Over Memorial Day weekend we paid a visit to eastern Wisconsin to visit my mother.  One evening, we took her to a popular restaurant for a belated Mother’s Day dinner.  Normally packed at 7 p.m. on a Saturday, the place was less than half full.  Why?

Cabin season.  That’s why.

In the two upper Midwest states in which I’ve resided for most of my life, it can seem as if almost everyone has a cabin.  From early May through late September, cabin season is in full swing.  After work on Friday, people pack up their cars, abandon their primary homes, and often endure hours-long drives and maddening traffic jams to go “up north,” all in the name of spending the weekend – for some, nearly every weekend – at the cabin.

Whether people choose to call their secondary residence a cabin, cottage, or lake home (some people will correct you with barely-disguised disdain if you don’t call it by their preferred term, and yeah, it’s usually the people who call it a lake home), they can range from glorified shacks to log mini-mansions.  What these places have in common is that they are almost always located deep in the woods and on a lake.

 

My family was an anomaly.  It’s not that we didn’t have a cabin.  We did.  Only it wasn’t called a cabin.  It was called a “ski house.”  And it wasn’t on a lake or used in summer.  Situated in a tiny town in the upper peninsula of Michigan, it enabled us to downhill ski at the region’s resorts all winter long.  Every other weekend, for a good four months each year, we drove four hours, mostly in the dark, and sometimes in sketchy conditions and on questionable road surfaces, so that my family could spend all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday shushing down (the Midwestern version of) a mountain for fun.  Then, mid-Sunday afternoon we abandoned the hill, drove back to the ski house to clean and pack up, and made the four hour journey home.

Ski house
Except for its location in the middle of nowhere, this is exactly what the ski house looked like.  That little peanut by the snowman is me.

As an adult, owning a cabin, cottage, or whatever you want to call it, has never appealed to me (or, thankfully, the husband).  There are many, many reasons for this.

  • Cost.  Two mortgages – not to mention everything you need to outfit a second home – means a lot less money for travel.
  • Upkeep.  Good grief.  It’s hard enough keeping up with the general care, maintenance, and cleaning of our regular house, yard, and garden.  Now throw in the upkeep of a second residence?  No thanks.  Besides, aren’t you supposed to go there to relax?
  • Traffic.  As I mentioned above, the traffic can be horrendous, both leaving on Friday and returning on Sunday.  I have enough of that with my work commute.
  • Stress.  I love to travel, but getting ready for it stresses me out.  The husband will attest to my prickly demeanor in the hours leading up to our departure to pretty much anywhere, be it a lengthy trip abroad or a quick weekend getaway.  Do I really want to make that a regular part of my life?  Frankly, I’d need a super relaxing weekend to combat the Friday prep and traffic stress.  And unlike some people (cabin owners, perhaps?) I’m perfectly capable of relaxing at home.
  • Boredom.  Now, cabin lovers would clearly argue against this one, but for me, going to the same place over and over and over all summer long would be about as fun as watching the same episode of a TV program again and again and again.
  • The bunny.  Our choices would be to schlep him back and forth, which we do 2-3 times a year when we visit my mom, and which he tolerates but doesn’t love, or to arrange either a) people to come and look in on him, which means he’s cruelly trapped in a cage all weekend, or b) arrange a petsitter with our new membership, which is kind of a hassle for just a weekend and there’s no guarantee we’d get one.
  • Obligation.  This is probably the biggest reason we’ll never have a cabin.  People often sacrifice traveling to new destinations because they feel they’d better use the additional real estate investment they’ve sunk all their money, time, and effort into.

No disrespect to cabin owners intended – “to each their own” is a phrase I try to live by – but I can safely say that, except for the occasional invitation to a friend’s cabin, regular trips “up north” are not in our future.  And if I have a sudden urge to coat myself in bug spray, swim in a weedy, leech-filled lake, and do daily full-body tick inspections?  There are always rentals.

So what’s your story? I have a sneaking suspicion that most of you, being travel fanatics as I am, would find cabin-ownership too restrictive.  But did your family have one growing up?  Do other regions have a cabin culture, or is this a Midwestern idiosyncrasy?  (Actually, I know New York has one.  You can learn a lot by watching Seinfeld.)

22 thoughts

  1. My parents bought a cottage (that’s what we call them in Ontario) when I was already out of the house. It was great for when I was having babies, to take them to a home on a lake vs. tenting with them, for summer vacations. They sold the cottage after about 10 years, for all the reasons you mentioned – traffic, upkeep, etc. And I’ve never felt the need to pursue a cottage of my own, also for all the reasons you mentioned. I think they are great if say the family patriarch/matriarch lives there most/all of the time – it can provide a great gathering spot for all the family to get together, relax and enjoy. But otherwise they are more trouble than they are worth. And I hate of the idea of being obligated to go there to cut grass etc., instead of explore other places and actually relax on my time off!

