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10 Rules for Being a Good House Guest

by Geraldine DeRuiter

My husband and I love to entertain. And we've have had our share of house guests, good and bad. Some arrive bearing gifts, pick up after themselves, and send us thank you notes after they return home. When they leave, we are always a little sad to see them go.

And we've had some guests who are... well, to put it politely, let's say we're less sad to see them leave. We might even heave a sigh of relief after we drop them off at the airport. And perhaps, perhaps, do a little celebratory dance after they're gone. Maybe.

Luckily, it doesn't take that much work to fall into "good houseguest" category: you don't need to clean the entire house before leaving, or feel like you're walking on eggshells. You simply need to show a bit of consideration and gratitude for your hosts.

Here are my tips for being an ideal house guest. Follow them and you'll find your hosts won't slap on their dancing shoes the minute you say good-bye.

1. Let your plans be known

Tell your hosts when you'll be arriving, when you're leaving, and what plans, if any, you might have. This lets them plan their own schedules accordingly. After all, just because you're on vacation doesn't mean everyone else is.

If you're taking the little ones with you, be sure to communicate their daily schedules and when they usually nap or go to sleep. Ask the same about your host's children so you can be respectful of those times, too. And remember: if things get a little off course, it isn't the end of the world. It is, after all, a vacation.

2. Bring a gift

It doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive, just thoughtful. Consider a local delicacy or a movie tickets. Feeling creative? Get the whole family involved in putting together a mixed CD or decorating a picture frame. (My most cherished gift from a guest? An elaborate hand-drawn portrait of me from my friend's 6-year-old.)

3. Be a good sport

Odds are, the locals with whom you're staying will want to show you their favorite spots around town. And while the Antique Doll Museum or the World's Largest Ball of Twine might not exactly be what you had in mind, try to keep an open mind (and remind the kids to do the same.) Beside, even if you don't love the activities that have been planned, the day isn't lost: you'll get to spend quality time with your hosts, which is part of the reason why you're staying with them in the first place, right?

4. Respect the rules of the house

When traveling to visit some friends, a young mother I know always requests a "tour" for her son. He's shown around the house, told what rooms are off limits and which aren't, and given the rules of the home, e.g., take your shoes off at the door, hang your coat up on this hook. Not only does it help to familiarize him with a new place, but the special attention from his hosts make him feel important and grown-up. And, of course, it's never a bad idea for grown-ups to ask for a tour or a list of house rules, too.

5. Invite your hosts along on your adventure

Just because you live somewhere doesn't mean you get to appreciate everything it has to offer. (I bet you can think of one tourist attraction in your hometown that you've never had the chance to visit, right?) Don't assume that your hosts have seen it all. Instead, invite them along on some of your adventures. Even if they can't make it, they'll appreciate the gesture, and can offer tips on how to get there, where to eat, etc.

6. If you use it, replace it

Borrowing some toothpaste or sunscreen aren't unusual requests. But if you end up using all of the conditioner on your tangle-free mane, devouring an entire loaf of bread, and polishing off the last of the milk, it's time to hit the store. Replenish the things you've used, and you'll be remembered as generous and considerate, rather than someone who eats their friends out of house and home.

7. Pick up after yourself

Remember: you aren't in a hotel. If you leave your towels in the tub and the bed unmade, that's likely how things will stay. And in close quarters, it will make you seem careless and rude. Hang up towels, make the bed, and don't leave your stuff lying around common areas of the house. Friends of mine even travel with extra storage bags so their young daughter can toss all her possessions inside. Not only does it keep things tidy, but it gives their little one piece-of-mind: if she can't find something in a big, strange house, she knows where to look.

8. Roll with the punches

You might normally be a hit with kids, but find that your host's five-year-old can't stand you. Or you'll discover that your normally exuberant fourth-grader is suddenly too shy to talk to anyone. Whatever the case, don't let it spoil everyone's fun. Things are not always going to go as you had hoped. The sooner you let go of your expectations, and the more relaxed and easy-going you feel, the sooner you can start having fun.

9. Send a thank-you note

No, an email won't suffice, nor will a phone call. Instead, grab a card, include a few words of kindness and thanks, and mail it to them (you already know their address, after all.) It should only take you a few minutes, and it will mean a lot. Or ask your little one to make a heartfelt card, and sign your name to it, too. I've received several cards like these, and the store-bought variety seem to pale in comparison.

10. Reciprocate!

If you've got the room (and the inclination), invite your hosts to stay with you next time they're in town. If not, invite them for dinner or offer to play tour guide. Not only will you get to pay them back for their hospitality, but you'll have a better idea of how difficult being a good host can be.

Of course, just because you're being considerate doesn't mean you can't have fun, too. After all, when your hosts are delighted to see you, it makes any visit better. So be polite, be courteous, and enjoy yourself. You might just find that you'll be invited back again and again.

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Geraldine DeRuiter is the founder of everywhereist.com, a travel blog for the accidentally adventurous.

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