How to be the Perfect Houseguest

by Brett on November 16, 2008 · 42 comments

in A Man's Life, On Etiquette, Relationships & Family

Image by George Marks

Next week is Thanksgiving and with it comes the arrival of the holiday season. Many of you will be traveling to see family and friends this time of year. Staying with loved ones can be a great time, and everyone loves free lodging. But you must always remember that hospitality is a gift, one that should be accepted graciously. Here’s how to show your gratitude and make your stay a welcome and pleasant one this holiday season, or any time of the year.

1. Send money for groceries. If your host will be paying for your food while you stay, send a check ahead of your visit to cover the cost of groceries and the other incidentals involved in entertaining and hosting you. If you wait to offer dough until you are there, your host will inevitably turn down the offer out of politeness. So just mail a check before your trip with a note about how excited you are to be coming. If your visit will be short, take your host out to dinner and pay for the meal instead.

2. Show up on time. If you tell your host that you’re going to come in on Wednesday morning, show up at that time. If you’re running late, make sure to call ahead and update your host on when you’ll be arriving.

3. Bring a gift. To show your appreciation for the free lodging, bring a gift. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive. Baked goods, flowers, bottles of wine, or unique gifts from your home state are always appreciated.

4. Keep your area neat. Before you leave each day, make sure to make the bed and straighten up your room. Put your dishes in the dishwasher after you use them.

5. Pitch in with the chores around the house. Always be willing to help around the house. Help prepare the meals, wash the dishes, and take out the trash. A gracious host will never directly ask you to help, so just get in there and start lending a hand.

6. Let your presence interfere as little as possible with your friend’s normal routine, household duties, and career. You friend may of course wish to take time out to hang with you, but you should never be the one to impose on their time. Do your best to conform your routine to the routine of the household, as to not get in the way or create an imposition.

7. Disclose your schedule. Let your host know your schedule every day and do all you can to stick to it. This will help your host plan when to serve meals and how late they need to stay up.

8. Do not ignore your friend altogether. If you friend lives in a “destination” city and the purpose of your trip is both to visit with your friend and to see the sights, you should not entirely eschew the former to pursue the latter. No one wants to feel like you are simply using them as a hostel. Do your sightseeing when your friend is at work, plan activities together for when they are not, and invite your host on your excursions.

9. Come with some ideas about what you want to do and see. While your friend will surely have many things they wish to do with you, they should not be expected to entertain you all day long.

10. Even if you don’t find all the activities your host plans for you enjoyable, keep your disappointment to yourself. Part of visiting a friend is accompanying them on excursions that they enjoy. Your friend is working hard to entertain you, let them know you appreciate their efforts.

11. Don’t criticize your host’s hometown. If you are say, a proud New Yorker paying a visit to your country cousin in Omaha, do not go on and on in unfavorably comparing their city to the Big Apple. Most people are proud of their hometown; be generous in your compliments of it.

12. Always ask. Remember, you’re a guest. Even if someone tells you to make yourself at home, still ask before you start using things. It’s just polite.

13. Don’t overstay your visit. Try to keep your stay shorter than three days. Your host has things to do and they can’t put their life on hold forever.

14. Strip the bed before your leave. Your host will likely wash the bed linens after you leave. Help make their job easier by stripping your bed before you depart.

15. Write a thank you note. Showing true hospitality is one of the greatest kindnesses a friend can bestow. Be sure to express your gratitude to them be sending a note of thanks soon after your trip.

Have any more tips on being a good houseguest? Let us know in the comments.

Tomorrow: How to be the perfect host.

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

1 alfred November 16, 2008 at 10:25 pm

this will be helpful
i remember being a guest in several friends homes and not know what to do but sit and talk.
thanks

2 Tim November 16, 2008 at 11:48 pm

My best friend and his parents are kind enough to allow me to live, not just stay at their home over the summers. My parents moved away to the country and I like to visit friends when I’m on break from college (the country can be boring). At times I have cooked entire meals for them, helped with larger chores such as cutting down trees moving and assembling furniture and installing wood floors. They have said repeatedly that they would never dream of asking for rent, but it is nice to give back as much as I can.

