A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how to be a good host when guests stay with you in your home. Now it’s time for the flip side: how to be a good guest.*
Planning Your Trip
If you’re planning a trip to specifically visit certain people, or you’ve been invited by them, then obviously you need to find a time that is good for them as well. No week is going to be perfect, but if you have a few weeks in mind and they say one is vastly worst than the rest, try to avoid that week.
And even if you won’t be staying with friends, if its possible to do, avoid visiting during quarter close for your friend who works in finance, or the week after they get back from their own trip, or the last week of school. They’ll want to see you, and it stinks when it’s possible to organize a trip at a convenient time but you don’t take the steps to do that.
At the same time, if you have to visit at a certain point, don’t be upset if your friends aren’t able to offer space to stay with them, or won’t be able to see you as often as you’d like. Yes, you may be traveling hundreds or thousands of miles, and that might mean, to you, that they should drop everything to see you. And to a degree, they obviously should. But also, if it’s a time when they already had plans, or theater tickets, or work events, or important events with their local friends, you should be understanding.
If possible, try to arrive at a time that is convenient to your hosts. Obviously, that’s not always possible — flights are expensive, and you have to pick what works for you. But if you can avoid getting in at midnight on a Tuesday when they will have to work on Wednesday, do it. It’s vacation for you, but it’s a Tuesday for them.
When you do arrive, it’s okay to take a minute to breathe — you don’t have to do all your catching up in the ten minutes you spend standing in their living room after you arrive, and you’ve probably just endured the hellscape that is holiday air travel, so just relax.
Some people have a guest room that’s all yours — and some of those have their own bathrooms. Huzzah! It’s like you’re in a hotel. Sweet.
More than likely, however, you’ll be sharing a bathroom at least, and possibly sleeping in a common area. It’s great that you don’t have to pay for accommodation, and you get to spend more time with your friends, but there is a trade-off here, and that trade-off is that you’re probably in a space a little bit smaller than you’d get in a hotel.
Ideally your hosts will have made room for you, but it’s possible they were busy, or just didn’t think to do that. And that’s okay – it happens. Just ask if there’s a space you can put some of your toiletries, or if there’s room in the closet for anything you need to hang up. If you’re in the common area, keep your bags off to the side and out of the way of the living space until you need to get something from it. Yes, you want to be comfortable, but also, you’re sleeping in front of their TV. Adjust accordingly.
Some people plan their vacations down to the half hour. Others plan for nothing and figure it out when they arrive. I think most people are somewhere in between. As a guest, you should plan for some activities so that your hosts don’t have to figure out how to entertain you the entire time. If its your first visit to their city, they may want to show it off to you, but especially if it’s a larger place, it’s unfair to just assume they’ll figure everything out for you.
At the same time, you also want to be flexible. There may be some things you can only do at certain times — the museum that’s closed on Mondays, the show you have tickets for on Saturday — but come up with a few options so that you can make things work with your hosts’ schedule as well. There are likely some things they’ll want to do with you if possible, and also some things they’ve already done and don’t need to do again. Talk it out.
Again, be flexible. Something might come up at work for them that keeps them, or their child might get sick. You have to remember, again, that this is your vacation but its your host’s daily life.
Food and Drink
Most hosts will say that you’re welcome to whatever is in their house. They should mean that, but still. Try not to finish the last of anything without asking, and don’t bust open 30-year-old scotch while they’re at the office.
If you or your family members have any special dietary needs, communicate those ahead of time. If you’re extremely allergic to a type of food, let them know so they can clear it out. Or if you NEED coffee and they aren’t coffee drinkers, let them know the kind you like.
Also keep in mind that your hosts might have dietary restrictions that you’ll need to respect. If they have a serious allergy to a food you love, eat it when you’re out of the house; don’t buy some for yourself and store it in their fridge.
You don’t need to bring a gift with you when you’re staying with someone, but it is nice. Something from your home city is good – some dried salmon from Seattle, chocolates from Belgium, etc.
It’s also nice to consider taking them out for dinner or breakfast one day on your trip. It’s great to see you, but you are uprooting their lives for a bit, and it’s thoughtful to let them know you appreciate it.
*We’ve had a few guests since we moved here. You’ve all been awesome!