Housetraining Yourself: How to Be the Ultimate House Guest

Budget Travel, Staying There — By on May 24, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Accommodations (even the cheapest budget hostels) rack up the travel bill and add immensely to your overall expense. Staying with friends, family members and possibly even strangers (Couchsurfing.com) can save a lot of money and it’s also a good way to get a window-glance into the  culture of the place you’re visiting. Staying for free doesn’t mean all bets are off when it comes to guest behavior, though. Check out Lost Girl Ashley Cheng’s good-house-guest-guide for tips on how to be the ultimate house guest–the little things make all the difference.

By Ashley Cheng

As I’m heading to Japan in a week and about to officially Couch Surf for the first time, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what makes a good house guest.

In the life of a budget traveler who’s also keen on immersing yourself in the local flavor of a destination, you will inevitably be crashing on the couches, guestrooms and floors in a number of friends’, family members’ and possibly strangers’ homes. While flying from couch to couch, here’s a simple room-by-room mental checklist to ensure you’re house-trained and invited back next time.

Before You Even Enter:

  • Provide an itinerary: Once your gracious hosts agree to put you up, keep them informed of your plans. Diane Gottsman, a national professional etiquette trainer at The Protocol School of Texas, recommends sending your itinerary in advance. This should include flight numbers, contact information and mode of arrival (rental car, taxi, bus, train, plane).
  • Stick to the itinerary: Your hosts have probably rearranged their schedules to accommodate you, so do them the courtesy of keeping to the plan.
  • Share pertinent health details: “If you have a special diet, alert the host in advance and say that you don’t expect them to cook special foods, you just want them to know,” added Gottsman. Or if you are deathly allergic to cats, confirm whether you’ll be shacking up with any new feline friends.

Front Door:

  • Bring a gift: It’s always nice receiving a little token from wherever you’re from. It doesn’t have to be expensive… thoughtful and personalized is best. A few ideas: treats from your favorite local bakery, mixed CD, book from a favorite author. Or, if you don’t know the person, wine and flowers are a safe bet.
  • Spare your hosts the awkwardness of feeling obliged to use your gifted trays, placemats, towels, pillows and artwork. Godwin suggests instead taking your hosts out to dinner as another easy option.
  • Get acclimated: Once you arrive (on time!), get a feel for your hosts’ living style and adapt to their household culture. Nadine Godwin, author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Triviat, suggests taking note of these cultural differences the minute you step foot into someone else’s home.

“I once stayed with a friend in Trebon, Czech Republic. It was very clear there that Czechs typically wear slippers rather than shoes when indoors,” explained Godwin. “I also noticed that whenever anyone went from one room to the other in the house, doors between rooms were always left closed. So, I left them closed, too.”

Kitchen:

  • Help with cooking, setting the table, washing dishes: Cultural differences can be more of a matter of personality rather than nationality though. If your host is a natural-born control freak, let them do their own thing in the kitchen.

Godwin proposes that you always offer to help around the house, but “that offer should not be pushy, and, if the host declines the offer, stay out of the way.”

  • Leave the space as clean or cleaner than you left it: “Keeping the counter clean is at the top of my list as well,” said Mikey Rox, principal at creative consulting agency www.PaperRoxScissors.com and who is quite protective over his “immaculate apartment.” “Crumbs on the counter are unacceptable.”

Bathroom:

  • Keep usage to a minimum: Don’t hog the bathroom, especially during rush hour times like early morning. Nancy Parode, writer for the Senior Travel Guide at www.About.com warns against “turning on the water when someone is taking a shower.”
  • Be mindful and respectful of hosts’ things: Don’t use anything without asking. Godwin complained of an overnight guest who used a white hand towel to remove her lipstick.

“If you use specialty facial cleansers containing peroxide, you might consider bringing your own face cloth so you don’t discolor your hosts towels,” suggested Teri Hurley of boutique travel agency www.EndlessLoveTravel.com.

  • Keep things tidy: As in the kitchen, this obviously applies in any area of the house. For Rox, the shower drain is his major pet peeve. “Its really rather gross when I have to clean someone else’s hair out.”

Bedroom

  • Make the bed: And this doesn’t just mean on your last day. If you’re staying in someone’s living room, make sure to clear the couch in the morning. Strip the sheets on your last day and leave them folded for your host or even wash them.
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    8 Comments

  • Amy says:

    Yes! Great tips. I wish I could give my house guests this list before they come to stay…several of those apply directly to people who visit often.

  • hey,Terrific article dude! i am just Tired of using RSS feeds and do you use twitter?so i can follow you there:D.
    PS:Do you thought about putting video to your blog posts to keep the people more enjoyed?I think it works., Thea Mcglothlen

  • Ashley C says:

    @Amy, thanks for the comment! yes, shortly after this article posted, i had a few couchsurfer guests that i wish would have checked this out before staying with me!

    @Thea, i just got a new camera that has HD video, so i’ve been dying to play around with editing video! maybe by the next post, i’ll be ready to make my video debut. also, you can follow me at http://twitter.com/ashlovesfood and LG at http://twitter.com/lostgirlsworld.

  • Lizzie says:

    What a great article – so true that people need to remember to do these small things which can make their stay more enjoyable not just for the host but for themselves too as they may even be invited back!

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