Leaving the busy city for the laidback country is a wonderful ritual. If you don't have a cottage of your own, you may ask friends if you can visit, or even borrow their cabin for a time. Before heading out, know what you can do to be an excellent guest and make the trip enjoyable for all.
Rather than have your hosts rummage through their home for extra fleece jackets or make a 30-minute – or longer – trip to town for a particular brand of suntan lotion, be prepared for the weather, the bugs and the area you're visiting. "It's amazing how many people forget to bring hats," says Penny Caldwell, editor of Cottage Life magazine and a cottager on Georgian Bay, about two hours north of Toronto. If you require special sunscreen or insect repellent (like kids' versions) bring it with you, and if the temperature tends to plummet at night, pack extra clothing you can layer.
Some cottagers host guest after guest, leaving bedding and bath linens in short supply; so pack your own sheets, sleeping bags, pillows and towels. "There seems to be endless laundry at this time of year," says Betty Fridell, who owns a cottage in the Laurentians, an hour north of Montreal. "So what I really appreciate is during swim season, if people bring their own beach towels."
Serve it up
If you're planning on staying for a meal or more, bring a dish like lasagna or goodies for the grill. Mention it to your hosts beforehand so they can check for fridge or freezer space or suggest an alternative (like a dessert or appetizer). "There also might be something they're missing, like bottled water or fresh vegetables," adds Caldwell. "And it's nice if they [guests] can bring a cooler full of ice." If your kids are picky eaters, bring food for them.
Some cottages, like Caldwell's, are accessible by water only, meaning guests have to be picked up at a marina. If you say you're going to appear at a certain time, be there; don't leave your hosts waiting while you go for dinner or tour the town.
Curb your complaints
If you're not crazy about cottages, don't say so. John Sawatzky and his wife, Irene, have a cabin in Lake of the Woods, Ont., about three hours east of Winnipeg. The couple invited good friends to join them there, but the conversation turned to how cottage life just wasn't for their guests. "For them to come to our cottage and to tell us why they didn't want a cottage... we didn't invite them again for years."
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Your hosts probably go to their cottage to relax, so be a low-maintenance guest. "I don't want to cater to people, it's my weekend, too," says Linda Wiseman, who owns a cottage in the Laurentians. "Company has to take out food and drinks from the refrigerator when they want them, put their dishes in the dishwasher. If they're here for a meal, they should help in the kitchen, before and after."
Respect your surroundings
If you're looking for a vacation with maid service, go to a hotel, not a friend's cottage. Clean up after pets, use coasters for drinks, keep tidy, and throw out garbage. Guests of Elda Reppin, a cottager in Prince Edward County, two and a half hours east of Toronto, tossed cigarette butts on the ground, which is not only a mess to clean but also a fire hazard in the middle of the woods. "They were very good friends and I didn't want to tell them to stop smoking, so I picked up the butts."
Whistle while you work
If you're a regular guest and your host has some projects on the go, roll up your sleeves and pitch in. "We had a guest who built us some new stairs," says Caldwell. "Another year he helped put in a solar system. The couple will definitely be invited back and we offer them the cottage for a week of their own.
Don't expect a planned itinerary for your trip. "We have friends who come to the cottage, but what they really want to do is vacation and sightsee," says Sawatzky. If there's something you'd like to do – like hit a hiking trail – go for it. Invite your hosts along, but don't be offended it they turn you down; caring for a cottage is hard work and sometimes, fun excursions have to take a back seat to chopping firewood or waterproofing the deck.
Select the right gift
If you'd like to show your appreciation for your host with a gift, choose useful items like a new game, says Caldwell; or a bottle of wine that can be shared on the deck, suggests Reppin.
In short, the key to being the perfect cottage guest is to enjoy the great outdoors and to let your hosts enjoy it, too.
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