One of the six essential steps to preparing for a home exchange is creating a home guidebook. These guidebooks help your guests navigate your home and local area. Good guidebooks include things like house rules, where to find stuff, and how appliances work. And they aren’t just for house swapping. A growing number of people are hosting guests in their home through platforms like Airbnb, home exchanges, couchsurfing, and housesitting. This post will give you an outline of what to include in your home guidebook, and suggestions for how to organize and present this information.
What to include in your home guidebook
Below is a general list of things to include in a guidebook. Not everything here is required. But it’s all quite useful. And better communication will facilitate a better experience for both you and your guests.
- your contact info
- wifi login
- emergency service info
- emergency contacts locally
- where to get medical services
- how to get to the house (from the airport, driving, by public transit)
- how to get into the house
- where to park
- Trash, recycling, and compost
- what goes in each bin
- where to empty the bins
- what to do before leaving the house on the last day
- where to put dirty sheets/towels
- cleaning expectations
How the house works
- where to find clean sheets and towels
- how to operate the appliances
- list of free TV stations and/or movie services
- what things are guests welcome to use (food in fridge/pantry, shower supplies, etc.)
- where to find cleaning supplies
- any restrictions (i.e. please don’t use the upstairs bathtub, it’s broken)
- requests to water plants, bring in mail, or other household care
Local tips and info
- closest grocery store and pharmacy
- best local restaurants
- public transit info
- fun things to do
- list of nice places to walk in the neighborhood
- tourist brochures
How to present the information
Some people prefer paper while others go entirely digital. And I know more than one person who likes to post sticky notes around the house with instructions wherever needed.
Here are some suggestions for organizing and presenting your home guide that I think make a lot of sense.
Create an alphabetical list of instructions for all the household stuff. This makes it easy for guests to look up operating instructions for the washing machine when needed.
Tape Instructions for use onto major appliances. Consider laminating these for long term use.
Produce a map of your area with locations of and details about all the places you recommend. You could mark each category with different color pins (shopping, restaurants, activities, emergency health locations, etc.) Within google maps you can add comments to each pin suggesting things to do, favorite dishes at a restaurant, places to find coupons for the activity, etc.
To create a custom Google map: open maps.google.com. In the top left corner next to the search box, click on the menu icon to expand the menu. Click Your Places, then select the Maps tab, and at the bottom click Create Map.
Share your guidebook in advance maybe a week or so before people are due to stay. But don’t necessarily consider this electronic information a substitute for leaving a paper copy for guests. Not everyone travels with the tech devices that will make accessing your emailed guide easy.
Review and update your guidebook regularly. Things change and you want to provide accurate information.
Upgrading to a high tech home guide
I store my home guide in Google Docs and email a pdf to guests, in addition to printing out a copy. But I think there should be a better tool for integrating maps and information into a nice presentation. For a while I was using Coral, but that website is basically dead. So every year or so I take a look around at the options.
Airbnb has a template to add a house manual to listings within their system. I don’t have a listing on there and haven’t stayed anywhere that used this house manual so I can’t say if it’s any good. But it is limited to just the Airbnb platform, so that won’t help people offering their homes on multiple platforms. Some home exchange networks also offer exchange agreements that can include information about the home and house rules. But those tend to be basic and no better than my google doc.
There are a few products on the market targeting professional hosts. If you’re making good money on Airbnb or similar platforms, these tools are worth considering. But you have to pay. For those of us focused on home exchange, couchsurfing, and other free lodging networks, paying for these products probably isn’t a good investment.
I recently found one product that looks pretty slick: Hostfully. The free guidebooks will display ads from “locally relevant sponsored attractions and activities.” These suggestions show up on the map, without a disclaimer. For instance, in the test map I created for Seattle I see an ad for a city tour, with a link to buy tickets through Viator. The functionality and organization of the Hostfully guidebooks is impressive at first glance. But I don’t think I can live with the ads displaying masquerading as suggestions from me.