Vacation rentals have grown increasingly popular for so many travelers in recent years, with services like VRBO and Airbnb booming. Many family travelers have long known how a vacation rental affords them much more space and convenience. Having amenities like a washer and dryer or a full kitchen when traveling with young kids is valuable too. And in 2020, travelers of all types are considering vacation rentals more than ever before to give themselves additional space to avoid crowds.
My family regularly stays in vacation rentals, in destinations as diverse as the beaches of Alabama to the ski slopes of Park City, Utah. We returned recently from a weeklong summer getaway in a townhouse unit in a resort community on Lake Tahoe. One of the biggest parts of our trip planning was figuring out what we were going to eat, who was going to cook it, and what supplies we needed with us to make that happen.
While we normally eat out when we travel quite a bit, we decided to cook at the rental quite a bit more this trip to keep our distance. That meant more groceries to bring and buy. We also wanted to be as efficient as possible, only shopping once or twice in the local markets to avoid unnecessary exposures to us as well as from us to the local community (see all my tips for responsible travel right now).
A comprehensive grocery shopping list turned out to be essential in contributing to our trip’s success! If you are preparing for a vacation rental stay too, here is everything you need to know to make your grocery prep more successful too.
Tips for Getting Groceries & Prepping for Meals in a Vacation Rental
1. Ask the vacation rental owner what is already stocked
Many vacation rentals, especially those managed by professional companies, come stocked with starter kits of many grocery and toiletry supplies. You may find essentials like toilet paper, paper towels, dishwashing liquid, a sponge, or more already in your unit. We’ve even found a few vacation rentals that come stocked with cooking spray, salt & pepper, olive oil, and more. So before you make a long shopping list and purchase things you don’t need, ask first.
Be sure also to ask about the cooking options available to you in the rental – is the range gas or electric? Is there a grill exclusive to the unit or in shared spaces? Is it propane or charcoal? These options may also shape what kinds of foods and kitchen supplies you need to bring or purchase.
2. Research nearby stores and grocery delivery services before your trip
Before you travel, it’s also important to scope out the grocery options available near your vacation rental. Is there a huge supermarket minutes away or is there only a smaller and more expensive convenience store nearby? Are delivery services like Instacart or curbside pickup options available to save you time? Knowing what stores are accessible as well as how likely they are to stock the supplies you need (and at what price!) will help in deciding how to prepare.
3. Consider what you can bring from home
While you may plan to do most of your grocery shopping at your destination, consider what you might bring from home. Is there a hard-to-find brand that is a favorite must-have in your family? Purchase it in advance and bring it to avoid disappointment. There are also certain items that may still be in short supply in many destinations (Clorox wipes anyone?) so definitely bring those from home.
Consider also bringing smaller amounts of items you won’t use much to avoid having to purchase a full container. For example, if you plan to use a unique spice just once or twice in your cooking, pack enough of it in a plastic bag at home and bring with you. Sample sizes can be very helpful for traveling too. We pre-purchased most of the non-perishables we needed before our most recent trip so we were only purchasing refrigerated items and a few bulky extras.
Of course, if you are flying instead of driving, you’ll be limited in what you can bring by luggage space and airline bag fees. And even if you are road tripping, trunk space isn’t unlimited. So be realistic about what you can carry.
4. Plan a meal schedule before you go
We have often played a lot of our vacation rental eating by ear in our previous travels. On our most recent trip, my organizationally-minded daughter insisted we make a meal schedule for dinner each night. We traveled with extended family from our bubble, so this allowed us to split cooking duties up among everyone. More importantly, each adult could drill down on what supplies were needed for a given dish and be sure to pack them or add them to the collective grocery list. We were also able to plan ahead for nights when we ordered take out and avoid scheduling on Saturday night when restaurants are at their busiest.
5. Make a shopping list before you travel
Speaking of shopping lists, make one before your trip! We started drafting ours a full week before our travels and were still remembering things even as we were making the drive to our destination. I guarantee if you go into a store without pre-planning, you’ll find yourself having to make multiple return trips for essentials you have forgotten. Who wants to waste precious vacation time going back and forth to the store? Especially right now when all of us are trying to avoid unnecessary exposures, pre-planning is essential.
6. It’s better to overbuy than underbuy
It’s sometimes really hard to gauge exactly how much your family will eat over the course of a vacation. Hopefully, a meal schedule will help with that somewhat. But I find that everyone tends to eat a bit more on vacation! As a result, we usually buy a little more than we think we’d need, especially of special vacation snacks and treats like potato chips that we might be more liberal with than at home. And we also find that we really mow through drinks of all types on vacation.
So don’t be afraid to overbuy a little. It’s better to have a little extra at the end of the trip instead of having to make a final grocery run on the last day of your trip to have enough for everyone to eat. If you end up buying too much, you can always take some home or leave unused items and a note for the cleaning company to let them know they are free to take anything they want.
Grocery Shopping List for Vacation Rentals
Now that you have a grocery plan, let’s talk specific foods and other items for the grocery list. Obviously, every traveler has different taste preferences and dietary needs. So this list includes the basics that many average families might consume, with a few prompts to include additional items that fit your family’s specific preferences.
There’s a free printable at the bottom (with blank lines for you to add your own personal extras) to make things even easier for you!
- Cream cheese
- Sandwich meat
- Meat (burgers, chicken, sausages, hot dogs, etc.)
- Sausage or bacon
- Ice cream or popsicles
- Bagged salad or lettuce
- Fruits of your choice (bananas, berries, apples, etc.)
- Peanut butter
- Pasta & sauce
- Mac & cheese
- Popcorn and/or chips
- Granola bars
- Cooking spray
- Olive or vegetable oil
- Salt & pepper
- Spices or marinades
- Condiments (ketchup/mustard/mayo)
- Brownie or cookie mix
- Hot chocolate
- S’mores supplies: graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate, roasting sticks
- Bottled waters
- Sodas/sparkling waters
- Beer or wine
- Liquor with mixers
- Coffee with filters
Paper Products & Kitchen + Bathroom Supplies
- Tin foil
- Plastic wrap
- Ziploc bags (various sizes)
- Dish Soap
- Hand or bar soaps
- Dishwashing detergent/pods
- Trash bags
- Paper towels
- Toilet paper
- Paper plates
- Disposable cups
- Kitchen cleaning spray
- Laundry detergent