Guest information packets: Be organized before your house guests arrive

Lifehacker has had a series the past couple weeks on how to be a good host and house guest in today’s society. Contained in their post “How to Be the Perfect Host in the 21st Century” is a wonderful section on how to be organized before a guest arrives. One of their ideas is to create a Guest Information Packet with details about your home and your area:

Whether you’re filling out the packet we’ve provided for you or you’re building your own from scratch you’ll want to include information that helps your guest be autonomous. Our guest packet includes spots for useful information like informing your guests about household quirks. It takes a few minutes for the hot water to get all the way from the basement of your apartment building? Make a note that they should run the hot water while they brush their teeth to get it shower-ready. Have a dog with a delicate constitution? Make a note that table scraps will make everybody miserable. Militant parking regulations? Make sure your guest knows their rental car will get the boot if they park on the street after 2AM.

They provide a detailed Guest Information Packet you can download for free and then fill in the information specific to your home.

31 Comments for “Guest information packets: Be organized before your house guests arrive”

  1. posted by Mara on

    Great idea. A useful tidbit of information, too, is the location of the toilet plunger, if it’s not obvious. First time in my parents’ new vacation home, and I clogged up the toilet at 5:30 in the morning. (Jetlagged.) Had to wake up my little brother to ask where it was, as not beside the toilet… Somewhat embarassing. Nothing more awkward than having to go to your hosts b/c you need a plunger…

  2. posted by J on

    Thank you. I had noticed this on Lifehacker, but only bothered to look at it when you mentioned it here. I thought it was going to be “overkill”, “impersonal”, etc.
    Wrong, wrong, wrong. Great idea. Thank you for reviewing it.

    The “quirks” section needs to be several pages long in my case as my old apartment has many quirks. :-)

  3. posted by Brian on

    Is this what we’ve become? Hand your “guests” this information packet, and avoid having to talk with them the whole time they are staying with you. Awesome hospitality!

    “Hey, friend, can you call an ambulance, I’ve just cut off a foot?”

    “I’m sorry, guest, that’s your responsibility. It’s covered in the manual. You should have reviewed the paperwork I left for you. Also, it’s a shame that you can’t drive yourself to the emergency room, either. Obviously you didn’t review the section on where to park your car, because it’s gone. Not to mention the section on the quirks that my chainsaw has. Real sorry about the foot, though.”

    C’mon, Unclutterer, surely you are uncluttering to this extent. There will always be room for the clutter of decency and hospitality in my home.

  4. posted by Heather on

    What a great template! I’ve been working on a big household documentation packet with info for us, guests, and the pet sitter, and the Lifehacker packet has a lot of guest-specific information that I didn’t even think about.

    Keeping a separate guest packet will be a better idea than handing every guest the big household binder. They probably don’t care about what hours the local water district office is open, or the phone number for the lawn service and pet sitter we use while traveling.

    Regarding the toilet plunger: yuck! I believe a plunger should live next to every toilet. Maybe I’m sensitive to this because our low-flow toilets are poorly designed and clog easily, but it’s just icky to drag a toilet plunger through the house.

  5. posted by Kay Chase on

    *laugh* There are some things you’d like to know without having to wake or bother your host, or that your host might forget to mention — such as that the hot and cold water in the shower is backwards, or *how* to operate the shower/tub (designers keep getting more clever in hiding the toggle — I encountered a tub while visiting where the toggle was incorporated into the tub spout!) It’s not necessarily a matter of “not talking to people”; but you don’t necessarily want to wake your host at 12:30 at night to learn how to operate a Byzantine/Jurassic alarm clock, or chat with them wrapped in a towel while trying to take a shower.

    Permitting someone minimal autonomy is not abandonment.

  6. posted by Heather on

    Brian,

    Having this information on hand is the very definition of hospitality and decency. It does not prevent you from talking with your guests; it just helps them to be a little more comfortable if they have a question while you’re asleep or at work. I don’t always have the luxury of taking time off from work and skipping classes when I have guests staying for a week or so. Sometimes I’ve even been out of town for work when a friend or sibling was driving through town (or had a power outage in the middle of winter) and needed to use my place. Yes, there was a time when I spent three days of every week doing field work out of town, and it was not flexible.

    I’d rather that my guests find out about parking or the small hot water heater the easy way. If somebody needs to access my wi-fi on their laptop, it’s not like I have the 26-character key memorized. I’m going to hand them a printout with the password either way. Why not have that set up for them ahead of time? As a guest, I would appreciate having a list of nearby pharmacies that I can look up discreetly, so I don’t have to explain to my host that I forgot to pack tampons or I need to buy hemorrhoid cream.

