Be it couch surfing on vacation or staying with relatives over the holidays—are you a good houseguest? Even more crucial—have you added to your host’s stress load or have you made your stay pleasant and enjoyable for them? Will they invite you back?
It wasn’t until recently that I experienced “bad” houseguests. This is due to the fact that I’ve always been the vagabond traveling the world sleeping on kind folk’s couches. Then I settled down, became a travel writer and bought a home. To pay the mortgage I rented out rooms and basements and even one time, hammock space under the fig tree in the garden. Oh, I forgot about renting out the outdoor sauna as a living space for some nominal fee to a homeless friend.
Now, after a successful career, I have the luxury of owning a home in Hawaii with an empty guest room. Feel lonely? Move to Hawaii and you will have a dance card full of friends and distant relatives who want to visit. Especially in the winter.
After several stressful visits from friends who mistook me for their maid and cook, I realized that someone you enjoy going out to lunch with once or twice a month is not necessarily someone you want staying with you for a week. They reveal their habits and phobias, their disregard for other’s privacy and need for quiet, or that the person they are visiting is not running a hotel but has a busy life full of responsibilities.
Was I a bitch for wanting to chuck a few of these guests off the cliff when a tiger shark swam by?
Or was it a not-so-uncommon experience for other people with homes on a tropical isle far away from icy climes? I decided to ask my local friends about their houseguest experience. It became immediately clear I was not in the minority.
“Houseguests are exhausting!” was the common cry. Terry, an island girl who surfs and teaches at a local school, said, “I used to have people stay for as many days as they liked. Now, my husband and I draw the line at two nights. One preferably.”
Michael, who hails from a large family in the Midwest, says, “I had cousins visit who each used a clean towel daily, leaving it on the bathroom floor for me to pick up and launder. They did not consider that we are off-grid with no washing machine or dryer. Once a month we drive an hour into Hilo to do laundry. They used every towel we owned and cleaned out our refrigerator and cupboard.”
My favorite guests so far were a business colleague and his wife. They were upbeat and came bearing a large cooler packed with excellent wine, fresh fish, gourmet cheeses. Heaven! And they were scintillating conversationalists AND great dishwashers. They stayed two nights and we were sad to see them drive away, on to their next adventure.
So what are the guidelines to being a great addition to your host’s life and daily routines? You’d think it is a no-brainer but after hearing all my friends’ tales of woe and my own experiences, I’m making a list that will come in handy when I get my next slew of guest inquiries:
• Ask if there is something your host needs that fits in a carry-on suitcase (along with your belongings). I add this caveat because one time when I asked a friend what I could bring her on my visit to her farmhouse in France, she said she had a box for me to bring that was already packed. She did not mention that it was tiles and it weighted over 50 pounds.
• Bring a gift.
• Don’t talk about your personal problems all the time. Your hosts are not your therapist.
• Do the dishes. Do not create extra work for your hosts.
• Respect their privacy.
• Contribute to the food purchases and offer to cook unless you are a dreadful chef.
• Take your hosts out for a nice meal.
• Don’t regard them as your tour guide.
• Ask if there is something you can do to help them out and also what are the house guidelines.
• Bring your own toiletries and other necessities. Recently, I had a guest arrive who asked if I had contact lens solution. No. We had to drive to Hilo (an hour away) just to purchase this item for him.
Did I miss anything? Please contribute your suggestions on how to be a welcome guest. You are doing all of us a big favor. Terry has another well-learned tip for those unsolicited queries: “Just say, “No thank you. The room is booked.”