7 Rules for Houseguests When Staying With Family or Friends

Updated on December 27, 2019
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Having lived in 2 popular vacation destinations, Ms. Meyers has hosted many considerate houseguests and some who were not.

I loved having visitors when we lived in Napa's wine country. As a mom with two little boys, though, I needed them to be self-sufficient.
I loved having visitors when we lived in Napa's wine country. As a mom with two little boys, though, I needed them to be self-sufficient. | Source

Seven Things Houseguests Should Avoid Doing

If you have family members and friends who stay at your home while in town, you might agree with Benjamin Franklin who quipped: “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Having lived in Napa, California (known for its world-class wineries and restaurants) and Bend, Oregon (known for its epic skiing, beer tasting, and paddle boarding), I've had my share of overnight visitors and can certainly appreciate Mr. Franklin's point of view.

In my opinion, though, a person's stay is not made tolerable or intolerable by its duration but rather by the amount of self-sufficiency and courtesy they show. I've had folks who could literally stay a month without getting on my nerves. On the flipside, I've had those who've driven me nuts within hours of their arrival. With that being said, here are my seven things houseguests should avoid doing if they want to be invited back with open arms.

1. Don't Expect Your Host to Be Your Only Source Of Information

My biggest peeve is guests who expect me to drop everything and become their full-time tour guide. That's when self-sufficiency and courtesy come into play. Before your visit, research the destination and formulate a plan—what you want to see and where you want to go. When you arrive in town, stop at the visitor's center to ask questions, pick up maps and brochures, and get the lay of the land.

Don't rely on your host as your only source of information. When we lived in Napa's wine country, I had two preschoolers (one with autism) and certainly didn't frequent fancy wineries and five-star restaurants. However, when I'd inform guests that I didn't have knowledge of those places, they'd act disappointed as if I'd failed them.

Today, I live in Bend, which is known for its award-winning beer. Our guests now want to visit breweries such as 10 Barrel and Deschutes. I don't drink beer, though, have no knowledge of it, and no interest in learning. Whether you want to sip wine, visit antique stores, or go hiking in the wilderness, do your own research. Most importantly, don't expect your host to not only shelter and feed you but to plan your stay.

2. Don't Expect Your Host to Be Your Chauffeur

If you're without a car or reluctant to drive in unfamiliar surroundings, figure out how you'll get from place to place. Whatever you do, don't expect your host to become your chauffeur. Don't expect them to drop everything to shuttle you around to your chosen destinations.

While living in Napa, we hosted many guests from the mid-west who had their hearts set on visiting Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. However, they didn't do any advance planning and, therefore, thought that the two places were in close proximity when, in fact, they're more than a hour apart. When factoring in the Bay Area's fierce, never-ending traffic, you're talking about a long, arduous, and stressful drive.

Furthermore, visitors should be mindful that locals have seen these tourist traps many times. As a result, they'd prefer to take a hard pass. Visitors, therefore, should plan on taking a combination of Uber, Lyft , taxis, and public transportation and expect to do lots of walking!

3. Don't Be Critical

We've all had experiences of visiting vacation destinations, thinking they'd be fantastic, and then being disappointed when they weren't. When staying with their hosts, though, visitors should be mindful to make positive comments about their surroundings and keep their negative thoughts to themselves. Their hosts call this place home and take pride in their community.

While living in Napa, I had many relatives stay with me from Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Much to my annoyance, many of them groused about the traffic, the congestion, and the high priced food, gas, and attractions. They complained about the wineries being "snotty" and the restaurants being "pretentious." Needless to say, after working hard to clean the house and prepare their meals, these remarks left me drained, discouraged, and eager for them to leave.

Don't expect your hosts to be your tour guides. Get out of the house and seek your own adventures!
Don't expect your hosts to be your tour guides. Get out of the house and seek your own adventures! | Source

4. Don't Stick Around the House

There's nothing worse than visitors who lack the initiative to get out and explore. Sticking around the house puts an undue burden on the hosts who need to tidy up, make the beds, and prepare the meals. On top of that, they also have their regular day-to-day obligations of going to work, tending to their children, doing the grocery shopping, and caring for their pets.

