Thursday Thankfulness, traveling edition

Thank you for all of your wonderful support this week! It means more than I can say. ❤

Before I take off for a third day of “nourishing my soul,” as I call it, here’s a quick thankfulness list.

I’m thankful for:

  • Sunny (if hot) weather, clear skies, and no-rain forecasts through tomorrow
  • An evening of making blueberry waffles and chatting for hours after dinner
  • Wandering into a historic church just in time to participate in its weekly service (unique and touching)
  • I haven’t gotten lost (yet)!
  • Being able to take this trip 🙂
  • A phone able to take photos (since my camera died the second I left home)
  • Good company
  • Good wine
  • Good chocolate
  • Free wi-fi!
  • Being able to turn off wi-fi and explore the world around me
  • A plethora of things to do, places to see, people to meet, and experiences to have

And of course,

  • The many touching messages from everyone this week. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Won’t you please join me? I’d love to hear your thankfulness items today. 🙂

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

Be sure to visit Celeste’s Writing Prompt Wednesday to find a teaser of Kat and Natalie, book three!

 

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.

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.