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Top 5 Essentials for Living Home Free

Arriving at a long-term rental apartment in a foreign country is a little like going on a blind date. You never know exactly what you’re going to get.

Experience has taught my husband and me that tucking a few essentials into our luggage can keep a new short-term rental relationship from going south before it even gets started!

Lynne and Tim in Venice
Lynne and Tim in Venice

We have lived for almost three years in short-term rentals in Europe, South America, Mexico, and the United States, enjoying what we call our “home free” life.

In 2011 we sold our house in central California, ditched most of our furniture, put our treasures in storage, and set out for countries where we wanted to live like locals for a month or more, moving from place to place according to the weather and our desire.

Being unencumbered by the pressures of homeownership set us free to enjoy a more exciting life in retirement.

We quickly learned that vacation rental living poses particular packing challenges, different from the ones that face tourists staying in hotels.

Locating places to live is just the start, and we have found that and have given us great results.

Almost all of our temporary homes have been comfortable, true to the owners‘ listings, and well provisioned.

Still, there are certain essentials that we take along to help us adapt more quickly to new environments.

1. The Check-In List

Since we usually arrive when we’ve been traveling, are tired, and are more forgetful than usual, the person who knows everything may have vanished before we have had a chance to get the answers we need.

Details like how the air conditioning or heating works, where the kitchen light switch is hidden, and trying out the internet and TV are essential!

This is why we created the Check-In List. We take the list along and never let the owner/manager leave us until he’s ticked off all the boxes.

Readers tell us that it has been invaluable to them, and some have contributed important items that never even occurred to us.

The list, along with many entries about our Home Free life, can be found on my blog,

Lunch at a Paris Apartment
Lunch at a Paris Apartment

2. Knife Sharpener

Why you might ask, would a person pack a knife sharpener?

Because almost without exception, knives in rental units are dull.

It’s a real problem for people who stay more than a few days and intend to cook meals often.

We discovered early on that bringing a small, lightweight knife sharpener is easier than having knives sharpened and certainly cheaper than buying them in every place we visit.

We found a good, lightweight, inexpensive one on Amazon called AccuSharp 001 Knife Sharpener.

3. Miniature Spices

Speaking of kitchens, setting up a pantry is one of the most expensive aspects of moving from country to country. Spices are pricey, and dragging bulky jars from country to country isn’t practical.

We found a portable tin box containing twenty tiny round containers filled with small amounts of various spices at World Market, so we can add a little Chinese Five Spice or cumin when we want a change of palate.

A pinch of oregano can improve the dullest jarred spaghetti sauce!

4. Clotheslines and Sink Stoppers

Clothes dryers that work are rare in many European countries, so we have become accustomed to regularly festooning our living spaces with underwear, socks, and jeans.

Our plaited rubber clothesline is a treasured possession, which can hook on to just about anything and requires no clothespins.

Since many rental places are more loaded with charm than plumbing excellence, we also carry a flat rubber drain cover.

It stops up any sink for washing undies, and if we’re lucky enough to have a bathtub, it’s available to replace a missing tub stopper.

5. HDMI Cables and Speakers

Life on the road is exciting, but since we are permanently impermanent, we require a generous amount of downtime to refresh ourselves.

We love movies and enjoy many television shows, but watching in Turkey or France can pose a problem since we are English speakers.

Enter the HDMI cable! This essential piece of equipment makes it possible for us to download our favorite entertainment to our computers from iTunes or other providers, plug a cable into the TV, and enjoy “Downton Abbey” whether we’re in Buenos Aires or Boston!

If the TV is too old to accept an HDMI cable (always a disappointment to discover), we’re still not foiled because we watch on the computer and use our miniature speakers.

They plug into the computer and deliver high-quality sound in a lightweight package.

The speakers work beautifully with our iPod, too, so we can entertain ourselves with our favorite sounds no matter where we are.


Home Sweet Anywhere

About the Author: Lynne Martin is the author of Home Sweet Anywhere, which includes many more travel tips and stories of her home-free life on the road in nine countries. It is available for preorder at

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

Milan Balaban

Thursday 10th of April 2014

It's a cool strategy. I especially love the knife sharpener. It's such an underrated tool. I would add one thing to the list. A compass. Old style. Sometimes we get lost on our way (our minds are so fragile). If we have a compass it will at least make us remember where we are from and where the true North is, literally.

Craig Makepeace

Wednesday 2nd of April 2014

Love this idea as a travel strategy. Thanks for the tips!

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