This summer during a recent trip to visit family, I brushed up on my houseguest how-tos prior to the weekend. Summer holidays, weddings and the availability of lovely lake homes create ample opportunities to visit friends and family. As a guest, there are many simple ways to be thoughtful and easygoing, all while making the host feel comfortable and appreciated while you are in his or her home.
Becoming a houseguest: It is best for someone to offer her space. Only ask those close to you if you can stay with them. Someone may want to host you but may not have adequate space to accommodate guests. By asking, you run the risk of making someone feel uncomfortable or forced to take you in. If that occurs, the whole experience will be awkward for everyone. For a houseguest, a two- to three-day visit is very common. Think of the old adage about fish and houseguests — each lasts for about three days before you need to throw it out. Save the weeklong visits for very close family and friends.
Communicate: Discuss the visit prior to your arrival — schedules, plans, attire, etc. Having clear expectations between the host and guest will allow all parties to prepare and adapt. As a guest, tell your host that you don't need to be entertained and you're flexible with plans. Once you are there, offer to help with small tasks in the home or kitchen. During an extended stay, offer to purchase groceries or supplies. And be sure to continually express your gratitude to the host.
Gracious gifts: Bring a small gift of appreciation and present it to your host the very first day. The longer the visit, the nicer the gift should be. A bottle of wine works well for one night's stay. A luxurious hand soap, a nice candle or anything home-related will be appreciated after a weekend visit. I prefer personal gifts such as monogrammed napkins, a tote bag or bar towels. If you can't bring a gift with you, treat your host to an evening out during your visit.
Plan ahead: Try to bring everything you need. A home will have more creature comforts than a hotel, but you don't want to depend on your host for every toiletry, item of food or laundry services. A good host will show you around, tell you where items are located and ask if you need anything. They want you to be comfortable just as much as you want to be an effortless guest.
Be invisible: Treat the home and space that you're staying at better than your own. A home is not a hotel. Always make the bed first thing in the morning, wipe down bathroom sinks or showers and keep your items put away. Feel free to tell your host you are going to read, take a nap or go for a walk when appropriate. You shouldn't expect to be with them 24/7. Also, if your host gets up at 8 a.m., you shouldn't be sleeping until noon. Do your best to acclimate yourself to the home and the host's daily schedule.
After you get home, drop a thank-you note in the mail to your host. If your host was especially gracious, go the extra step and send flowers or a small token to signify your deep appreciation. By acting as a gracious guest, you'll be invited back again and again.