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How to be a good houseguest
“Every house guest brings you happiness. Some when they arrive, and some when they are leaving” …Confucious
I was ecstatic when friends graciously invited my husband and me to visit them in Kauai, Hawaii this winter, where they reside for three months each year. The offer was incredibly tempting as the invitation provided an opportunity to spend time with dear friends who we see infrequently – and in an incredibly fabulous location! Years ago we went to the Big Island, but did not visit Kauai, the island many consider the most lush and beautiful island in Hawaii. Not only did the timing work, we had enough miles to fly for free.
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Our initial thought was that of course we would go. After our initial excitement wore off, however, we started to have second thoughts. With connecting flights both to and from Kauai translating into ten hours of travel on each end, we needed to stay for a good chunk of time for the trip to make sense. How long is too long to stay in someone’s home?
How long is too long for a visit with friends?
The length of time you should stay with friends seems to vary depending on the situation. For example, what is the relationship and how well do you know your host’s personal preferences? How big is their home? What is their work, eating and/or sleep schedule? Do they want you to spend every moment together or prefer their guests are more independent? Who pays for what while you’re there?
In our case, the other couple is one we met almost forty years ago when we were all still single. The husbands shared a house for a few years when both worked at their first jobs out of college. We became very close and spent a lot of time together. Until life got in the way, that is, with work assignments taking us each to jobs in different states. Staying in touch is hard while raising families and building careers, but we did our best. We rarely saw each other in person through the years, though when we did we picked right up where we left off. Not every friendship remains strong without more nurturing, and I am grateful ours did. There is something wonderfully comfortable about old friends who just get you.
Despite the closeness of our long-term friendship, my husband and I were nervous about staying in their home for an extended length of time. They have a good sized two-bedroom condominium, but we would be in fairly close quarters. We knew both parts of this couple were pretty easy-going as twenty-somethings, but was that still true years later? Sometimes things change. People change too. There was so much we didn’t know.
Communication is key
As is often the case, open and honest communication helps decrease the likelihood of problems later on. That sounds obvious, but sometimes is easier said than done. You may not realize your hosts find your behavior problematic because the same actions from them might not bother you.
So how to be a good houseguest? Ask questions and voice concerns directly up front instead of making assumptions. We decided to talk candidly with our friends before committing to the trip. Below are a few the topics we discussed in advance which I hope will be helpful to others.
When should we come (and when should we leave)?
Once invited, you want to make sure both you and your hosts understand the time frame and the dates work for all, especially the hosts! We explained to our friends that for us to take this long trip we needed to stay for at least a week. Also, we told them we planned to use miles so our dates were not completely flexible. It turned out that with the available flights it would be a ten day trip. We understand it’s not always easy to have people in your home even if you love your guests and we worried we might overstay our welcome. They insisted our dates worked and that the visit was not an imposition at all. Even so, we were still aware that while we would be on vacation they would be living their usual lives, so we wanted to be very respectful of our host’s time and space.
Should we rent a car?
Whether or not you rent a car depends on your specific needs. In our case, our hosts suggested up front that we get a vehicle. They explained that with our own car we could go out and about on our own if we wanted. They have an elderly dog that could not be left home alone, and they did not want us to miss out on the activities that were not dog friendly. Also, there were tours in which we were interested that they had done already and would not likely want to repeat. We were happy to oblige for those reasons. In addition, having our own car would allow us to share the driving when we did go out together. It’s not fair to expect hosts to pay for all the gas, especially if they are playing tour guide for their guests.
Eat at home or at restaurants?
Do you prefer to cook or eat out? Some people don’t like to cook on vacation, preferring to eat most meals out. When it’s just my husband and I, we tend to primarily eat out for dinner and bring in easy to prepare items for breakfast, lunch and snacks. However, our hosts said they prefer to eat almost all their meals at home. A few restaurants on the island are dog-friendly, but not many, so that’s an issue. They also shared they have specific dietary preferences and enjoy cooking healthy meals. Since we planned to rent a car, and they made it clear we should do what we wanted while there, meals seemed not to be an issue that needed further discussion in advance.
Who pays for what?
Money is a sensitive issue for many, one people don’t like to talk about. Your host may feel uncomfortable asking you to contribute while hosting you in their home, but it is unfair to expect them to foot all the bills. After all, you are staying with them for free, saving a ton of money in hotel expenses. In our situation, our hosts were uncomfortable discussing money on the phone so we let it go, however not before we made it very clear we planned to cover our own expenses and some of theirs.
