? Do we take just a few ingredients and plan on cooking and eating pretty simply while we're there? How do other people do this? What other things am I not thinking of?

I can't help thinking there must be some (possibly well-known to everyone but me) strategy or rules of thumb for figuring this out. We will be driving in a small sedan but there should be ample space to take along whatever we need.

Bonus related question: Any tips for traveling long distances (2-3 days each way) with a dog? Are there hotel chains that are especially dog friendly? (She's a retired show dog, so well accustomed to car travel and staying in hotels.)
posted by DrGail to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a little confused. Why would you not just do your grocery shopping once you get there? Hilton Head is a huge community with many grocery stores, including a Publix, Whole Foods, and a Piggly Wiggly. Don't drive your groceries cross country!
posted by anastasiav at 11:59 AM on January 23, 2018 [9 favorites]

I often stay at places with kitchens as you describe. A lot depends on the amenities where you are staying; Hilton Head has plenty of grocery stores, so I would take minimal food and buy things there. Especially avoid taking perishables as it can be a pain to keep them cool over 2-3 days and a cooler takes up more room. But definitely bring stuff like spices and condiments; canned food and things like pasta/rice/beans also travel well. It’s also a good idea to have some idea of your menu ahead of time because that lets you be a lot more efficient in terms of not bringing unneeded items.
posted by TedW at 12:00 PM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

For a week? Don't stress it. Bring seasonings if you want, otherwise buy what you'll need down there and bring the extras back. Plan on cooking simpler than normal, you're on vacation after all.

Equipment-wise, if you're fussy about your coffee or tea-making apparatus, bring that. I recommend a chef's knife as rental kitchen knives are pretty awful.
posted by quaking fajita at 12:02 PM on January 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

Go to a drugstore and buy one of those cheap daily medicine contraptions with separate sections that close securely for daily meds. Your rental house will probably have salt and pepper, but you can throw in whatever seasonings you want to bring along. So maybe you can label Sunday as paprika, Monday as dried basil, etc. You get the idea. Then tape down the lids and close in a zip lock bag. No need to spend $$$ on overpriced grocery stores that take advantage of tourists who don't plan ahead! WHUT? $4 for a few shakes of lemon pepper that you'll only use one day? Come on now. But don't go overboard and plan to spring for some ingredients upon arrival.

Go look around for small bottles at home that you can recycle for things like olive oil (or buy those small little bottles in the travel section of a store).

If your dog likes to get out to pee in the middle of the night or likes to pee extra early, I look for hotels that have outside doors that lead straight to the parking lot. Avoids accidental pees in that super long hallway walk at 3 AM.
posted by HeyAllie at 12:03 PM on January 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

We travel once a year with our 2 dogs from Chicago to Daytona to visit my parents. LaQuinta Inns are very pet-friendly. They only charge a pet surcharge, if there is damage to the room. IME, Hilton Garden Inn SAYS they are pet-friendly, but charged a $100 pet fee on top of the room rate, damage or not.

As for the food, make up a little menu plan - you don't have to strictly adhere to it, but it will give you a guideline. As said upthread, there are grocery stores there, so make it easy on yourselves and just pack any specific spices you might need (so you don't have to buy a whole jar on your vacation) or your favorite olive oil, if you are fussy about that sort of thing.

Also on preview, yes, bring a good knife.
posted by sarajane at 12:04 PM on January 23, 2018

La Quinta is a fairly-easy-to-find-on-interstates chain that is quite pet-friendly. I suggest mapping a route in advance and planning on regular stops so she can stretch her legs and have a water/bathroom break (and so you can, too!).

I'd suggest bringing salt, pepper, and any condiments/spices you tend to use regularly. You also might want to bring simple implements, like a small cutting board, a good chef's knife and a can opener/bottle opener -- sometimes places with amenities lack those things, or they're rather flimsy.
posted by halation at 12:04 PM on January 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

La Quinta is my go-to dog friendly hotel. Allegedly not every location allows large dogs so we always call ahead, but we've never been turned away. Some La Quintas have interior rooms and others are exterior motel-style. I prefer the exterior doors myself when travelling with pets.
posted by muddgirl at 12:05 PM on January 23, 2018

Grocery prices on HH are reasonable, and there are several large supermarkets where you will find anything you need. The few times I've rented VRBO the houses have had basic condiments, salt and pepper, basic spices. Harris-Teeter supermarket has all kinds of interesting takeout food. Give yourself a real vacation and don't stress about food. Treat yourself to an occasional meal out.

You might want to bring your own pillows, everyone's idea of good pillows is different.

If you need local info I work near Hilton Head and a lot of my coworkers live there. I live across the river in Savannah. Feel free to memail with specific questions.
posted by mareli at 12:27 PM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best Westerns are usually pet friendly as well. Some of them give you a doggie kit when you check in.

As for groceries, I just grocery shop when I get there for the week. Sometimes I go twice. Super easy.
posted by Vaike at 12:44 PM on January 23, 2018

We do a similar cottage trip every year and I do AirBnB and I've tried different approaches.

Super Simple:
- pack one arrival meal, usually something like pasta and pesto, and if we happen upon Glorious Additions along the way to add to the pasta, so much the better. Summer helps with this but that could include local cheese, charcuterie, etc.
- for first breakfast we always bring some coffee, oatmeal, and stuff for oatmeal which in our case is a baggie with trail mix and for my husband a bit of brown sugar. We get milk at the last store en route. If there are 24/7 stores where you're going this is less important.