    When I was visiting family in another state for several weeks, and they had to work most of that time, I really appreciated when they showed me the drawer full of local take-out menus, maps, guide books, and brochures for fun things to do in town. It doesn’t mean that we didn’t sit down and talk in the evenings, it just means that when I was home alone and thinking about my lunch or buying dinner for the family, I had a handy guide to the restaurants they liked (sometimes with the best dishes starred).

  7. posted by Heather on

    Kay Chase, I love that you pointed out weird shower controls! My shower at home is exactly how you described. When my sister first visited, I don’t know how long she spent standing in the tub naked, trying to figure out how to get the shower to come on. She eventually wrapped herself in a towel and walked into the living room to ask for help. I doubt that she remembers her frustrating shower experience as “awesome hospitality” and quality time spent talking with family.

  8. posted by Tabbycat on

    I think this is a good idea. Even if you tells your guests these things they might not remember when it comes time to know them. i have a horrible memory, so remembering how exactly to work the shower or set up for internet Or working someones computer while they are gone. I stayed at a friend’s house recently and she had her compute set up to play some episodes of a TV show. I forget that I wasn’t supposed to close it when it was done and just play the next one, so when I tried to keep watching it the settings had gone back and the screen was all messed up and I couldn’t really watch them, so I just went to bed. I stayed up later b/c they had to get up for work and they wanted to make sure I wasn’t bored. but sometimes I have a hard time remembering those little things like that.

  9. posted by Kris on

    I think this is a terrible idea for guests. These are family and friends staying at your house, not strangers staying at a hotel.

    Now if you are talking about someone house-sitting for you, or even babysitting for you, then you most definitely you should have an informational packet for them, but its all going to depend on the situation. You aren’t going to tell a babysitter about all the shower quirks and such if you are only going to be gone for 4 hours. I wouldn’t even give the babysitter the internet password cause I want her watching the kids, not chatting on facebook. But someone staying the weekend with me or something like that, I would never be so impersonal, and to be honest they would probably ask me instead of looking at the little packet anyhow.

  10. posted by Sacha on

    We have a friend coming to stay in the house with the dog while we’re away for the weekend and this packet is a great resource for recording so many of the things I was going to have to write down anyway. Thanks!

  11. posted by Kersti on

    I love the information books when I go to stay at a hotel – first thing I do after putting my suitcase down is to pick one up and lay on the bed reading it. You often get all sorts of fabulous stuff. Not a bad idea to have one available in general, good place to locate the handy information so that you know where it is when you need it too – who can remember the number for building management when you need it. You can then make guests aware of where your own handbook is if they want to find out anything like that – then you’re covering their actual needs and the perceived hospitality issues

  12. posted by Lyn on

    This is a great idea for people who are renting your house, as at the beach. However, if I was given this by a friend whose house I was staying at, I would find it very, very odd. Not to mention very unwelcoming…

  13. posted by Rebecca on

    This may be a little over kill, but I do believe in having your address , phone numbers and emergency numbers near the phone and showing everyone where they are. We have had times where my Grandfather had a heart attack at church and my aunt, who was from out of town, ran to call the ambulance. She knew the name of the church, but not the address. It took time for her to find someone who knew it to give to the emergency people.

    And for us, we live just 1/2 a block from the police and fire in our town, so we have direct numbers for them. It would actually take longer to call 911, than to just call them directly.

  14. posted by Mardi on

    A bit off topic but in relation to the two posts talking about toilet plungers… I gather from this and from visits to other US based web sites and forums that a toilet plunger is something common to every house. Why? (if not too gross to explain!) I live in Australia and I don’t think anyone I know or probably have ever known has owned a toilet plunger, let alone had one sitting next to the toilet permanently. It’s probably a silly question but it has raised my curiosity before and this reminded me :)

  15. posted by Heather on

    Mardi, I was surprised by your question at first. And I’ll try not to get too gross! Clogged toilets seem so common, especially in newer homes with the new “efficient” low-flow toilets, that I thought it was like that everywhere, especially someplace like Australia where water conservation is important. I used scare quotes there because some low-flow American toilets, like the ones in my parents’ current house, often don’t clear the waste on the first flush, and it takes two or three flushes to get the job done. If the third flush doesn’t do it, then the plunger comes out.

