When you’re traveling on a tight budget, being offered a free place to stay can feel a little like winning the wanderlust lottery. The thing is, though, while there might be certain things you can get away with while staying in a hotel (towels on the floor, unmade beds, watching TV at crazy hours to combat jetlag), when you’re a guest in someone’s home you need to be a lot more mindful.
So the next time you find yourself as an invited guest, keep these things in mind:
1. Always arrive with something.
It’s nice to show up with a small gift in hand to show your appreciation right from the start. Easy options are wine, chocolates, or flowers, but you can also plan in advance and pack some small items that can be used as thank you gifts, so that you’re not left scrambling to find something at the last minute when you arrive. When you’re on an extended trip, bring your hosts a little token from your previous destination – if you’ve just arrived in London from Paris, for example, bring a small box of Ladurée macarons, or tea from Mariage Frères (sadly, croissants don’t travel well in hand luggage).
2. Make things easy for your hosts.
While you might be on vacation, it’s likely that your hosts aren’t, so do your best to work around their schedule. Instead of telling them what time you’ll be arriving, ask them what time is most convenient for them. While this might require you to spend a few hours killing time in a local café (which, let’s face it, isn’t so bad), it will make your visit much less of an inconvenience for them. If you arrive in the morning and won’t be able to connect with your hosts until later in the afternoon, then put your luggage in storage (most central train stations have lockers) and spend the day exploring your destination.
3. Keep it tidy.
If you’re lucky, you might score an actual guest room, but it’s more likely that you’ll be sleeping on a couch or air mattress in the living room. Ask your hosts what time they usually get up – and aim to rise at the same time, or even 10 minutes earlier, so that you can fold up the sofa and bedding. Try also to keep all your belongings together in one neat pile, even if it means having to repack your bag at the end of each day.
Inconsiderate bathroom etiquette can be a deal breaker, and it means more than just hanging up your towel and not leaving your toiletries on the sink. Since your hosts are likely to be on their way to work in the morning, ask them the night before what time they need the bathroom so that you don’t make them late while you’re waiting for your conditioner to work its magic.
4. Allow your hosts some alone time.
No matter how fun guests are, it can be overwhelming if they’re in your space constantly, so be sure to give your hosts some time to themselves if you’re staying several days. When you’re coming back from a day of sightseeing, try to get home an hour or two after them so they have a chance to unwind after a long day at work.
And definitely don’t expect your hosts to be your personal tour guides. Since everyone has different interests, it can be stressful to come up with itineraries to entertain guests. It’s useless for your hosts to recommend spending all day at the Louvre, for instance, if you have zero interest in art or history. Instead, research the kinds of things you’d like to do in the city and then ask your hosts for specific recommendations.
… while there might be certain things you can get away with while staying in a hotel (towels on the floor, unmade beds, watching TV at crazy hours to combat jetlag), when you’re a guest in someone’s home you need to be a lot more mindful.
5. Find ways to say thank you (even when you’re on a budget).
Are you an excellent amateur chef? Offer to make dinner one night or breakfast on a weekend (extra points if you make a dish that your town or country is known for). You could also offer to walk their dog – not only do you get some quality puppy time, but it’s an amazing way to explore a neighborhood and feel like a local.
When brainstorming ideas for a final thank you gift, pay attention to things that your hosts have said throughout your stay. Maybe they mentioned a book they would like to read, or a certain cookie from their favorite bakery, or a brand of candle they adore. The more personalized the gift is, the more meaningful it will be – especially when accompanied by a handwritten note describing what you loved most about staying in their home.
And the best thing? When they feel appreciated, they’re more likely to invite you back.
What are your tips for being or hosting a house guest?
Images via Anna Howard