My hobby is vacation planning. I can spend hours on HomeAway.com, scrolling through photos of dreamy rental properties, studying floor plans and reading reviews of luxurious accommodations all over the globe. Mostly, I plan outlandish vacations to exotic locations I can’t actually afford. But earlier this month, I discovered how amazing it is to actually take the dream trip you have planned online.
This summer, I had the great pleasure of partnering with Austin’s own HomeAway to book a vacation cabin in Gatlinburg, Tennesee, near Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Planning a road trip to meet up with my best friend and her children, I hopped on HomeAway.com to search for a property that would comfortably accommodate our two families. I found endless possibilities–every rental featured on HomeAway seemed even greater than the last–but eventually honed in on an incredible hilltop cabin with Smoky Mountain views. I could tell from the photos that the cabin would be fun for the kids and relaxing for the adults. Plus, with three stories, it had beds and room enough for all 10 of us.
The first thing that struck me upon arrival at our hilltop rental property was the breathtaking views from each of the cabin’s three balconies. I had seen photos online, of course, but nothing compared to watching the clouds turn pink as the sun set over the Smokies.
I could have stayed seated on the balcony swing, breathing in the Tennessee mountain air, for days. The kids, however, wanted to climb down the hill and explore! We could hear a brook babbling somewhere down below, so we struck out on an evening hike, to check out the area around our cabin. I was surprised to discover that vacation with seven children could actually be quite relaxing.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Our first full day of vacation was dedicated to soaking up all the beauty of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where admission is free! We packed a picnic and struck out to drive the nearby Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This five and a half-mile trail took us on a scenic tour of lush landscape, mountain stream views and historic cabins, ultimately leading to the trailhead for Grotto Falls.
The three-mile roundtrip hike to Grotto Falls, was the highlight of our day. The weather was perfect, the trail not overcrowded, and there were lots of pretty spots to rest and snack.
The reward at the end of our hike was walking behind Grotto Falls, a 25-foot waterfall. It was a refreshing way to cool off before heading back down the trail for lunch.
Not far from the Grotto Falls trailhead, we parked near a mountain stream to eat and let the kids strike out into nature. With waterfalls, rocks, and sticks, it was little boy paradise.
The rest of our day in the National Park was spent exploring, playing in rivers, and skipping stones. We had no cell service whatsoever, and it was blissful to be totally off the grid.
Our HomeAway Cabin
The second day of our trip was spent entirely in the cabin, enjoying each other’s company. The kids teamed up to tackle all of the game room’s attractions, from video games to pool, played Checkers, and relaxed in the outdoor hot tub. The adults lazed about on the balconies, starting the day with coffee and a view, and ending the day with wine and a view. With a full kitchen in the cabin, we had no need to leave.
The time with friends passed all too quickly, and we were left wishing we had booked the cabin for a full week, instead of a mere two nights. We could easily have filled more days with eating and playing and laughing together!
I loved the ease of booking through HomeAway. The hardest part of the whole experience was picking a property, since there were so many incredible options (one cabin had an indoor rock climbing wall and several others had movie theaters!).
After narrowing down my first choice within our budget, I downloaded the free HomeAway app (optional, but it’s pretty handy) and requested the dates we were hoping to stay. The property owner sent a quote, I paid, and my upcoming Tennessee trip was created in the app. I was able to invite my friend to join the trip through the app, which allowed us to easily plan and communicate, both with each other and with the property owner. Every time I messaged the property owner, I received a swift and helpful reply through the app (which was also forwarded to my email address).
The whole process was stress-free and I would do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, I have been busy planning potential vacations on HomeAway ever since we returned home!