Being a good houseguest requires more than not losing your host's spare set of keys. According to Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert, founder of the Protocol School of Texas, and author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life ($9.19, amazon.com), the best houseguests show their appreciation for their host's time, energy, personal property, and family members. So, here's exactly how to show that appreciation—and be asked back for another stay.
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Bring along a gift.
A gift is a nice way to express your gratitude for your host or hostess. It doesn't have to be expensive, says international etiquette consultant Julia Esteve Boyd, but it should be thoughtful, "like a new frame for photos, or something artisanal from your hometown, such as specialty jams," she explains. "If you put some thought into your gift, your host will feel appreciated from the start."
Be tidy and clean.
Make your bed each day, recommends Gottsman. "It's a courteous gesture that shows you take pride in yourself and other peoples' valuable possessions," she explains. Then, when you leave, "strip the bed and clear the bathroom of used towels," says etiquette expert Lisa Mirza Grotts, who adds that you should ask where to find clean sheets and towels so you can replace them.
Help throughout your stay.
"You are not staying at a hotel where you go downstairs and purchase food and coffee," Gottsman says. "Offering to be a part of the daily routine takes pressure off the host and ensures you are pulling your own weight." She suggests offering to set the table, cleaning up after the meal, making a favorite dish, or "anything else that shows you are appreciative of your host's goodwill."
But don't be intrusive.
While you should be helpful, you shouldn't pitch in at the expense of your host's privacy, says Boyd. "Your host might need some alone time without feeling the need to entertain or explain every minute," she says. "Take a book—or your iPad—and find somewhere quiet occasionally."
Keep your expectations low.
While a host may roll out the proverbial red carpet for you, don't walk into their home with the following expectations, notes Gottsman: "Don't expect to use the family car—rent your own," she says. "Don't expect to be served coffee—make it for yourself and the host. Don't expect the host to do your laundry. Run out to the store and buy a small bottle of clothes detergent and do it yourself."
Don't be high maintenance.
Any food preferences or allergies, plans and commitments, and other needs or desires should be addressed before your visit or only when asked, says Grotts. Then, try to stick to the original plan as best as possible, says Boyd. "Asking to change plans, menus, be taken to places, and so on will look as if you don't like the choices your host has mad," she says. "If the host is expected to rearrange and change things constantly, they will feel as if they are being taken advantage of."