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Sharpening Iron to Live Second

Home Away is Our New Way to Stay

As I write this I am a bit sore and tired from a busy few days of vacation. Sore from all the adventures, tired from all the much-needed sleep. Sounds terrible doesn’t it, I mean how awful to spend a few days with no agenda, fresh water to swim in and plenty of sunshine in December?

Home away view of the sound

We decided to take a quick four-day getaway before all the holiday festivities were upon us. Being that we are dog owners we always try to find places where we can take them along as well. My wife did a little bit of research on the Web and found a site called Home Away. Home Away is where people open up their homes or other real estate to be rented as a vacation rental.

After spending some time and numerous emails we found our destination over on the Gulf Coast of Florida near Pensacola on the Santa Rosa sound. We packed up our two dogs and hit the road for about a five-hour trip to the other side of our home state last Thursday. After traveling the entertaining stretch of I-10 (anyone that knows the stretch knows that is a stretch) we arrived at our destination in a small town of Mary Esther tucked in between Fort Walton and Pensacola Florida.

We were greeted by our host Steve and our dogs soon to be best friend, his dog Cooper. Steve showed us the two bedroom cottage that would be our home away for the next few days along with the rest of the ranch. There were several houses on the property that all faced the sloping embankment down to the Santa Rosa Sound. There was a small beach edged with large stones and on either side of the beachfront were docks that stretched out into the sound.  A canoe and a few kayaks lay on the top of the hill and Steve generously let us know we could use them at our leisure.

That evening we drove out to Navarre and Pensacola Beach for a sunset drive and to find a bite to eat. We drove down the beach-side we started to think would never end, finally reaching Pensacola Beach, where we thought we would try our Red Fish Blue Fish a recommended seafood joint. We ran into some customers that were leaving who convinced us to try out Peg Leg Pete’s instead. The oyster sampler was delicious as were the shrimp, crab legs and grouper. After dinner we headed back to the cottage to enjoy a glass of wine on the river.

The next morning after cooking breakfast we headed down to the water with the dogs. Neither one have really been around much water at all beyond their baths and the occasional pool, so the river was a bit of an ambitious adventure. Once we got them to play in the water a bit, we decided to give the canoe a shot. My wife and I have only been in a canoe a couple of times together, add the mix of a fifty lb plus Golden Doodle and a seventy plus lb lab-bulldog mix makes a bit of mayhem.  We took them out a bit into the water to get their paws wet so to speak, which was a balancing act to say the least. Our lab a bit overly anxious on the water so we took her back to the cottage and decided to try again with just our doodle.


We made it successfully across the sound to the island on the other side owned by Elgin Air Force Base. We made sure to stay on the beach so not to trespass. Steve and Cooper had come across in a kayak as well. Goldie (our doodle) and Cooper played for quite some time chasing balls and sticks up and down the beach and into the water. After a bit we decided to head back to the cottage and get ready to head into Fort Walton for dinner.

After cleaning up and getting the dogs situated we headed out to check out the small town. We enjoyed the sunset on the sound at the park in the middle of town. We walker through the mixture of shops and restaurants. Finally decide to check out the Crab Shack we had passed on the way in. After dinner we stopped in the local Target for a Starbucks Coffee to cap off the evening.

Once we returned to the cottage we took the dogs down by the river to enjoy another glass or two of wine along the water’s edge. While I enjoyed my Cabernet and my wife her Moscato, we heard something in the water nearby. It was dark even with the beautiful moonlight on the water we could still barely see. In talking to Steve, who happens to be a marine biologist the next morning, we decided it was likely a dolphin that had come in with the tide that was feeding near shore.

Up early the next morning, it was a bit windy and chilly on the water and I thought to myself that we would not be able to return to the island as planned. By the time we had fixed breakfast and got ready, the wind had died down a bit and the sun had warmed up the shore. This time we decided to try to take Sable, our lab mix back out in the canoe. Having two dogs, that are not used to being in a canoe, and some choppy waters due to boat traffic, was a bit of a feat, keeping the canoe balanced and us dry. After a bit of a haul we finally made it back to the island and the four of us played ball for hours along the seashore.

Tuckered out from our day in the sun, paddling a canoe with our pups we decided to have an easy evening for our last night at home away. As we enjoyed the sunset on the deck at the top of the hill before dinner, Steve offered us a root beer. Not your average root beer mind you, one made by the Coney Island Brewing company, a deliciously brewed ale to cap off quite a weekend.

Chairs on the sound

Although a bit skeptic at the beginning I must say our first mini-vacation using Home Away was a success. Not only did the cozy cottage surpass the pictures and write-up on the site, but the host went out of his way to feel welcome. It is not every day you get to paddle your dogs out to a deserted island to play ball, well unless you happen to live in Mary Esther, Florida across the sound like Steve. For your next vacation, rather than sticking to the traditional hotel, motel getaways I would suggest checking out Home Away, you never know what little treasure you might find.

How about you, have you ever used Home Away or other vacation rental service where you had an experience staying in someone else’s home for a vacation? I would love to hear about it, join the conversation in the comments below.




About Charles Johnston

Charles is a Christian, husband and father of fur-kids who shares his walk with others in hopes to help other's along the way.

One Reply

  1. Candace Crosby

    What a wonderful, scenic area Mary Esther must have been (and relaxing). The pictures of Sable and Goldie are really good, and they appear to be enjoying themselves. I was actually scampering along with them as you threw the balls for them to fetch.

    Greg & I used a rental condo once in Fernandina Beach (when my niece got married at The Ritz Carlton), but it was through a realty agency. Sounds like we need to check out Home Away!