    I looked up American vs. Australian toilets, and I learned that there is an interesting history about the design and engineering of toilets for conserving water. To make a long story slightly less long (you can read about it here: http://joneakes.com/jons-fixit-database/1429 ), most low-flow American toilets use an efficient swirling flush to gently coax the waste away, while most low-flow Australian toilets use a pressure-assisted flush that aggressively forces the waste down the pipe. You can guess the usual result.

    To complicate things even more, most American homes and businesses are hooked up to high-capacity sewer lines. Some homes though, especially in rural areas and older neighborhoods, have very sensitive septic systems that can’t tolerate large amounts of toilet paper, and especially can’t take anything more durable than toilet paper. A guest from the city who is accustomed to using a reasonable amount of toilet paper or flushing feminine hygiene products can easily clog the toilet the first time they use it.

  16. posted by Margaret on

    I think it’s a great idea, but then I’m the kind of person who reads the instructions for things before using them. My husband NEVER reads the instructions, so an information package wouldn’t work for him. He’d either try to figure it out on his own or ask. I would prefer to look it up for myself. Also, he is more outgoing than I am, and he doesn’t seem to have much of a problem sharing personal details and needs, whereas I would absolutely hate having to ask some things (e.g. that I needed a plunger).

  17. posted by Margaret on

    Re plungers — Mardi, I’m curious. Does that mean that your toilets rarely get plugged (which is what it sounds like based on Heather’s post), or do you just call plumbers often? I would estimate that we have a plugged toilet at least once every month or two (not that I’ve thought closely about it or tracked statistics).

  18. posted by Rosemary on

    Re plungers – Margaret, another Aussie here. I’ve never called a plumber for a blocked toilet. The most I’ve had to do is (only twice), get a bucket of water and tip it down the bowl.

    I lived in the USA for three years and I despaired over the toilets. I can’t believe that a country that sent a man to the moon still can’t engineer a decent toilet!!! We have low water consumption toilets here, but they have two buttons. On for a half flush and one for a full flush as well as being water conserving. Also, the toilet bowl is a bowl, not a pan like US toilets.

    But, American toilet paper is softer if that makes anyone feel better!

  19. posted by Mardi on

    Wow thanks for that very comprehensive answer, Heather! All I ever wanted to know about toilets but was too afraid to ask LOL!

    The only times I’ve called a plumber for a blocked drain is when tree roots would grow into our old pipes, and this was further down the line and blocked all drains – shower, toilet, sink etc. Then they put the electric eel down from the outside access point and drag out all the roots. Since we removed the trees down the line of the sewer pipes we haven’t needed to do it.

    I’m visiting NYC in October – I have been warned that the toilets there will be full of water – here we only have 10 – 15cm in the bottom.

    A very strange topic to go off on a tangent with but strangely fascinating… or is that just me?

  20. posted by Kirstine Vergara on

    I find this guest information packet very impersonal. I believe that the guests you are talking about are your friends or relatives and they do not need to be treated like strangers in a hotel. Though we want to provide convenience, we also want to make them feel at home. Whatever happened to the chat between guests and host over dinner, I don’t know. Is it too much of a hassle to talk to your guests about the house rules or other relevant info that will make their stay great? I’m from a country where hospitality is something that we really give our guests. I can’t imagine giving my 70-year-old grandmother this with info that says “Turn the staircase lights on before going down at night” or “House water supply runs from 8am to 6pm only”. This would make her feel unwanted. She’d be better off staying at the hotel.

  21. posted by Anita on

    I also find this deeply impersonal. There’s a difference between allowing your guests to be autonomous and treating them like clients. I agree with Kristine — talk to your guests over dinner or coffee or whatever, and bring things up as they become relevant. If you’re worried about forgetting something, then make a list for yourself and cross things off as they are mentioned.

    The only “information package” I would give my out-of-town guests is a city map (if they don’t already have one) and a few transit tickets (if they don’t have a car). Then I’d sit down with them and go over where basic things are and how to get around.

    I think if anyone ever handed me one of these packages as I walked into their house, I’d turn right around and go to a hotel. If I’m going to be treated like a stranger, I at least want room service :P

  22. posted by Julia on

    I really like the *idea* of this, but…I really, really hate the format. “Guest Information Packet?” It would make me feel as though I were staying at a hotel.

    I can see a list titled “Need to Know” – but even there, I would want at minimum a handwritten “We’re so glad you’re here, Julia” somewhere on the page.

