Few things evoke summer idyll as much as cottage living does. Rustic beauty, swimming and sport in clear lake waters, Muskoka chairs on the deck to watch the gorgeous sunsets, maybe a campfire – these are all part of cottage dream for good reason.
As the owners of any cottage will tell you, though, the cottage experience doesn’t just make itself. My husband and I don’t own a cottage ourselves, but we do have regular access to one (my in-laws have a stunning spot on Georgian Bay) and we know firsthand, sometimes through our own oversights, what works and doesn’t work at the cottage. As with any project, a fun cottage experience is the result of good planning, collaboration, and consideration. Here are our top 6 tips for making the cottage dream a reality.
- Make an offering. If you’re a visitor, you can’t really defray the costs of the cottage, but you can offset anything associated with your stay. Bring a host gift, but keep things on the practical side – a cottage can’t hold many knick knacks. Offer to pay for boat gas (exorbitant, because boat engines burn right through it). Ask whether you can bring anything up to the cottage and cover it. Last weekend we were invited to friend’s cottage and it turned out she had a wish list of organic groceries, which are hard to source near her cottage. We brought up everything.
- Shake it up. Part of the pleasure in returning to the same spot several times a year, every year, is knowing what to expect and enjoying the rituals of our stays. But sometimes the same patterns grow a little stale and it’s good to usher in something new. Maybe invite a guest, bring up a new game, or plan a new activity. This year, I brought up The Beach Book: Loads of Things to Do at Lakes, Rivers and the Seaside by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield, which is filled with nature-based ideas and inspiring, beautiful photographs for play along any shoreline. Prompted by one of its ideas, to create a dam and channel water, I join my boys who were trying to catch minnows with nets. I eventually let go of the dam idea because they were already engrossed, but I did hang around and dove into the water (which I often sidestep because the bay is chilly). I ended up swimming and sunning myself on rocks with them for the afternoon. They loved this, and so did I. There are many more ideas in the book, and I’m sure to consult it again, but if it does nothing besides inspire us anew to enjoy ourselves at the cottage, it will have accomplished what it intended and more besides.
- Cook! Make an effort to have nice meals. Most people like to eat good food, even if they don’t like to prepare it. Plus everything tastes better when someone else cooks it, so this is a nice thing to do for a cottage host. Even if you’re on your own, take some time for this. One of the beauties of cottage life is the slower pace, and having the time to prepare good eats is one of its hallmark pleasures.
2. Arrive prepared. If you’re doing the cottage right, you’ll be spending time outdoors. Bring appropriate attire (swimwear, towels, warm clothing (especially for rides in boats), swim diapers). Remember life jackets and other flotation devices. Bring hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen (preferably an eco-brand, cottagers want to keep their waters pristine).
3. Bring insect repellent. Canada’s recent public health advisories on ticks, which can transmit Lyme Disease, reveal that bug spray is about more than avoiding itchy bites. I’ve always try to use deet-free sprays, especially with my kids, and was eager to try Deet-free PiACTIVE when they offered it to us. The Canadian Paediatric Society states that PiACTIVE‘s main ingredient Icaridin “is considered to be the repellent of first choice by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Canadian Advisory Committee on Tropical Medicine and Travel for travellers six months to 12 years of age.” Thus reassured, we can report that it works great, is non-greasy, has no scent, and sports a convenient pump. Plus the cover for the pump contains a working compass. I wanted to pack the repellent for the cottage but my son claimed it for overnight camp: “I need the compass!” he cried. I gave in, because not only is he going to wear that repellent, he’s not going to get lost either. Thank you, PiACTIVE. Available online and at selected retailers, including Mountain Equipment Co-op.
4. Get your licenses. Are there boats where you’re headed? Get your boating license. Do you like to fish? Get your fishing licence. Don’t fish and don’t keep the catch unless you’re permitted to. Respect the regulations and the environment they seek to protect.
5. Work. You’ve arrived at the cottage after a long week of work, somehow squeezing in the time to ready yourselves and pack. Your one goal for the weekend: to relax. And relax you should. But interspersed with your relaxing should be work. Even at the cottage, someone still has to look after the kids, make the meals, wash up, maintain the boats, chop wood, return things to the shed, strip the beds, clean the bathrooms. If you’re not working, someone else is doing it for you. You’re at a cottage, not a resort. Find out what needs to be done, and do your part (or more).
Cover your cottage bases and with any luck, you’ll get invited back. Unless you’re family, and then they’re kind of stuck with you either way. But it’s good karma to be a good member of the clan, and cottage peace is a sweet prize.
Have I missed something? What is your favourite tip for successful cottaging?