UK Travel 101: How to Behave in a British Self Catering Cottage or Flat


Our Favorite Place to Stay – Updown Cottage in Dorset

Months back we wrote an article on how to behave in a British Bed and Breakfast and it generated a great debate on some guest decorum. So, we thought we’d expand into covering some tips for how to behave in a self-catering cottage or flat in Britain.

Now that we have young children, we prefer to stay in self-catering accommodation. It’s much easier when the kids have their own rooms and it’s much more cost effective to cook your own locally sourced meals. We’ll be staying in 3 self-catering properties on our upcoming trip – 1 in London, 1 in Dorset and 1 in the Cotswolds.

You are Staying in Someone’s Home

First rule – you are staying in someone’s home. While it may not be their main home – it is still someone else’s home. You are guest there and despite paying to stay, it’s still someone’s personal property.

Making Enquiries

When guests are first enquiring, remember that holiday cottage owners are not faceless company employees but individuals who are letting their most valuable material possession to complete strangers. Friendly emails are always appreciated. It’s a good idea to acknowledge email replies so that the owner knows that their replies have reached them.

Be Flexible With Payment Options

Pay deposits and balances on time and ensure that bank fees are covered if applicable – it is highly unlikely that owners make very much profit, if at all. The biggest challenge self-catering owners face is processing payments from abroad which eats into their thin margins once you factor in exchange rates and credit card fees. Consider using a wire transfer service like and pay the fees. If you can pay via Paypal, send it as a gift so you can cover the modest fees. Some owners will take Credit Cards directly so you can stay covered under your Credit Cards travel protections, but many will charge a small fee for this.

Read the Information Packet

Most cottages will provide you with an information pack on how to make use of all the facilities. Be sure to read all information packs in advance to ensure that you are fully prepared. If it’s not provided in advance, make time to read it when you arrive. That way if the place has a finicky thermostat – you’ll know!

Travel Insurance is a Good Idea

It’s a good idea to take out travel insurance that covers weather – if you are prevented from reaching the cottage, the owners shouldn’t lose out! With the unpredictability of the self-catering market, they’re unlikely to be able to fill your booking at the last minute.

Arrive on time (and not early)

Arrive no earlier than the stated time – the owners need all the time they have available to prepare the cottage to the standard that guests expect. It’s also important to get yourself good directions there so you’re not frantically calling trying to find the place. Usually these are provided by the cottage owners when you book. Satnavs can be very unreliable so it’s a good idea to have multiple directions.

Take Care of the Property and it’s Furnishings

Take every care with the property, the furnishings and contents etc. – accidents happen but excessive breakages are frustrating for owners. Equally spillages and marks on carpets, bed linen and sofas are usually avoidable and difficult to clean quickly within the time available during a changeover.

Coasters are your Best Friend

Use coasters! Ring marks on wood and antique furniture are bad news!

Leave it as you found it

Leave the cottage as you found it – everything in the same place, basically clean and tidy and ALWAYS do the washing up………leaving a filthy oven with a dirty roasting tray in the oven which has been left ON for 24 hours is unacceptable! (Yes, this happened to a friend of ours).

Try to be Conscious of Energy Usage

Be aware of saving energy – turn lights off when you leave a room and definitely when you go out (this happens ALL the time!) and try not to leave heating on with all the windows open!

Leave On Time

Try to leave on time, which is usually in the morning. The poor housekeeper has to get the entire house ready for the next guests in just a few hours time.

Pay Attention to Waste Management

Pay attention to the information packet for info on waste management – some towns and councils have particular rules for where you can put your garbage and when. Usually you can only put your rubbish out on collection day.

Don’t Nick (steal) Anything!

DON’T take anything with you ‘by accident’ that belongs to the cottage!

Don’t Leave Anything Unless it’s a gift

DO take your own belongings when you leave. It’s not good to leave a lot – as the housekeeper will have to remove it before the next guests arrive. However, it’s perfectly all right to leave a momento for other guests to enjoy – such as a map or local book. When we stay in Updown Cottage, we often leave a local topic book for future guests.

Be Prepared to Pay to Replace Something You Broke

If you break anything, be prepared to pay to replace it. Most cottages will require a deposit that this can come out of. So, if you break something, be prepared not to get your deposit back.

Write in the Guest Book

Be sure to write in the guest book about your stay.

Leave a Good Review on Trip Advisor

If you enjoyed your stay – it’s a good idea to leave a review on Trip Advisor. Keep in mind when writing a review there that it’s not a hotel, so do not hold them to the same standard. Good reviews can make or break a self-catering cottage business. One bad review for someone absurd (like you didn’t like the soaps provided so gave your whole stay 1 star) can ruin a cottage’s reputation.

Have you stayed in a self-catering cottage? What would you recommend to fellow visitors? Let us know in the comments!

The photo at the top of the article is of Updown Cottage in Shaftesbury Dorset, one of our favorite places to stay.

Read More at Anglotopia


  1. avatarVictoria Monbeck says

    I would love some recommendations on self catering cottages/flats. I love everything Britain and am trying to make a yearly pilgrimage

    • avatarDeborah says

      Victoria, I have stayed at Bruern Holiday Cottages in the Cotswolds several times over the last 10 years. It is a great place, very friendly staff, beautiful quite country side. The cottages are not in a village, but centrally located enough to be able to visit near by attractions. You can just google Bruern Holiday Cottages and they will come up.

