Yesterday, we had a terrific discussion about the good and bad about hosting houseguests. Turnabout is fair play, and today we’ll talk about the ways houseguests can make life easier for hosts…and get asked for a return visit! Just as our parents told us that playing nicely and sharing toys would result in more playdates, the mark of a successful visit is to be asked back.
How do you do that? Never fear; Ana is here!
Let your host know if you have special needs. Some people are afraid of mentioning allergies or religious/medical conditions because they don’t want to make more work for their host. As someone who loves to host guests, please believe me when I say: My goal as a host is to feed you, entertain you, and make sure you have a wonderful time. If I spent six hours preparing a welcome meal for you, I will be upset and frustrated to find you can’t eat anything because I sautéed the vegetables in a non-stick skillet that contains gluten residue that will set off your celiac disease. If you are diabetic and need a dedicated trash can for your disposed needles, ask. If you are a recovering alcoholic and feel uncertain about dinner parties where drinks are served, let your host know ahead of time.
Differentiate between “want” and “need” when making requests of your host, and accept “no” as an answer. What I find most frustrating, as a host, is when guests provide me with impossible requests that aren’t necessary. If someone visits me while I am living abroad and I say that the local stores don’t sell curling irons, the stores don’t sell curling irons. Dragging me to fifteen stores in ten hours won’t change that fact. Save that kind of request for something critical, such as medication or help replacing a stolen passport.
Respect your host’s schedule. Because I live in an area with heavy rush hour traffic (who doesn’t?), I appreciate when guests give me options for flight times. If the only flight time available will mean traveling during rush hour and public transportation is not an option, I always ask my hosts to drop me off early enough so they can return before rush hour. I double-check my arrival and departure times with my host, and I send a copy of my itinerary so she will have the flight number, airline, and other information to check the flight status.
Respect your host’s belongings. Most hosts put out the best bedding, linen, and dishes for their guests. My favorite bedspread is only used for guests. Imagine my surprise when a guest spread her suitcase on top of it and carried it around my home as a shawl, allowing the ends to drag on the floor! I cringed, but I didn’t say anything.
Ask before you use. My dearly beloved mother took it upon herself to use my computer during a visit…and broke it. Irreparably. Even if she had managed to not break my computer, she truly would not have wanted to find my secret naughty identity. Another time, I was horrified to hear that a guest helped herself to my rice cooker. I didn’t think to tell her not to use it because, as a guest, I would never think to use a host’s possession without asking permission. I bought that rice cooker with the paycheck from my first full-time job, and it’s traveled with me to countless new homes. Not only would it cost a great deal to replace, but it also has enormous sentimental value.
Help out—without being asked. Unless your host tells you that the kitchen is off-limits (and not a polite, “Oh, don’t worry”), pitch in with everyday chores. Wash your dishes or put them in the dishwasher. Wipe off the table and counters. Change the empty roll of toilet paper, if a new roll is easy to find. If you track dirt into the living room, ask for the vacuum and clean up the mess. Wipe your hair out of the shower drain, and don’t smudge towels and washcloths with your cosmetics. If you want someone to pick up your wet towels and clean up after you, pay for a hotel.
Be aware of all the things your host does for you but doesn’t mention. If your host lives in a tourist area and has frequent guests, she may have already seen the sights multiple times. Pay for her ticket as a thank you for her company. If she drives you around in her car, it takes expensive gas to do so.
Cook for your hosts or take them out to eat. In many cultures, sharing a meal establishes an inviolable bond. If you like to cook and your host is willing to let you use her kitchen, offer to cook. If your attempts at cooking would violate fire codes, take your host out for a meal.
The Six Bests of Being a Guest, According to Ana:
#6 Leave clean (or at least neat) linens. If my host has allowed me to use the laundry machines, I always wash and dry bedding and towels and make the bed before I leave. If not, I strip the bedding and leave it in a neat pile at the foot of the bed. Your host has likely spent time cleaning and preparing for your arrival, and you will save her work after your departure.
#5 Leave a thank you note and/or gift for departure. Most people know to bring a host gift when arriving, but an outstanding guest will leave a small gift and/or note when leaving. I like to leave a note on the nightstand or bed so my host will discover it after she returns home. Even a small “Thank you for everything” note with a Hershey’s kiss can make a big difference.
#4 Pay for airport parking. Arriving at an airport to be greeted by your host is a special treat. Few things are sweeter than the sight of an excited, waving friend as you enter the baggage claim area (or exit customs inspection). Airport parking may cost as little as a few dollars, but your host has donated time and gas to pick you up. Unless your host insists, pay for the parking. It’s a tiny gesture that demonstrates a great deal of consideration. If you can afford it, pay for gas when your host stops at the gas station, too.
#3 Be neat and prompt. One guest told me she wanted to visit a local amusement park, so we arranged to leave the next morning. Instead, she slept until nearly 1 PM. By the time we arrived at the park, the crowds were intense and parking scarce. When I am a guest, I always get myself ready for outings so no one has to wait for me. I leave the guest area or bedroom tidy (okay, perhaps I might shove some clutter out of sight!), especially if I am visiting for more than a few days.
#2 Provide for your own special needs. If you have food or other allergies or are on a restricted diet, pack what you need or ask in advance for a trip to the store where you can buy what you need. If you want sugar-free yogurt or organic dried cranberries, or your children will only eat name-brand sugar cereal, take that responsibility for yourself.
And the #1 best characteristic for being a guest:
Appreciate your host. Even if things don’t go according to plan, and even if you swear never to return, thank your host for having you.