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How to be a good house guest

Tuesday February 13, 2007

Angela Stokes

I am technically homeless. For the last decade I have travelled the globe, enjoying the flow and refraining from making roots. The journey has taken me from cattle ranches in New Zealand through a palatial suite in Costa Rica to couch-surfing in Ohio ? with many stops in between. In 2006 alone I stayed in around 65 different places. Luckily, since I run a website, my work is flexible and I make full use that flexibility to explore.

I love this lifestyle and over time have collected many tips on how to be a great house guest. More people are now on the move, leading nomadic lifestyles, than at any other point in recent history. It?s becoming a way of life, so I?m happy to offer some guidance for newcomers. These simple, indispensable tips come from firsthand experience and will, I hope, assist in keeping us all trotting gleefully and smoothly around the globe.

This week I offer 15 general tips followed by the top five suggestions for each main living area (living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen) next week.

Being a good house guest:

  1. Be aware that first impressions last. Although hosts will understand if you arrive late at night, feeling tired and unsocial, try not to make this a habit. It makes it difficult for you to give a good idea of who you are, what you?re doing there and what you hope to experience during your stay. If you can manage little else, let them know you appreciate them opening their home to you.
  2. Share a gift with your hosts. Whether at the start of your stay, during, or after, be sure to give something, which marks your time together and shows your appreciation. If they?re away and you?re house-sitting, you could leave fresh flowers or fruit. If visiting from afar, you might bring small traditional gifts from where you have just come from. Kids especially appreciate any gifts you share. Leaving a thank you note too, for them to keep, is always appreciated.
  3. Be observant and try quickly to ascertain the ?rules? of the house. Do these people leave their shoes at the door? If so, then follow suit. Do they always lower the toilet seat after use? Then again, do so. Do they have certain chairs they sit in? Then respect their habits and find your own space.
  4. Make your boundaries clear from the beginning. If you?re looking for time alone and rest, state that. If you?re hoping to spend a lot of time with your hosts, at tourist attractions for example, then make that clear too. Whatever your interests, be clear from the start, to avoid confusion and disappointment. Re-emphasise your boundaries if you feel things slipping into a space you feel uncomfortable with or are not enjoying.
  5. Try to keep your belongings together. Put your luggage somewhere with easy access and which is not disrupting anything or anyone else. Keep your clothes together and preferably neatly folded. Stay tidy in the bathroom too; I use a drawstring bag for my shower items and a wash bag for toiletries, placing both somewhere inconspicuous when I?m done. In the kitchen, try keeping your food and equipment in one area; use just one fridge shelf for example.
  6. Choose good locations for your things from the outset. This may seem odd, but I?ve found it really makes a difference. We are creatures of habit and once things are in place, there?s a tendency to leave them, even if it?s apparent they?re not in the right place. By then, their place is somewhat fixed and that?s where they?ll likely stay until you move again. Choosing a good location when you first arrive can make all the difference. On arrival you?ll probably just want to put your bags down and relax ? but know this: a few moments of concentration then can save lots of bother later.
  7. When you move on, leave things as clean as when you arrived, if not cleaner. Everyone appreciates help with housework, so do your bit: strip your bed, sweep your room and tidy any kitchen or bathroom clutter.
  8. Assess the house sleeping patterns and decide whether to adapt to them. This can be tricky but can be a great motivator for change. It tends to create more harmony if you flow with your hosts? patterns. Do however honour your own needs and desires and find a compromise if necessary. If your host family loves going swimming at 7am for example and you can?t imagine even rising before ten, then try compromising at 8.45am and explain your situation. Most hosts are happy to make arrangements that please everyone.
  9. Make good, clear plans to help set boundaries. If your host family knows that you?re scheduled to do something together from 8-11pm, they?ll more likely happily let you do your own thing earlier. But if there?s no structure, they may feel less secure that you?ll spend any time together, which can create complications. Hold respectful boundaries, like you would with a child: share yourself with them as much as is comfortable, but don?t give all your time and energy away.
  10. Be observant and respectful of boundaries your host sets regarding their schedule. Remember they have a life of their own, besides. They may have commitments, like work, that just can?t involve you. Try to give space as seems appropriate.
  11. Try to honour plans, to maintain a good bond. If you arrange to be somewhere with hosts at a certain time, or to stay a certain number of days, try your best to fulfill that. Of course, plans need adjusting sometimes, but stay aware that it?s a great gift they?re sharing with you ? opening their home ? and try to maintain respect for that.
  12. If your hosts go away, overnight or longer, establish key details before they go. If they?re not returning before you leave, be extra sure about details like where the rubbish goes, and when, and where you should leave the keys. After a lovely stay, it would be unfortunate to create issues by accidentally turning off the heating, for example and freezing their house pipes, so get clear instructions.
  13. Consider the time you have with each host a precious opportunity. This may be the only time you connect directly with them. Every person has something amazing to share, so for maximal enjoyment, try tapping into each host?s passion. (If you need tips on creative conversations, see Bliss Conscious Communication by Happy Oasis). Most people live in one place, surrounded by the same people. By travelling and meeting new people, a wealth of stories, knowledge and possibilities open up to you that many never choose to experience. Use this opportunity to the full. Why have you been drawn to share with this person? What can you offer each other? Many people feel they don?t know anyone who really listens ? be that person, hold that space for them and all can benefit.
  14. Be sensitive to cultural differences. If you?re somewhere for example where it?s peculiar for guests to help make food, try to avoid the kitchen. Allow people to do things for you, if that seems comfortable to them. You may assume that going to help is the right thing to do, but for them it may seem odd and even intrusive. These situations may be especially hard to read if you don?t share a common language well, so just do your best, to maintain a happy balance.
  15. Warn hosts if you have any severe allergies. Whether it?s pets, peanuts or perfumes, be sure to warn hosts if you suffer any allergies before you arrive and check for possible exposure.

Next page: top five suggestions for conducting yourself in each main living area of your host's home, ensuring you are the model house guest.

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