How to be a great host in 8 easy steps (plus a bonus list of top 6 characteristics)

Have you ever visited or hosted good friends, only to realize that some friendships are better off with distance? There is truth to the adage that fish and guests stink after three days. As someone who enjoys traveling and has many international friends, house visits and homestays have become part of my life. I’ve experienced fantastic visits, horrendous ones, and everything in between. Today, I’d like to share some insights on what guests appreciate.

A few days ago, I returned from a visit that was not without complications. Some unexpected assumptions from my hosts took me (and my budget) by surprise, and I questioned whether the standards for hosting houseguests have changed. I have many years of experience both hosting and visiting, but I scoured the internet for advice on hosting etiquette. I found extravagant advice (buy your guest her very own fluffy robe and slippers!), over-the-top advice (download this packet to fill out a comprehensive file on your home, neighborhood, local tourist information, emergency numbers, and insurance information), and painfully obvious advice (spend time with your guest). Clearly, there is a need for this kind of information.

Due to geographic distance, special events, and the desire to spend time with loved ones, we will all have to be a guest at some time or another. (Unless you are wealthy enough to afford hotel stays wherever you go, which I am not.) I think most people want to be a good host, but they may not realize what can make a guest uncomfortable.

Of course, guests can make a host uncomfortable, too…but that’s for tomorrow. 🙂

Be realistic. As a host, you might want to cram every possible attraction into the visit, but crowded itineraries can leave both you and your guest tired and cranky. Do you spend more than you can afford, take time off work when you have an impending deadline, or try to ignore a knee injury that causes you pain? It may sound noble, but by overextending yourself you will unconsciously place more pressure on your guest to have a good enough time to justify your sacrifices.

Be clear about house rules and boundaries. Do you have a toddler or a pet? Guests who do not have children or pets of their own may not know to lock the safety gate, keep doors closed, or refrain from feeding inappropriate snacks. Do you expect guests to use self-service for meals and cleanup, or is your kitchen off-limits? Do you remove shoes, or are you nauseated by the odor of bare/sock/stocking feet? Some hosts view their kitchen as sacred space and are offended if a guest tries to help. Everyone has different house rules (and you may not be aware of them until they are violated), but take the time to give your guests a heads-up about expectations.

Explain the idiosyncracies of your home. My bathroom has a faulty fan and a pathological ability to grow mold. In other words, taking a shower or bath means wiping the walls with a squeegee, leaving the fan on for half an hour or so afterward, and keeping the door open. Your home may have a toilet lever that needs to be held down to flush properly, a sticky door lock that needs extra coaxing, or nearby construction workers who start jackhammering at 7 AM. Let your guests know so they aren’t surprised.

Don’t expect guests to adore your small children. Many people, including me, love children. However, even the most diehard child lover may not necessarily want to be woken at 5 AM by your six-year-old banging the door open with requests to play. Because of my health issues, I cannot come in contact with diaper wipes or most soaps and personal products. That means, much as I might wish to, I can’t give your child a bath or change her diaper. I once took an eight-hour car trip with a friend who seated me in the back, next to her three-year-old son, and proceeded to talk with her husband in the front seat for all eight hours. That was a long trip, and I’m a confessed baby addict. As a guest, I appreciate when hosts allow me playtime with their children but don’t use me as a free nanny.

Don’t expect guests to adore your pets. This concept is shocking to many, but not all people love pets. Some are actually terrified of pets, especially dogs. When I visit one friend, her large Labrador dog steps on my feet, licks me in unmentionable places, barks, noses through my bag, and hovers one pace behind me. Another friend was offended when her three tiny dogs barked at me and I didn’t pick them up. If someone doesn’t dote on your pets (as long as it is not rudeness or insults), let it go.

Provide meal options. One family I visited didn’t eat meals together but instead ate snacks whenever they felt like it, individually. While they invited me to eat anything I wanted, I felt uncomfortable rummaging through their fridge and cupboards. On a recent visit, my hosts took me to restaurants (of their choice) for all but two meals of my visit…and I was expected to pay my share. I was caught off-guard, especially because the restaurants were out of my price range. Not everyone has unlimited budgets, and if you don’t feel like cooking you can always offer to take your guest to the local grocery store so they can buy food. Making a grocery store trip is a good idea regardless, since your guests may have special dietary needs.

Don’t involve your guest in conflict. One of my most uncomfortable visits was when a friend and her husband put me in the middle of their fights. I like my friend and her husband equally, and it was incredibly painful to hear them yell at each other. As a guest, few things are worse than planning for a vacation and ending up on Geraldo. Of course, sometimes conflicts happen and you can’t help it. Maybe a heart-to-heart with your guest, if you are good enough friends, will give you some perspective. But if you only want to vent, consider how awkward your friend will feel when she is staying in the same house as the partner you just put down.

Be honest, but be compassionate. Even the nicest guest will get on your nerves at some point. My personal pet peeve is guests who don’t help out with meal preparation and cleanup (but more on that tomorrow). Is it something that you can’t tolerate, or can you let it go? If it will bother you enough that you need to say something, say it early rather than in the heat of anger. Remember that your guest is not on her home turf, may be feeling uncomfortable, and likely does not know what you expect.


