Have you ever noticed how quickly summer seems to pass? It’s one of the most beautiful times of the year –filled with lush green grass, blooming flowers, and lakes that sparkle like fine crystal –but it just never seems long enough.
I kick off every summer with great plans to do it all: to bask in warm sunlight surrounded by those I love, to celebrate with family in backyards, and to grab patio drinks with long lost friends. After years of summers being jam-packed and falls that come too quickly, I’ve realized that without a little planning, summer can pass before there’s time to see all those people, let alone before there’s time to relax.
So a few years ago, I decided I needed to combine it all: to start each summer with a plan that would allow me to embrace time with those I love while also enjoying some down time. After all, is there anything more relaxing, or that will help you forget about work and stress faster than spending your days lounging on docks and laughing so hard it hurts? I don’t think so. My advice to see everyone you love and make the most of summer: plan a cottage trip. Here are my five simple steps to starting an annual cottage tradition.
1) Set Your Date
The hardest thing with any group can be finding a date that works for everyone. So get started early before schedules fill up with barbecues, family reunions, and weddings. I like to take some of the stress out of planning by using an online tool like Doodle to send a poll to my group for quick responses. If Doodle is not your thing, maybe try a Facebook group. You’ll find out quickly that, unlike your work emails, an invite to a cottage shin-dig usually gets quick replies.
2) Pick the Perfect Place
Finding the right spot can sometimes feel overwhelming. Different cottages and resorts have a variety of amenities and not every place is right for your group’s needs. But if you’re looking to escape with friends, take it from my own research; you can’t go wrong with these three options:
Where: On the shore of Calabogie Lake in Calabogie, Ontario.
Ideal For: Young families or large groups looking to be active together and enjoy a bit more luxury.
Highlights: Rooms and cozy villas for any size group, with Valley Food & Drink Company onsite to take away the need to cook. Enjoy plenty of ways to stretch your legs together with hiking trails, a private tennis court, and non-motorized watercraft for use, or use the resort as a jumping-off point for local activities – like challenging Mother Nature on a raft filled with friends.
Where: On the shore of Golden Lake in Golden Lake, Ontario.
Ideal For: Large groups looking to embrace an old-school cottage experience together.
Highlights: Comfortable cottages where you can get ‘back to basics’ and immerse yourselves in the old-school cottage experience with days filled with activities and evenings around the campfire. Try out the non-motorized watercraft, feel the wind in your hair during a bike ride, revel in the anticipation of the bite while fishing, or dig your toes into the shallow sandy beach.
Where: On the shore of Leve Lake in Barry’s Bay, Ontario
Ideal For: Groups looking for an intimate setting and access to insider tips on experiences nearby.
Highlights: Enjoy the serenity of the private waterfront, try your hand at pool or darts in the games room, or gather as a group to connect over breakfast in the Cookhouse. Get advice from your friendly hosts, Corinne and Gord, with insider knowledge and insight into the surrounding community and hidden gems worth exploring.
3) Pack for all Weather and Occasions
I’m a list maker –I make grocery lists, I make to do lists, I make lists of lists I need to make, so of course, I make packing lists. My advice to you: If you don’t want to forget it, write it down. You want group holiday memories to be the kind you love to revisit, like stories of soul-nourishing spectacular views, adventure-filled days, and tales like “the-one-that-got-away,” not evenings spent getting eaten by bugs or mornings tracking down the nearest grocery store.
Huffington Post made this list of 15 Essentials to Bring on Your Trip, and as a seasoned cottager, I’d add a couple of extras from my own trips – most importantly, sunscreen and bug spray. Oh, and don’t forget the playing cards. No one ever realizes the cards have been forgotten until it’s late at night and all the stores are closed.
4) Enjoy Cottage Moments
You’ve planned, you’ve picked, you’ve packed: the stress is gone. Now it’s time to simply enjoy being together. It’s the chance to breathe in fresh air, to drink in the warmth of fire pit flames, to have cool water lap against hot skin, and to let the silence of waiting for the bite of a fish bring you closer together. I always find that a little extra planning ahead of the trip leads to more relaxing on the trip. If you’re going to cook for yourselves, I suggest making casseroles and prepping meals in advance –that way you can simply pop them in the oven, sit back, and enjoy the easy moments.
All great things must come to an end, but the best part of annual cottage trips is that there’s always next year to look forward to. With each trip, you learn a little more about how to improve it the following year –how to better pack the car, the exact number of towels you need, and what “extras” you should have on hand just in case (one suggestion: duct tape –you just never know). Remember what I said at the start? Plan early!
Storyteller: Jennifer Gilmer. Hometown: Port Hope, ON
Jennifer is a lover of cats, small towns, and everything chocolate. When she isn’t looking for opportunities to try out new recipes or dishes, or reading countless books, she’s busy planning her next road trip and encouraging others to search out hidden gems. Some of her happiest moments include basking in the sun at the end of a dock, laughing the day away at a backyard barbecue, or letting her creativity flow during an evening of sketching with a glass of wine at her side.