How to be a good houseguest

By Kimberly Fusaro
Staying with a friend or family member is a great way to save some money when you travel. But if you'd like to get invited back, it's best to brush up on your houseguest etiquette before packing your bags. Here, Lizzie Post-great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, author of How Do You Work This Life Thing? and one of the bloggers behind Etiquette Daily-shares her tips for being a top-notch guest.

1. Nail down the dates of the visit before you go-and stick to them. When your hostess doesn't provide specific dates (and, trust us, she doesn't really want you to stay as long as you like) it's up to you to pick them. Listen for subtle clues ("Well, I'll be super-busy at work starting August 8") and be respectful. If you would like to visit for a week but suspect your hostess can only handle a three-day visit, stay with someone else for the second half of your trip.

2. Be clear about who'll be joining you. It may be obvious to you that you would never travel without your teacup Chihuahua; you should also let your hostess know that Tinkerbell will be staying as well. The same goes for significant others and kids. Don't say, "I'd like to come visit" if you mean "I'd like to come visit with my husband, two kids and the ferrets."

3. Pack smart. The contents of your entire home won't fit in a guest room, so stick to the essentials. Bring just enough clothing for the duration of your visit plus a few just-in-case items, like something to wear to a nice dinner and a light sweater in case the evenings are chilly. Ask if you'll need a bathing suit or any other outfits for specific outings. If you have kids but the people you're visiting don't, pack a few small toys or games to keep them busy.

4. Keep tabs on your stuff. You're not staying in a hotel, so don't treat your friend's home like one. A good rule of thumb: When you're not in your room, it should look like it did when you arrived. Put your clothes away, hang up your towel and straighten the bed every morning. Don't abandon your slippers in the hallway, your sunglasses on the kitchen counter or your trashy novel in the den; take your toiletries into the bathroom when you need them and bring them back to your room afterward. If your kids aren't old enough to wrangle their belongings, do it for them daily.

5. Follow the house rules. No shoes in the house does not mean that your flip-flops are an exception. Watch out for sneaky indoor cats when you come and go, and don't give the dog people food, even if he's making his I'm really hungry face.

6. Watch your children. "Just because you're taking a vacation," says Lizzie, "doesn't mean you can take a vacation from parenting." Talk to your kids-before you travel-about minding their manners and being neat. Let them know you expect them to pick up their clothing and offer to help carry groceries or set the table.

7. Don't expect your hostess to do all the work. She may not want you to buy groceries or lend a hand at dinnertime, but it's important to offer. Take care of little chores, like washing the few dishes in the sink or emptying an overflowing trashcan, when your hostess isn't around.

8. Remember that your hostess is not a tour guide. Or babysitter. If you must see the local attractions, keep in mind that your hostess has probably seen them all (several times). Plan the outings on your own and take the kids with you.

9. Don't expect the household to suddenly revolve around you. Vegetarians don't need to swallow a hamburger with a smile, but they shouldn't expect their hostess and her family to stop eating meat. If you're staying with smokers, don't suggest they take it outside; and you can't ask pet owners to board their four-legged family members, even if they make you sneezy. Unless you have a potentially deadly allergy-which, by all means, you should alert your hostess to-it's up to you to adapt.

10. Bring or send a thank you gift and follow up with a note. Some of Lizzie's favorites: a pretty bowl with fresh berries, a vase with flowers or candles in candleholders. The gift needn't be expensive: A basket of muffins or a plate of homemade treats are sweet (and inexpensive) options. If you don't have time to shop, take the family to dinner. When you get home, send a quick note (not an e-mail!) to let them know how much you enjoyed your stay.

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