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The Essential Cottager’s Companion:

Canadian summers are stunning but short and so we have learned to take full advantage of the warm months by creating summer sanctuaries, out of the cities, away from the bustle and the busyness of our regular nine to five grind. Cottages, cabins and other forms of summer vacation homes are a huge part of our culture, providing a wonderfully relaxing form of distinctly Canadian recreation and leisure.
The decision to make cottaging part of your life is not always as simple as it seems. Even for well-seasoned cottage owners, packing up the kids, pets and gear and taking off for a stay at the cottage can be a lot of work!
If you don’t own your own vacation property, it can be quite a challenge to find the right spot to rent. If you have made the decision to purchase a cottage or cabin of your own, where do you begin? What should you look for? What if you are going up to a friend’s cottage as their guest, should you bring anything, what is the proper etiquette?
Luckily, the cottage experts at Cottage Life Television have put together a great package of essential cottage guides, covering everything from what to look for when buying a cottage, to how to ensure the safety of your pets. Before you head out of the city in search of some great Canadian cottage time, read through and ensure that your all-too-short summer vacation goes as smoothly as possible.
Ten Things to Consider Before You Buy a Cottage
The decision to buy is as nerve-wracking as it is exciting. It should never be taken lightly. The best way to ensure that you get what you want out of a new cottage is to do your research. Nothing is too small to question and no question is too silly to ask. Find an experienced real estate agent who knows her cottage country. Here are 10 important things to consider before you buy:
1. Location
· What area of cottage country to do want to be close to?
· Would you like to be near a lake, or river?
· Do you want a private beach, or close proximity to a public one?
· Be sure to check the sun exposure, direction and view.
2. Distance
· Be sure to consider drive time from home in cottage traffic.
· Where is the nearest town? Is it easily accessible for shopping?
· Do you prefer to be isolated and secluded?
3. Price Range
· How much can you afford (with all the legal fees)?
· Cottages and cabins can be as expensive as a large house in the city or relatively inexpensive, depending on a number of things, such as size, location, etc.
4. Main Purpose?
· Do you need year-round access or just in the summer?
· Is it for your retirement, or somewhere you see yourself living permanently one day?
· Carefully consider the number of and types of people (elderly, children) who will be using the cottage.
5. Access
· Is the cottage easy to get to? Does it have a paved road or are you going to have to navigate a beautiful but scary cottage back road?
· Does it have water access?
· Is the road owned by the municipality, private, or deeded access?
6. Building
· Check the state of repair – especially the septic system.
· Does it have running water, indoor plumbing, electricity and heating?
· Number of bathrooms, bedrooms and size of living area. Will it be large enough for long stays or is it just cosy enough for a weekend here and there?
· Is there a deck, or screened-in porch?
· What about outbuildings like a bunkie, cabin, shed and garage.
7. Lot
· Be sure to get details on size and frontage.
· Pay attention to your proximity to neighbours.
· Proximity to water is always an important consideration.
8. Shoreline
· Depth of water – does it fluctuate seasonally?
· Steepness of slope, will you be able to easily manipulate it? Will the kids?
· Rocky bottom or sandy beach?
· Is there a dock or boathouse included with the sale?
9. Water Body
What usage will it have (sailing, canoeing, water sports)?
· Water access to other lakes and towns
10. Services
· Is there a marina close by?
· Check for hydro, telephone, cell phone, and internet access.
· Is there regular garbage collection or close proximity to dump site?
· Are there nearby health and ambulance services?
· How about other emergency services, i.e. fire department?
· Grocery and other retail services?
Ten Things to Consider Before Renting a Cottage
Increasingly cottages and vacation properties are becoming more expensive and more difficult to rent. The properties book up fast, and due to increasing popularity of some areas you can expect to pay quite a hefty amount for a week- long rental. Often, bookings are made over the phone, with someone you’ve never met for a cottage you’ve never seen. It’s important that you ask the right question, of yourself and the owner, to ensure that you get what you are looking for. Here’s a helpful list:
1. It’s never too late to plan for next summer. Most cottage rentals book a year in advance. Spring and early summer is the best time to scout out where you would like to relax the following year.
2. Consider geography. Where do you want rent? By the beach, by the lake or in the mountains? How close to home do you need to be – will you be commuting back to the city during the week or simply staying put?
3. How long and when? Are you setting up shop for the entire summer or just a week? And what month will suit you best? September is just as nice as August in cottage country, minus the crowds and bugs.
4. What are your physical requirements? If you have bad knees, a long stair climb to the cottage is the last thing you need on a holiday. Also, if you have small children do you want a sandy shoreline or a rocky one?
5. Do you have any reason to be near a medical centre, or would you like easy access to one just for peace of mind?
6. Do you want a quiet area with few cottages nearby or would you rather be social? Remember that quiet cottagers will not appreciate renters who make a lot of noise or party all night.
7. How much are you willing to spend? As mentioned earlier, cottage country is getting pricier every year, so it might help to make up a detailed budget, factoring in the price of food, gas and other supplies.