The Six Bests of Being a Host, According to Ana:

#6 Internet access and charging ports.

These days, this is nearly a basic need. I greatly appreciate when hosts ask me about internet setup. That way, I don’t have to feel awkward asking them for a wi-fi password. If for some reason they don’t or can’t allow me to use internet, I appreciate knowing ahead of time so I can take care of things in advance.

#5 Target/Wal-Mart/grocery store runs.

Whenever I pick up a guest at the airport, we stop by Target/Wal-Mart and/or the grocery store on the way home. That way, my guest can pick up any essentials she forgot to pack and any food or snacks she prefers. This is especially helpful for guests with allergies or strong dietary preferences.

#4 Respect for your guest’s boundaries.

You may adore your small children and pets, but not everyone does. One thoughtful host, seeing I was overwhelmed by her three dogs running all over me, asked her husband to bring them to a different room. Another host warned me that his live-in elderly aunt had dementia and might ask me offensive questions, and he gave me advice how to handle it. Yet another host, when I asked if something were wrong, said that her husband was having a hard time and needed some space. I appreciated this kind of information and understanding from all of my hosts, and it made the trip much smoother.

#3 Anticipation of your guest’s needs.

It’s a small thing, but I love when hosts give me enough washcloths for the days I will stay. Almost all the time, they give me one set of towel and washcloth. Then I feel awkward asking for more, unless they’ve shown me where to get them. I don’t own a coffee maker, so I let people know they can walk next door to buy some or pick up instant coffee at the store (another reason store runs are a good idea).

Put a plunger in your bathroom (or the guest’s bathroom, if you have a separate one), and perhaps a few…ahem…personal supplies. It is a truly terrible experience to flush the toilet in a host’s bathroom and watch the water continue to rise. 😉

#2 Honesty about limitations.

A friend once informed me she would visit at my busiest time, and she wanted us to drive two hours to do an expensive activity that didn’t interest me. I politely told her that she was welcome to visit, but I would be at work all day and she would need to arrange for her own transportation. Another friend of mine likes guests but hates playing tour guide, so she gives her guests a house key, city and public transportation map, and a suggestion that they meet up for dinner.

And the #1 best characteristic of a good host…


Enjoy time with your guest. If you are having a good time, so will she.

30 thoughts on “How to be a great host in 8 easy steps (plus a bonus list of top 6 characteristics)

  1. Sue Lyndon says:

    A good, well thought out post, Ana. I have been in some of these situations myself before. My worst experience as a guest happened about 14 years ago and it still haunts me. It was like Geraldo with no towels LOL, and the people I was staying with lived an hour from town so I couldn’t make any supply runs without asking one of them to drive me. I try very hard to be a good hostess now. One of the things I have recently started doing is making a “guest basket” to put on the guest bed that contains some goodies to help them get through the visit, like homemade cookies, bottled water, pens, a notebook, etc, and sometimes a new book (no not one of my books!).


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Oh, yes! One friend set out a similar basket filled with snacks, bottled water, disposable razor, etc. It was wonderful.

      Geraldo with no towels? LOL! I’d love to hear about it. Yes, staying in an area that’s not close to public transportation can be awkward.

      I really think you should offer a Sue book in your guest basket. 😀


  2. Celeste Jones says:

    Great post, Ana. I have a friend visiting in a couple weeks so I’ll try to keep these things in mind. Maybe I’m just pretty bold or intrusive or maybe I just hang out with pretty laid back people because I don’t generally have these problems. I also don’t do a huge amount of stays with friends or family that are more than a day or two. I think it’s really awful that your friends took you to pricey restaurants and then expected you to pay. That’s poor form all around.


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Sounds fun about your friend visiting…hope it goes well! My friends are literally scattered across the continents, so I do a lot of visits that can be as long as two weeks (a rarity for that long, though). It’s great that you’ve had such good experiences. It probably helps to keep your visits short. 🙂 My problem is always juggling the cost of the airplane ticket vs. the brevity of the stay. I always think, “If it cost X dollars to buy the ticket, and I divide that by the number of days I stay…”


  3. Maren Smith says:

    This is such important and yet overlooked information. Thank you for posting it! Any time I can afford it when I go traveling, I stay at a hotel specifically because, as much as I love my family and friends, I need my downtime. I am a grumpy, grouchy, cantankerous old woman who doesn’t want to put up with them any more than they want to put up with me. 🙂 It also cuts down on a lot of the problems guests and hosts encounter when they stay together.


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      I’m snickering, Maren, because I’m picturing you getting a hotel so you and your husband can…ahem…take care of other business in the privacy of a hotel room. 🙂

      I think a hotel is a great option for people who can afford it. There was only one time when it became a problem, but that’s because my friends stayed in a hotel that was really far away from me.