3 Hiram November 17, 2008 at 12:35 am

When in Europe, skip rule #1. Nobody would understand if you’d send money, and many of us Europeans would feel insulted by the gesture, no matter how well meant.

4 Danny November 17, 2008 at 3:40 am

Agree with Hiram. If i was to stay at a Russian friends home and i sent him or her money that person would probably tell me not come anymore. It is an insult because you are basically telling the person that they cant afford you and that is why even in America I don’t think that sending money is a good idea.

5 Darren Alff - Bicycle Touring Pro November 17, 2008 at 4:30 am

This is very interesting and helpful. Especially tip number 1. I’ve stayed with a number of people on my travels and never thought of this. In many ways, I feel like sending money ahead is something my parents might do for me if I were a little kid, but as an adult I’d feel a bit funny about it. Do you think sending money ahead as an adult is appropriate? I usually just show up with a gift and then offer to pay for whatever expenses I may incur. I think the idea of sending money ahead is a good one, but how much do you send? – Especially if you are unsure what food might actually cost (in a foreign country for example).

6 Erik November 17, 2008 at 5:39 am

I would be very careful with #1. I would personally be offended if offered money and would not accept it. In person or via a check in the mail. On the flip side, if I invited myself to someone else’s house for a time then I would certainly want to find a way to discretely breach the subject that I intended to not be a freeloader.

7 Greg November 17, 2008 at 6:20 am

Originally Posted By HiramWhen in Europe, skip rule #1. Nobody would understand if you’d send money, and many of us Europeans would feel insulted by the gesture, no matter how well meant.

It’s true with my friends, too (I live in Oregon, USA). The check would be given back to me un-cashed when I got there and I would be told to never insult them like that again.

8 Jeff November 17, 2008 at 6:37 am

I wonder what the age of the naysayers about #1 are (not the Europeans). Sending a check ahead is something I always saw my parents do when we visited people and stayed with them. And I’ve done it now as well. My friends have never been insulted and have really appreciated the gesture.

9 Ron November 17, 2008 at 7:47 am

What I’ve done is go grocery shopping with my hosts and pay for a cartful of groceries. I’ve also made sure I filled up the tank of any vehicle I’ve borrowed, no matter how much fuel I used.

10 Ron November 17, 2008 at 7:49 am

I’ll go shopping with my hosts and pay for a cart full of groceries. That way I can also pick out a dessert they may like and treat them. I also ensure that I’ve filled up the tanks on any vehicle I borrowed, no matter how much fuel I used.

11 Santa November 17, 2008 at 8:27 am

Another good rule is if you’re with the wife and staying at a friend or relative’s house, keep the intimacy level down after hours. Just because you think everyone is asleep doesn’t mean they always are… Trust me.

12 CJ Guest November 17, 2008 at 9:53 am

Great list! I’m a BIG believer in #13, which I have dubbed the “3-day rule”. Admiringly, I sometimes do it more for myself than for my host, but it’s definitely symbiotic.

13 Anthony November 17, 2008 at 9:58 am

Great tips! I wish more guests followed these rules.

As regarding #1, I would say that any stay of 3 days or less would not require giving the host any money. But if you’re staying for a week, then you should pitch in. I personally like Ron’s idea of going grocery shopping together.

14 P November 17, 2008 at 11:34 am

Great article. Thanks Brett.

Question–any tips for how I can graciously send this article to the people who are staying at our house this holliday season?!!!!!

15 Brett November 17, 2008 at 2:02 pm

@P-

Thanks. As far as sharing with your future guests….perhaps you could just email them a link to AoM today, and tell them what a great site you think it is in general and to check it out……and when they come here, oh, hey, the feature article just happens to be about being a good houseguest! :)

16 Alex November 17, 2008 at 2:36 pm

I personally would be offended by #1. Me and my friends basically have a system where i get you this time you get me next, but we really dont keep track. I think the gift is what is important not the money. After all they are friends not a hotel.

