At various times throughout our lives we find ourselves staying in other people’s homes. Perhaps we’re couch surfing at a buddy’s condo while we look for a job or visiting a favorite aunt over spring break. We might even be staying with married children who have families of their own.
Whatever the location or the situation, engaging in certain behaviors makes us easy-to-be-around guests and ensures that our hosts will look forward to our visiting again and again:
Never arrive empty-handed
A small gift expresses immediate gratitude and defines your role as a guest. Decide what is appropriate for the household: a bouquet of flowers, a bottle of wine, small toys for young children, a plate of freshly baked cookies. Your gifts needn’t be elaborate or costly. Still, your behavior speaks volumes about your character and sets the stage for a delightful stay.
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Maintain a small footprint
Be sensitive to the fact that you are entering someone else’s space. Avoid spreading your trappings throughout the room or apartment. Put items away when you finish using them. Keep the bathroom free from clutter. Even when hosts encourage you to make yourself at home, it’s wise to maintain that home in a tidy manner.
Never make more noise than your hosts. Don’t play loud music on your computer. Don’t take showers when everyone is sleeping. Avoid slamming doors. Don’t make frequent calls on your cell phone where others can hear you. You are sharing air space as well as floor space so it’s imperative to keep a low profile.
Fit in with your hosts
Adhere to the “When in Rome” principle. Eat what and when your hosts eat. Join in their activities. Follow all of their implicit household rules. Pretend that you’re a chameleon and blend in as best you can.
Be pleasant to every member of the household
Your personal goal may be to see your sister or hug that new little grandbaby. But the success of your visit depends on the happiness of everyone living in the home. Develop a workable relationship with all spouses, kids, roommates, and significant others. If only one of those parties is unhappy about your presence, your future access will be curtailed. Go shopping with your son’s girlfriend. Read bedtime stories to your daughter’s step-children. Take a walk with your mother and her neighbors. Ask your brother-in-law to show you his wine cellar. Your efforts will pay big dividends toward your relationship with the one you’d like most to see.
Offer to help
You may be on vacation. But everyone else in the household is working overtime because you are there. Look for chances to be of service:
Walk the dog. Clean up the breakfast dishes. Cook dinner. Change the oil in your father-in-law’s car. Bend over backwards to be useful so that your hosts don’t feel burdened.
Pull your own financial weight
Having extra bodies in the house means added expense for your hosts. Share that load by taking everyone out to dinner or buying the weekend’s groceries on a trip to the market.
If your bank account won’t permit such generosity, pay for what you can, then compensate by being extra helpful.
Clean up after yourself
Don’t be a slob. And don’t expect others to be your servant. Put your clothes where they belong. Return food to the refrigerator. Do your own laundry. Hang up your wet towels. When it’s time to leave, wipe down the countertops in the bathroom and toss dirty bed sheets and towels in the hamper.
Leave pets at home
You may be inseparable from your beloved pet. But your host may have other ideas. Don’t even ask if your animal is welcome. That puts all parties on the spot. Unless you hear the explicit words, “Please bring Muffin. She’s part of the family,” leave furred or feathered buddies behind.
Say thank you often. Compliment your hosts on their food, accommodations or generosity. Let it be known that you’re enjoying your stay. Sincere and abundant gratitude is much appreciated by everyone involved.
Keep negative opinions to yourself
Don’t like something you see? Zip your lips. No one wants to hear your comments on their child rearing, relationship, home decor, lifestyle or friends — especially when you’re staying for free. Be nothing but gracious and courteous during the visit. Think and say what you want when you get home.
Don’t overstay your welcome
It’s wonderful to have company. But it’s equally wonderful when they go home.
Consider three days as a maximum length for a visit, longer only if you’re away much of the time and you’re a particularly sensitive guest. It’s always best to leave folks wishing you could stay longer than having them counting the minutes until you’re gone.