3 easy steps for creating a home exchange user guide

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JaniceGuest blog post: Janis Fisher Chan is a writer, editor and passionate traveller who loves home exchanging. If you love travel and love getting a real feel for your destination, Janis encourages you to give home swapping a try!


I have special fondness for home exchange partners who anticipate what my husband and I might need to know about their home. Too often, we’ve been left on our own to figure out how to coax warm air from the heater or use the fancy new appliances, where to put the garbage, or what to do when the toilet makes that terrible coughing sound.
 
Be the kind of host we love by writing a great home user guide. A user guide not only helps guests enjoy their stay, it conveys a clear message: “We want you to enjoy your stay!”. It has the added benefit of helping to keep you from being bombarded by texts and phone calls while you’re exploring the Galapagos or touring the lights of Paris.
 
Here are 3 easy steps for creating a great home user guide for your home exchange guests. Once you’ve written and assembled the guide, all you’ll need to do is update it when something changes.

Step 1. Decide what “must-have” content to include

Think about what guests need to know to live comfortably in your home and handle any problems that might come up. Must-have content typically includes:
 
  • A short, friendly note welcoming guests to your home
  • The home’s street address and telephone number (if there’s a landline) along with instructions for accessing the voicemail
  • How guests can reach you while they are staying in your home
  • The password or code for your security system, if any, and how to turn it and off
  • The Wifi password and what to do if it goes downInstructions for sorting the recycling, where to find the garbage cans, and where to put the cans on pickup day
    What to do if the power goes out, the plumbing backs up, the heater or water heater won’t go on, they lose their keys, or something else serious happens
  • Phone numbers for the fire department, police, hospital, pharmacy, emergency plumber
Tip: Also post this information prominently on the door of the fridge
  • Instructions for sorting the recycling, where to find the garbage cans, and where to put the cans on pickup day
  • What to do if the power goes out, the plumbing backs up, the heater or water heater won’t go on, they lose their keys, or something else serious happens
Tip: Have someone nearby who can step in to help
  • Instructions and/or manuals for the appliances, heater/air conditioner, TV, DVD player, cable box, sound system, barbecue, and other equipment
  • Cautions (“The toilet in the front bathroom backs up easily so be gentle”; “Please do not lock the door between the stairs and the back hall – we don’t have a key”; “the drawer in the kitchen table falls out easily so be careful when you open it”)
  • Rules (“Please do not play the TV or music loudly after 10:00 at night”; “Please do not smoke in the house or on the property”; “Please park only in our assigned space, #288”)
  • What guests should do when they leave (“Please replace the toilet paper and cleaning supplies”; “Strip the beds and put the sheets in the washer”; “Leave us some milk, eggs, butter, and bread”)

Step 2. Decide what nice-to-have information to include

A big part of traveling is the fun of exploring a new area, but it’s also nice to have a local’s point of view. Help guests have a great experience by being a “virtual tourist guide,” with suggestions for places they might not find in their travel books.
 
  • Where to shop: grocery stores, farmers’ markets, malls, bookstores, boutiques
  • How to get around: maps of the area along with bus, train, and ferry information and schedules along with phone numbers for taxi and airport shuttle services
  • Where to play: parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, gyms, beaches, golf courses, tennis courts, hiking trails, ski slopes, and other recreational facilities
  • Where to eat: a selection of cafes, bars and restaurants they might enjoy
Tip: Collect menus from places you like and leave them for your guests
  • What to see: local attractions such as museums, art galleries, nature preserves, sports arenas, universities, and more
Tip: Leave tourist guides, brochures and other information your guests might find useful

Step 3. Write and assemble your home user guide

Make your home user guide easy to read. Use lists and headings to help guests quickly find specific information. Keep sentences and paragraphs to a minimum. To assemble the guide, you can staple the pages of instructions and suggestions together and put the maps, menus, and brochures in a basket or put everything in a binder or folder with pockets.

Tip: E-mail guests a copy of the written part of the guide so they can look it over before they arrive.

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