There's a holiday weekend coming up, which means plenty of people are packing their bags and heading out of town to stay with family and friends near and far. Even if this isn't you and your big Fourth of July plans involve sweating it out your apartment and stuffing your face with summer soup*, chances are, at some point in time, you'll end up staying in someone else's home.
Being an extended houseguest is a tricky situation. No matter how well you know your host, it remains that when you stay with someone, you invade their personal space and expect them to make room for you. That's not a bad thing! If a friend lets you crash, chances are they want you around — but that doesn't mean things can't become trying in close quarters.
Of course, the success of your stay isn't entirely in your control. In the words of Rob Base and DJ E Z Rock, "it takes two to make a thing go right." It's up to you and your host to make the best of circumstances. That said, there are things you can do to make the best of your stay and maintain a good relationship with whoever it is you're staying with.
Here's how to be the perfect houseguest.
Asking to Stay
There are some situations where staying with someone is a total given. If you've arranged a vacation to visit your best friend or sister, chances are both of you expect for you to crash on their couch or in the guest room and it might even be insulting to think otherwise. There are other times, however, when it's not safe to assume you can stay with someone and you need to ask. This advice is for the latter.
Before asking to stay with someone, take a quick second to examine your relationship with your potential host. How well do you know this person? If your only contact in Seattle is a girl you Facebook friended back in 2007 after you took an Intro to Biology lecture together and you haven't spoken since, you should probably skip asking and do Airbnb instead.
But let's assume the person you're considering staying with is a good enough friend or acquaintance that it wouldn't be weird to ask. (How do you determine if it's weird or not? Easy. Play a simple role reversal game and ask yourself how you would feel if they asked to crash with you. If you'd either A.) have no problem with it or B.) be comfortable saying no if you did have a problem with it, then go ahead.)
When asking to stay at a friend's, it's best to make the request by email. Asking on the phone can make a person feel put on the spot, while asking by email gives them a time to consider /check in with any roommates or significant others who could be affected by your visit.
Always be sure to make it very clear that it's okay for them to say no. True, guilt-tripping and telling your potential host that your vacation will be ruined if they don't let you crash with them will increase the chances of them saying yes, but remember — this is a guide to being the perfect houseguest, not a vaguely manipulative one.
Chances are they'll say yes, but if not, be cool about it. Their choice likely has less to do with you and more to do with lack of space or busy schedules.
Once You're There
They said you can stay! Great, here's what's next:
What to bring:
If someone's letting you stay in their home free of charge, a polite thing to do is bring along a Thank You gift. Something that's only available in your home state or wherever your visiting from is always a good idea. When I was living in Wisconsin, this meant bringing the precious gift of cheese curds. Since moving to New York, I've given people tote bags from the Strand bookstore, ceramic coffee mugs made to look like the classic NYC to-go cup and even fresh bagels. When in doubt, a nice bottle of booze is usually a safe bet.
If you can't bring along a gift, be sure and take your hosts out for a nice meal at least once during your stay. Actually, you should do this whether you bring a gift or not. If you're staying more than a few days, offer to pick up the tab as often as possible. Yeah, this can get expensive, but think about how much money your host is allowing you to save by letting you stay with him or her instead of at a hotel. Money wise, you're still coming out ahead.
Now let's talk about your comfort. How can you make sure that you have everything you need for your stay? Well, you can bring your own toiletries and bath towels. Most times people will have a towel for you, but on the rare occasion they don't, it can really suck to get stuck without one.
When staying in someone else's home, try to treat the space like you would a campsite. No, this doesn't mean building an indoor fire pit or going outside to poop. This means you should always try to leave your environment better than you found it. When you make a mess, clean it up right away. If you're heading out for a day of activities, try to contain your things so they're not all over the place (if you have your own private guest room, you kind of get to relax on this one.)
It's nice to pitch in around the house whenever possible. Here's the thing though — if you offer to clean, most hosts will say no. This isn't because they don't want your help. It's because they're too polite to take it. So don't ask. Just start cleaning. I'm not suggesting that you organize their closets or make their beds in the morning. That would be both nuts and invasive. What I'm suggesting is that you do the little things. Did you share a meal at home? Do the dishes. Don't ask "Can I help you clean up?" Find the dish soap, find the sink and start scrubbing, motherfucker, because that's what the perfect guest does.
The time you spend hanging around the apartment or house you're staying in is, again, entirely dependent on your relationship with your gracious host. In the event he or she is someone you don't know very well, it's usually best to get out of their hair whenever possible. Plan activities that get you out of the house so they can't get sick of you being around. You should be like a ghost — your host might occasionally hear your foot steps, but they rarely see you and when they complain about you, it makes them sound crazy.
What's your problem vs. what's their problem
If there are small, easy things your hosts can do to make you more comfortable, let them know. Think of how horrified you'd be to find out that your guest was freezing for their entire stay because the airconditioning was too high or they didn't have enough blankets. So if you're too cold or too hot, say something (politely)! If you forgot toothpaste or need to use some of their coffee, go ahead and ask. If someone likes you enough to let you stay in their house, they probably like you enough that they want you to be comfortable.
But there are other fixes on your road to complete and total comfort that aren't so quick or simple. For instance: Not liking your mattress, or the noise in your host's neighborhood. Unless your host is actually Rich Uncle Pennybags who can afford to go out and buy a Tempurpedic just for you, stuff like this cannot be easily changed and saying something will probably just make the person you're staying with feel bad. Again, you are not spending the money to stay in a hotel! Sleeping on a shitty air mattress next to the street-facing windows of your friend's home might be the price you pay instead, which, in my broke-ass opinion, is totally worth it.
Stay out of the West Wing.
The list above should be treated as a soft guideline — there are no hard rules. Everyone is different and has varying comfort levels, so what goes with some might fall completely flat with others. You could follow all of these rules to T and your host still might get upset with you (conversely, you could disregard the whole list and the host might think you're great) because people are crazy and that's what makes life beautiful and frustrating. So what should your main takeaway be? Be nice, be clean, enjoy your vacation.
*Summer soup is what I call vodka soaked watermelon when it's too hot to eat anything else. Na zdorovje!