This conversation set the tone for the visit and we decided to book our flights. It was a good start, though we knew we would learn more about our hosts once we arrived. And off we went to Kauai! Here are some tips we learned in the process about being exceptional guests!
House etiquette when visiting friends
How to be a good houseguest: Play by the house rules
Upon arrival, gently inquire about how things are done in the house. What time do they generally wake up and go to bed? Anything you should know about the pets? Is it ok to change the thermostat? Stay in tune with your hosts to pick up on other house rules. For example, do they take their shoes off when they come in the house? If you observe this to be the case, take off your shoes too.
How to be a good houseguest: Bring a thoughtful gift
Appreciative guests show their gratitude by bringing a thoughtful hostess gift. It need not be extravagant, just something to acknowledge their kind hospitality. A bottle of wine, flowers, pastries from a local bakery are all good ideas. If you are artistic, perhaps you want to make them a handmade gift.
How to be a good houseguest: Remember you are not in your own home
We all act a little looser in the privacy of our own homes, but it’s important not to forget you are in someone else’s abode! Don’t walk down the hall in only a towel or hang around the house without a bra if you need one. When in doubt, err on the side of modesty. Don’t leave your things around the house. And by all means, avoid political discussions at all costs unless you know for sure your hosts share your views. Finally, limit your phone use while there; starting often at your screen might make your host feel there is somewhere you would rather be or someone you would rather be talking to.
How to be a good houseguest: Be exceptionally helpful
Offer to help prep and cook meals, set the table, or take the dog for a walk. Your hosts surely will appreciate the gesture even if they turn you down.
There are plenty of things you can do without asking too that won’t go unnoticed. For example, make your bed every day, strip the sheets at the end of your stay, clear your dishes and buy groceries. Take care of the bill quietly when you all go out to dinner to avoid an awkward conversation. If your hosts decide to accompany you on a tour, book and pay for admission in advance, including their tickets. There’s a good chance they already did the tour and are going as a way to spend time with you.
How to be a good houseguest: Bring your own toiletries
Most hosts are happy to share their stash, but they shouldn’t have to. Pack toiletries, sunscreen, etc in your suitcase. Assuming you will use your host’s items makes you look like a mooch.
How to be a good houseguest: Give your hosts space
Don’t expect to hang out with your hosts constantly. While this is your vacation, the homeowners are living their everyday lives. So entertain yourself during part of your stay. Extend an invitation to join you on excursions, but understand they may choose to stay home to get things done while you are out tooling around. They may not even have things to do, but just want some alone time. Know that it’s not personal.
How to be a good houseguest: Go with the flow
Be flexible. Uptight guests are hard to be around. When you stay with friends or family, you have to be able to compromise and adapt. Be as gracious as possible throughout your stay and don’t be demanding or finicky. Otherwise, you are better off staying at a hotel.
How to be a good houseguest: Leave your host’s home cleaner than you found it
Who doesn’t love a guest who leaves the place tidier than they found it? Double and triple check the bathroom and bedroom for your belongings before you go. Strip your sheets, or better yet, launder them and put them back on the bed if they let you. Empty the garbage cans in your room and bathroom. Wipe down countertops. Return any borrowed items to where they were when you arrived.
How to be a good houseguest: Say thank you
Say thank you when you leave. And say it again when you arrive home with a thank you note or gift. When hosts share their home with you for an extended stay, you want to make sure they know how much you appreciated their hospitality.
The bottom line
Want to be invited back? Make a conscious effort to be an outstanding guest. Good communication is essential at the start and throughout your stay. Show your gratitude before during and after your visit. Be helpful, flexible and considerate, and follow house rules. And don’t forget to pitch in financially, quietly and tactfully. Simply put, follow these guidelines about how to be a good houseguest to help ensure a smooth visit. Many of these tips seem like common sense, but it’s surprising how many stories we hear about “bad houseguests”.
If you are wondering, our 10 day trip to Kauai went off without a hitch. Our friends were wonderful hosts and we did our best to be awesome house guests. We ended up spending a great deal of time together, reliving old memories and creating new ones. We all reconnected immediately and the ten days flew by quickly and joyfully. It was one big lovefest. We can’t wait to see them again, though next time we hope to be the hosts!
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