17 Galwayboy November 17, 2008 at 3:18 pm

I have to agree with the majority of comments on #1.

If I invite someone to stay in my home, I consider it my obligation as the host to provide food and booze. While I would certainly accept and appreciate any material help in those areas, a cash donation would strike me as somewhat crass.

If my guest wants to accompany me to the grocery store or stock my wine rack or liquor cabinet, I will gratefully accept. But keep your checkbook in your pocket, thanks.

On the flip side, I would behave in a like manner as a guest. I never show up at someone’s house empty-handed even if its for dinner or a cocktail party. If I’m staying multiple days, I bring whatever seems appropriate. Wine, liquor and really fancy desserts are always appreciated. Also, not to brag, but my culinary skills are top-notch and I’m often pressed into service to make a meal or two while I’m a guest, which I’m more than happy to do.

As for #13, Ben Franklin said it best. Fish and houseguests begin to stink after 3 days.

18 April Braswell November 17, 2008 at 6:29 pm

This is SO fabulous, as ever.

Indeed, social etiquette protocol is to RECIPROCATE at some point.

It is MASCULINE and YANG to give.

So I LOVE how you suggest to send a check en avance. That is SO manly and masculine!!! (admire, admire)

Indeed/

when a lady is a HOSTESS, she is representing and reflecting the GENEROSITY of THE MAN of THE HOUSE.

Everything which you suggest advances your relationship and is gracious, thoughtful, MASCULINE, and MANLY.

Marvelous, as ever!

All the best,

April Braswell

Online Dating Coach, Romantic Relationship Coach, Romance Coaching

Online Dating Sites Review, Internet Dating Sites Guide

19 Hinch November 18, 2008 at 12:56 am

Great list.

Another tip: when staying as a guest, don’t invite people over without the prior agreement of the host. Unfortunately this happened to me. A friend staying at my house invited half a dozen friends over for lunch, where it was expected that i would supply the food, without clearing it with me first. I was not happy.

20 James November 18, 2008 at 11:00 am

I think for rule #1 it definately helps to know the person.

Being a married couple who are on a tight budget (and trying to get out of debt) having guests can really cost a lot. But I would never be so crass as to ask for money or take it if it was offered. But I must confess that if they sent it in the mail then I would be much more willing to accept the gift.

However, others would definately be offended. I have a friend of the family who is very well to do and they let us use their house when they are out of the country. If we tried to pay them they would probably not let us come anymore because of the insult of giving them money.

So it helps to know the person. If you don’t really know them then I suggest the middle of the line approach that was mentioned of bringing a gift and trying to pitch in when shopping. I definately like the idea of treating the host to a meal out to say thanks.

As always, awesome post!

21 April Braswell November 18, 2008 at 4:24 pm

You know, I had meant to mention and elaborate on your marvelous inclusion of the best practice of GIVING a host/ess present.

Women often do this, and in a big way. When my late husband was still alive, this is one of the areas of responsibility that I had as the wife and lady in his life.

Polite host/ess presents include:

wine
food items
local specialties to YOUR area

I live in Silicon Valley. One the things I would do when coming in from CA to the NY area to visit where I grew up over the Christmas holidays was I would just stock up on GROUND PEETS coffee, wine from Napa or Sonoma county (what is restaurant grade for the rest of the country we get at Costco. Sorry, I can hear you whimpering, but it just HAD to be said! lol!), and SEE’S chocolate.

I would dole it out to whomever I was visiting. If it was a non-drinking household, they got at least 1 or 2 lbs of PEETS. SEE’S chocolate? Wellllll, you had to be one of the first place I visited to get that as I couldn’t be held responsible for it actually LASTING….

If you’re from Wisconsin, you are probably going to bring CHEESE…. Whatever are specialties from YOUR region, stock up and bring those.

All the best,

April Braswell

Online Dating Expert, Romantic Relationship Coach, Romance Coaching

Online Dating Sites Review, Internet Dating Sites Guide

22 TheInfamousGdub November 19, 2008 at 12:41 pm

Great advice. The consistency of practical and useful advice never ceases to amaze me.