For what we bring, we keep it simple. I stockpile these on sale just because where we go there's a huge tourist premium:
- salt and pepper
- olive oil and balsamic vinegar, small bottles (this is our salad dressing)
- tea
- cinnamon because it makes so many things nicer, like toast, oatmeal, etc.
- I usually pick one or two flavour profiles for the week, so like Herbes de Province and a souvlaki mix I get at the bulk food store. I am lazy so mixes are fine. Again summer so there are fresh things around so you may want to plan a bit more broadly here.
- I am cheap and have children so I do bring two condiments - a decent mustard and ketchup, however, if you would enjoy a local mustard instead that's a fun thing to get on the road and bring back.

Then at the cottage I immediately buy:
- a jam I wouldn't get at home
- a local bbq or hot sauce I wouldn't get at home
- a fancy relish I wouldn't get at home
- aromatics - shallots, garlic, onions, scallions, leeks, etc.
- potatoes - we favour these over barley or rice or quinoa or pasta for the week because why not
- vegetables and salad - I get peppers/fennel/zucchini/mushrooms/whatever looks good that roasts nicely but that is me
- fruit
- snacks
- butter, milk, eggs

And hit up local bakeries and delis for:
- bread and baked goods
- cheese and charcuterie
- other awesome things

Most of our meals consist of:

- french toast with local jam, oatmeal with fruit or local jam, overnight oats with yogurt and berries, toast with local jam

- decadent grilled cheese and salad, with relish in the sandwich
- local cheese/pate/charcutie with pickles and bread
- soup from local take out
- creative leftovers

Nice low-effort protein like steak or marinated lamb/chicken kebobs (hence souvlaki spices), bonus if there's local sausage, sauteed/grilled/roasted vegetables, and potato in decadent form - rosti, latkes, mashed with roast garlic - liberal use of butter elevates some of these.

Basically we just continue to prepare the veg and potato with whatever looks good 'til it's gone.
I don't do a chicken in summer but in winter I well might. (In summer we also grill a lot of corn.)

plus one or two meals:
Something from a local bakery like a chicken pot pie or whatever is amazing and vegetables and salad
Local takeout

We go out for at least one meal because vacation.

If we need dessert I will sometimes make bread pudding especially if the eggs are getting overwhelming, although then I don't usually have vanilla and just will get a can of devon cream for it, sue me. It's a good excuse for brandy or bourbon or whatever.

This all may be helped by the fact that I have a fetish for local bakeries, I just realized. Also vacations seem to be about carbs.

More effortful
Sometimes I bring along flour, yeast, any other leavenings I need and make bread (focaccia (in winter bring your own rosemary but olives should be fine there), challah, pizza dough) and if I do bring flour I will usually also make this gnocchi because I love it, although I never remember the nutmeg. But that's 'cause it's relaxing.

Sorry, I totally overthought this.

TL,DR: Take a few basics. Eat simply. Don't think of food as only existing in grocery stores, explore local stores and bakeries for jams, baked goods, mains like pies and soups, because those are local and yummy and beat meal planning when you don't know what's there and it's more fun. :)
posted by warriorqueen at 12:55 PM on January 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

Since you're driving, it's worth it to bring a small cooler with you so you can bring home any perishables you've bought during the week that you don't finish and want to bring home with you.
posted by msbubbaclees at 1:22 PM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Buy food once you're there. You can get regional foods - like Duke's mayonnaise if you're a mayo fan. There are little farm stands and seafood stands along the main road on Hilton Head.

Check out Benny Hudson's for fresh seafood.

There are farmer's markets as well.

The SERG restaurant group offers 2 for 1 dinners during the winter months if you'd like a meal out. They own about a half dozen restaurants on the island.

I stayed at a VRBO recently (not on Hilton Head) and suggest bringing spices you like to use, the VRBO I stayed in only had salt and pepper on hand.
posted by BooneTheCowboyToy at 1:46 PM on January 23, 2018

Motel 6's are also pet friendly.
posted by hydra77 at 2:18 PM on January 23, 2018

I second bringing a decent sharp chef’s knife from home. Knives in rentals are almost always dangerously blunt!
posted by monotreme at 3:43 PM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I always bring a cutting board since one rental house only had a glass one that almost wrecked my favorite knife (I always bring a good knife and a cast iron skillet, but then I can’t cook without them.) Otherwise, hit the grocery store - I really like going to new supermarkets - and just plan to do whatever you do at home.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:59 PM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

warriorqueen's shopping list is good. I never bring stuff from home on trips like this unless it's a short drive (under, say, 5 hours), and then it's usually like "oh, hey, I have these eggs and this cheese that will go bad if I don't bring them, and I have these chips and these apples that will be good for snacks along the way."

One thing I'd say, don't get too ambitious with your cooking plans, unless you truly enjoy cooking. You may find a dog-friendly restaurant you like a lot, or decide to do takeout several nights (you're on vacation!) or it may turn out your dog is ok with being alone in the house and you can go out more than you'd expect. I'd probably just bring stuff for the road, buy stuff for a few days when you get there, and then play it by ear.
posted by lunasol at 7:39 PM on January 23, 2018

Hampton Inn tends to be pet friendly, but check the specific one you may be interested in before booking.
posted by jenny76 at 9:39 AM on January 24, 2018

The most essential kitchen items are your knives. Knives in rental properties are universally shitty. Second-most essential is a cutting board. To use with the knives. You will thank me.
posted by citygirl at 6:51 PM on January 24, 2018

At kitchen, can opener that works and doesn't wreck your wrist. Pasta drainer.
For the trip, a large mug with a good no-spill lid (hot cocoa leak on a new pickup carpet), Tupperware and utensils for leftovers or snacks.
Large water bowl for pet. Windshield covers as a sitting pad for hot, gravelly or wet surfaces during breaks. A tarp or big towel to stretch between rolled-up car windows as a shade.
Carsickness may be a thing, so prep for that.
Don't bother bringing food home. Donate, give to other guests or staff, toss out.
posted by TrishaU at 6:32 PM on January 25, 2018

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