The year of the pandemic.

I can’t imagine anyone will forget the year 2020.  It was a year of struggle for many people in many ways – financially, physically, and emotionally. With the shutdowns, we sat down and did some math to see if we could survive the season without rentals and still make payments on our trailers (now a fleet of 4).  As it turned out, once parks opened, camping was the new toilet paper and our trailers booked quickly. Sadly, we had to say no to many people who were last-minute planners.  Camping provided families a place to go and connect with nature and each other but be socially distanced from others. They could travel in their own vehicles and enjoy a safe vacation because our trailers offer a private bathroom with shower.  (No more urgent bathroom breaks on the road… simply pull over somewhere safe and your bathroom is attached to your vehicle!)  We worked long hours to super-clean the trailers for the coronavirus, even though we already prided ourselves on cleanliness.  We stopped doing same-day turnaround to allow air replacement. We had already talked about avoiding same day turnarounds because we also found there were enough people who returned late from their trip that it caused too much stress on flipping it if any repairs were needed (and there often are!).  And customers like picking up their trailer early for their trip so they can get on the road and arrive in the daylight. Early pickups benefit us too, as we can go about our day once the trailers are gone.  We offer these flexible pickup and dropoff times and our customers truly appreciate it.

How our fleet grew…

We booked our first trailer as much as we could and we reinvested most of our earnings into new trailers. We also convinced a friend to share a trailer (so we actually own 3.5 trailers, not 4 as I said above).  

We also have a few consignors who rented from us, then bought their own, and asked us to manage their trailer for them.  We learned a LOT from our first consignor.  It is not an easy relationship!  We learned that we have to be very explicit with terms, so have drafted a new contract this year to tie up loose ends.  Consigning is a blog in itself! 

New for 2021

Trailer #4.5:

After 2020, we were able to purchase another trailer for the 2021 season.  We decided that our fleet was lacking a trailer meant for 2 people (all of our trailers sleep 4+).  The space used for bunk beds is now more storage for a couple who might be looking for a longer trip.  The trailer is lighter and about the size of our next smallest trailer.  For me, having a spot to put everything without having to shuffle things around reduces stress and that is important for my vacation!  We ordered this trailer last August and just got word that production started (winter 2021).  Delivery is sometime in April, just in time for the camping season.  Phew!  Trailers are the new toilet paper.  Ontario Provincial Park bookings are up 93% from last year, so finding sites is proving challenging.  

Cottage #1!

We were not looking for a cottage.  At all.  But a cottage beside two of our friends came up for sale and we decided to go for it, and add it to our rental business.  Unfortunately we nicknamed our first trailer “The Cottage” because it is so big – we may have to rename it as it has already caused some confusion.  The water-front cottage, “Castaway North Lodge”, is located in the Haliburton Highlands area on Lake Contau.  To help us enter the short-term rental market, we bought a book titled “Vacation Rental Mastery” and I discovered something awesome.  So many of their “must-dos” are things we already established with our trailer rentals.  Thanks to our Disney model of customer service, we did not have much more to do that we don’t do already! Lesson #1:  this is a cleaning business first.  I learned this early with renting trailers. It feels like you are a house cleaner. And at first this annoyed me, since I hate cleaning my own house, let alone multiple trailers.  But the first thing people notice in a  hotel or other rental place is the cleanliness.  It matters, and it matters a lot. So we now have a 4-hour process for cleaning the inside and outside of each trailer after every rental. Fun times!  

Something else the book mentions with short-term rentals is the vast competition that is out there, so your place has to stand out.  The way to do this is having a theme.  This was easy for us, since we follow the Disney model and our company name is influenced by their private island “Castaway Cay” from our much-loved Disney cruises.  So it just made sense to have a nautical theme!  It makes design choices easy too. Blue and white with splashes of red and gold.  This makes for a good flow from room to room and photographs very well!  We are super excited and have the summer fully booked already.  🙂  We have plans in the fall to change the heat source so that we can rent year-round.  It is beautiful up there in the winter and we hope we can share this with others.

Safe travels!

Hali & Andrew

Once upon a time…

We had a dying popup, 4 growing teenage girls, and a not-small golden retriever.  This blended family needed an upgrade.  

We knew that although the girls love camping, they also love their own space.  I wanted a glamping experience. An experience different than our much-loved Algonquin interior trips where it is us in a canoe, portaging our way around the park, carrying everything we need.  And I do mean “need”. Not want. Carrying “wants” is carrying unnecessary weight. Nope. I wanted this to be the opposite. I want to have all the amenities of home, in our home where we roam.

The Coachmen Freedom Express model 23TQX, later nicknamed “The Cottage”, was ordered.  It is a hybrid model. A model many do not tend to purchase. But I’ll tell you why I love it.  The pop-out beds do not occupy any floor space. The three queen-size beds open up outside the trailer.  So the floor space is the floor space. It seems so much bigger than our other trailers (I’ll explain those in a future post!).  Another plus? Having a tent-like sleeping space allows a fresh breeze if you want to open up the window flaps. When you have a fully-enclosed trailer at a site with no power, you have no air conditioner, and little cross-breeze.  The Cottage allows good air flow from front to back. It has the feeling of a tent, but the comfort of a mattress that is off the ground. Ah, bliss.

Four girls who all play a summer sport (or two) and three of them with jobs, makes for a summer where it is hard to find much time to camp.  So we decided to try to rent out the trailer to help pay the mortgage on it, and see it used rather than occupy a parking space in our driveway.  Did I mention that we purchased a trailer that would exactly fit the length of our driveway? This means we can park it at home. This is important when you purchase one of your own… the last thing you want is to take it to storage every time you’re not using it.  And when you are prepping for a vacation, you can plug it in, get the fridge going and have all your food and drinks cold for your arrival.

The trailer arrived much later than anticipated, so it turned out our first renter used the trailer the day we got it!  We had it at our house for about half an hour before passing her off. We held our breath and hoped that it didn’t get damaged on her maiden voyage.  (It came back in perfect condition.)

And just like that, we were in business.  And businesses have names. We needed a name for our new trailer business that would hopefully grow from one trailer into a fleet.

We enjoy extremes in travelling.  Our interior Algonquin camping trips are tough – we travel over 100km over 6 days, padding and portaging.  We carry our food, collect and filter our water, sit on wooden boxes for you-know-what, and set up and take down our camp site every day.  We climb over fallen trees, battle mosquitoes and deer flies, lift our canoe over beaver dams and endure whatever weather Mother Nature sends our way.  We love it all.

On the other extreme is our love of Disney cruises.  These are truly a luxurious way to vacation. We wake up every morning and head to the upper deck.  We head to Cabanas first, where a full buffet of beautiful breakfast items are presented in true Disney fashion.  Fruit is carved into different animals. Waffles are, of course, shaped into Mickey heads. We spend the day at the pools (yes, plural), and intermittently join in activities around the ship that we have bookmarked on our “Navigator” App.  Drinks are served to us. We watch Disney movies on the big screen. We eat again. As late afternoon arrives, we head down to our stateroom and take turns getting cleaned up for the theatre and dinner. We order appetizers, pour ourselves drinks, and sit on the veranda as we sail on the beautiful ocean.  

On Caribbean cruises, the ships often stop at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay (pronounced “key”).  The pristine beach has enough lounge chairs for every passenger on the ship. I’m pretty sure they sift the sand before the ship arrives.  Characters come ashore for photo ops, dance parties, and a BBQ lunch. It is truly a magical day.  

We love the island so much, we just couldn’t pass up naming our company with it in mind… and Castaway North was born.