The Importance of Houseguest Etiquette
We’ve all experienced or heard stories about annoying houseguests and visits that just don’t work out—lifelong friends who upset their hosts so much that they’re never invited back, family members who are practically disowned, and so on. Everyone has their limits and expectations from guests, and these differ from person to person and family to family.
Any time you’re a guest, whether you’re staying with family or friends, you should be on your best behavior and adhere to all the rules of houseguest etiquette. Whether you’d like to be invited back or not, you don’t want your hosts to be relieved to see you go.
Here are some great tips from people who have had their share of guests. I asked about their worst houseguests and got their advice on what not to do if you want to be invited back.
12 Things Good Houseguests Never Do
Staying with friends or family isn't always a bed of roses, but there are things you can do to help. If you want to have a great vacay, you need to do your part to be a good guest.
Check out this list of what most hosts don't want their guests to do. Make sure that you don’t do anything on this list, and you and your host(s) will have a great time while you’re in town.
1. Show Up Uninvited
Your friend may have mentioned that you’re always welcome to stay with them, but you should always run it by them before you arrive. Showing up unannounced is a sure way to start your stay on the wrong foot.
Sure, surprise visits can be great, but probably only if you are planning to stay with friends who don't have commitments—like kids, a job, or basically a life. Most people need at least a couple of days to prepare for a house guest. They may also want to take a couple of days off work, especially if you’re a good friend who they haven't seen for a while. Be respectful of your hosts' time and arrange a good time for a visit with them as far in advance as possible.
Takeaway: Don't surprise your hosts with a visit, and never ever bring an unannounced guest with you (whether it's a person or a pet).
2. Not Help Around the House
As much as your hosts are happy to see you, you need to understand that having you there adds a whole lot more to their workload (even if you're close friends and you don't expect them to go out of their way for you). They will have more cleaning and cooking to do. They may have to make arrangements to get out of work or work around a different schedule so they have time to hang out with you.
So don't just offer to help around the house; actually do it, whether it's putting dishes away or sweeping the floor. Offer to help with whatever chores they are doing or to keep an eye on their kids while they take some time out. They will appreciate it!
Nobody expects you to slave away during your vacation (and some hosts may even try to refuse your help), just don't forget to keep your space clean and tidy.
Takeaway: Remember to help with chores and tidy up after yourself so that your host doesn't feel like they're your maid.
3. Expect to Eat for Free
Don't eat your hosts out of house and home. You're not staying at a hotel with free room service. Invite your hosts out for at least one meal, chip in for some groceries while you're there, and offer to help with the cooking when eating at home.
The planning stage is also a good time to inform your hosts of any dietary restrictions or allergies you may have and how you plan to get around these restrictions.
For example, if you eat gluten-free, tell them you'll bring some food with you or ask about the closest place to buy gluten-free groceries. They probably won't expect you to do this, but it's polite to let them know and it shows that you don't expect them to go out of their way for your visit.
Takeaway: If you have specific requirements for your stay, make sure that your host is aware of them. Be responsible for your own needs and be sure to pitch in for some groceries during your visit.
4. Play on Your Phone All Day and Use Up Their WiFi
This is especially rude. After all, you've come to spend time with these people, and here you are spending all your time with your nose in your phone or laptop.
You may not mean it, but you're conveying the message that your hosts bore you and you'd rather be somewhere else. If you have work to do on your computer while you're there, let them know in advance that this will be a working holiday and try to keep it to certain times of the day, if possible while they’re at work as well.
Similarly, if your host lives in an area with less-than-ideal internet, consider offering to go to a cafe to get your hours in, especially if your host works from home. Otherwise, you may end up slowing down their connection in a major way or pushing them over their monthly data cap.
Takeaway: Leave your devices on silent and focus on spending quality time with your hosts. And if you have to work while on vacation, offer to do it somewhere other than their home.
5. Expect Your Hosts to Keep You Occupied the Entire Time
Don't expect your hosts to entertain you all the time. They probably have to go to work and continue with their everyday lives while you're there, so make plans to keep yourself occupied, go sightseeing alone, or meet up with another friend who lives in the area.
The best way to do this is to plan in advance. Ask your hosts if they will be able to take time off to be with you (and what they might want to do) and let them know that you'll be fine on your own too. If there are other places you want to visit while you're in town, plan a solo trip or arrange to meet other friends there.
