How to Avoid Bad Cottage Guests

What can we do to ensure we always have good guests at the cabin?

If you own a cottage or cabin you probably have a few stories to tell about experiences with bad guests. While we all hope to avoid these situations, the only way to truly ensure that we never have bad guests is to not have any at all – but that would make cottaging a bit dull, wouldn’t it?

OK, so assuming visitors are going to be a part of our annual cabin experience, how do we minimize the chances of enduring that uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing moment when everyone realizes that uncle Fred’s new ladyfriend should never have come to the lake?

Cabin and cottage guests come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. Some are friends. Some are friends of friends. Some are family. Some are friends of family. And some just appear out of nowhere.

Regardless of who they are or how they get there, the secret to minimizing problem guests is to manage their expectations of what the cabin experience is going to be.

It’s all about psychology.
You just have to set the expectation bar so low that anyone who still decides to come will almost surely be impressed.

Now, you may be thinking that scaring away potential problem guests isn’t a good strategy. Fair enough, but isn’t it better to give someone the chance to bail out early, than to have them show up with one idea in mind only to realize that they are actually in their version of holiday hell?

For example, if uncle Fred’s new girlfriend arrives at the cabin still thinking that using an outhouse means hiring an independent ad agency to develop her company’s new marketing program – things are likely to get ugly very quickly.

Non-cottagers tend to have distorted ideas about what cabin life is all about.
They think it is a utopian existence spent sitting on the dock beside a calm lake and relaxing under the sun while the cocktail fairy magically appears every fifteen minutes to bring them a new drink. At the same time, the cabin day care service looks after the dog, the baby and the brats.

In their minds, gourmet snacks and meals are readily available and served at all hours. When the day is done and the party is over, a cleanup crew parachutes in to put the place back in order. This, of course, all happens silently as everyone drifts off to sleep after a session of wild love-making in a king-sized bed strategically placed under a beautiful star-lit sky.

You may be laughing, but you know that the truth isn’t far off, and when the non-cottager guests arrive still harbouring these delusions about cottage life, they are usually in for a nasty reality check.

So, in the interests of making the cabin experience as pleasant as possible for everyone involved, here are a few tips for setting the expectation bar at an appropriate level:

Get every guest’s e-mail address
Try to contact every potential guest directly, whether you know the person or not. It is unwise and naïve to rely on uncle Fred to pass along the necessary information to his new non-cottager girlfriend. If he bothers to say anything at all, you know he is going sugar coat a few points and completely leave out some others.

Cabin Weather Forecasts
Tell the guests to ignore the weather forecasts and make sure they are prepared for rain, hail, wind and temperatures that require fall clothing, as well as the ideal cottage weather that they expect you to order up especially for them. If it actually turns out to be sunny with a nice breeze, then everyone will be happy. If not, they were at least duly warned.

Food at the Cottage
BYORC (Bring Your Own Rice Cakes) is the name of the game. If guests are responsible for bringing some of the food, they are going to bring something they want to eat. How many times have you eagerly handed out the beers, hauled out the ribs and steaks and fired up old BBQ only to have someone ask for a veggie burger and soy milk?

Cabin Work Duties
Send an email ahead of time outlining all of the work duties that guests are required to perform during their stay at the cabin. A schedule is even better, and inform them that the slots get filled based on a system of drawing numbers out of a hat.

Rules of Sanitation at the Cabin
This is a delicate topic but is it best to be blunt about what is considered acceptable use of the facilities. Simply posting a sign in the outhouse or washroom that details the rules isn’t usually good enough – people need to be told. If you avoid this conversation, you only have yourself to blame when it comes time to cleanout the pit or septic system.

Cottage Mice, Bugs, and Bears
Overstate the presence of all these wonders of the woods. If people still decide to come, they’ll likely be fine.

Tell them that rodents are a common site, both inside and outside the cabin. Warn them that mid-week blood transfusions are the norm when the mosquitoes and black flies are at their peak. Impress upon them the importance of leaving their beloved pets in the city to avoid painful and sometimes fatal confrontations with porcupines and bears.

Cabin and Cottage Beds
Tell the guests to bring a sleeping bag to put on the old cot so they can zip themselves up to avoid freezing to death if the temperature drops, or to keep the mosquitoes from torturing them if the nights are hot.

Shower and Swimming at the Cottage
Warning the guests that the water pump and pressure are unreliable is always a good way to set reasonable shower expectations. In the event that there is a malfunction or a power outage, the potential guests should be prepared to wash up in the lake during their late afternoon swim.

Remember to inform them that the water is cold, the weeds are a bit slimy, and the leaches are mostly harmless.

Kids at the Cabin or Cottage
Mosquitoes, ticks, poison ivy, bears and blood suckers are all a part of cabin life. Most kids thrive in the cottage environment, but if little Johnny can’t handle life in the woods, it is best to leave him with grandma for the weekend.

Now, if you think these are somewhat draconian suggestions, I fully agree. But before you decide to water them down a bit, take a moment to reflect upon the last time you had a nightmare cottage guest.

Written by: Andrew Walker

Go to the How to be a Good Cottage Guest page.

Go to the 5 Easy Ways to Get Rid of A Bad Cottage Guest page.

Go to the How to Rent Out Your Cottage page.

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