The Art of Being a Gracious Houseguest

February 26, 2008

in Food, Information, Lodging, Travel, Web Tips

Houseguests over the past couple of weeks have reminded me of a few of the rules — the give and take — of hosting and being hosted. Today’s post is on the role of the gracious guest.

In the power hierarchy of the guest-host relationship, guests are at the bottom. A gracious host will make you feel that you and your wishes are at the center during your stay — but a wise guest is one who makes his host’s wishes his own, thereby honoring his host.

This simple question – “Am I honoring my host?” — should usually steer your behavior down the right path. See how after the jump.

+ Respect personal space. Your host is making room for you in his life; honor him by taking up as little space as possible. This means:

  • keeping your belongings out of the way in the space provided for you
  • keeping your belongings tidy — don’t let them creep
  • keeping activities, music or conversations quiet
  • not offending his nose with unclean bodies or clothes, avoiding strongly-scented products or food items
  • limiting time using shared practical space, such as kitchen and bathroom
  • leaving shared spaces clean after use
  • giving your host the right to continue living, working and socializing normally during your visit

+ Respect personal belongings. Your host is providing you with a bed, perhaps bedclothes and towels, the use of their kitchen, bath and living room. Perhaps they have lent you maps, books, a sweatshirt, a phone, their computer, their bicycle, even their car. Honor your host’s generosity with his possessions by:

  • treating his possessions better than you treat your own
  • making the bed, washing the dishes, cleaning the hair out of the drain
  • using lent resources frugally
  • returning borrowed items promptly after use
  • replacing any items that were damaged or abused

If you plan to use anything more than three times which accrues cost per use — milk for your coffee, gas for the car, long-distance telephone calls — you should plan to replace at 150% and consider finding an alternative source.

+ Follow your host’s lead. Respect the rhythms and lifestyle choices of your host. You will more naturally fit into this lifestyle if you:

  • rise when your host rises and retire when he retires
  • plan to be out while your host is working or socializing, home when your host is home (though planning some time alone for your host in his own space is respectful as well)
  • consider activities together when your host has/makes time, but are prepared to entertain yourself with your own means 100% of the time
  • consider meals together when your host has/makes time, but are prepared to feed yourself with your own resources 100% of the time
  • plan your showers opposite of those of your host (i.e. shower at night if your host needs to get ready in the morning), or at the very least let your host shower before you

+ Make an offering. To illustrate to your host how thankful you are for his generosity and accommodation, honor him with gifts.

  • One gift should be something your host can consume or that you can enjoy together during your stay: a bottle of wine, a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates. Specialty items from your region are a worthy and interesting substitute.
  • The second gift should be something that will remain after you’ve left: a houseplant, a magnet, a photograph, a book, a mix CD of music from your country.
  • If your stay is longer than three days, offer to prepare at least one large meal for you and your host. Expect both to cook and to clean up afterwards.
  • If you are planning a longer stay, treat your host to an activity undertaken together — such as a ticket to the ballet or a sporting event, a trip to the zoo or a museum exhibition, or simply dinner out.
  • If you don’t have the chance to leave a small thank-you note before you leave, be sure to send one afterwards! A nice touch is to include a photograph or two from your visit.

+ Give your host every reason to enjoy your visit. Make good conversation. Share talents and interests. Be a good listener. Communicate plans clearly. Do the dishes. Strip the bed before you leave. Avoid mooching or being presumptive about time or resources. Keep a positive attitude during your stay.

Following these five fundamentals and letting the question “Am I honoring my host?” guide your behavior may not make you the perfect guest, but it will show your host the respect he deserves, pave the way to a conflict-free visit and likely ensure an heartfelt invitation to stay again.

If the above has you worried you’ve been a lousy guest all these years, three sites with even more great advice include Couch Surfing’s primer on “How to be a good guest,” The Digerati Life’s “Cut Down on Travel Costs as a Gracious Houseguest,” and The Dollar Stretcher’s “Being a Responsible Houseguest.”

Have you had guests who turned your home into a Madhouse? What are your pet peeves when company comes knocking? And which thoughtful touches from visitors have made a lasting impression? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David DeFranza 02.26.08 at 6:17 pm

I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”

Great post, especially with the increasing popularity of hospitality clubs, like Couch Surfing, among budget travelers.

