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How to be a good house guest

Tuesday February 13, 2007

Living room
  1. If you love doing something that affects the space of others, like singing or speaking live with friends online, try to notice the impact of your behaviour. Watch for small signs like coughs, yawns or sighs that may indicate your hosts are becoming irritated by your behaviour. Consider re-scheduling your activities, to accommodate your passions without rattling others? serenity. Remember that you?re in their space, so try and find compromises, rather than pushing forward to satisfy your own desires.
  2. Avoid bringing new friends and acquaintances to the house without checking it?s ok first, as this can be intrusive to hosts. They may feel threatened; remember, they?ve opened their space to one person, so if you intend to invite more, be sure to get permission first.
  3. If you have a skill to share, share it. Play songs in the evening for example, or help their kids learn some new words in English or another language. Use opportunities like helping in the garden or washing a car together to bond and show hosts you care and appreciate sharing their space.
  4. Try to integrate into the hosts? patterns ? feel yourself as part of their unit. How does it feel to be there, sharing space with these people? What can you contribute? What do you love about how they live? What is new, beautiful, endearing, challenging? Try to remain open, respectful and observant.
  5. Always ask before using your host?s telephone. Preferably use a calling card so your calls are pre-paid. Similarly, ask before using other big pieces of equipment too, like a TV, computer or massage chair. Even if your host declares to ?make yourself at home,? it?s courteous to ask about using anything that seems valuable to them.


  1. If you have your own bedroom in a host house, you will have more space to spread out than if you?re sleeping on a sofa. Still try to be respectful of the space however and keep your things together. Hosts tend to feel more relaxed if they see their guest room is still more or less in order, rather than exploding with mess and laundry.
  2. Make your bed daily. It?s a simple and effective way to show respect. It doesn?t need to be perfect, just in basic order and this simple task can transform a room.
  3. If this is a house with curtains or shutters on windows that are generally opened during the day, follow suit in your room.
  4. Bring ear-plugs ? they really can be life-savers at times.
  5. Try to be sensitive to any apparent dress code. For example, does it really feel appropriate to enter the living area in nightwear in the morning? Does it feel comfortable? Or does it feel more appropriate to get dressed first?


  1. Find out on your first day how the shower works. Trust me, just ask. Every shower, without fail, has some quirk that only the users know about. Save time and the annoyance of getting scalded or frozen and just ask. If there?s a shower curtain, rather than door, be sure to extend it after use, so it?s not bunched up, growing mildew. If there?s a bathmat, pick it up after use and hang it to dry over the bath or shower rail.
  2. If the toilet paper runs out, locate more ? either in the house or buy more. Again, this is simple household maintenance that is often appreciated.
  3. If you create an unpleasant smell in the bathroom, try to remedy it. Open a window, find an air freshener, or if you?re due to bathe, hop in and let the steam and shampoo smells dissipate the less pleasant fumes.
  4. If a few people share one bathroom, be sure to ask if anyone needs the facilities first. In general, try not to spend too long in the bathroom; consider the needs of others.
  5. Pay attention to how toiletries, like shampoo, work differently in different locations. In one place, the water might be hard and your shampoo gives little lather, whereas in another place the soft water produces abundant lather. Be observant and you can be more conservative with products at times, which is better for everyone.


  1. Find out the rules for each kitchen. In particular, locate sharp knives, plates, chopping boards, washing-up liquid and towels, especially if your host going away. Locate basic things before they go ? it?s so much easier than rummaging around yourself. Also be sure to put things back where you found them. Hosts can feel frustrated if their kitchen gets jostled and they can?t find things where they left them.
  2. Do your washing up immediately ? preferably before you even eat (especially in hot / tropical climates to avoid bugs). If you don?t clean before eating, then do it soon after. Offer to do all the washing up, even if not all the dishes are yours. Or share the washing up with someone and make it social.
  3. If you suspect your host is not accustomed to your eating habits ? for example, raw vegan or celiac ? be sure to advise them of your dietary requirements before arriving. Some people may not feel comfortable hosting if you eat differently from them. Food is a very social aspect of life and tension can easily form if hosts prepare food you?re not willing to eat - so be clear.
  4. Be generous with food. Offer hosts whatever you?re having, even if you suspect they won?t want or like it. Just offering creates an open, friendly atmosphere. Prepare a favourite meal for everyone, or perhaps something traditional from your home if you?re abroad. People usually love trying new things and taking time-out from food preparation.
  5. If you?re somewhere where they?re not yet recycling and composting kitchen scraps, you can guide them gently. People are often happy to do their bit for the environment, but can be unsure how to begin. Your new energy in their space can help kick-start new habits. Show how simple it is to collect cans and bottles for recycling in a box under the sink. Choose a sealable bucket for food scraps, to transfer to the garden compost later. Help locate recycling facilities nearby or make a simple compost heap with stacked old tyres. Simple changes like these benefit everyone. Be a beacon for positive change on your journey.
This guidance will, I hope inspire you to enrich and enliven your experiences on the road. There is so much joy to be shared. May your stays be sweet and serene.

Angela Stokes is a freelance writer currently wintering in San Jose, Costa Rica. She runs, which promotes healthy living for natural weight loss. She hopes to settle some day in a warm climate, by the sea -? with a hammock and coconuts. Then she?ll take her turn at hosting.

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