It was shocking, if not surreal. The email message was from a woman I’d never met and whose name I recognized only because, a few months earlier, she mailed me a book she’d written.
The message announced that she and her family were planning a road trip to Disneyland and would just love to stay with us since (at the time) we lived nearby and oh, wouldn’t that be so much fun. She gave a tentative date they would be arriving.
Everything I know about what not to do as a house guest, I learned from that experience, from the moment they drove up (cue music for Cousin Eddie and family from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”) to the time they finally departed.
Full disclosure, because I have friends and relatives who read this column, be it known that all our other houseguests have been wonderful. Exemplary. Do not worry. This is not about you.
It need not be engraved on parchment, but you do need some indication that you are invited. Do not send a cryptic message (“Looks like we will be in your area in a couple of weeks!”), hoping that will result in an invitation. And for goodness’ sake, don’t just show up.
Nail down the dates of your visit, and then stick to them. When your host does not offer specific dates, that does not mean to say as long as you like. Listen for subtle clues (“We’ll be super busy toward the end of July”).
Do Not Be Vague
If the two of you plan to arrive with four children, two dogs, and the new kitten—spell it out. Do not assume your host will just know this intuitively.
Respect Your Space
Arriving with 16 suitcases and enough toys to keep the children entertained for weeks on end gives the impression that you’ll be taking over the entire house. Bring only what you need and will fit into a guest room, and then make sure it all stays there. You’re not staying in a hotel, so don’t treat your friend’s home like one. When you’re not in your room, it should look like it did when you arrived.
All homes have some rules. If your hosts remove their shoes at the front door, follow suit. Don’t eat in the living room or allow the children to jump on the furniture. Don’t go through every cupboard and drawer in the house (yes, they did, and to the delight of their mother, who remarked that the children are just so curious).
Mind the Children
Talk to your kids—before you travel—about manners, respect, and tidiness. Let them know you expect them to pick up their clothing and offer to help with chores.
Make sure you have rented a car or figured out public transportation before your arrival. Should your hosts offer the use of a vehicle, return it clean and washed with the gas tank full.
Do not expect your hosts to do all the work. See what needs to be done and offer to help. And if the hosts prefer for you to sit back and relax, respect their wishes.
You can graciously invite your hosts to join you at Sea World, but don’t expect that to happen. And don’t assume they will have discount tickets for you. Or that they will watch the children while you go out for a few hours. They are neither your babysitters nor your tour guides.
Leave a Fragrance
Upon your departure, you want to make sure you leave behind a fragrance—not an odor. Clean up after yourselves without being obnoxious. Don’t assume you need to do all the laundry and clean the house before you leave. Just use common sense. A lovely parting gesture is to leave a handwritten thank you and appropriate gift to let your hosts know how much you enjoyed your stay.
I have another book in my library—one I cherish and read often. Years ago, its author, Darlene Dennis, sent it to me. You need to read “Host or Hostage: A Guide for Surviving House Guests.” You’ll laugh; you’ll learn; and in the process, you’ll become a gracious host.
Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.” Mary invites you to visit her at her website, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at EverydayCheapskate.com/contact, “Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at Tips.EverydayCheapskate.com. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Copyright 2021 Creators.com