“I can’t get in. The door won’t unlock.”
“Did you turn the deadbolt after entering your code?”
“No…I have to turn the deadbolt?”
And another documented case of vacation brain is on the books.
Although the Urban Dictionary states that vacation brain is “the one to two days before vacation when you can’t get much work done because your brain is already on vacation,” vacation rental managers may observe this behavior for an extended period of time because it also manifests itself during travelers’ vacations.
Cases of vacation brain are not officially documented, yet you may see the evidence noted in a cleaner’s job report or scribbled as a note to call the maintenance guy.
Here are a few more examples of vacation brain (yes, these actually happened):
- The guest used the window curtain rod instead of the closet to hang up coats and bent the curtain rod.
- Cleaners arrived at a property for a turnover and the guests thought their departure wasn’t until the following day.
- Checkout instructions are to lock the door and place keys in the lockbox, but guests departed, leaving the keys on the table and the door unlocked.
- Guest went out for the day without closing the patio door to the oceanfront balcony and left the air-conditioning running.
- Guest checked out and left all the lights on, the front door wide open, and the shower running.
- Guest parked a golf cart on the grass, fully aware of the “no parking on the grass” rule—but thought the golf cart was exempt because it “was expensive to rent.”
- Guest built a ring of rocks in the front yard that looked like preparation to build a fire. Guest claimed it was for a turtle he found, not a bonfire.
- Guest overly scrutinized the rules and called for clarification. “Do milk caps get put in the recycling?” “Can tea bags be composted?” “You said to throw the food scraps in the compost bin at the end of our stay—can I throw them into the compost bin BEFORE then?”
- Guest brought a portable fire pit and had an open fire on a wooden deck.
- Checkout instructions remind guests to unplug all the small appliances when they depart, and they also unplugged the refrigerator.
- Guests called to say that the entry code didn’t work. They were at the wrong house.
There are several actions managers can take to help their guests survive vacation brain and replace any negative experiences with pleasant memories.
1. Clearly communicate how the entry door locks and unlocks with several methods of communication, including texts, photos, videos demonstrating how the lock works, and personal demonstrations when possible.
Each person absorbs information differently; don’t assume that all guests will read the lock instructions before arriving at the property.
If you have self-check-in and you are not able to personally demonstrate how to use the lock, you may find that a demonstration video will be your best method of communication. Simply include a link to the video along with your written instructions.
Even the simplest locks apparently need explanation when a traveler is battling vacation brain. Guests will inevitably regress to the entry unlocking method of their daily routines, which may simply be pressing a button to open the garage door. Make your entry instructions clear enough that even the guests’ small children can understand them. They are likely the ones who will help their parents unlock the door.
2. Clearly indicate both the arrival date and the departure date in several communications and in both day and date form.
For example, “Arrival is Saturday, June 2, 2018, and departure is Saturday, June 9, 2018.” The following are good places to repeat the schedule:
- Beginning of the confirmation email
- End of the confirmation email
- Access information message
- Checkout reminder
Some people remember dates better than days, and others remember days better than dates. By repeating both the day and date of arrival and departure, you cover both types of people.
3. Clearly communicate your expectations of how your property is to be treated during a stay.
Obviously, this is easier said than done when a guest has vacation brain. Repeated instructions in key communications will help alleviate the effects of vacation brain during a stay; however, there is still the possibility of property damage with severe cases of vacation brain.
Key spots for communicating your House Rules, as the listing sites refer to them, include the following:
- House Rules section of the property listing
- Rental agreement/booking form
- Arrival information
- Welcome book or property guidebook
- Posted list on the refrigerator
Some managers and hosts have resorted to Post-it notes or laminated signs placed strategically throughout a property. This method may work against you as the guests with vacation brain have a history of their eyes glazing over, which effectively prevents them from seeing these multiple reminders.
4. Keep the checkout instructions as simple as possible and clearly communicate them.
If guests are suffering from vacation brain, a long checkout to-do list will be the last thing they want to deal with and will possibly cause them to end their stay with not-so-good overall feelings.
A less-than-warm-and-fuzzy feeling at checkout can result in a less-than-5-star review, even when it is clearly a case of vacation brain and not any fault of the property.
The most important checkout item for a guest to complete is to secure the property. You may or may not require anything else.
It is not uncommon to also ask the guest to perform tasks such as adjusting the heating/cooling, placing used towels in the bathtub, starting the dishwasher, and taking out the trash. The number and type of tasks required will depend on the location and type of property as well as the turnover method the cleaners use.
Adding checkout requirements to the House Rules section of a property listing will help set the expectations from the very beginning. Do note that guests with vacation brain begin their symptoms early, which is clearly demonstrated by those who fail to read the House Rules provided in a property listing before they make a reservation.
The most effective deterrent for vacation brain is simply clear and repeated communication. This will not prevent your guests from having vacation brain during their stay at your property, but it will help minimize the effects on both your property and your sanity.
Do note that vacation brain is exacerbated by small children, family members, and the use of alcohol.