The Check-In List: Don't Leave Home Without It!

Both my husband and I were early adopters of vacation rentals, but in the seventies and eighties when we began renting places at the beach or mountains to celebrate holidays and other events with big groups of friends and family, rentals were arranged with local real estate companies. We never dreamed that one day we'd be living full-time internationally in short-term vacation rentals without a home base, and that we would be able to make the arrangements on the Internet, dealing with property owners worldwide through outfits like VRBO and HomeAway.

We sold our home in 2011, ditched most of our possessions and have enjoyed vivid experiences, made wonderful new friends and reveled in being free of worries about maintaining a home and all that it entails ever since. We're considered by some to be pioneers of the "home free" movement. Of course no life is perfect, and we've certainly encountered innumerable challenges along the way, like discovering that we misread the listings and ended up without an oven in rented apartments -- TWICE! Mistakes like that were no one's fault but our own, and we finally learned to read every listing we considered many times and studying the photographs and reviews with minute care before committing to rentals of a month or more. Almost every time things have worked out beautifully and we've enjoyed comfortable stays.

Many readers of our blog,, and articles I've written for various publications have have told us that they have been inspired to followed suit by changing their predictable retirement lifestyles. Some new friends keep us informed of their process as they lighten their loads of possessions, sell out completely to live home-free or downsize radically. Almost all have asked asked us questions from what we do about our mail to how we handle our medical insurance, from how we pack for nine months in Europe to the real scoop about repositioning cruises. We answer every request as soon as we possibly can because it's so exciting to hear from people who are making big changes in their lives! We feel honored to have given people the idea of approaching their retirement years in new ways, and we love to share what we've learned.

Our errors have taught us that making lists and establishing routines make being on the road far less challenging. Trusting our memories and relying on quick thinking after a long flight when we were tired and feeling disoriented led us to create our check in list. We use it each time we arrive in a new apartment, condo or house, and it's saved us hours of frustration bumbling around trying to learn how to use appliances, TV's, phones and even door locks in places where we have not a clue about how to read the instructions.

The Check-in List:

  • Keys -- make sure you understand them. Try them all until you understand them. Ask for two sets if you are a couple. As reader Karen pointed out, if you're on your own, it's a great idea to have an extra set somewhere handy in case you leave one set in the house!
  • Is there an intercom to allow your guests to enter? Try this out to be sure it works and you know how to use it.

  • Where is the fuse box?
  • How do you turn off water and gas in case of emergency?
  • Reader Beverly reminded me to mention that you should turn on every light and lamp to be sure you know how the switches work and that there are working bulbs. Coming home to a new place when the porch light doesn't work is a real problem, and light switches can be located in strange places.

    • Faucet -- run the water. Be sure the hot and cold work correctly.

  • Refrigerator -- see that it's clean and turned on.
  • Dishwasher -- ask for a demonstration. Where does the soap go? Which is the right stuff? How do the settings work?
  • Burners -- ask for a demonstration. They are all different!
  • Oven -- ditto.
  • Pots and pans -- check to see if non-stick covering is still intact. If cookware is not OK, ask for it to be replaced immediately!
  • Coffee pot -- make sure it works if you like coffee.
  • Dishes and cutlery -- take a look to be sure you have enough.
  • Cooking utensils -- if there's not a spatula or an opener or any of the essentials, mention it and ask for what you will need.
  • Washing machine -- Again, ask for a demonstration and double-check where the detergent goes. The spinning part is always tricky, so be sure you understand that setting.
  • Test the microwave. Erin, one of our wonderful readers, says to put a damp paper towel into the microwave and turn it on for 15 seconds. If it steams, you're in business!

    • Try hot/cold water.

  • Ask for shower/bath demonstration.
  • If there is mold or anything unpleasant, point it out and ask for it to be taken care of.
  • Check to see if there are sufficient towels and bathmats. There will NOT be a washcloth, so just fugeddaboudit.
  • Flush the toilet to be sure it's working right.

    • Ask where extra linens are kept.
  • Be sure you have enough blankets or duvets.

    • Ask for a demonstration of the TV/DVD/Satellite/Cable, whatever is on offer. Do not be rushed through this. Continue until you really get it!

  • Haul out your computer and connect to the Internet. If your signal is not strong enough for your needs, start the conversation about it immediately.
  • Ask for a phone demonstration. This is really important in a place where you don't speak the language in the first place!
  • Be sure you know how to reach the manager or someone who can help you if you are really in need of assistance.

    Take a look at the instruction book the owner should provide. Be sure you know where to find the nearest grocery stores, subway stations, bus stops and drug stores. Ask about how to get a taxi if you need one. Do NOT forget to ask where to find the best wine/liquor store is located.