“Toned-down Ned Flanders”: Hosting travelers who’ll want to come back

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I’ve stayed at a bunch of places through CouchSurfing and AirBnB and I think I have a few ideas on how to make my guests leave glowing reviews (and send more guests your way!). You can call my strategy Toned-Down Ned Flanders: there’s an episode of The Simpsons where Ned lets the Simpsons borrow his beach house for the weekend. He leaves a note on every square inch of the cabin explaining how to use each thing (like “Put food in me” on the fridge). Don’t go to these lengths or risk being made fun of mercilessly on the internet, but DO share more information than you think you might have to.

Overshare information in case of emergencies
Whether you’re having someone crash on your couch for free or they’re paying to rent your room, chances are you won’t be with your guest all the time. Leave your guests with a paper copy, and email them another copy, of every bit of info they could possibly need, even if it seems like too much. Channel your inner worried parent leaving notes for the babysitter. Include info like:

  • A way to reach you and a back-up way to reach you (e.g. your cell number and your partner’s cell number).
  • The full address of your place: in case of emergency, the guest may have to call for help, and chances are he or she won’t be able to remember the address under duress.
  • In that same vein, if your building/complex has specific emergency procedures, your guests should know.
  • The codes for all the alarms/door entries/etc.
  • The contact info of a neighbour (bonus points for one who has a spare key).
  • Important phone numbers for your area: emergency numbers, taxi numbers, etc.
  • A list of all the finicky things in the house and how to make them work (like how the one burner doesn’t work or the shower’s dial is on backwards).
  • What to do if the power goes out and where the flashlights are.
  • Directions to the nearest drugstore and its hours of operation.
  • It’s also a good idea to get any nagging repairs done before guests arrive. You might find it tolerable to live with, but it could end up being at best annoying and at worst dangerous for your guests.

Comforts and general happiness quotient
Help your guests be not only safe but comfortable in your place.

  • Stock up on toilet paper before you have guests come over. I didn’t enjoy my first outing in Paris being a trip to get TP.
  • Make sure your guests have easy access to anything you told them they didn’t have to bring: towels, sheets, pillows, etc. Leave these out for them. Leave extras out, too.
  • Clean your place as if your mom was coming over. A tolerable level of dust for you could be enough to really irritate a guest’s asthma or allergies. Also make sure your place is tidy and that your guests have space on your desk, in your closet or a drawer, and in the kitchen to make themselves at home.
  • Let them know where the nearest grocery store is and what its hours of operations are. Many people choose AirBnB or CouchSurfing because of the ability to cook their own meals and save some money, so help them out. Make sure there’s room in your fridge for their stuff and let them know if they can help themselves to your food or not.
  • Let them know the laundry situation: point them toward a laundromat or leave a note on how to operate yours.
  • Have internet available and write down the WiFi access information.
  • Write out instructions on how to operate your media systems if they are complicated — and write them out like you would for your grandma.
  • If you’re very generous, have a welcome package for your guests with some of your favourite things from your neck of the woods, like local brews or snacks, and a couple subway tokens.

Touristy information
This little bit of extra goes a long way to making your guests happy. All of these things can be re-used from guest to guest.

  • Print out a Google map with your place marked on it and any other places of interest, like the nearest subway stop
  • Make a list of your favourite places for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and favourite things to do around town.
  • Buy a city guide at a used book store to give them some ideas (but make sure they know it could be out-of-date and to double-check online).
  • Lend them metro maps and schedules and pick up the local free city paper so they’ll have information on what’s on in your city while they’re there.
  • If you’re subscribed to Groupon or something similar, keep an eye out before your guests arrive for anything that might interest them and pass it along to them before they arrive.

What do you do to make travellers — paying or not — feel comfortable, safe, and happy in your home?

Comments on “Toned-down Ned Flanders”: Hosting travelers who’ll want to come back

  1. This is a great list of ideas for anyone having guests over! Sometimes we host a cousin when they visit and they’re at the age where they want to wander around town, but a map with notes would definitely make it more enjoyable.

  2. I have a really different perspective on CouchSurfing. As far as cleaning, fixing things, making room for them on my desk. CouchSurfing to me is mostly about cultural exchange and getting to know people. If you have a list of specific needs (no dust, must have two drawers, have to be able to cook my own meals, won’t deal with your drippy faucet that has to be finessed) they should stay in a hotel.

    Part of letting people in my home to me is opening it up the way it is.

    • Thanks for the perspective! This post is geared more to AirBnB (which is like running a hotel in your home) and CouchSurfers who are absent while hosting. When I surf I totally don’t expect any of the above — but I do like providing it as a treat for guests!