23 pylorns November 20, 2008 at 8:20 am

Man oh man I wish certain people knew about this… I’ve had some seriously rude people throw tantrums.

24 Scott November 29, 2008 at 6:32 pm

Money is a tricky subject and subject to a number of cultural complications.

I would never solicit nor accept a check nor handful of cash from an invited guest. My home is not a hotel nor guest house; you do not “pay” in advance. You are my guest. If I couldn’t afford this hospitality, I would not have invited you.

There are more subtle approaches to “paying one’s way” or “earning one’s keep”. I do agree with April that protocol demands reciprocity. It’s just that there are alternate ways to do this, few of which involve direct money transfer.

It’s similar to the difference between giving a gift certificate or check (less than personal, little thought) and a gift (personal and thoughtful).

25 Jersey Joni December 19, 2008 at 8:57 am

First of all, don’t assume your friends or relatives that just bought a vacation home (or own a primary home in a tourist area) intend it to be for YOUR vacation. If they bought a second home to relax and get away, the work involved with having house guests may not be welcomed. Don’t assume that you’re invited and add a stay with them to your plans. Also, if one of your friends is experiencing ill health (especially a chronic condition that saps energy or creates pain), it’s safe to assume that house guests would be a burden and kind of you not to ask to stay. That also goes for friends that have recently experienced a death or birth or other stressful situation in the immediate family. If you don’t feel comfortable contributing for groceries, definitely plan to treat for dinner at least once. If you have a special skill that can help with a home repair or improvement, offer to help out. Finally, don’t put your host on the spot by asking them if you can stay longer than originally agreed upon once you’re already there; they might not be able to think of a good excuse why not fast enough and agree to an extended visit even though it’s really a burden and will create resentment for future visits.

26 Toukou April 21, 2009 at 12:11 am

My friend was moving from one country to where I stay and asked to stay for sometimes until he gets an apartment. Things happened in his life and is now staying for 6 months!

27 links of london June 20, 2009 at 9:44 pm
28 links of london June 20, 2009 at 9:45 pm

First of all, don’t assume your friends or relatives that just bought a vacation home (or own a primary home in a tourist area) intend it to be for YOUR vacation. If they bought a second home to relax and get away, the work involved with having house guests may not be welcomed.

29 SwBratcher September 11, 2009 at 10:23 am

Great advice but never #1. Don’t send money. Bring money. On your first day or the first morning if you arrive at night, arrange to hit the grocery store with your hosts and buy provisions for the whole group in some capacity to help ease the burden of food cost.

This is also a great chance to plan meals at home as guests and hosts preparing and dining together while avoiding the expense of dining out. (I would encourage going out to their favorite restaurant too).

If they are still enjoying your wine and remains of your grocery shopping for a couple days after you’ve gone they’ll think quite fondly of you in your absence. (Unless you broke to many of the other rules above).

30 Sara November 21, 2012 at 11:07 am

My issue is with my son and his wife. They have four small children(9months to 5 years) two with special needs. They go to Disneyland once a year either at Thanksgiving or Christmas- they stop to vist family ‘on the way’ for three or four days.. almost as soon as they arrive the d-i-l usually disappears all together-shopping for one thing or another or whatever excuse she can use to ger away from her kids- the children are allowed to use our home as their playground-nobody picks up, nobody help prepare meals,nobody offers to wash up the dishes, nobody does anything but mimi-the house is total chaos the whole time they are here-mimi is 70 years old and children and grandchildren or not I do not want the extra work involved required to having them visit.. I do not invite them, they just say they are coming I encourage them to stay in a motel, but of course the stock answer is its too expensive– might cut into the $3,000 they plan on dropping at Disneyland during their 4 or 5 day stay there- I am not intersted in helping them pay for their vacation- if they have that kind of money to spend at Disneyland I say they can cut one day off the Disney trip and use that money to stay in a motel while visiting us. They are NOT good family houseguests, and I am getting more and more resentful each time they visit. I love them and love getting to see them and visit with them- but cannot continue the way things are going.Any advice.. thanks

