VRBO: Virgin Renters Bust Out

Graham's Wagoneer seemed right at home at Pond View in Upstate New York (house at left)

Graham’s Wagoneer seemed right at home at Pond View in Upstate New York (house at left)

With Paige away at college in Ithaca, New York, we broke with our tradition of a Thanksgiving dinner at home and took our turkey and fixin’s on the road.

We wanted to be near Cornell University

We wanted to be near Cornell University

In addition to spending quality time with our darling girl it was a chance for Graham to see his sister’s environment at Cornell University, and for TJ and I to tour the campus at a more leisurely pace than we’d had a chance to do on the busy weekend when we dropped Paige off at school in August.

We all agreed that we did not want to eat our Thanksgiving meal at a restaurant, and that meant finding lodging with ample bedrooms and lounging spaces, and a complete kitchen so we could cook dinner. Oh, and we were bringing Tucker the Wonder Dog so it had to be pet-friendly.

As dedicated hotel/motel/B&B lodgers we decided to venture out of our comfort zone and into the world of Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO).

That’s how we ended up at Pond View, a country house south of Ithaca near the burg of Spencer, New York. It looked great online, but we weren’t sure what to expect.

I’d recently heard a horror story about a friend who’d booked a cottage in Michigan (NOT through VRBO) that made them flee from the joint—it sounded like the setting for a Stephen King novel. So I was a bit leery about plunking down money for a sight-unseen house in another state.

After doing a little research about VRBO and finding many positive reviews about the service I decided to proceed, and located nearly 3 dozen rental houses in the Ithaca area.

Working up an appetite on a Pond View trail hike

Working up an appetite on a Pond View trail hike

Some cottages had closed for the season and others were booked, but we eventually settled on Pond View, aka VRBO #252996, described as a “Mountain Country House on 70 Acres with 5 Ponds.”

After email exchanges with Sam, the “O” of the VRBO, we loaded up Graham’s vintage Jeep Wagoneer with our bird, bags of produce and groceries, snacks and goodies, movies and Christmas CDs and toothbrushes, and headed east.

We got a late start hitting the road (as we are wont to do) and by the time we picked up Paige at her dorm and drove the country road to Pond View it was about 10 p.m. and pitch-dark. We pulled up to the cozy, rustic retreat under a star-studded sky and found welcoming lights left on by Roger, Sam’s business partner (Roger and his wife were staying at their VRBO house in the area).

The 3-bedroom, 1-bath year ’round Pond View house more than lived up to its description and dozen photos and guest reviews on VRBO.

Comfy living space with well-stocked movie library

Comfy living space with well-stocked movie library

Filled with comfortable furnishings and handmade quilts, the house had everything we needed for a relaxed family gathering and preparation of a Thanksgiving feast.

We got a kick out of (and appreciated) the labels on just about everything in the house, from the contents of drawers and cabinets to the DVD player operation and tips such as where to stand for the best cell phone reception.

Kitchen cupboards and the refrigerator and freezer were loaded with staples and treats, which we were welcome to consume—but we’d brought all of the ingredients we needed for the weekend.

At Paige’s request I’d packed our stash of Christmas flicks (Miracle on 34th Street, Christmas in Connecticut, Holiday Inn) though we also found time to watch several movies from the Pond View video library (Sleepless in Seattle, Big, When Harry Met Sally, and Blown Away—hey, I like Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones).

One of three cozy bedrooms

One of three cozy bedrooms

TJ and Graham said the Wagoneer’s 4WD easily handled the mountain trails, and I was proud of my hike to the top of the hill—a note in the house claims the unnamed rise is the highest peak in Tioga County.

Tucker accompanied me on the pre-Thanksgiving dinner walk up the monster hill, disappearing for long periods into the thick woods. The dog was in his element, never tiring of running the fields and splashing in one of the ponds.

After a perfect turkey dinner we sang “Happy Birthday” to Graham over pumpkin pie and settled in for a movie night.

TJ, Paige, Graham and Kath with "Uncle" Ezra Cornell on campus

TJ, Paige, Graham and Kath with “Uncle” Ezra Cornell on campus

On Friday we headed into Ithaca to tour Cornell and take Paige to the fabric store so she could buy supplies for her term project: an outfit she designed for a toddler girl. Saturday morning came too soon, but we had to head back to the (313) and return Paige to campus so she could get to work.

Virgin renters no more, Pond View may have spoiled us for other VRBOs in our future.

About the only thing missing at the retreat was an internet connection—and we really didn’t miss it at all.

NOTE: Roger stopped by on Thanksgiving morning to check on things and offered us a cut of venison from the deer he’d just bagged. We accepted the gorgeous loin, and TJ cooked it when we got back to the (313). Check out the recipe here.


Vacation Rentals By Owner lists more than 265,000 properties around the globe, from 17th century farm houses to city flats. For Information: www.vrbo.com 

One of the namesake ponds

One of the namesake ponds