Travel etiquette 101: rules for house guests and hosts

With rising airfares, hotel costs, and near-record gas prices, people fortunate (and unfortunate) enough to live in destination-friendly places can expect a double-dose of second cousins and friends-of-friends dropping by to set up camp for a few days, or more. Get ready – house-crashers are coming, so dust off that guest bed.

But being a good host or guest isn’t easy, so how do you make sure you’re still friends at the end of the trip, and maybe even have plans for doing it all again next year? We need rules! So, we polled the Lonely Planet staff, and came up with a set of rules for hosts and house guests alike.

Lonely Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler was one of the first to offer a rule for house guests: “The oldest line is still the best – guests and fish begin to smell after three days. Or, like fish, guests should go off after three days.” There you have it – Rule #1: Three days max, even for family. If you’re staying longer, get a hotel.

A general rule everyone should follow: have fun, but remember to play fair.

For House Guests:

  • If you borrow your hosts’ car, fill up the tank.
  • Contribute to food: assist in shopping or offer money for groceries.  Or replace things like milk and toilet paper as they are used. If you have dietary restrictions, bring your own food. Do the dishes. Or take your hosts out to dinner.
  • Send a hand-written thank you note. It’s a nice touch.
  • Bring a gift, even something as simple as flowers, wine or chocolate. Better yet, bring something indicative of your home city/town. Don’t bring anything too expensive, you don’t want to outshine the hospitality.
  • If the household has kids, get them a gift too. Or offer to babysit one evening so your hosts can go out on their own.
  • Keep out of your hosts’ way, whenever possible. Often they are still working and running a normal life during your stay, so the least disruption as possible is ideal. Be self-sufficient. Don’t expect your hosts to chauffer you around the whole time, or come up with all your activities and entertainment. Buy a guidebook and plan what you’d like to do in their city; go off on your own when you can (your hosts may not be able to take time off work). Familiarize yourself with public transportation options or rent a car. Get a set of keys and let yourself in and out.
  • Make the bed every morning and clean up after yourself. At least once, go above and beyond and do something unexpected like sweeping or taking out the trash when your hosts aren’t home.
  • If your hosts are doing a lot of driving to show you the sights, offer to pay for gas.
  • If you are abroad or somewhere especially rural and dry, consider taking your own bedding and towels. Often people have one water tank to do laundry so extra laundry is hard for them.
  • Offer to return the favor and host them at your house.

For Hosts:

  • Have the bed made up ahead of time and leave fresh towels out so they can nap/shower as soon as they arrive.
  • Give your guest a good room, even the best room of the house. This may mean you have to sleep on a futon or with your kids.
  • Leave an empty drawer and some empty hangers for them in the closet.
  • Buy an inexpensive robe and slippers to have on hand for your guests.
  • Collect travel-size toiletries from hotels as a welcome kit.
  • Toilets and bathrooms often have quirks: running toilets, reversed hot and cold taps, hidden boiler switches, etc. Nothing is more embarrassing than having to ask your host for a plunger in the middle of dinner, so let your guest know any plumbing ins and outs when they arrive.
  • Allow them independence: give them their own set of keys, give them a map of your city, provide a sheet with all the information they need: your address, taxi phone numbers, etc.
  • Often where you live isn’t on the city map. If that’s the case draw a map of your neighborhood and mark all the important things: supermarket, pharmacy, train station or bus stops, restaurants, shops, etc.
  • Buy them a public transportation daily or weekly pass so they don’t have to figure it out on their own.
  • If your guests are from abroad, buy a cheap mobile phone and SIM card that they can pre-pay and use.

What are your tips for being a great house guest or host?