The Sharing Economy Goes on Vacation
Service providers make it easy to rent what you don’t want to schlep, from playpens to wheelchairs
I forgot to invite a concierge to ride shotgun on my last road trip.
My family didn't. They had me.
If something — anything — is supposed to come with us, I'm the one who makes sure it's clean and operational, then wedges it into the car, unwedges it at the rental house or hotel, then wipes it down back home and puts it away for the next trip.
The baby-containing Pack 'n Play, the toddler sand buckets and shovels, the stroller, the collapsible wagon: I've folded, clamped, snapped and stowed it all.
Rented Wheels for All Ages
My life is about to get a lot easier. Rental-minded Millennial and Gen Y parents are a wide-open target for stepped-up services that do for all travelers what I've been doing for a decade for my grandkids (and their parents).
"As a brand-new mom, I was very specific. It had to be this brand car seat, and so on."
If you need something on the road, rest assured that there is a service that will not only show up with it, but pick it up when you're done, too. Family gear providers are merging missions with mobility gear providers, which means that it's easier now to request wheels for the youngest and oldest members of the family.
Some resorts are carrying that thought into activities previously out of reach for those who need extra help to keep up with the gang.
Eight years ago, Sarah Huff, then a first-time mom, found herself stressing out about somehow obtaining a certain brand of baby-soothing gear when she visited her in-laws. It was too expensive to buy just for occasional use and too bulky to pack.
Don't Burden the In-Laws
She ended up renting the thing, and a whole nursery's worth of gear, through BabyQuip, which was then a startup in New Mexico and is now a nationwide network of local rental providers (among them is Huff, who has a BabyQuip territory in California).
"As a brand-new mom, I was very specific. It had to be this brand car seat, and so on," says Huff, chuckling a little at her uptight younger self. The service had exactly the trendy brands she wanted, soothing her worry and relieving her in-laws from the dilemma of overspending on gear or asking her to make do.
The ability to rent gear also relieves grandparents from having to ask friends and neighbors for things like highchairs, or having to worry about breaking it down and storing it after you go home, she adds.
Now, Huff is a seasoned mom of two who works with other local businesses in BabyQuip's network of 1,200 providers.
Many popular destinations have spawned local cottage industries of baby and mobility equipment rentals, especially of gear that parents and grandparents may not realize even exists before they arrive at, say, the beach, and observe another family hauling a balloon-tired wagon across the sand.
Gotta Have a Beach Wagon
If you arrive at your destination and decide you must have an accessory you couldn't fit in the car or check at the airport but discover you are not close to a BabyQuip affiliate, try independent equipment-rental firms; local chambers of commerce or the vacation rental host are usually good for referrals.
Most serve vacation rental condos and houses, though they may or may not coordinate with individual hosts to ensure that the equipment is on-site when guests arrive or picked up before they leave. At the very least, you can arrange the drop off and pickup yourself, which may not be all bad, if you would also like advice on setting up and then collapsing an unfamiliar Pack 'n Play.
Call early because the most in-demand gear is usually claimed first.
Services usually charge about $40 for local delivery and pickup and about $15 to $20 a day for each item. Weekly rates trim the cost considerably. Joe Ching, the assistant director of the front office at the Margaritaville Resort in Florida says you can claim a discount if you rent for several consecutive days. Expect to contract directly with the rental service, instead of adding the cost of the rental to your accommodation bill.
Tips from Experienced Renters
Call early, emphasizes Ching, because the most in-demand gear usually is claimed first. Another caveat: It appears there is no national standard for cleanliness or for ensuring that rental gear complies with the latest recalls and safety standards.
Resort concierges are now adept at working with local providers to furnish guests with gear from companies whose entire business is showing up with the stuff you didn't want to schlep.
That's how destinations like Sunset Key Cottages, on an island adjacent to Key West, Florida, can arrange scooters, golf carts, fishing gear and paddleboats for their guests, through a virtual concierge desk.
What Is in Demand?
Key Largo's Reefhouse Resort contracts with a local shop to provide guests with snorkeling outfits, stand-up paddleboards and even basic fishing poles.
One in-demand item is the beach wheelchair, whose fat tires can ensure a manageable trip to surf for grandparents whose endurance is tested by the beach.
One in-demand item is the beach wheelchair, whose fat tires can ensure a manageable trip to surf for grandparents whose endurance is tested by the beach, as well as for those temporarily challenged by surgeries or injuries.
The upstart rental services are only one way the hospitality industry seeks to make travel more convenient for persnickety travelers of all ages. A famously challenging destination is leading the way.
Making Wilderness Convenient
Xanterra, the privately owned concessionaire that operates lodges and related activities and services in many national parks has steadily retooled seemingly inaccessible activities for the wheel-dependent of any age. The covered wagon and stagecoach that jolt along all-too-authentic rutted paths in Yellowstone's prairies have been modified to accommodate wheelchair occupants, says Rick Hoenighausen, the company's director of sales and marketing.
Bikes, skis and snowshoes may be rented at many park lodges; Hoenighausen recommends booking these popular playthings at the same time you reserve a hotel room. For Yellowstone, that includes requesting wheelchair access to the snow coach in winter and the stagecoach, wagon and boat that traverses Lake Yellowstone in warmer months.
The availability of rentals has become a leading consideration when I evaluate potential destinations. What gear does a particular destination offer to help all of us navigate the sites we want most to see? Not a bad perspective, given that sometime in the hopefully distant future, I may well need to use rented wheels for myself.