Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Out of Town Hotel Bags for Overnight Guests

Out of Town bags are a fun way to be greeted when we check into a hotel. They show that our hosts are ready for us and have gone out of their way to thank us (before we've even seen them, in many cases) for joining their celebration.  They've thought about our needs and wants and provided us with information that will help the weekend flow for everyone.  How nice is that? If you've received a welcome bag at a hotel, you know how nice it feels, and are more likely to create these bags of bienvenidos for your own guests at your next big overnight event.  Here are some tips and ideas:

1) Set a budget for your out of town bags.

2) Figure out how many families/couples will be staying overnight (you do not need a bag for each person, and each room only needs one bag upon checking in- not one per night) at the hotel.  Divide your budget total by that number, plus 3-5 more (it'll be nice to have a couple extras just in case, and that way, you can have one, too)!

3) Figure out what you can get in advance and what will need to be purchased and inserted into the bags the week of the celebration (fresh fruit, anything perishable, etc.)

4) Your bag should have at least 3 components:
   a.  The bag itself (a uniform look among all of your bags, with a way for the hotel staff to tell that it's yours)
   b. The contents of the bag (food, water, etc.)
   c. A written welcome note from the hosts with information about the contents, the timing of the celebration events, and even suggestions on what to do in the area with extra time.

5) Once everyone has checked into the hotel, send a designated friend or family member to collect extra Out of Town (OOT) bags and return them to you.

6)  A Thank You letter for the Hotel staff- You may want to write a thank you letter to the staff before the weekend starts with a checklist of your wedding guests who will be staying over.  Once in awhile, guests book outside of the wedding block, and staff members may not know to give them a bag.  If there are extra candies or mints, consider putting some in a container for the staff to thank them in advance for taking good care of your guests! Keep in mind, they may have a couple different party groups coming with a number of different bags to hand out.  Make yours stand out in their minds.

7) Decide whether you want to go with a theme for your bags, such as a Pennsylvania theme (with soft pretzels, Hershey's chocolate, Herrs potato chips, Snyders Pretzels and more), or a 'Favorite Things' theme (with all the favorite snacks and goodies that the hosts like), or a 'Color Scheme' theme, where you pick out treats in certain colors. Look up ideas online and do what works for you.  Then decide if you're only putting in food and drinks, or if you'd like to include some incidentals in case they forgot something at home (I'd check with the hotel first to see if they offer this service for free. If so, you can skip it).  You could include toothbrushes, toothpaste, contact cases, floss, etc....or not!

8) The good part...Go Shopping!! 
  The first step is to find your bags.  Check at The Dollar Store or a craft supply store such as AC Moore, Michaels or Joann Fabric.  Look for medium-sized bags that will be easy enough to transport to the hotel.  Consider whether you want to use paper bags (which will likely be thrown away) or reusable bags (in which case, they should be able to fold up to travel easily).  If you're having a destination wedding, consider a fun beach tote with some travel brochures, sunscreen, bug spray and sunglasses inside.  Stamp or decorate your bags before putting anything inside, then go with your fiance, parents, best friend, or dog (just kidding!) and pick out what will go inside.  You may choose to include all, some or none of the following. Just do your thing and take inspiration where you find it:

- Granola bars
- Water bottles (2-3 per room)
- Small bags of chips
- Candy, gum and/or mints
- A special breakfast treat (if breakfast plans are not made for one of the mornings) such as cinnamon buns or bagels.
- A fun door tag that says something like, "Shhhh... We were up all night celebrating _____ (fill in the blank). Please do not disturb. Thanks."
- Trail Mix
- A few pieces of fresh fruit
- Dried fruit
- Chocolate bars, hugs & kisses for a wedding
- Freshening wipes (great after a long day of travel)
- If you're getting married in a city and the main source of travel will be a subway or a bus system, consider including a MetroCard, tokens, a map, etc. in your bag.
- Check out what's nearby. If there's a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, consider a small gift card for your traveling guests.
- A nice bathroom spray
- A printed copy of a game (wedding weekend word scramble, crossword, etc.)
- Small bottle of wine or liquor (if allowed by hotel)

Be creative, go with your theme and have fun! Once you have your items, place them in the bag along with your...

Welcome Letter! 
For guests who do not know the area very well, checking in and getting a Welcome Letter in an OOT Bag can be a huge relief and a source of information that they will not have to spend time seeking out, because you've already provided it for them.  Here are some sections you can include in your letter. Consider a pamphlet style to get the most information into a small amount of space:

- Schedule for the weekend and names, addresses, directions, days/times of each planned event/location that includes ALL wedding guests.  For example, the wedding ceremony and reception, a morning-after brunch, etc.  Note: Do not include your rehearsal dinner and rehearsal in your OOT bags if only your wedding party is invited.  It could cause confusion. That being said, you do need to get a more specific itinerary of the weekend to your wedding party in advance, which WILL include that information.
*Note: If there are different plans for different people at any point (maybe your father's family is doing something together while your mother's family is doing something else), include both plans and who is involved in what.  Your letter will help everyone get on the same page and make your orchestrating plans easier.

- Other things to do in the area: Restaurants, shopping malls, movie theaters, popular tourist attractions, etc.

- Make sure to include a sincere message of THANKS to your guests for arriving and EXCITEMENT to see them (if you haven't already)!

- Shuttle/bus information for your main event. For example, if you have buses picking guests up at the hotel for an event at a certain time and dropping off at the end, share those times, where they need to be, and what they should do if they miss it (include address, directions to venue, etc.)

- Hotel Amenities- It's always a good idea to share the features of the hotel beforehand (it won't be very helpful for guests to find out that a gym facility is available for their use, or that there are 2 pools on site, if their workout clothes and swimsuits are at home), so be sure to give them the heads up when you send your hotel information in advance. However, you can include information about wi-fi access, free cookies in the lobby (love when they do that!), hours of breakfast/lunch/dinner in the hotel restaurant, hotel bar hours, etc.  They'll appreciate having that information on hand.

- Phone numbers- of key players in the weekend. Be sure to ask them first, and respect their wishes if they do not want that info. shared.

Okay, you're ready! Print your letter, stick it in (or tie it on) your bag, put in some tissue paper, tie on a ribbon (in a bow, not a knot- your guests don't have scissors!) and deliver it to the hotel. Then have a great weekend and enjoy your celebration!!

Colorful bags with a sticker picture of the soon-to-be bride & groom. 

Atlanta-themed Welcome basket

Boston OOT bag

Simple bag with the date. 

Love the idea of including a map of the area! 

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