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  2. I think the proliferation of vacation rentals has entirely obviated the need (for me) to entertain the idea of a summer/winter/whatever house. I would much rather choose a particular weekend or weekends to go somewhere and leave the upkeep, maintenance, and expense of the home to someone else for the other 360 or so days of the year.

    I would add that none of the places within decently manageable proximity to where I live particularly appeals. To get the “good stuff,” I’d have to go pretty far north, and trying to get to and from Northern New England on a regular basis sounds really terrible. I’ll just try to be a nicer person and maybe people who do have summer homes will invite me over.

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  3. I love how slender my legs look in that ski house painting! 😉 Oh, the memories.

    I would love to have a vacation home but for all the reasons you and the other posters have mentioned. In a perfect world I’d have a staff (like Oprah) and the staff could take care of the place for me.

    Until that ship comes in, I’ll content myself with moving back (next week!) to my Colorado home with a natural area & pond in the backyard, and remodeling it over the summer with a “lake house” theme. I’ve always wished for a log home on a body of water. I figure if I paint the outside brown then I’ll be all set! Come visit!

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  4. My husband’s family had a house super close to the lake in Tahoe up until a few years ago. We loved it; the kids loved it. We were devastated when the decision to sell it was made. I totally hear you about the stress of getting ready to travel . . . I’m a disaster the day before we’re supposed to leave on a trip. But we liked it because it was familiar and therefore an easy weekend getaway. We got to the point where we left a couple of boxes of stuff there so we didn’t have to pack the basics, which made it way easier. There’s lots to do in Tahoe so we didn’t ever get bored. Or, we could just sit on the beach because we weren’t feeling like we “had” to explore a new place. Granted, we weren’t responsible for upkeep, etc. but we’ll definitely be vacation home owners in the future!!!

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  5. When I lived in a Cabin in Denali National Park, we’d go to Fairbanks a few times each summer. We’d eat at Taco King, Bahn Thai, and Falafel House, go to Fred Meyer for shopping, get our haircut, and go to the movies. We’d stay up late using wifi and watching TV. Basically, we did the opposite of you.

    Four hours is a long way to drive for a ski hill. I admire your families dedication. If I had the money, I’d get a cabin here in Thailand. It would be nice to escape from the city each weekend.

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  6. Instead of a holiday home, we decided to invest in a campervan that’s big enough for the three of us, because we love to escape to different parts of Ireland and it would be challenging just to choose one spot to settle for a holiday home. And, at the moment, we live in a house with a yard and a garden, that’s enough maintenance for me

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  7. Great post!!! My parents have a cabin, but they didn’t buy it until after I had grown and moved out, so I didn’t grow up having one. They down-sized houses after my brothers and I left and bought the cabin. They love it because of the tranquility, but I am way too ADD to ever slow down enough to probably enjoy having one. 😀

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    1. How about you just come bunnysit for us while we’re in England and that’ll be your holiday? Oh, and I’d like someone I know to win the lottery and give me half. Unlike you, I AM in a rush, so please go buy your tickets – how do you say it in England? – tout suite? 😉

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      1. I would seriously take that offer up if I could – I hope you find someone to help little old bunny. Oh and I’ve never heard tout suite….what is that? I mean, I know I’m a neanderthal but I’ve never heard that before…it’s French isn’t it?

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      2. Ha ha. You actually had me going for a while. The husband said, “If he’s never heard of tout suite, he’s not English.” It took me a while, but it dawned on me that you were pulling my leg. You WERE pulling my leg, right?

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      3. ……I wasn’t pulling your leg…..have I missed out on something….? I’m Welsh…so maybe that’s why I’ve never heard of it…I feel….kind of lost and on the outside of some gang….

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      4. Oh my gosh! You’re Welsh?! That must be it! I had no idea!! When you said you were British I just assumed you meant English. How anti-Welsh of me! I’m so sorry. On a related note, just days ago I put together my page of Welsh phrases to memorize for our trip, but it’s giving me a fit because the pronunciation is such a bugger. (Uh oh… bugger is another English term. In this case it means difficult. Oh, and tout suite means “quickly” or “hurry up.”) Anyway, Welsh is hard! I told the husband I was going to use Next Door (like Facebook but for your local area only) to put out a plea for a Welsh speaker to meet me for coffee and help me with the pronunciation. He just laughed and laughed at that idea, saying there’s no way I’m going to find a Welsh speaker here in Minnesota. I’m still going to try, though. Wish me luck!

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  8. 15 years ago I almost bought a cabin on the Obed Wild and Scenic River in Tennessee. But it was a 1-bedroom with no comps, so wouldn’t appraise for the loan amount. Rather than come up with the extra couple thousand down payment, I walked away. I still think about that cabin, but it worked out for the best. Now I want to spend any free time outside or traveling and don’t even want have to maintain one house & yard, much less two!

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