    I know what it is – it makes me feel like one of a hundred houseguests traipsing through your home, probably more of a pain than a pleasure. Being a host is tiring, I know that – and if you’re so tired you’ve created “guest packets,” I probably should have given you a rest and stayed elsewhere.

    Again – I like the idea – but it would need to be handled carefully to avoid making guests feel uncomfortable.

  23. posted by Dave on

    I’m working on one of these for my boat, if you flush wrong you could sink us or get us fined by the CG, and only have ten gallons of holding. If I fall overboard what do you do? on and on.
    I think I should do this for the house too, after girlfiends dauthter reefed on the shower valve so hard I needed to replace it, because where she lives you have to crank on it. because some poeple are a bit dense.
    Other things, Do Not feed the animals unless you have been told to.

  24. posted by Jen on

    I’d be quite put off if I stayed with a friend and he / she handed me a packet like this. If you’re staying with a friend and plan on hanging around the house without spending much time with that friend, maybe it’s appropriate. My step mother has a lot of guests, and she put a little sign in a picture frame in the bathroom for a bathroom quirk.

  25. posted by Mletta on

    Not only do we provide a packet of “Tourist” information (we live in NYC, so we have guidebooks, lists of online sites to check, any discount coupons for sightseeing, etc.) and specifics for our area (takeout menus, list of nearby services, subway maps, etc.), we also provide an “operating manual” for the apartment.

    This includes where to find things needed, some cautions (you can’t turn the AC on in the bedroom AND the microwave in the kitchen at the same time without blowing fuses! It’s a very old building)and general tips about the apartment, including super’s number, notes about days when trash is collected, etc.

    It’s interesting that some people commented here that they would be offended. I don’t get it. You may be our guest, but We are NOT YOUR TOUR GUIDES.

    This is one reason we limit who stays here and for how long. Some people are coming to visit us and while we share this information with them, we also interact.

    Now, let’s be honest. Some of you houseguests are only coming so you can cut your costs (especially in NYC). You’re not really here to visit us and hang out. You want to be on your own. So why do you feel insulted if we don’t spend our every waking hour with you? Seriously.

    We work, long hours. We cannot be with you during the day and many evenings. If you didn’t GET that when you decided to visit (most people ask us; we invite a very few), then you should have stayed elsewhere and hired a guide.

    There are houseguests and then there are people who need a place to stay. There is a huge difference and thus people are treated accordingly.

    For those of you who live in a major city that a lot of people want to visit, you know what we are talking about.

    When we invite people we do make plans to do things together; we also assume they want time off to do their own thing. We cannot be there 24/7 for anyone, no matter how close we are to them. (We vacation out of the city and on our own.)

    People are offended that you spent a lot of time putting together this information? I say, sorry, but you don’t need to visit at all.

  26. posted by ninakk on

    I spent a month in 1996 in Berlin while learning the language and lived as a guest/family member of a bunch of really nice people on the eastern side of town and two things come back to me now; the bed and the front-door lock.

    The mattress itself was a box mattress, which was in fact a cover of another compartment, and I had never seen such a thing before. The hosts wished me a pleasant night and left me looking for quite some time. What I wanted to find were the pillow, sheet and blanket… Finally I managed to lift the seriously heavy box to find all of the necessary things in the compartment below. Funny enough, none of my hosts/hostesses had remembered to tell me this, so I bet they thought beds work like that everywhere or something.

    The other quirk was the front-door lock. I was the last to leave the house and in the afternoon I learned that I had managed not to lock the door, even if I thought I had. Embarrassing, but hey, not all locks are the same… Luckily nobody uninvited had decided to pay a visit that day.

    I think it’s about being hospitable more than it is rude, because not one host(ess) will ever be able to remember all the small, but sometimes crucial, details. The trash might flow over because the guest has decided to cook and they might want to know how trash of the high-storey building is collected, whereas you might not have anticipated this. Or they want to watch a movie and you forgot to tell that there’s a switch somewhere not in close proximity of the media center. Or the cat has a seizure and the guest finds the correct phone number/address at once. I totally get what Mletta means by her comment about the AC and microwave working at once…

    All of this is relevant information, but instead of sitting with a list from which you tick off things already told in front of the guest (which I actually would find a lot weirder), you might as well make one folder and show the guest where they can find it. Meanwhile, you can also tell the most relevant things so that they don’t feel it’s necessary to get all the information from the guest packet.

    I’d even make small cards of business size on which there are phone numbers to relevant people as well as the home address and public transportation line numbers, because not everyone is equally organized and this piece of information they can tuck in the wallet instead of calling someone at work.