8. Always consider space. You can expect cottages to be smaller than home for the most part and this contributes to the cosy charm. But how many people does the cottage have to sleep? With a large family and lots of guests the cosy factor can get lost quickly, and simply become crowded!
9. Do you need a full bathroom or can you handle an outhouse? Be sure to ask about plumbing and water conditions so that you are not unpleasantly surprised.
10. The best people to ask before you rent are friends and family who cottage in the summers. They should point you in the right direction and might know of some reputable neighbours or acquaintances who rent in their area.
Dos and Don’ts For Cottage Guests
It’s a fine cottage country tradition for cottage owners to invite their family and friends to join them at the cottage for some company and relaxation. Make sure that if you are invited, you know the proper guest etiquette. Here are some valuable dos and don’ts:
DO know when you are expected to arrive and leave. For example: from Friday night after supper to Sunday at lunch.
DO bring a thoughtful gift for the host. Do they love to BBQ? New tongs.
DO ask what you can help the host with while you are visiting. Setting the table? Doing the dishes?
DO offer to find out what you can bring to be helpful — another cooler filled with ice for drinks can go a long way. On the other hand, too much of one thing leaves the host overburdened with food by the end of your visit.
DO take a shower before you leave for the cottage. Water is in short supply with pumps and smaller hot-water tanks. If you are swimming in the lake at the cottage you don’t need a shower — it’s the same water you shower with. If you do take a shower ask your host beforehand and make it a short one.
DON’T put anything down the toilet other than waste and toilet paper. Throw all other paper products in a wastepaper basket. They can seriously shorten the life of your host’s septic tank or make for costly repairs.
DON’T ask “What’s on the agenda today?” It’s the cottage — you’re relaxing.
DO bring a book or something else to keep you entertained.
DO find out what the sleeping arrangements are before you arrive. Do you need to bring a sleeping bag? Pillows? Are you in a room by yourself or with others? While you may sleep in the buff at home, bring sleepwear with you.
DO leave the place better than you found it, and you’ll likely be asked back.
DO remember to say thanks when you when you leave and send a thank-you note in the mail.
Make Your Drive to the Cottage Comfortable
Don’t let the drive to the cottage be a horrible experience filled with bored, hungry kids and grouchy parents. Take a few extra steps and you can make even this part of your summer get-away comfortable, and maybe even fun!
· Before you head out, make sure that your car is tuned up and ready to hit the road safely with a full tank of gas.
· Keep an extra pair of sunglasses in the glove compartment.
· Keep an umbrella in the car within reach. It’s no good under your luggage in the trunk when it’s pouring rain.
· Get directions to your destination, a pen, and a road map of Ontario.
· Always have a flashlight with fresh batteries for the summer season.
· A fully charged cell phone is a great safety feature.
· A couple bottles of water to keep yourself hydrated and maybe some fun juice boxes for the kids.
· Healthy snacks such apples, baby carrots, health bars and graham crackers.
· Colouring books, travel games and kids tapes to keep the little one as entertained as possible.
· Books on tape or CD are a lifesaver for you if you have kids in the car and need a break from the Raffi soundtrack.
· Take a roll of toilet paper in a plastic bag – keeps it clean and dry for when you need it. How many pit stops have you made only to find there is no toilet paper in the place?
· Ditto for hand towels. Bring some hand wipes or a small bottle of hand sanitizer.
· Bring a fully stalked first-aid kit.
· Plastic bags for wet clothes or in case some one gets carsick.
· If a pet or kids are really messy, take an old bed sheet or thin blanket to cover the back seat of the car. When you get to the cottage just shake out the sheet.
· Sunscreen — how many times has your left arm been sunburned from hanging out the open window?
Protect Your Pets
The cottage can be a wonderful oasis for your pets, provided you take a few extra precautions to ensure their safety.
· Put a nametag on your pet that includes your cottage and city phone numbers in case they get lost.
· Have plenty of drinking water available for your pet. While the lake is there, some pets only drink out of their bowl.
· Check for ticks on your furry friend regularly, while this may not be a concern in the city, cottage country is full of interesting critters that will love your pet.
· Don’t let your pet roam unattended. Small pets are considered prey by other animals in cottage country (wolves, bears and even martens). Conversely, if you have a large dog it could be mistaken for a bear.
· Make sure its vaccinations are up to date.
· Bring your vet’s phone number and any medications your pet is taking
Make sure your dog or cat is in a cage or safety harness for the drive to the cottage.
· If you are bringing an indoor cat to the cottage, make sure that everyone knows to keep doors closed and keep an eye out for any escapees.
· If you cat is an outdoor car, it’s important that you introduce the cat to it’s new surroundings slowly so that it doesn’t get confused or lost. If you have a problem with wildlife, it might be a good idea to keep kitty indoors.
· Put sunscreen on those bare spots, your pet’s skin can burn too.
· Keep the food dish inside — otherwise it tempts wild animals (like raccoons) to drop by your cottage for takeout.
· Pick up after your pet. No one likes stepping in it — even in cottage country.