According to USTravel.org., residents of the United States logged 1.6 billion personal trips in 2012. When I travel, my preference is to always stay in a hotel. I suppose that comes from my father. He would make up wild excuses to avoid staying with relatives whenever we visited members of our family. The times he was coerced (mainly by my mother, I think) to stay with one of our relatives, he always had an uncomfortable look on his face until we escaped and made our way back home.
While I'll often go to great lengths not to stay at anyone's house, strangely enough I like having house guests. (Note to my friends outside Utah: ski season is coming, so book early at Casa Maile.) Although I don't often stay with family or friends, I have developed a list of tips for being a good house guest. To this list, I've added things that others have done while staying with me as well as a few suggestions I've received from friends.
Offer to help. Everyone understands the extra work that comes with having house guests. First, there's the cleaning. Then there's cooking. Personally I don't cook, but I'll often try to appear as if I have that skill when I have house guests. The alternative is to haul them out every night, so I find it a bit nicer (and less expensive) to eat at home, at least a few times, while they're staying with me. I love it when they offer to pitch in and perhaps even whip me up a homemade meal.
When in Utah. This relates to being respectful of a host's schedule, way of life, and preferences. My life is extremely hectic and while I love having guests, I expect them to able to entertain themselves. I'm happy to provide a list of the many wonderful local activities our town has to offer and I'll even go to a few of the places I might not have been to for a while, but a great guest understands that their hosts might not want do all the tourist things that makes our state great. In addition, going off on your own gives your host some space and a bit of breathing room.
Take "no" as a real answer. One of my pet peeves is when someone offers to help and I decline, but they go ahead and help anyway. One thing I learned from a good friend is that it's much more important to enjoy your company than to jump up and do the dishes. If my guest says "Let me do the dishes" and I say "Let's let them sit for a little bit so we can chat", but they get up and start doing the dishes anyway, I feel like they're not listening or understanding how I like to entertain in my home. Am I wrong? Perhaps. But, I've found that if your hosts say that they like to do the dishes themselves, it's more polite to honor that request than to argue with them just so you can feel like you're being a good guest.
Offer to chip in. Or at least set an understanding up front about expectations. This is most applicable to longer stays and increased bills, such as food--and dare I say, even utilities. If you're staying for a week that's one thing, but a longer stay can place a financial burden on your host. Make sure you both set expectations on the length of the stay and talk about how you can help offset the additional expenses created by your visit.
Tidy up. My favorite guests of all time did the following before they left: they stripped the beds, piled the used towels in the middle of the bathroom floor, took out the trash, cleaned off the counter, and put the guest room back in better shape than it was in when they arrived. Did it still need to be cleaned? Sure, I vacuumed and dusted after they left, but basically that was all that I had to do. A variation of this would be to ask the host what he or she would like you to do with the soiled linens. But, I have to admit that I love it when I come home to a guest room with no leftover chaos.
Leave a note and a gift, or replenish. The same guests who tidied up after themselves also left me a wonderful note (my favorite gift). This should be self-explanatory, but I'm amazed at how many times people don't think ahead about the moment when they'll leave. On a trip several years ago to New York, my girlfriend Holly and I basically started scheming about our "host gift" the moment we landed. We listened carefully to the conversations we had with our hosts to see if they said anything like, "Gee, I really wish I had this or that." Then, we felt a certain amount of pride when we felt we'd nailed it, showing our appreciation for putting a roof over our head in a very expensive city. As a host, I'm much more interested in a thoughtful thank-you note than a gift, but I'm also a fan of leaving a token of my appreciation. Another approach is to replenish something you used--like coffee, shampoo (get a luxurious replacement), wine, or food. Last winter, one couple left me the sweetest note, a bottle of wine, and locally-sourced coffee.
Hopefully, some of these tips will come in handy if you decide to stay with friends or family. If you follow even just a few of them, you're sure to get invited back for your next trip!
Maile Keone is an entrepreneur, writer, and traveler. She currently works in the vacation rental industry helping people stay in cool places.