  27. posted by Jen on

    Mletta – It sounds like you you have a chip on your shoulder, and perhaps rightfully so if your guests treat your home like a hotel. My stays at friend and family members’ homes have been for the exact purpose of catching up and spending time together, and those stays have always been on the weekends or the holidays. I find the idea of puttering around a friend’s apartment while he / she is at work to be incredibly awkward. Perhaps my experience is an anomaly.

  28. posted by cheska on

    interesting. will save people time from running through all the important things about the house (or house rules) everytime there’s a guest.

  29. posted by Michaela on

    Jen…I think that many of these comments are made by people who routinely host people that they do not personally know through any number of hospitality networks. Many people involved in these networks host very often. The expectations of the guests varies – some are just looking for a free place to stay and others are looking for more interaction with their host. For someone who is comfortable hosting those looking for less interaction, this type of information packet (or named otherwise) is perfect. And since it is already prepared, it is easy to have it available to all guests (why hide it from those you know better?). I have one that was prepared for the more impersonal stays, but I have allowed guests in more personal stays to use it because it will definitely answer a question that I forgot to answer or will give them a lot of useful information that would be more awkward to stand there and recite – completely overwhelming a guest with too much information. Besides, someone that you already know is going to feel much more comfortable waking you up in the middle of the night asking where spare sheets are or where to find the plunger. Those you don’t know will possibly be less inclined to wake you…and then not sleep well because their problem isn’t solved. To me, it is more hospitable to spend time collecting all this information for your guest to have available at their convenience rather than waiting for your guest to ask or trying to blurt it all out in one orientation. Of course, the presentation should not simply be to open the door, hand a packet to the guest and leave the guest to themselves. That is definitely not hospitable. However, welcoming a guest, showing them where to place their things and giving a brief tour – ending at the information binder/packet, showing where your personal phone numbers are in the information, etc. cannot be deemed inhospitable in my mind. If that is inhospitable to someone and that conclusion of the orientation leaves one wishing that they’d stayed in a hotel, then it would be in the best interest of both me and the guest for that guest to stay at a hotel because it is likely that I will be perceived as inhospitable in a number of other ways and I don’t want such judgmental unthankful guests in my home.

  30. posted by sara on

    It actually seems a very good idea to write down all the quirks & things & rules for the unclogging of toilets (writing from the Netherlands here- only my 83-year-old mother in law has clogged toilets in my experience, but God knows what she throws in there). Most of these your guest won’t remember the first time anyway. Just as long as it doesn’t replace the real contact with your guests.

  31. posted by Ninjanun on

    I think the guest packet would be very helpful, both for guests and hosts, and having been both a guest and host in close friends and families’ homes, I am not sure how this could be construed as inhospitable. Sure, you wouldn’t want to hand a packet to someone when they walked in the door and not actually mention anything in person, but I like the idea of a house tour (for first time guests) ending in the room/area they’ll be staying, complete with the information packet close by. I’ve had guests stay whom we have emailed in advance about our particular family/household quirks (for instance, how we don’t allow shoes being worn in the house, and that we are vegetarian, but they are welcome to bring meat and we’ll gladly cook it for them if they’d like). Writing in advance is my preferred method (maybe with a guest information pack reminding guests of the “rules” and also outlining any oddities of the house itself), as that allows guests time to prepare in advance or decide to stay elsewhere if they’d rather. I wish I’d done this recently when my in-laws visited, as there was frustration on my part when my mother-in-law kept walking barefoot outside and then traipsing through the house with extremely dirty feet (the point of our no-shoes rule was to prevent tracking dirt around the house, but I guess I didn’t make that clear) and using the nice white bath towels to scrub the bathroom floor; and frustration on her part when we tried to gently correct her and she decided there were “too many rules” for her to be a good guest in our home. Had I been more clear with her in advance, she and I both could have been more prepared for what was required of us to be a good guest and host, respectively. For instance, I could have specifically shown her where the “house cleaning rags” were located, for when she felt the urge to scrub the floor, and she would know to make sure her bare feet were decently clean before entering the house. Or, she could have stayed in a hotel if she was of the mind that a guest has the right to do whatever they want whenever they want (and pay the price for that kind of freedom from someone else’s rules).

    Sorry to vent! But I speak with this fresh and painful experience in mind. Chatting about these things in advance would have been helpful and saved us all some heartache, and then having a list of household “quirks” in a folder of some sort for guests’ reference would help them feel more confident as they maneuver our (admittedly) abnormal household.

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