Being a Great Houseguest

Making sure your hosts to want you to come back again

'Tis the season for entertaining and travel and so it's a great time to refresh the fundamentals of being a good houseguest, nearly none of which apply if you're crashing with family (Sorry, grandparents!). But for others who may be hosting you and, more importantly, your kids, there are some considerations to keep in mind. Having recently experienced a painful, seemingly never-ending weekend hosting a family of guests, I offer up these tips from first-hand experience.

  • When and for how long. If nothing else, let's be clear about these two things. When traveling with kids, open-ended trips are rare, but do your host the courtesy of letting them know when you'll arrive and, most importantly, when you'll leave.
  • Linens and things. Unless you're planning to visit a friend who lives in the wild without running water, assume you'll have access to linens. In this modern day of in-home washers and dryers, your host is likely happy to offer you your own pillow and set of bath linens. Just be sure not to toss the wet towels on the bed, on the floor, in the corner - or worse. Ask about stripping beds at the end of your stay, and even offer to do the laundry, but be mindful if your host would prefer to do it him or herself.
  • Food. The battle lines are often drawn on this topic, and there's plenty of ground to cover. So here goes: if your kids have "eating issues", bring or buy your own supply of their staples; if you plan to dine with the hosts for a few days, offer to cook a meal or treat the group to a meal out. if you eat the last one of something, replace it, and lastly, always thank the chef.
  • Mum is the word. Hosts offer up their homes and with it, a brief look into their personal lives. This is not an opportunity for you to offer unsolicited advice on child-rearing, cooking, cleaning, marital bliss, career counseling or pet discipline.
  • Clean up. Offer to the do the dishes. And I don't mean the "faux" offer wherein you get up from your seat after the table has been cleared and the dishwasher is loaded. If your husband has coated the sink with toothpaste backwash... your son has wrapped an entire roll of Scotch tape around the leg of the dining table... or if you've noticed your daughter's obsession with coloring in the pages in your host's beloved books - clean it up, unravel it, or apologize before throwing something out. Just don't hide it - you don't live there, and when you leave the folks that DO live there WILL find it.
  • Take a minute to plan. Oh to visit a place where your hosts put hours of endless thought into your stay and constant entertainment! Those of us without a local concierge are on our own. Remember this is your family and you know what makes them tick better than anyone. So take some time to plan your trip and include some activities that will help fight the boredom bug - we know that idle minds can be unpredictable in unchartered territories. For example, visiting a prairie dog reserve during holiday celebrations in Oklahoma might seem mundane, if not painful, to a grown up... but it could be - and was! - the best moment of the entire trip for a curious young mind.
  • Plan some separate time. No matter how enchanted your hosts are to have you, consider planning some time when you do separate things with your family - even if it's for an afternoon. Everyone will appreciate the little break, and there will be new experiences to share at the end of it.
  • The thank you. Arguably, the most important part of your visit. The "thank you" or hostess gift can be bestowed upon arrival at a party or following a great stay with friends or family. The gift should be a true expression of your time together - perhaps a memento of a shared laugh or moment - and is the simplest way to demonstrate that you were raised well.

Remember, being a guest in someone's home is an honor. Leaving it in one piece is a responsibility.

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