The holidays are approaching, and you’ve booked your vacation rental for the occasion. Perhaps you’re flying across the country to visit faraway friends and family, or just driving an hour or so for a change of scenery with a few buddies and your dog. You’re looking forward to the relaxing and the bonding, but most of all: the big sit-down meal with all of your favorite dishes.

Here are some tips to help you prep a delicious (and stress-free) feast in a vacation home.

Before you go…

1. Bring your favorite cooking supplies.

vacation home kitchen
Photo courtesy of Caroline Attwood

While most vacation home kitchens will be stocked with all the cooking essentials, you may not want to give up your favorite chef’s knife and perfectly seasoned skillet. Bring them along! (If you’re flying and can’t find room in your carry-on, ship your supplies via UPS or FedEx ahead of time and have them held at the nearest store until you arrive.)

2. Plan the meal ahead.

Hosting a Holiday Meal in a Vacation Rental
Photo courtesy of Glenn Carstens Peters

Like all things travel, thinking ahead is key. Plan who will make or bring what, who will set up, and who will clean up (especially if your trip doesn’t have a designated “host” to delegate). Similarly, if your heart is set on roasting a turkey or a ham, make sure you call the closest market to your vacation rental and put one on hold. You can also pre-make and freeze pies, stuffing, and cranberry sauce and pack them in a cooler for drivable distances.

3. Bring your own herbs and spices.

Spices
Photo courtesy of Pratiksha Mohanty

Remember, though there’s a chance previous guests have left things behind, a vacation home may not be stocked with fancier items like balsamic vinegar, cinnamon, or vanilla extract. It’s always a good idea to pack a bag or a cooler with often-used supplies from home. If that isn’t possible, many big chain stores sell spices in bulk, so you can purchase them by weight rather than in containers. This makes it easy to buy only the amount you need!

4. Prepare for the aftermath.

Thanksgiving leftovers
Photo courtesy of Andrew Nash

Holiday meal leftovers are what’s up. Make sure you come prepared with Tupperware to store the good stuff in, and possibly a cooler for added storage space.

Upon arrival…

5. Hit the closest grocery store.

Vegetables at the supermarket
Photo courtesy of NeONBRAND

If you’re heading to a small town, opening hours and supplies at local markets may be more limited than your neighborhood superstore. Do some Googling beforehand to find the nearest market and liquor store, and either print or screenshot directions from where you’re staying.

6. Accept some substitutions.

roasted chicken for dinner
Photo courtesy of Gabriel Garcia Marengo

Be prepared for some limitations, and plan accordingly. If you don’t have the time or the resources to defrost, brine, and roast a full turkey, opt for cuts of the turkey or a whole chicken (or two) instead.

7. Utilize the local cuisine.

fresh crab
Photo courtesy of James Wei

While traditional food is nice, it could be fun and interesting to add regional cuisine to your menu. Hosting on the Oregon Coast? Pick up crabs for steaming and a few ales from Rogue Brewery. Having your holiday in Austin, Texas? Incorporate barbecue and margaritas with a bottle of Tequila 512.

8. Be creative (and minimalist) with your decorating.

Thanksgiving table setting
Photo courtesy of dnak

Decorating is a fun way to set the mood and add a bit of flair to the presentation of the meal. You can go traditional with gourds, colorful corn, pumpkins, a seasonal floral arrangement, and a few candles. Or try something different: Fill a big bowl with reasons to be grateful on strips of paper and take some time to read them aloud, or pass around a favorite book and read passages out loud to one another.

Time to cook…

9. Do a test run.

baking
Photo courtesy of Austin Ban

Cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen can feel a little discombobulating, so conduct a test meal a night or two before the festivities are due to start. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or fancy, but just enough to really get in there and fiddle with the oven, stovetop, and microwave, and suss out what’s in all the drawers.

10. Altitude is a thing.

Cookbook
Photo courtesy of Dan Gold

Elevation and humidity affect everything from bake times to texture, so make sure to account for that. Here’s a helpful guide to cooking at higher altitude.

11. Enjoy yourself!

People celebrating Thanksgiving together
Photo courtesy of QuickenLoans

Vacation rentals are a blast because of the novelty—it’s an adventure to cook in a new kitchen and eat at a different dining table! Things may not turn out perfectly, but isn’t that the fun of it? Aim for good memories. Odds are you’ll have a few gems.

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Author: Hannah Morrison

Hannah hails from Telluride, CO and currently lives in Portland, where she works as writer, editor, and unofficial resident poet for Team Vacasa. You'll often find Hannah singing and dancing down the sidewalk, making really tall sandwiches, and planning her next long run.