10 Tips on Becoming the Perfect Houseguest

“Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” ―Benjamin Franklin

I lived in Laguna Beach, California and hosted many friends who came to visit this picturesque, quaint village on the Pacific boasting art galleries, restaurants, and world-class art festivals in the summer including the unique Pageant of the Masters.

It’s not as if my friends could not afford a hotel, but most of them my husband and I knew well enough to invite them to enjoy their visit and save some money by sharing our home with them. We had the extra room, why not?

After some of the visits, the question became, “Why did we?”

Even the best of friends who became houseguests had apparently not read the unwritten etiquette of being a good guest–one that will be guaranteed an invitation back. We were amazed at friends who left wet, sandy beach towels on the bathroom floor; left unmade beds for us to strip sheets and wash; ate food and invited themselves to meals with no offer of groceries or inviting us out for a thank you dinner.

Sometimes a “few days” visit turned out to be a week stay. There was even an instance of a very drunk visitor, that is too bawdy a story to even repeat. Because we traveled and did house exchanges, we were frankly appalled at the behavior of some of our guests.

So, Dear Reader, I have put together a list for you if you plan on staying in someone’s home, desire to be The Perfect Houseguest, and wish to be invited back.

1Make sure that you are an invited guest with friends that you know well and will be comfortable staying in their home, as well as they will be comfortable hosting you. It is much more polite to mention to friends that you will be visiting their city and wait for an invitation to stay with them, rather than put someone on the spot by just asking. The exception to this might be family, but even they deserve this courtesy as they may have other plans.

I’m living in Arizona now, in a much smaller home, and I have actually slept on my own couch so that a guest could use the master bedroom. For a good friend, I’m happy to do this. Put on the spot–I’m not so thrilled.

One of my war stories is a person who used my guest room (a twin bed) and asked if I could move a small desk and lamp into the room. This is an etiquette no-no. Do not ask hosts to rearrange furniture. Especially me.

I have cousins who lived in Tucson, Arizona, a short drive from where I live now. They lived in a huge home with plenty of room for guests. They are also close family, where I had an open invitation to stay anytime. I brought my little terrier with me for ten years. She became part of their pet menagerie. This is an exception. Not a rule.

Never bring pets unless they are specifically invited along with you.

2. Let your hosts know your schedule. Your exact time of arrival and when you plan on leaving. Plan your own transportation from airports, train stations, or a metro. Use a rental car so you can independently keep your holiday or business schedule. If your host offers to pick you up and take you everywhere you need to go–great, but this should never be an expectation.

And, oh yes, it has happened to me. I’m still in the Learn To Say No class.

 3. Ask your host about house rules. If their bedtime is 11:00 pm, you will want to be home by that hour in order not to disturb them. Some people prefer that shoes not be worn in their house.

When I visit my son, I’m given a 2’x2′ area rug to remove my shoes in case they dare mar his hardwood floors. His rules would take a small paragraph to list and enforcement is rather strict. But it’s his first house. His rules. Find out about any rules or preferences ahead of time and be respectful of them.

Find out about any rules or preferences ahead of time and be respectful of them.

4. Arriving with a small gift for your host is a great way to start the visit. The gift can be a plant, a picture frame, or any token to immediately show your appreciation. A gift when you leave is also recommended. By this time you may have noticed something in the house your host needs or would enjoy. These thoughtful gifts show your host how grateful you are for allowing you to share space in their home.

5. Plan your own schedule. Don’t expect your host to entertain you or include you in their activities unless specifically invited. I did have a guest once ask if he could join a girl’s night out with me and my friends.

After I recovered from the shock of him not understanding “girl’s night,” it was a very awkward no.

It is always a courteous offer to take your host out to dinner as a thank you for your stay.

6. Keep your room and bathroom clean and tidy. Make your bed every day. Clean up after yourself everywhere, especially in the bathroom and kitchen. You’re in someone’s home, not the Holiday Inn. Be sure to hang wet towels and don’t leave clothes piles on the floor. Refer to above mentioned Laguna Beach guests who left sandy beach towels on the bathroom floor. They will not be returning. And neither will you. Use closet space or your suitcase to store your clothes and personal items.

Be sure to hang wet towels and don’t leave clothes piles on the floor. Refer to above mentioned Laguna Beach guests who left sandy beach towels on the bathroom floor. They will not be returning. And neither will you. Use closet space or your suitcase to store your clothes and personal items.

I had a guest who asked me to make him a cup of coffee in the morning. I showed him how to use my Keurig coffee maker. The next morning he asked again. This is not good guest etiquette. I had to bite my tongue not to direct him to Starbucks.

7. Conserve your linens and towels. It really is okay to use a towel more than once. If you’re unsure–picture doing the amount of laundry your host will have to do after you leave. When it is time for you to leave, strip the bed and offer to wash your linens and towels. You will likely be turned down, but it’s a polite gesture.

8. Be helpful where you can. The perfect guest offers to help with chores–walk the dog, load the dishwasher, and gives their host as much personal space as possible. Unless invited, you do not need to join them on the couch for nightly television, and definitely, do not ask to change the channel to watch your favorite shows. Hopefully, you’re out exploring the sights of a new city and not hanging around the house. While you’re out, buy your own groceries such as bottled water, energy bars, or any food item you’d like to have that may not be available.

You may wonder why I’m telling you my guest horror stories. It’s very simple. So you will Never Do This. Here comes another one. As unbelievable as it may sound, I did have a visitor once who asked me to drive her to a liquor store to buy a bottle of vodka late at night. Never Do This.

9. From bottles of vodka to appropriate attire–make sure to pack a robe. There may be some distance between your room and the bathroom. Modesty rules over showing off your Vic’s Secret knickers or footie pajamas to your guests or their children.

10. The after visit thank you note. No explanation by Miss Manners needed here. I shudder to think if you might believe an email would suffice. See also The Lost Art of Hand Written Notes for reference.

There can be nothing quite as enjoyable or intimate as sharing a good friend’s home on a vacation, weekend getaway, or business trip. If you follow these simple, common-sense rules of houseguest manners–you are on your way to becoming the Perfect Houseguest.

“Santa Claus has the right idea: Visit people once a year.”―Victor Borge

Photo Credit: Angelbattle bros Flickr via Compfight cc

  1. Having been a guest of said Laguna Beach house (though I did not stay overnight), I do hope my manners were appropriate for a one day stay. I have had houseguest a who have broken all the rules, including not even a thank you, they moved my parents furniture to make their “station” and plopped there and let their son hog the tv all night. My parents couldn’t even watch tv there. This is a must read for anyone who plans to be a guest or anticipates becoming a host.

  2. I adore this, Dori! I wish it were proper “host etiquette” to send these tips ahead of time. But I’m generally lucky–most my guests were not “raised by wolves.” Thank you for this guide! As always, your posts are spot on!

  3. Dori, these are just a few reasons I’d love to live in the forest in a cabin somewhere. Surrounded by wildlife who are more civilized than most civilians. Lol. Great article!

  4. Dori,
    If everyone followed your 10 tips, I would not shudder and have panic attacks for weeks leading up to, “Company’s Coming.” I love this post, as always, you are brilliant.
    Love Me

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