31 Riva November 27, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Please help;
What do you do when you have family that comes unannounced to your home,
Without making a phone call, to let you know that they are coming, how can I resolve this once and for all, I had asked my cousin to give me a courtesy phone call, she does this deliberately just to be nosy,
What do I do,
Thank you,
Riva

32 Simmie January 13, 2013 at 3:01 am

Ok, here’s a curly one related to point 8: 8. Do not ignore your friend altogether.

What if the invite says immediately family only and the person you are staying with is extended family ? Should you invite the extended family member to the event, even though the extended family member was not invited ?

33 Hans Verhoog February 17, 2013 at 4:41 am

There seems to be a lot of fuss over tip umber 1 and I have to admit, it would make me somewhat uncomfortable for the following reasons :

1. As a European I don’t use checks, so I can’t send a check, so I would have to ask my friend for his bank account number, and I would have to disclose what I need that for.

2. My friend could get the impression (maybe i’m thinking too far) that I put a price tag on our friendship “What am I? Worth $ 100.- in groceries?”

What works out GREAT for both us and our friends in New York is that we go shopping together, and I squeeze in at the register and say “I got this”. They appreciate the gesture, and they pick up on my sincerity so they don’t feel the urge to decline.

34 Alexander Connell February 24, 2013 at 1:18 pm

If you’re sharing a bathroom with other members of the household, be respectful of their work or school schedules. If you must take an hour long bath every morning, let them get in and out first.

35 Bryce April 9, 2013 at 9:40 am

Just as an extra tip, whenever I stay with friends or family, I always like to take the time to write out a “Thank You” letter. Most recently I wrote a letter to my girlfriend’s parents who let me stay at their house for a few days in order to visit. This was the first time I had met them, and they live rather far away. The letter merely included that the same offer was always extended to my girlfriend, and that they are always welcome to visit. The fun that I had with them, and telling them that I felt extremely welcome (after I got over the initial nervousness of meeting an ex-marine). However, I’ve done this a few times, and that extra “Thank You” always does your host some good.

36 Babs April 23, 2013 at 10:56 am

A friend of mine has often stayed at my house for a couple of weeks at a time.
He lacks any manners and drives me crazy.

*Sleep where you are told to sleep and don’t expect to make your self comfortable in the hosts bed!

If you spill drinks on carpets, tell the host so they can clean it. Don’t put a chair over it to hid it. Say you are sorry!!!

Don’t leave you clothes draped all over the house and case contents spread all over the floor in the main area of the house.

Don’t move furnishing to accommodate yourself.

Don’t sit a wait for your host to cook your meals. Give a helping hand.

Don’t expect the host to keep you occupied and drive you everywhere.
Remember, it’s you that is on holiday not the host!