My favorite part of having guests is when they arrive back at my home, exhausted but exhilarated from a long day of fun and adventures. As we eat dinner together, I find tremendous joy in hearing about the places they went and the things they saw. It's especially enjoyable if they've brought back something to share at the meal: a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread, or some fancy chocolates for dessert. That kind of thoughtfulness and gratitude leaves an indelible imprint.

5. Don't Expect Your Host to Babysit or Pet Sit

When I was eight months pregnant with my second child and my older son was a toddler, my husband's friend, his wife, and their little girl visited us in Napa. We had never met before, but that didn't stop them from leaving their daughter with me while they took off wine tasting. They didn't return until late in the evening and, needless to say, my feelings toward them had turned resentful. Dumping their kid on me during the first day of their visit set a bad tone that was difficult to overcome.

Visitors should never expect their hosts to babysit their children or pets. Moreover, they should take 100 percent responsibility for them. They should supervise their behavior, clean up after them, and take care of their needs.

Once again, it's essential to research the destination before-hand to understand its culture regarding kids and animals. Napa Valley, for example, is very much an adult playground with magnificent wineries, fine dining restaurants, art galleries, and boutique shopping. It's neither kid nor dog friendly. Bend, on the other hand, is an outdoor recreation mecca that embraces both children and dogs with hiking trails, river adventures, parks, skiing, sledding, community pools, festivals, and family-friendly dining.

6. Don't Forget to Give Your Hosts Some Private Time

When staying at someone's house, study how they live and mimic their habits. For example, if their television is mostly off, don't turn it on and watch for hours on end. I've quite purposefully placed a TV in our guest room so visitors can watch there. Yet, some guests insist on sitting in our family room and watching until late into the night.

Unless your hosts are chatty extroverts who don't need to get up early for work, retire early so they have some quiet time to themselves. Eight 'o clock is a reasonable hour for guests and hosts to part company and have some private time.

7. Don't Leave Without Showing Your Appreciation

Whether they love entertaining houseguests or simply tolerate it, people expend a lot takes a lot of time and effort getting their home Guests who acknowledge that fact will score major points and get invited back. Those who don't realize the work involved usually fall into one of two categories: 1. Those who are young and inexperienced and have never hosted house guest themselves or 2. Clods who have never even considered the work that goes into hosting. Fortunately, most people are appreciative so here are some thoughtful ways to say thanks:

  • Arrive with a gift—a bouquet of flowers, a bottle of wine, a houseplant. This sets a positive tone for the visit.

  • Make a meal for your host—a Sunday brunch, a picnic basket to take on an excursion, a special dinner.

  • Take your hosts out for dinner or give them a gift certificate they can use later.

  • Present a thank you note and gift when you leave.

  • Send a unique gift from your home town. I once hosted a couple from Cincinnati. A week after they left, I received some scrumptious pints of ice cream from a famous ice cream maker in Cincinnati. It was a nice touch and much appreciated.

Final Thoughts

So when visiting, remember these 7 dos and don't for house guests so you'll always be greeted with open arms. Do your research. Make plans. Show self-sufficiency and courtesy. This way you'll make a positive impression and get invited back for another stay.

When you're a house guest, do you prefer your host to go on excursions with you or stay home?

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

  • At the end of my nieces' and nephew's trip I felt so hostile. These kids have never done a chore in their lives and they are 19 and 20. They left cups everywhere and never once offered to help load the dishwasher or wash their plates. It felt very uncomfortable to say anything although I should have. Is it their fault for being clueless or their parents for never teaching them how to clean up after themselves?

    I think most of us have had bad house guests like that and feel your pain. In fact, it was experiences like the one you described that prompted me to write the article. When my husband's friends (who I had never met) left their daughter with me all day to go wine-tasting, I knew I had to grew a spine and speak up. They were totally using me and didn't give one whit about my welfare (I was 8 months pregnant and had a 2-year-old at the time)! With that experience, I declared: “Never again!” You may be at that point as well.

    While I'm unwilling to label your teenage niece and nephew as rude and lazy, I will say they were totally clueless. With their limited life experiences, they have no idea all the effort it takes to prepare a home for guests (and the expense to boot). They have no notion how stressful it can be when people are messy, inconsiderate, unhelpful, and take everything for granted.

