Are you hosting any visitors in your own house or vacation home this summer? Or, are you on the opposite side of the equation, guest-ing at a cabin or cottage, or visiting family or friends in another part of the country or world?
Hotels and vacation rentals have their numerous benefits, but being hosted has its own charm and delights. Obviously, there is the financial equation, and perhaps a homestay is one of very limited options (there’s also camping, but, you know, it’s not always as inexpensive as it seems ;).
But, it’s also fun to visit late into the night when you’re a houseguest, and it is a different experience to get a glimpse of the regular rhythms of someone’s life.
This weekend, we were invited to stay with some friends at their family cabin. In this post-Emily Post world, what is an appropriate and polite way to respond as a houseguest? Gifts? Thank yous? Washing Dishes?
For an exhaustive list of how to be invited back for dinner, see Jenny Rosenstrach’s 41 (!) rules to be a good dinner guest. The best-in-class in my personal memory was a guest who said to me while eating my Thai curry,
“If I was alone tonight, and could be eating anything in the world right now, this is exactly what I would want to eat.”
Cue the beaming host. Who doesn’t want to invite that guy back?!
Now, many of the tips for being a good dinner guest do apply to a homestay, but a few hours and a meal is an entirely different beast than occupying a space in someone’s home.
The appropriateness of a response to hosts will depend largely on how many nights you are staying and how many people are coming (a single gal or a family of 5: very different!). Also, everybody is different and may have varying expectations of you as a a guest, so choose wisely what you’re getting into ;)
But, across the board, here are some practices that can’t do you wrong:
Leave it better than you found it.
This is a (usually unrealistic) goal, but really, truly, it is the gesture that counts most of all. Also, if you have small children: the expectations are low! If you can manage anything with small kids, your hosts will be impressed. [If they, too, have small people, then you’re all in the trenches; you should probably just incorporate a cleaning fee into your holiday budget ;) ]
If it is within your capacity of time and access to the washer, wash your sheets. If not, strip the sheets and pile them together at the end of the bed with any other used linens. Fold any remaining bedding and tidy the pillows left on the bed, so that the room feels simple and easy to finish up, rather than a chaotic to-do for your hosts.
Wipe down the bathroom and pick up any bits & pieces that are on the floor. If you’ve moved any furniture or items, move them back to where they belong. If there is a fridge, clear out what you have placed in it; no host wants to (later) find & deal with your expired yogurt.
Overall, just show that you realize it is your host who will be dealing with the results of your stay, not a servant or a clean-up fairy. The way you leave a space will say a lot about your gratitude.
Thanks, thanks, thanks.
I read a great tip that suggested saying thanks (at least) three times: when you arrive; on the threshold as you leave; and after you’ve left in a handwritten thank you note.
Thank you notes are underrated these days, but leave a lasting impact! I keep a pile of blank cards or thank you cards handy, but it really could be just a sheet of paper, hand-written. Mention a highlight of the visit or something you enjoyed (“coffee on the deck in the morning was my happy place!”), and your hosts will have the warm fuzzies, pleased to have helped you enjoy your holiday. You already have the address, so there’s really no excuse…
You could also leave behind a token of thanks to remember you by (and I don’t mean a pair of socks that you forgot about under the bed). Some ideas:
- If you’ve traveled from afar, pre-plan and bring along a token of your own home country, state, or town: maybe authentic food items (Vermont maple syrup), an art print, or something else that is unique to where you’ve come from.
- Or, pick up something touristy (but high quality & worth the money, obvs) or a local art piece where you are visiting. Often, we don’t indulge in items specific to our own homespace, but if you have a keen eye, it will communicate to them how much you enjoyed your visit.
- Bring something that isn’t location-specific, but specific to you personally. It’s easy for me, because everyone knows I run dignify, so I bring a piece of dignify along & leave them with a blanket or jug.
- Pay attention & fill a need. Maybe you’ve noticed that the coffee machine is on its last legs, or they’re always in want of a bottle opener (but can’t find it). Pick up a replacement to leave with them in thanks. Caution, though, that this is a fine line that you need to tread carefully, based on your hosts and how you communicate. Some people may receive it as offensive charity, so, of course, just suss out the situation. It must be a gift out of generosity; NOT, I bought you this new mattress because yours feels terrible.
- Give them what they want. Does your host love gourmet coffee? Eat pistachios by the bowlful? Love smoked salmon? I’m sure that there are also non-food examples… If you know that your host already loves it, then buy them some more. Can’t go wrong!
Treat your hosts, and treat them well.
Unless it has already been agreed upon, don’t come & go as if you’re staying in a hotel. Typically, hosts will (in the least) open up their schedule for the time you are staying, even if you haven’t made plans in advance. Be considerate and try to communicate as much as possible, as early as possible, what your expectations and wants are from your visit.
If you want to spend some time on your own, let them know! Set the time aside, and your host will undoubtedly be happy to know of a chunk of time that she can plan to run some errands or get a bit of work done.
Treating your hosts is another great way to enjoy your time together, to say thanks, and to leave a great impression. Depending on your budget and the reason for your stay, this could be as small as getting coffees in the morning all 'round, or as big as taking themke them out for dinner, or inviting them to join you to a local attraction, your treat.
Overall, of course, the "golden rule" is a great guide. Be thoughtful, be grateful, be kind. Pick up your garbage. Don't let your kids be too crazy. Send a thank you note. Do those, and you will be a great guest. Happy vacationing!
What About You?
Any great stories of excellent houseguests or times that you have utterly failed at this? Share your experiences in the comments below!