37 Zelda June 18, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Expanded perfect house guest suggestions:
As we journey through the summer we may have opportunity to stay with friends and family. If you ever want to make a return visit, these are some common courtesies you should remember to employ. Remember you are disrupting their household for the so be a gracious guest. The hostess is not your personal maid!
Don’t just invite yourself to come for a week-end! Chances are your hosts have plans and that would be an imposition to have you staying with them. Wait to be invited.
Most people work during the week, so do not show up on a night when they need to be at work the next day unless they have invited you. Weekends are usually better. It’s very true that fish and house guests stink after three days!
Never, ever, gossip about or criticize your hosts, their homes or family members, especially during your stay. It’s disrespectful and rude. You’ll only declare yourself an ungrateful guest, unlikely to be invited even by those with whom you gossip.
Ask if you may take a shower, and keep it short, others may need to use the washroom. If towels are not placed out don’t presume that the towels in the bathroom are for you. Ask what towels you can use. Keep the bathroom neat and always hang the towels up in an orderly manner. Don’t through damp towels in the hamper as they may not get washed immediately and it risks mildew ruining the towel and all things in the hamper.
Make your bed/fold your blankets, and put your belongings in one organized, out of the way pile.
Do not set your suitcases on the clean guest bed. Chances are it may be dirty or may snag the material of the bedding.
When you’ve been wearing sandals all day, remember to wash your feet before going to bed to avoid dirtying their sheets.
Do not have sex in your host’s bed. Most civil people can restrain themselves. It is consider very ignorant to do so…get a room instead.
Remove make up before going to sleep so your host doesn’t have a picture of you on her good pillowcases.
If you shower before bed, don’t sleep with your wet head on their pillows, it causes mildew and will ruin the pillow. Don’t use the pillow shams…they are for decoration and probably need to be dry-cleaned. I’m sure your host will give you an additional pillow if you need it, or bring your own!
Don’t stay up late watching TV loudly or rummaging through their fridge or cupboards for food.
Don’t eat in bed. Nobody wants to find cheese puff stains on their good duvet!
Don’t make assumptions. Unless you are specifically told to “help yourself to anything” in the refrigerator or pantry, always ask before taking something, and never take the last of anything. This is especially true of left-overs which are not easily reproduced, or expensive items.
Offer to make contributions. Even if you’re not eating at your host’s home, offer to purchase the groceries (after all, you still need their toilet paper!). This is usually the most burdensome additional cost for your hosts. Remember that they have probably already been shopping for extra groceries and spent a considerable amount of time and money to get ready for your visit.
B.Y.O.B. Liquor is not cheap and it is just bad manners to drink all of your host’s booze.
Don’t sleep late. If you hear your hosts are up, get out of bed as well. Chances are they want to get on with their busy day and may worry about waking you. By the same token, don’t wake up and disrupt the sleeping household. Find something quiet to do until your hosts arise.
Help out. If you’re living with others and contributing to the mess you should help out with the house chores or watching their children while they run errands.
Don’t put your dirty feet up on their couch or coffee table, you may do this at home, but this is not your home! I’ve actually seen house guests sprawled out on the only sofa in the living room leaving no room for additional guest who had arrived.
If you follow these tips chances are it will make for a pleasant stay for both you and your hosts. If you don’t, you probably won’t be welcome back!

38 Mitch June 29, 2013 at 10:38 pm

For #1, include this inus your gift, give them a gift basket and stick a visa giftcard thing with like 50 bucks on it and if they ask say your pitching in for your expenses. And you MUST insist, they might reject it.

39 Karalee July 31, 2013 at 12:49 pm

I agree with most commenters that #1 would be awkward. For me it’s inconceivable between family members and pretty bad with anyone else. The only times I would do it would be if I were planning a Thanksgiving dinner with people my age but not expecting to arrive until after the grocery shopping had been done. I think it’s much more gracious to pick up tabs during your stay.
This summer I’ve been living in Paris, and though it’s my third summer here, I’ve had more guests than ever. Most are grateful to sleep on our floor, are sure to cover any food they buy on their own, entertain themselves with the city while we’re at work, help us clean, and often leave small gifts like 3€ worth of chocolate. We are all students with not much cash and many of us, though working in Europe, haven’t been paid all summer, so we’re very understanding.

40 Phil August 10, 2013 at 10:34 am

It may seem obvious, but as a guest do not sit in the host or hostess’s chair when you go into the drawing room. Hang back, see where they normally sit, and then choose another chair nearby. In some cultures this would be regarded as deeply offensive.

41 Tina October 1, 2013 at 2:09 pm

These are events that I had experienced and thought it was kind of rude- guests shouldn’t just roam through rooms and snoop around. they also shouldn’t come in saying “Oh im fixing a pie” especially if its their first visit. They should ask first. If they see something they like they shouldn’t ask if they can have it.

42 another european March 27, 2014 at 4:22 pm

never, ever, #1. There are many ways not to be a freeloader, getting groceries the most obvious one. If you live with someone for even a day or two you can easily identify things they keep in their pantry and stock up :)

Completely agree with all the other items!

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