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How to Be a Good House Guest: 7 Do's and Don'ts When Staying With Family and Friends

Updated on May 31, 2017
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Nancy loves to look at ways we can improve our relationships, get healthier, and communicate more effectively.

Seven Do's and Don't for House Guests

Benjamin Franklin once quipped, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Having lived in Napa, California (known for its world-class wineries) and Bend, Oregon (known for its epic skiing at Mount Bachelor), I've hosted my share of visitors and appreciate Mr. Franklin's point of view. However, in my opinion, a guest's stay is not made tolerable or intolerable by its duration but rather by the degree of self-sufficiency and courtesy shown by the guest. I've had friends and family who could literally stay a month without getting on my nerves and I've had those who've driven me nuts within hours of their arrival. That's why I've created a list of 7 Do's and Don'ts for house guests to guarantee you'll always be greeted with open arms.

When Staying With Friends, Don't Expect Them to Take You Everywhere. Be Self-Sufficient.

I loved having visitors when we lived in Napa. Because I had two little boys, I needed guests who were self-sufficient.
I loved having visitors when we lived in Napa. Because I had two little boys, I needed guests who were self-sufficient. | Source

1. Don't Expect Your Host to Become Your Full-Time Tour Guide

My biggest peeve is guests who expect me to drop everything and become their full-time tour guide. This is when self-sufficiency and courtesy come into play. Before you visit, research the destination and formulate a plan -- what you want to see and where you want to go. When you arrive in town, stop at the Visitor's Center to ask questions, pick up maps and brochures, and get the lay of the land.

Don't rely on your host as your only source of information. When we lived in Napa, I had two preschoolers (one with autism) and definitely didn't frequent wineries and fine-dining establishments. However, when I'd tell guests I didn't have knowledge of those places, they'd act surprised and disappointed. Now living in Bend, known for its award-winning beer, many guests want to visit breweries such as 10 Barrel and Deschutes. However, I'm not a beer drinker and of no help in that arena. Put in the time and effort in advance to get the most from your stay and take that burden from your host.

2. Don't Expect Your Host to Become Your Chauffeur

If you're without a car or reluctant to drive in unfamiliar surroundings, figure out how you'll get from place to place. But don't expect your host to become a chauffeur (I'm comfortable loaning my car but not everyone feels the same). While you have your heart set on seeing Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco -- a popular tourist attraction -- I've been there too many times to count and would rather pass.

Remember to study up before-hand to familiarize yourself with the surroundings. I've had visitors who thought San Francisco was just a short drive from Napa and got shocked to discover the two cities are actually over an hour apart – longer when traffic is bad (and in the Bay Area, traffic is always bad)! Appreciate that driving from place to place in a large metropolitan area is stressful and take that into account. Public transportation works best and expect to do lots of walking!

Learn About the Area's Public Transportation!

Check out public transportation. BART is a convenient way to travel the Bay Area. Don't expect your host to drive you.
Check out public transportation. BART is a convenient way to travel the Bay Area. Don't expect your host to drive you. | Source

3. Do Make Positive Comments About Your Destination

We've all had experiences of visiting a place -- thinking it will be a certain way and feeling disappointed when it's not. However, when staying with your host, try to keep upbeat about your adventures and not overwhelm her with complaints. While living in Napa, I had many visitors from Iowa and South Dakota who groused about too much traffic, too many people, snotty wineries, and high-priced restaurants. Out of respect for your host and her hometown, curb your grumblings and focus on the positive.

4. Do Get Out and Explore

There's nothing worse for a host than visitors who don't take the initiative to get out and explore. Sticking around the house with your host puts an awful burden on her when she still needs to get things done such as cleaning, making beds, and preparing meals. On top of that, she may have her regular day-to-day obligations of a job and child-rearing.

Once I had a guest who insisted I take her to Dean and DeLuca, the upscale grocery in St. Helena. While she leisurely strolled each aisle to gape at the specialty foods, I was trapped with a baby and a two-year-old in an environment that was anything but kid-friendly. Don't make your host chose between you and her responsibilities to her kids.

My favorite part of being a host is when my guests arrive back at my place -- exhausted but exhilarated after a long day of fun and adventures. As we eat dinner together, I get tremendous pleasure hearing about the places they went and the things they saw. It's a special treat if they've brought back something to share at the meal: a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread, or some fancy chocolates for dessert. That kind of thoughtfulness makes a huge impact.

