My former editor once dubbed me ‘a professional nomad.’ It’s his fault, really. He often sent me to far-flung places for weeks at a time to get a story. There was nary a budget in those days to put me up at the Ritz, so I spent a lot of time with friends, on sofas and in spare rooms. I still travel, but nowadays I prefer a solid bed in a hotel over anyone’s couch but my own.
However, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to be a good house guest (I hope) and while I haven’t always gotten these right in the past, I don’t think I’ve burned any bridges.*
Over the years, I’ve also hosted a fair amount of people in my own home. With the holidays right around the corner, chances are you’ll be traveling to stay with friends or family, or you’ll be hosting them. Check out these tips so that everyone stays sane:
- Never assume you can stay with anyone, especially if you are bringing children! While your friends and family of course want to spend time with you, not everyone can handle hosting whole families.
- Give your hostess a list of things they can source for you before your visit. Need a highchair? Pack ‘n Play? Booster seat? Diapers? They may be able to provide stuff or shop beforehand. Just be sure to reimburse them if they’re out of pocket.
- Bring gifts. I’m notoriously bad about this one. But if you’re visiting friends you haven’t seen for a while, try to bring maybe something they can’t easily get where they live. Or at least a bottle of wine.
- Offer to pay for groceries or meals out. If you’re staying with friends for a week, they probably don’t want to pay for all of the food you’re about to eat, no matter how generous they are. Pony up for your share of the bill. At the very least, help with the cooking and clean up.
- Clean up everywhere else, too. In college, hair in the communal showers and sinks totally grossed me out. Post-college, when I finally had my own space, I realized that I was in fact the dirty one, leaving hair in the sink. Check the bathroom for traces of yourself before exiting.
- Send a thank you note or gift package. At the very least, send a text to let your hostess know you’ve arrived home safely.
- Arrive with a Plan B. You may discover that you’re actually allergic to your friend’s cat. If for some reason it’s not working out, find another place to stay.
- Have a welcome basket. A few local treats, some water bottles and some brochures and maps of the area usually do the trick. Add some small toys or books for kids. Probably most importantly: add the wifi network name and password on a piece of paper for your guests. Better yet, put it somewhere obvious, like a photo frame on the nightstand.
- Put away stuff you really don’t want broken. My husband has ONE glass he likes to use. It’s the perfect size for him. He chastises me if I wash it too often (because then he can’t find it). I can’t find a duplicate anywhere. When people come over, I hide the glass, because inevitably, someone reaches for it. This applies to kid’s toys too. If your child has something special they aren’t keen on sharing, keep it in a closet while guests are visiting.
- If you’re reshuffling family members into different rooms to accommodate guests, then be sure to get what you need out of those rooms (like clothes and toys) before your guests arrive. At the very least, keep interruptions to a minimum. Your guests are probably more stressed than you are about staying somewhere other than their own home. Do your best to give them their privacy, even if they have to share a space with the stuffed animal cast of Sesame Street.
- Have a reading lamp. While lots of us may surf on our phones into the wee hours, some people still read actual books before bedtime. Leave a small bedside lamp, and a few extra books or magazines in the guest room, in case you’re hosting insomniacs.
- Provide clean sheets and extra towels. This should be a given, yet I’ve stayed in places where I KNOW those sheets weren’t washed. And while you may only need one towel per shower, your guests might like a few extra. Suck up the fact that you’ll be doing extra laundry, and at least have more towels on offer.
- Don’t expect your house to stay as clean as usual, and anticipate anything. Keep a toilet plunger and brush in the bathroom — nobody wants to ask their hostess for that stuff. (Guests, see the clean-up rule above.)
- Have a quiet corner of the house, or the guest room equipped with a comfy chair, snacks and water bottles for moms with babies. While I am all for public nursing, some moms and babies need a quiet place. As an introvert, I always appreciated the chance to escape a crowd in order to nurse the Peanut.
- Get the coffee pot ready in advance, (or fill up the tea kettle) and leave out some mugs, bread and the toaster. It’s always awkward when you’re awake before everyone else, but you can’t find the coffee beans.
- Find out if your guests are allergic to anything or have any special dietary needs. While the whole house doesn’t have to eat gluten free for Uncle Bob, I’m sure Bob would appreciate a few snacks he can actually eat.
- Prepare backup Plan B. If your guests end up being allergic to something in your house, be sure to have hotel recommendations or other places to stay at the ready.