2 poetloverrebelspy 02.26.08 at 7:16 pm

Thanks for your comment, David.

I have found in my experience as a HC traveler that three days is about all you can stand of an average guest, while a thoughtful guest can stay for a week or more and the experience is pleasant for both guest and host. With more time, you develop a common rhythm and have more time to establish a friendship and undertake activities together.

A one-night stay, in contrast, gives you the worst effort/gain ratio. It’s more about the place to sleep and less about the people. Everything seems hurried and forced; some people never open up in that time.

Even those staying with friends or family would do well to follow this etiquette. I stumbled across hundreds of pages detailing the onerous behavior of relatives and supposed friends expecting a full-service vacation in someone else’s home. While a familiar host may be more forgiving of your slight faults, they also have a longer memory for them. Erring on the side of kindness evens out unintentional faux-pas and expresses goodwill to your host which will not be forgotten.

3 The Digerati Life 02.27.08 at 5:13 pm

Good stuff here. In the recent years, I’ve been playing host much more often than being the guest. Never had any issues despite the fact that my parents would stay months at a time. Having a good relationship and history together usually helps in this case.

4 valiko75 02.27.08 at 5:34 pm

Thanks, very useful! I like to invite guests as they break the boredom of daily routine. What I really hate is sleeping at someone’s home even if the hosts take efforts to make me feel comfortable. That’s why I prefer to rent a room when visiting other places even when there’s a chance to stay at my friends or relatives.

5 Julia Rosien 03.02.08 at 10:15 pm

Thanks for submitting a great article to the March 2008 Mom’s Blogging Carnival. You can see your story and all the others at:

6 JHS 03.03.08 at 4:27 am

Thanks for participating in this week’s Carnival of Family Life, hosted at Discussing Autism. The Carnival will be live tomorrow, so stop by and enjoy some of the other many articles contributed this week!

7 Gudrun 03.03.08 at 8:20 pm

thank you for this thoughtful post – I love the idea of honoring the host, and will strive to keep this in mind next time I am fortunate enough to stay in someone else’s home.


8 pickel 03.04.08 at 1:41 am

I love this article. WHen we lived out of state I often had trouble when my parents visited us. Because they were family they acted like family in our home and it was very hard. Our expectations were different in our home than they were in their home (we have a special needs child) and we expected them to bend to those expectations. I wish everyone would live by these rules!

9 Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife 03.04.08 at 2:00 pm

Thank you for participating in the Life Lessons of a Military Wife Carnival at

10 Amanda @ Me vs Debt 03.05.08 at 4:12 am

These are truly great tips. I’ve had quite a few couch surfers in my day. The best left my place cleaner and happier than when they came :)

11 poetloverrebelspy 03.06.08 at 12:20 pm

Find this post and others in a personal finance vein at the Carnival of Financial Planning, hosted this week at The Skilled Investor.

12 goodbyesunday 03.06.08 at 12:40 pm

3-Day Stay as a rule of thumb.

I like your topic, though, a bit stiff, but very informative.

I stayed with people I’ve met during travels also, the longest was 4 nights – finding the last night to be a bit uncomfortable than the first 3 nights. Not that they want to kick you out, but, it’s also your feeling that you have to consider.

Gret post indeed, and I’ll take some of your advises.

Cheers! … and happy traveling!

13 poetloverrebelspy 03.06.08 at 12:54 pm

Find this post in the Festival of Frugality, hosted this week by Broke Grad Student.

14 Jeff 03.09.08 at 4:17 pm

Great post. I’ve had some unfortunate experiences with a few “ungracious” houseguests. Wish they would of read your blog before vacationing down here in Branson, Missouri! lol

15 Megan from Imaginif 03.11.08 at 6:45 am

Thanks for joining us in the Carnival of Australia. I am sure that there are many Aussie hosts who need to learnt the skill of how to host. The Japanese are such gracious hosts and Japanese students appear to take such pleasure in being hosted that your post is one that needs to be supplied to English colleges throughout the country.

I’ve stumbled your post. I am very surprised that nobody else had already done that. Excellent little post. I look forward to seeing more of you in the fort nightly Carnival of Australia.

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