My favorite kind of traveling is when I get to visit friends or family members who live in cool places. It’s cheaper than a hotel or using Airbnb, and I get to hang out with great people and benefit from all their local knowledge. While I’m there, I try to make sure the visit is as much fun for them as it is for me. If you want to be the kind of beloved houseguest who’s invited back, here are a few things to keep in mind:
BEFORE YOU GO
1. Make sure you have spending money to treat your hosts. This trip isn’t free — it’s just more affordable. Even if you aren’t paying for a place to stay, you’ll still need cash for things like food, transportation, and entertainment. Make sure you can afford to treat your hosts to a nice dinner at least once during your visit.
2. Plan ahead. Have specific arrival and departure dates, and stick to them. Your hosts are doing you a huge favor. Don’t test the limits of your friendship by showing up early or extending your stay at the last minute.
3. If your host has roommates, make sure they know you’re coming, and that they’re cool with it. If there’s only one couch in the apartment, this will ensure it’s “reserved” for you, and that no other guests are planning to stay there at the same time.
4. Ask your host if there’s anything special you should pack. If you talk about this ahead of time, you’ll be fully prepared for any local adventures your host has in mind, from a hiking trip to a fancy night out. If you’re visiting a friend who is studying abroad or has moved a great distance, ask if there’s anything (like a favorite snack food that’s not available in other countries) that you can bring from home.
5. Have a plan for getting around. This may be a vacation for you, but chances are your host will have to work or take classes while you’re in town. Don’t expect them to be your chauffeur or loan you a car. If you’re planning to use Uber or Lyft, make sure car-sharing services serve the area you’re planning to visit. Otherwise, check into public transportation options or consider renting a car.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE
6. Make an itinerary. Got big plans while you’re in town? Let your host know, and find out what they’re interested in doing with you. If your friend wants to take you to certain places, arrange times to do those things together. If they’re sick to death of the local tourist attractions, check those out on your own.
7. Go with the flow.
Ask your host how things usually work around the house, and do your best not to interrupt that routine. If your host has to wake up at the crack of dawn, don’t stay up late with the TV on (unless it’s on a tablet, with headphones). If a roommate showers at 8:30 every morning, make sure you’re not in the bathroom then.
DURING YOUR STAY
8. Treat your hosts (and their stuff) with respect.
“Make yourself at home” doesn’t mean “Feel free to eat all my food and throw your stuff everywhere.” Keep your stuff organized and out of the way — especially if you’re staying in a common area. If you use a dish, don’t leave it in the sink (even if your host does). Wash it by hand right away or put it in the dishwasher. Basically, try to leave everything cleaner than you found it.
9. Don’t expect your hosts to play tour guide. In a world with Google maps and Yelp, you can find awesome things to do almost anywhere. If your friend is busy during the day, use that time to explore on your own.
10. Help out around the house. Some hosts might insist that you relax, since you’re their guest, but they will remember your visit more fondly if you find ways to pitch in. If your hosts have kids, offer to watch them one night so Mom and Dad can have a kid-free night out.
11. Don’t be on your phone or computer all the time. Your friends offered you a place to stay because they want to spend time with you. If you’re constantly texting, they may feel like you’re just using them for the free accommodations.
12. Be appreciative. Having guests and showing them around takes time, money, and energy. If any part of the trip doesn’t meet your expectations, resist the temptation to be critical. (I once let a friend and her boyfriend stay in my bedroom for a few nights while I slept on the couch. They pointed out that the bed wasn’t made very neatly, and I wanted to say, “You know where the sheets are always tucked in just right? At a hotel.”) Complaining about your temporary quarters is pretty much a guarantee that you’ll never be invited back.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
13. Express your gratitude. Depending on the length of your stay, this might involve a small gift, taking your hosts out to dinner at their favorite restaurant, or surprising them with some cash to help cover the costs of your stay. If you know they’ll refuse your money, you can always tuck it away somewhere and then let them know where to look after you’ve departed.
AFTER YOU GET HOME
14. Send a thank you note. Send your hosts a card thanking them for their hospitality, and mention some of your favorite memories from the visit. Got a cute photo from your trip? Print it out and send it along.
15. Find a way to return the favor. Let your hosts know that they have an open invitation to stay with you if they’re ever in your area.
This list may sound like a lot of work, especially if you’re staying with a family member or super-close friend, but consider doing these things anyway. After all, being an awesome houseguest will only make them love you more.
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