    If their parents were also staying at your home, they should have instructed their kids to pick up after themselves. If they didn't, they were being negligent and the blame should be placed on them, not the teens. If the parents weren't willing to act as parents, there's not a lot you could do without causing a huge family rift. Scolding, instructing, or criticizing other people's kids never goes over well-- no matter how well-deserved it is!

    If they come again, I'd give them the names of a few good motels in the area, explaining quarters were just too tight during their last visit. After much trepidation, I did this with my sister and her kids when they were growing up. It turned out to be the best thing I ever did. We all enjoyed the visit so much more, focused on doing fun activities together, and all my resentment faded away. We all felt a lot less stress.

    If their parents weren't there, you should have spoken up and set down some basic housekeeping rules: put your dishes in the dishwasher, make your beds, set the table for meals, or whatever else you thought was reasonable. You would have been doing the teens a favor to teach them proper etiquette when staying at someone's home. From your frustration with them, I imagine they also neglected to take you out for a meal, bring you a gift, or express their gratitude. A lack of awareness and appreciation really takes a toll on a host.

    I'm sorry you had such a stressful experience with your bad house guests. But please use this it as the impetus to establish ground rules for the next set of visitors. If you don't speak up about your expectations, you might have another frustrating time. Good luck!

  • How do you handle your dinner being a whole lot earlier than your brother's family?

    Good manners dictate that the one preparing the meals (doing the shopping, fixing the food, and covering the cost) is the one who sets the time and menu for meals. A good houseguest bends and is gracious. I, for example, am a vegetarian. I would never in a million years expect my hosts to cater to my special dietary requirements. I tell them I'm a vegetarian in advance and then I'm grateful for whatever they serve and whatever I can eat.

    While it's especially nice when my host has a vegetarian entree for me, I certainly don't expect one. My 80-year-old mother and 78-year-old mother-in-law love me dearly, but they don't accommodate what they consider to be my “crazy” eating habits. They're used to serving meat and potatoes for dinner. Therefore, I stop at the farmer's market before my visit and pick up fruits and vegetables for everyone to enjoy. A good house guest does her best to be low-maintenance.

    With that being said, if you're staying with your brother's family and they eat later than yours, don't hesitate to discuss this with them before your visit. Explain your concerns and try to reach a compromise. If you have little kids who are accustomed to eating at 5, they may not be able to make it until 7 without getting crabby. If you're on vacation and want to wake up early for sight-seeing, you may want to eat earlier as well. Communication is key to preventing misunderstandings, frustration, and hurt feelings.

    Most hosts will bend over backward to make their guests feel at home. The only exception is when they feel taken advantage of and disrespected. A good houseguest acknowledges and appreciates their efforts in words and deeds.

    I've had people in their early twenties stay with us and, because of their limited life experiences, they're often unaware of all that's involved in preparing a home for guests: making up the beds, scrubbing the toilets, buying the groceries, planning the meals, etc. It's that lack of awareness that makes hosts feel overburdened and used. If you pitch in with the meals—cooking, ordering pizza, or taking your hosts out to a restaurant—you'll make a good impression.

  • How do you handle your sleep habits when they are different from your hosts?

    That's definitely a tricky one from my personal experience. Since I had many guests visiting throughout the year, I needed to establish what was negotiable and what was not. For me and my young family, sleep time/quiet time in the evening became a non-negotiable. As an introvert (and an exhausted mother of two), I needed to wind down after dinner, have time alone, and decompress. So, in advance of their visit, I'd tell the company that 8 p.m. was the hour that the kids went to bed and our entire household shut down. While being assertive like this didn't come easily to me, it was necessary because some folks were watching television in our family room (right outside our bedroom) until the wee hours of the night, causing me to lose sleep, grow frustrated, and get downright grouchy (not a good combination when you're entertaining).

    Even though I put a TV and reading materials in the guest room, some people just didn't get the hint. But enforcing the 8 p.m. rule really worked. I'd take the kids off to bed, turn out the lights, say goodnight to our guests, and ask them if they needed an extra blanket or pillow. I'd ask them to keep the volume down on the TV in the guest room.

    Being assertive, spelling out the rules, and having open communication is key for a successful visit. While we certainly want our guests to feel relaxed and comfortable, we also need them to respect our schedules. They may be on vacation, but we're still working and keeping a routine.

© 2015 McKenna Meyers

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