With such an abundance of pristine natural land right up the road, perhaps it’s no surprise that southern Ontario city dwellers love spending time in the woods or on a lake. The trend of cottaging has been steadily building for years with no sign of stopping: a recent report shows that more Canadians prefer to visit a cottage for vacation than to travel abroad. These days, “cottaging” is a common term on dating profiles in Ontario, as millennials try to find partners who are as interested in a retreat to the country as they are.

What Is It?

Cottaging is simple: it involves taking a vacation to an owned or rented home situated somewhere in the wilderness. Muskoka, with 1,600 lakes, is traditionally the destination of choice, but popularity comes with drawbacks and there are plenty of other options for getaways from Toronto region. And it’s not just a summertime activity; winter trips can be just as relaxing or just as fun-filled at destinations with winter sports.

As younger people are priced out of the housing market in big urban markets, many are dreaming of owning cottages in rural Ontario instead. Last year, a report by RE/MAX found that two-thirds of Canadian millennials were considering buying a recreational property rather than a home in the city. As jobs become more flexible and distance work is increasingly an option, cottaging may evolve from ideal vacation to real long-term living scenario.

The Seduction of Cottaging

Times at the cottage are part of many Canadians’ fond childhood memories as well as their adulthood. For those whose families didn’t retreat to cottages, they often discover the practice with adult friends and start new traditions with their own families.

Cottaging is a term unique to Ontario, but the concept is shared by all Canadians. Linguistic nuances aside, those with a fondness for vacations at the cottage can generally agree: “It is about being around people you love in a place that you love. Somewhere special and far away, not necessarily in actual distance traveled or terminology, but in terms of effect: this is your brain. This is your brain on cottage,” said Joe O’Conner in a National Post article.

Many Canadians know what scientists have successfully set out to document: Nature is good for the brain. Especially when surrounded by the sounds, smells, and sights of a larger city on a daily basis, a change of scenery from urban to natural helps reduce physiological stress. A weekend at the cottage can give city-dwellers the recharge time they’re looking for when leaving the city, whether that’s time to be alone or time to connect with friends and family.

Where to Go?

Muskoka may hold the reputation as quintessential cottage country, but there are plenty of other beautiful (and more affordable) destinations not far from the Greater Toronto Area. For fans of water activities, there are cottages near the Cyprus Lake Grotto in Bruce Peninsula National Park, where one can swim inside a cave. For another kind of cave, one might consider booking a riverside cottage near Eganville and visiting the Bonnechere Caves, which are hundreds of millions of years old.

For those who prefer the mountains, a cottage in northern Ontario near the La Cloche Mountains, made of sparkling white quartz, is the place to be. Cottages here are right next to the water, giving visitors the best of both mountains and lakeside. For a more traditional Ontarian lakeside retreat, there are great spots along the Kawartha Lakes, Big Clear Lake, or Big Rideau Lake.

What Gets Left Behind?

For many Ontarians, a weekend on the lake with friends, escaping the noise and crowds of city life, is the perfect weekend getaway. Until they come home to a 35-degree bedroom or a water leak that’s just damaged the wood floors or worse…a break-in. In all the dreaming and planning that goes into cottaging, one important matter sometimes gets lost: What about the homes that vacationers are leaving behind?

The perfect vacation includes a peaceful homecoming. Many Ontarians are turning to smart home technology sensors to monitor their space while they’re away. With this technology, they can monitor, control, and check things like temperature settings, lights, and, yes, water pipes if there’s concern about leaks using a smart home app. Turning lights on and off remotely can give the impression that a home is occupied, lest anyone with bad intent think otherwise. For the same reason, anxious types can also make sure they locked the front door.

It’s often smart to inform neighbors that you will be away, and have someone periodically check on your home. Be sure to hold your mail and newspaper, because mail piling up on your front porch is a dead giveaway that you are gone. Knowing that someone is keeping an eye out, along with any remote technology you choose to use, can give you peace of mind and help you relax even more on your vacation, knowing your home is secure.

When living the city life, there are few escapes as peaceful and easily available as a short (or long!) retreat to a cottage in Ontario, alone, with friends, or with a date. Choosing the perfect spot is, of course, the first priority. Smart travelers will also do themselves a favour by remembering to keep an eye on their homes while they’re away for weekend trips.

Happy Cottaging!

About the Author

Hilary Thompson is a freelance writer with a background in English, content strategy and journalism. She's written for publications like Venturebeat, Today, Women's Health, POPSUGAR, Today's Parent, and Yahoo. She particularly loves to write about family dynamics, travel, smart technology and science, and anything that makes her healthier in any way: mind, body, and spirit.