  3. This is also a great list of information to leave for the live-in pet sitter. I do a ton of pet-sitting in which I stay at the client’s house overnight (to keep the animals on their regular feeding/walking/medication schededule) and I LOVE clients that leave information such as “How do I use your satellite TV?” and “Can I finish off the last of the ice cream?” I offer discounts for clients who let me use their laundry. This list is great for ANYONE who stays at your house.

  4. Mostly make sure they feel like they belong. There’s nothing worse than tip-toeing around a house feeling like an alien. I like putting a bwol of chocolate out for guests. Whats better after a long day?

  5. This is awesome!
    My aunt is the best host in the entire world. She has a tidy little basket filled with hotel shampoos and soaps, an extra toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, etc. It’s pretty cheap to put together, and every time I stay at her house whether I use it or not I always feel more welcome by the gesture alone.

  6. When I moved 2400 miles away from home, I found myself couch surfing a bit more than expected–and for longer! This time came just 2 months after a 2-week vacation in a friends’ home, so I got to experience various levels of hospitality for a few months.

    The absolute sweetest thing that someone did was that after I had crashed over a few times, he made room for me: it was just a shelf and a little space in a trunk that I could store some of my stuff, but it came at a time where I really needed to stop feeling like I was intruding upon people’s personal space, even as they were all telling me it was fine. (It should come as no surprise that this is the man I’m going to marry 🙂

    But surfing around to a few homes to as not to impose on anyone for too long, the things I appreciated most were the people who made a little space in the fridge for me. With food allergies, sensitivities, and just wanting to save money, just having a little space I could put food into the fridge rather than keeping track of the ice level in my cooler for a day or two was a load off my mind. (Bonus points for the people who let me empty their ice bin in their magic machine every time I came over.)

    If you’re not going to empty out a drawer for someone–which wasn’t a great solution for my situation, so may not be necessary for everyone–just telling them where is a great place for their bags that will be both accessible to them yet out of the way of daily activities is a wonderful thing.

    One humorous but sad thing: If you have pets, and one of those pets happens to make a mess of the guest’s belongings, please take responsibility. I had one puppy who chewed my ipod headphones to bits, and it wasn’t an issue of me leaving them out carelessly, they just happened to be the tasty thing in my purse I guess. The puppy’s owner replaced the headphones immediately, which I really appreciated (OK, he gave me his, and replaced his own–fine with me!).

    But another host had a free-range bunny who peed on me sometime during the night while I slept on the couch, and she just laughed. No offer to wash my blanket and PJ pants, not even an apology. Suffice to say, I didn’t stay there again, even if the alternative was my car’s backseat.

    • Thanks for the good advice, Heather! It makes me think that “warning your guests about your pet’s habits” is a good addition to the list. When my dog was a puppy we couldn’t leave anything on the floor or he’d chew and/or pee on it, but guests wouldn’t know that.

  7. We have to warn all house guests that our cat eats charger cables, with a particular fondness for apple products.

    Speaking of chargers, I like to let guests know where spare sockets are that they can charge things (out if the cats reach)

    During my university days when friends were always crashing over at our house we bought a multipack of cheap toothbrushes so anyone that stayed over could brush their teeth the next morning. Many friends chose to write their names on them with sharpie and just keep a toothbrush at our house!

    When we’re hosting guests I like to let them know of any routines that we have such as my husband gets up at X time for work and needs some time in the bathroom between X-X or he will be late

  8. We are Airbnb hosts in Sydney and we already do most of the things on this list. We also have a phone plan set up so its free to call us on our mobiles from the home phone, so if theres anything wrong and we’re not home, the guest can call us. The way we manage our home and our guests, is to think of it from our perspective if we were the guests. What would we appreciate? What is important to us and what do we notice? The room gets a thorough dusting and vaccuum before every guest and so does the entire apartment! We have a laminated card in the room with essential information, including our contact details, and when we make up the room for guests we include free city maps, public transport guides, and bottles of water, that we mention to guests how many areas of the city have places to fill up on water. We also have shampoo, conditioner and body wash in the bathroom for them to use, as well as other complimentary bits and pieces in the bathroom cupboard , like hairdryer, hair ties and bobby pins (new), new toothbrush, travel sized toothpaste (also new and unopened), etc…

    If you’re an Airbnb host, I would also mention that comprehensive directions (including public transport directions) sent through prior to the guest arriving is a huge help! Our first Airbnd experience as guests came with the most amazing directions, and having landed at 11pm in Barcelona, it made our lives sooooooo much easier! And its now something we do as well.

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