      • avatarVictoria Monbeck says

        Thanks you Deborah. We were trying to find something that didn’t quite feel like a hotel and just didn’t quite know where to start looking

  2. avatar says

    I stayed in one of the first self catering flats outside of London many years ago. I was there for almost a year. It was not completely furnished but partially. The women that owned it had specific qualifications for renters and I was a fit. Because I was going to be there so long. I took some of her better memento’s and boxed them and stored them carefully in a closet. I didn’t want any accidents to crystal candlesticks or family pictures. When I left with a saddened heart I cleaned the place within an inch of as immaculate as I could get. I left some things that I bought that every American can’t live with out. Ice Cube trays, Tupperware, extra pillows (who sleeps with one pillow), a Mr. Coffee, lots of tourists maps and books, a guide book on how to work the appliances, a list on good local stores, coffee shops, pubs and what transportation works best. I also left a list of where not to go. All of course from a Midwestern American’s point of view. She wrote me a letter thanking me for taking such good care of her home, the thing she liked most that I left…..some Christmas decorations I made, I halloween ghost…and the hanging felt figures of Pilgrims beheading a Turkey. I hated to tell her it was a joke.

    I have done American share homes….when you are there..take pictures before you spend one night, if there are any damages anyplace. Carpet burns, bumps in the wall, damaged upholstery etc. Several places we have stayed just left keys under the mat and try and charge you for damage that was already there. Not all cottage keepers are sweet little couples. They are in it for the money and you may never even see them…..

  3. avatarC Wheeler says

    A few years back we stayed at a great little flat just outside London in Crystal Palace for two weeks. Much better than a hotel. At the end of the day, we felt like we were heading home :) instead of back to the hotel. We just stopped in at M&S at Victoria’s Station at the end of the day for that days dinner and the makings for the next mornings breakfast. A great experience and cheaper than a hotel too.

    • avatarVictoria Monbeck says

      We will check this out. We want to find somewhere that feels like coming home rather than a hotel. Thank you for you input.

  4. avatar says

    As a long devotee of staying in someone else’s cottage while on holiday –I’d recommend getting your sealers on what great self catering is by first booking with the National Trust or English Country Cottages. both of which are pricey (much cheaper in low seasons) but very good. It’s such a bummer to book a much-looked-forward -to vacation and realize you are in an unpleasant situation. Dunno, might it be informative to have a look at what I’ve jotted down from a few of our stays re learnings about self-catering.

  5. avatar says

    I have question as to staying in a self-catering home…………..are the ones that you used accessible by public transit or do you need a car to get to them?? Thanks

    • avatar says

      Well it depends on where you’re staying. When we stayed in self-catering in London, yes public transport was nearby. When we stayed in the countryside, we needed a car.

      • avatarMai says

        Reading less than a hotel…can you give a modest estimation/range (in American dollars) just to give an idea.

  6. avatarJennifer Fulton says

    Thank you for your wise words! As an American who rents her Knightsbridge flat from afar, the most frustrating part is when someone comes back with an issue and as I work my way backwards, it was an issue for the past three guests. Let the owner know about everything when you are leaving; the good, the not so good, and the things you may have taken care of!

  7. avatarSusan Wilkins says

    When you talk about watching energy usage, another thing to make sure you turn off is the towel warmer. That takes a lot of energy and tends to be something Americans forget about. I can agree about talking to the owners about the rental before you use it. We had wanted just a one bedroom kind of place…small flat or cottage…but the one place that we found that was available for our stay was a two bedroom that was a little above our budget. They actually agreed to give it to us at a lower price if we would promise to just keep the door closed on the secone bedroom and not go in there. And yes, we did just that. :)

  8. avatarDanielle Dodwell says

    We stayed at a cottage near Stratford and loved it BUT while the beds had sheets and duvets and the kitchen was stocked well there were no towels in the bathroom. So my advise is to make sure to know where the nearest stores are located and if they carry what you need so you don’t spend your first night there wandering around store aisles.

  9. avatarTim Hague says

    Google, Dorset Country Cottages, some beautiful cottages in stunning locations in one of the most scenic parts of the country. I have no connection with the company btw.

  10. avatar says

    We have stayed in a self-catering establishment in Poole, Dorset, on several occasions, and plan on doing so again this October. To us, it is the best of possible worlds, as so much (including shopping, pubs, Poole Harbour, and the local train station) is within easy walking distance. We always are very careful to leave it exactly as we found it, as the owners are very nice people, and we definitely do not want to put them off!

  11. avatar says

    Got sent this link from a friend in america, I have a self catering holiday let in East Sussex, a very beautiful part of England, under an hour from London. Most guests leave the holiday cottage as they found it and I get great satisfaction reading all the nice comments in the Visitors books but on the occasions when I am busy scrubbing some unrecognizable stain I hope that the antics of some of the guests will be good material for a future book.
    Really nice idea having this website and delighted that you obviously love Britain.

  12. avatarPenelope Shaffer says

    We stayed in a lovely house in Kingston, outside of London. We really loved its charm, easy access to the railroad, and a pleasant town in which to go shopping. Extra bonus–quite close to Hampton Court.

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