      I’m also highly suspicious that you are not grumpy, grouchy, or cantankerous…I bet you are sweet as pie to everyone except for the wielder of your paddle. 🙂


  4. sassy says:

    I loved this post. Perhaps it’s because I just came home after two weeks staying with two different friends. And each home was wonderful to catch up and see friends. But had some of the pitfalls you mentioned. But I am able to relate to everything you wrote. Loved your advice about pets & kids.


      • sassy says:

        I’m enjoy catching up on your blog (the befits of being sick in bed) because god love them but kids are germ monsters. I brought there kudius home with me. On a side note another good tidbit of advice warn guests if you set an alarm at night. I was dying for freash air and set the alarm off in the middle of the night walking the entire house. Ekk people can me major grumps when startled awake in the middle of the night.


        • Anastasia Vitsky says:

          Oh gosh, yes.

          In addition to security alarms, there are also regular clock alarms. I house-sat for friends who left not one but two alarms set for 5 AM. I couldn’t figure out how to turn them off and finally had to unplug them.

          Hope you are feeling better soon!


  5. Holla Dean says:

    This is a great post, Ana! I love your tips. My daughter and her friends (8 to 12 of them!) come every summer for a girl’s only pool party. They pretty much take over the house and I’m okay with that. I have my office (which is off limits to guests) to hide in when I need alone time. I simply show them where everything is, tell them they’re welcome to eat or use anything, give them the skinny on the oddball things about my house, and leave them be. They cook, clean up after themselves, and have a great time for four days and are no problem to have here. But four days is long enough – it’s that fish thing you mentioned.


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Hi, Holla! Great to see you here. Wow, 8-12 friends? That’s a lot. At least they take care of themselves and clean up afterward. Tomorrow I’m putting up a post about how to be a great guest…sounds like your daughter and her friends have it covered. 🙂


  6. abby says:

    As someone who lives away from family and friends, I say HOORAH….great advice. Also, your reference of after 3 days….was my dad’s favorite quote, when He was alive and would visit. Of course He changed his mind when i was doing the visiting. hugs abby


  7. pao says:

    Wow, this post is well thought out. I’m sorry that you had complications on your recent visit. I thought the meal options and respecting guest boundaries were really good points. Especially the meal options… even on a normal outing with friends it becomes an issue. I usually discuss meals with my host beforehand, other times, I stay in a youth hostel 😀


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Youth hostels are fantastic! They are such a great way to meet people and get resources for enjoying a new country. I do think guests need to respect host boundaries, too, but that’s for tomorrow. 🙂


  8. catrouble says:

    Hey Ana…Wonderful post with lots of great advice. When I travel for work, I usually bring the extra shampoos, conditioners, soaps, shower gels, etc home from the hotels where I stay. I then put those along with other extras (toothbrushes, razors, personal care, etc) in the bottom drawer of my guest bath. So when someone comes to stay, and I show them around, I point out the drawer and tell them to help themselves. Of course, I don’t have an extra bed for visitors so their choices are the couch or the floor. 😉 LOL

    Hugs and Blessings…


  9. terpsichore says:

    Very nice advice…I will keep as a reference…I would like to think I am a sensitive hostess…that being said I have only hosted twice…unless people are happy to camp in our living room, we do not have any private guest rooms or extra bathrooms to offer…but we make up for it in other ways… 🙂


  10. Roz says:

    Hi Ana, such great, and often overlooked points. Thanks for sharing. I don’t host that often but like to think I’m a considerate host when I do and I have certainly had some uncomfortable visits!



  11. robskatie says:

    Hi Ana, 🙂

    This was a great post! Should be required reading in school! When you think about it, it’s all about good manners, thinking about someone else’s feelings, anticipating their needs and common sense. We are pretty relaxed around here and guests seem to like repeat visits, so I guess that’s a good sign! When are you coming? 🙂 Many hugs,

    ❤ Katie


  12. bellabryce says:

    Great post, Ana! I LOVE hosting but I am not perfect and I picked up a few good points from this post. I think to be a good host one needs to be a good house guest and vice versa. I always learn how to host better after I’ve been a guest, same applies for when I’ve hosted I know how I can be a better guest in someone else’s house. For me, I have to make sure anyone visiting feels like they’re on holiday – spotless room, everything they need, no helping and total relaxation. I never pressure my guests to do anything like sight seeing etc but would drive them anywhere they wanted to go. I also always make a menu before guests stay and then usually ring them a few days before they visit and let them know I’ve planned to cook and that’s when I ask if they also want to eat out for any of the meals. That’s a natural way to find out if they’re budgeting for it. If I’m staying with someone, I expect to buy one meal out for my hosts to say thank you and bring a small gift to leave on the bed and a card. When guests stay I usually leave a small gift and a card as well. But it takes practise and at 26 I only hope I can be a really good host in twenty years, hopefully by then I’ll have mastered it.


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Wow, Bella! I’m going to your house for a visit. You sound like you go all out for your guests. You even give a gift to your guests? That’s very sweet. I hope you get some rest in between guests since you do all that work. 🙂


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