With the rise of VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) and other, similar sites, the idea of paying to use someone else's house for a couple of day or so, has become a new, and I would argue, strange normal. Not that people haven't always rented out their places for various reason before, but now, that has become a kind of standard practice.
These rental properties tend to fall into two different camps. The first is the family home or vacation home that the owners open up for rental from time to time. When you stay there, you enter a family space and live life as they might also when they are there.
The second is a vacation home that they still own, but it is largely stripped of any particular family personality. If it does have that, it comes in the form of photographs and such, not clothes in the closet or personal items that the family will gravitate towards any time that they return.
Although, like most social changes, I was slow to the VRBO party, I have stayed twice this calendar year in other people's homes.
Now, don't get me wrong. Renting someone else's home can be a very nice, even wonderful, experience, especially if you can set aside the financial expense of doing so. But I also think that people, meaning me and mine, when they live in someone else's house, live differently, live in ways that are neither positive or negative, but simply are a bit askance from the ways that we might live in our own homes. For example:
1. When you stay in someone else's home, you always end up a bit amazed by their choices. Last weekend, because I knew that I would be doing some serious cooking, I moved a lot of cooking items up to the the cabin we had rented. Then I discovered that the place already had almost everything that I had brought, from electric appliances to spices. I was thrilled. And then I discovered that there was no vinegar in the house, and very little sugar. And I thought, What?
2. In someone else's house, you tend to be simultaneously careful and careless. How is that possible? Well, consider this: the place we stayed had a great outdoor fire put, and in the course of getting that fire going one night, I knocked over and broke one of their solar-powered light that lights the path to the put. I thought, that's a Target light, a cheap thing, and there is nothing I can do to save it. At the same time, so many things inside the house, and especially in the kitchen, received the most careful care I am capable of.
3. At someone else's house, you take liberties. Because we had to pay an exorbitant fee for a rental during a college graduation weekend, my wife decided that she was going to do as much laundry as possible. She washed everything. She told my daughter, who was coming late, to bring more laundry. Now, this wasn't entirely because of the price. The reality is that doing laundry in the clean, carefree confines of someone else's house is more fun. She does the same thing when she goes to her mother's.
4. Your hosts have gone out of their way to make your stay unique in tangible ways, but because they don't know you, how can they? Last week's cabin had, among other things, a restaurant-style gaming table full of vintage games like Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga. And when you get there, you say, "Wow! This place has a Pac-Man game and a ton of other games and books and great TV reception!" And when you are leaving, you realize that you didn't use any of them.
5. Because, continuing #4, in many, perhaps most, locales, you rent a place to sleep in, not a place to live in during however long your prescribed stay is. And that means that you are almost always out and about, not hanging out at the place. And that means that many of its offerings, physical, natural, or equipmental (my word) end up having little or no relevance for you. For example, you could rent the coolest home in the French Quarter, but if you go to New Orleans and spend most of your time in your hotel or rental home, you have likely wasted your time, unless it is your honeymoon.
6. Yes, rental homes have all of the amenities of home and then some (our most recent place had a paddle boat), but those amenities likely run counter to the reason why you are staying there. So it becomes a Catch-22: do you take full advantage of your place or do you take full advantage of the area where your place is? It is difficult to do both.
It's strange being in someone else's home. For a good part of your stay, you feel like you own it. And then, when you have to "return" it to its real owner, you kind of resent the work that you have to do to return it to that condition. You don't want to give it up; you don't want to obey the house rules. Because that would mean that it isn't yours.