If you're an older guest with physical limitations and can't do much exploring, come prepared with activities to keep you busy during the day: knitting, reading, taking photos, walking around the neighborhood, doing crossword or jigsaw puzzles. Offer to make a meal or bake some cookies. Don't just plop yourself in front of the TV or expect your host to keep you company all day. Help out in any way you can but don't get in the way of the tasks she needs to accomplish. If she has young children, offer to do something with them such as playing a board game, tossing a ball outside, or taking them to the park. Once I had an older relative watch reruns of real-life crime shows all day long while my two little kids were in the same room -- not cool!

Napa Valley Is a Wonderful Playground for Adults, Not Kids

Wineries in Napa Valley are fancy and not kid-friendly. Don't expect your host to take you wine-tasting if she has children. Do it on your own.
Wineries in Napa Valley are fancy and not kid-friendly. Don't expect your host to take you wine-tasting if she has children. Do it on your own. | Source

5. Don't Expect Your Host to Babysit or Pet Sit

When I was 9 months pregnant and had a toddler, my husband's friend, his wife, and their little girl visited us in Napa. We had never met before, but that didn't stop them from leaving their child with me all day long while they took off wine tasting. They didn't return until late in the evening and, needless to say, my feelings toward them had turned resentful. Dumping their kid on me during the first day of their visit set a bad tone that was difficult to overcome.

Never expect your host to watch your children or pets. If you bring children and pets, it's your responsibility to include them in your adventures and take care of their needs. Remember to research the destination before-hand to understand its culture. Napa Valley is an adult playground with magnificent wineries, fine dining restaurants, art galleries, and boutique shopping. It's not kid or dog friendly. Bend, however, is an outdoor recreation mecca that embraces both children and dogs with hiking trails, river adventures, parks, community pools, festivals, and family-friendly dining.

Research the Area: Bend, Oregon Is Kid-Friendly and Dog-Friendly!

The culture in Bend, Oregon is kid and pet friendly with many outdoor recreational activities.
The culture in Bend, Oregon is kid and pet friendly with many outdoor recreational activities. | Source

6. Do Mimic the Habits of Your Host

When you're staying at someone's house, study how they live and mimic their habits. For example, if their television is mostly off, don't turn it on and watch for hours on end. I've quite purposefully placed a TV in our guest room so visitors can watch there. Yet, some guests still sit in our family room and watch until late into the night.

Unless your host is a real extrovert, it's best to retire early so she has some quiet time to herself. Eight 'o clock is a reasonable hour for guest and host to part company and have some private time. In addition to a television, I stock my guest room with books and magazines so guests have reading material to enjoy.

Napa Valley Is for Foodies!

Napa Valley is known for its world-class restaurants. French Laundry in Yountville is one of the best.
Napa Valley is known for its world-class restaurants. French Laundry in Yountville is one of the best. | Source

7. Do Show Your Appreciation

Whether people love entertaining house guests or simply tolerate it, hosting takes a lot of time and effort. Guests who acknowledge that fact will score major points and get invited back. Those who don't realize the work involved usually fall into one of two categories: 1. Those who are young and inexperienced and have never hosted house guest themselves or 2. Clods who have never even considered the work that goes into hosting. Fortunately, most people are appreciative so here are some thoughtful ways to say thanks:

  • Arrive with a gift – a bouquet of flowers, a bottle of wine, a houseplant. This sets a positive tone for the visit.

  • Make a meal for your host – a Sunday brunch, a picnic basket to take on an excursion, a special dinner.

  • Take your hosts out for dinner or give them a gift certificate they can use later.

  • Present a thank you note and gift when you leave.

  • Send a unique gift from your home town. I once hosted a couple from Cincinnati. A week after they left, I received some scrumptious pints of ice cream from a famous ice cream maker in Cincinnati. It was a nice touch and much appreciated.

Ideas for Gifts to Thank Your Host

Final Thoughts

So when visiting, remember these 7 do's and don't for house guests so you'll always be greeted with open arms. Do your research. Make plans. Show self-sufficiency and courtesy. This way you'll make a positive impression and get invited back for another stay.

Hilarious Tales About the House Guest from Hell

This thoroughly entertaining book is choke-full of stories about the “guest from hell.” If you live in a destination spot like I did (Napa Valley), you get your share of guests and some are truly obnoxious: the person who overstays her welcome, the friend who smokes in the house (not just cigarettes), and the mooch who eats you out of house and home. You'll laugh out loud in recognition and vow to write a list of house rules before your next visitor arrives.

When you're a house guest, do you prefer your host to go on excursions with you or stay home?

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