Takeaway: Let your host know that as much as you want to spend time with them, you're perfectly capable of entertaining yourself when they aren't around.
6. Overstay Your Welcome
I’ve heard so many horror stories about guests who have an arrival date but never mention when they plan on leaving. Granted, this is also on the hosts; they should ask about travel dates, but sometimes people feel uncomfortable asking when their guests plan to leave. These are always the guests who stay way longer than it's polite to stay.
Takeaway: Always send your host your itinerary—with both arrival and departure dates—before you arrive. And try to keep your stay short and sweet; three days is usually a good guideline.
7. Trash Their House
OK, maybe that sounds like an exaggeration, but what I mean is don't leave your things around the house, your garbage lying around, your wet towels on the floor, etc. Also, make an effort not to break their things; yes, accidents do happen, but if you do damage something, make sure to replace it ASAP.
Lastly—and this should really go without saying—but whatever you do, don't smoke in a non-smoking home.
This important tip really can't be stressed enough: Make sure to keep the place clean while you're there, and before you leave, tidy up and give the place a once over to ensure you've not left anything and that it's as clean as it was when you arrived. You don't want your hosts to have to spend hours of their time cleaning after you. Especially if you want to be invited back.
Takeaway: In addition to helping your host with general chores around the house (e.g. cleaning the kitchen after a shared meal), make sure you tidy up your space before you leave. Try to leave it even cleaner than you found it!
8. Invite Other Friends to Their Home
Don't invite any other friends to your hosts' home without running it by them first. And even if your host gives you the green light, make sure you invite no more than one or two friends at a time.
If you want to get together with other friends who live in that city, make plans to meet them elsewhere. And for heaven's sake, if these are people that you only know through the internet and haven't met in real life yet, don't make your first meeting at your host's house.
9. Stay Up Late and Make Lots of Noise
You might be on holiday, but unless they've taken time off to spend with you, your hosts probably have to work the next day. So don't watch TV loudly until the wee hours of the morning, go tromping around the house late at night, or keep them up late chatting with you.
You may be enjoying catching up with them, but notice when it's getting late and give them an out. You can ask what their schedule allows for or just politely tell them it's time for you to turn in and that you look forward to continuing to catch up the next day.
Takeaway: Your hosts won't want to tell you when it's time to go to sleep, and if you do your part as a good houseguest, they won't need to. Do them a favor and respect quiet hours.
10. Snoop Around Their House
If you're left at home alone while your hosts are at work, don't snoop around their house. It doesn't matter how inquisitive you are; just don't do it. On top of it being downright rude, they will likely know if someone has touched their stuff, creating a seriously awkward situation. What's more, many homes are now equipped with video cameras, so they might even see you going through their belongings.
Takeaway: Your host will show you everything they want you to see, and you need to respect their privacy, even if you’re curious about the rest of their house.
11. Not Bring a Gift
None of the hosts I spoke with complained about this, but when I asked, I was surprised to learn that some houseguests do turn up without a gift.
Bringing a gift to your host is one of the classic rules of etiquette for houseguests. It doesn't have to be something big or expensive; it's just to show your appreciation that they have invited you to stay in their home. Get them something from your home town/country or something you know they like.
If you’re unable to buy a gift before your visit, make sure to get them something while you're there. Maybe ask what kind of wine they like, or take note of what kind of décor they have in their home and get something similar (though usually, an edible/drinkable gift is a safer bet).
12. Forget to Thank Your Hosts for Having You
You can't thank your hosts enough for inviting you into their home. Thank them when you first start planning your trip, thank them again once you get there, and thank them again when you leave.
When you get home, don't forget to write a nice note to tell them how much you appreciate their hospitality and how great a time you had with them. A nice e-card or email will do the trick, but if you want to make it a special thank-you, write them a letter and mail it the old-fashioned way.
It's not difficult to have a great time while you're staying at a friend's house, but it's important to make sure your host has a great time too. Plan your trip in advance and make sure that your host is provided with all the details.
Don't treat your hosts like they are running a free hotel; be respectful, polite, and tidy and you're sure to be the houseguest that gets invited again.
© 2019 Carol Morris